Amazon Turns 30: How AI & Technology Redefined a Bookseller

Amazon continues to transform the global digital transformation landscape with cloud and AI
As tech giant Amazon celebrates its 30th birthday on 5th July 2024, we take a look at the company’s journey from online bookstore to global powerhouse

From selling books, to joining the Big Five, Amazon continues to transform the global digital transformation landscape with its AI and cloud advancements.

Starting as an online bookseller in 1994, Amazon has quickly evolved into a global enterprise that continues to reshape the global technology and retail landscapes. It continues to achieve massive success, having just recently reached a US$2tn market capitalisation for the first time. 

With its reputation cemented as a disruptor, Amazon has always prioritised innovation. As of 2023, it is the world’s largest online retailer and marketplace and cloud computing service through its subsidiary, Amazon Web Services (AWS). This is in addition to its other subsidiaries, Twitch, Zoox, IMDb and Ring and its production of consumer electronics, including Kindle e-readers, Echo devices and fire tablets.

Amazon’s journey towards the ‘US$2tn club’

The tech giant was first founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the company’s former president and CEO, in Seattle. With the businesses first going public in 1997, it sold books, before progressing to include music and videos and then commenced international operations in 1998.

Amazon then initiated the sale of a diverse range of products, including video games, consumer electronics, home improvement items, software, games and toys. It established itself as a successful online retailer, growing net profits from US$3m in the last quarter of 2002, to US$73m in the last quarter of 2003. Such profitable growth was attributed to its innovative strategies, its customer-centric approach to business and its diverse product offerings.

Another reason for its explosive success in the earlier years was Amazon’s continued expansion into new markets. In 2002, the company launched AWS to provide APIs, but this quickly grew into providing enterprise services.

Whilst business has continued to grow rapidly for Amazon, this was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the company remained profitable, it hired hundreds-of-thousands of new staff as a result - a decision which led to significant criticism, as many workers reported inadequate health and safety measures and insufficient sick leave policies.

To try and mitigate these concerns, Amazon introduced new technology to improve employee safety at work. This included wearable devices to improve social distancing and its Distance Assistant machine learning tool. 

Moving forward, as it continues to develop AI and cloud services around the world, Amazon is poised to continue shaping the future of major digital transformation efforts. In fact, the company has been positioning itself to better capitalise in the AI race, as suggested by CEO Andy Jassy. This has involved making key investments and developing a range of new products to leverage the power of AI.

Andy Jassy, current CEO of Amazon. Pic: Amazon.

“What we’re building in AWS is not just a compelling app or foundation model. These AWS services, at all three layers of the stack, comprise a set of primitives that democratise this next seminal phase of AI and will empower internal and external builders to transform virtually every customer experience that we know (and invent altogether new ones as well),” he comments. “We’re optimistic that much of this world-changing AI will be built on top of AWS.”

AWS: Powering the next generation of big tech

One of Amazon's primary strengths in the AI race is its cloud computing division, AWS. As the world's largest cloud services provider, AWS has seen renewed growth thanks to the surging adoption of AI technologies. 

Likewise, its cloud platform serves as a critical infrastructure for companies looking to develop and deploy AI applications, ensuring that Amazon remains ahead as a leading technology innovator.

For more than 20 years, AWS has sought to drive economic development across Europe via its investment into infrastructure, jobs and skills. More broadly, Amazon has invested more than €150bn (US$163bn) in the EU and employed more than 150,000 people in permanent roles across the European Single Market.

The company is also eager to reinvent the workplace, as highlighted in the below video celebrating the launch of its enterprise chatbot service, Amazon Q.

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Digital transformation is set to rapidly continue worldwide, with increasing numbers of companies investing to build greater partnerships with existing companies within Europe in particular. With the surge of cloud and AI, Amazon is poised to support itself and its partners achieve greater operational efficiencies, cost-saving measures and digital transformation. 

The tech giant has made significant investments in AI-focused startups, including its US$4bn backing of AI startup Anthropic. Moving forward, Amazon is eager to please with its AI initiatives as a clear priority for the company’s future.

Quoted in April 2024, Andy Jassy said: “Generative AI may be the largest technology transformation since the cloud ... and perhaps since the Internet.”

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