With hundreds of millions of regular customers and more than 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers buying everything from books to socks to uranium ore, Amazon.com has achieved founder Jeff Bezos’ goal of becoming "the everything store." Take a look at some lesser-known facts about the company that has unprecedented access to your wallet.
1. Jeff Bezos wanted to call the Amazon business MakeItSo.com.
An avowed Star Trek fan since childhood, Bezos thought MakeItSo.com would be a fitting name for an online storefront he believed could deliver anything to anyone. That idea fell by the wayside for Amazon.com, named after the world’s largest river. (And because lists for web links were originally alphabetized.)
2. There's a giant cave bear in the Amazon corporate lobby.
When Amazon began experimenting with an eBay-esque auction platform, Bezos himself completed a major transaction: he purchased a complete Ice Age cave bear skeleton for $40,000. The towering specimen now stands in the lobby of the company’s corporate offices in Seattle. (The cave bear is known for having a penis bone that was frequently fractured during fights. It is not part of the display.)
3. Amazon once cleaned out a Toys "R" Us to have holiday inventory.
Selling toys—particularly during the chaotic holiday season—can be a trying experience for retailers. Unlike many consumer goods, toys are frequently allocated by their distributors. In order to have enough stock to satisfy the 1999 Pokémon craze, Amazon employees gobbled up every last Pikachu from the Toys "R" Us website, took advantage of the free shipping, then re-sold the items to their own customers. (Toys "R" Us, which was just getting into e-commerce, had no system in place to identify mass-scale purchasing.)
4. Amazon robots have invaded California.
In a sign of how we'll be receiving packages in the not-too-distant future, Amazon recently unleashed a fleet of robots in Irvine, California. The robot is named Scout and is designed to take packages from a distribution hub up to a mile away and right to a customer's door. The robots are being escorted by humans—for now.
5. Amazon's fastest delivery may have been 23 minutes.
When same-day Prime service was instituted in Manhattan, the company claims one customer got their item in a record 23 minutes. (It was an Easy-Bake Oven.)
6. Those positive Amazon reviews may not be sincere.
Positive reviews are the currency of books on Amazon; a cluster of praise can often be a deciding factor in whether or not a customer decides to click "Add to Cart." In 2012, an Oklahoma business came under fire for offering four and five-star reviews in exchange for fees—up to $999 for 50 glowing endorsements. Similar services were sued by Amazon on the grounds the company has policies against manipulating reviews.
7. Amazon doesn't sell iPhones.
You’ll find MacBooks, Apple TV, and other Apple products on Amazon, but there’s a very poor chance you’ll see a new iPhone offered. That’s because the companies don’t appear to see eye-to-eye in business matters, and possibly because Amazon’s Kindle offerings are competing for tablet market share with Apple’s iPad line. (Used phones are available via third-party sellers.)
8. Amazon will pay employees to quit.
In 2014, Amazon launched a "Pay to Quit" program aimed at reducing the number of unmotivated warehouse employees at its fulfillment centers. If a worker hands in a resignation, they’ll receive $2000 to $5000 depending on how long they've worked there. (Workers need to have been employed for at least a year.) The catch? If you take the money, you'll never work for the company again. Less than 10 percent of the first wave of staffers offered the deal took them up on it.
9. Amazon's first customer got a building named after him.
Software engineer John Wainwright was a friend of Amazon employee Shal Kaphan: on April 3, 1995, he got the opportunity to place the first non-employee order from a now-quaint Amazon.com (above) for a book on artificial intelligence titled Creative Concepts and Fluid Analogies. Bezos later named a building after Wainwright to honor the occasion. He also named a building Rufus after a dog that would frequently join his owners at their pet-friendly offices.
10. Amazon got in trouble for selling dolphin meat.
And whale bacon. In 2012, environmental activists launched an email siege on the retailer after it was discovered Amazon Japan trafficked in meat products taken from whales and dolphins, including some endangered species. More than 100 items, including canned whale meat and whale jerky, were pulled from Amazon's virtual shelves.
11. Amazon offers warehouse tours.
While an Amazon Fulfillment Center may not seem like a popular tourist destination, the company is offering the opportunity anyway. At least 23 warehouses in the U.S. and Canada are among the worldwide locations available for viewing on certain days of the month. The tour takes about an hour and lets visitors get a glimpse of the robotic sorting process that gets packages out the door—presumably with air conditioning. The company received criticism in 2011 for operating warehouses in excess of 100 degrees, parking ambulances outside to care for heat stroke victims.
12. Danbo, Amazon Japan's mascot, is pretty adorable.
Danbo, the unofficial sentient shipping box mascot of Amazon Japan, is so popular among consumers that Danbo toys and other merchandise are readily available; memes featuring him in various predicaments are hugely popular. But Danbo (which means “corrugated cardboard”) actually originated in the pages of artist Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga work and has no overt ties to the company—though they don’t seem to mind him one bit.
13. The CIA is an amazon VIP.
The Central Intelligence Agency signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 for cloud computing storage, part of Amazon Web Services (AWS). The partnership has raised eyebrows due to concern the e-giant might wind up sharing private customer information with the government: a petition is circulating that demands Amazon issue a strict policy of not sharing any data.
14. Amazon sells tiny houses.
In the mood for a new abode? You can buy a house on the site. Amazon offers home kits for around $26,000 that feature a 20-foot by 40-foot living space, including a kitchen and a bathroom. If you want to turn it from a novelty into a livable location, however, that price isn't all-inclusive. You'll need to spring for plumbing, electrical work, and other necessities before it becomes a permanent address you can have Amazon packages delivered to.
Additional Sources: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon