Amazon is very much a technology-focused company using and sharing capabilities well beyond its core retail business

Its no longer just books, DVDs and CDs! You can now get computers, printers, cameras, games, grocery, perfumes, toys, clothes, shoes, jewelry, sports equipment, bikes, building supplies, bedding, pet products, luggage, furniture, car parts and even industrial kit. Pretty much anything everyone else sells, you can get on Amazon – and its probably cheaper. Amazon has become the global retailer to watch. No stores, everything online and (because its more efficient), now also delivering products and services for its competitors in many countries, Amazon has become the pre-eminent retailer. From its launch in Seattle back in 1994, its mission ‘to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find anything they want to buy online’ and its IPO in 1997, Amazon has grown to employ over 56,000 people and turnover more than $48bn.

However, if you look under the cover, what you will find is not a facsimile of a traditional retailer’s on-line service but a technology intensive, consumer-obsessed innovation factory creating new technologies, new business models and totally new categories. With over 180 US patents granted in 2011 alone, Amazon has an intellectual property portfolio to rival many a technology giant. If you read CEO Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders, he doesn’t talk about shopping, but details new developments such as object caching, workflow and queuing systems, service orientated architecture, data analytics, machine learning, pattern recognition and probabilistic decision-making. Yes, Amazon sells stuff, but at its heart many would see it as a software company with a distribution capability. Symbolic of the distinctive competences of Amazon has been the launch of Amazon Web Services that now provide cloud storage and data management to other companies – an example of Amazon using its know-how to create new markets. But with The Kindle the company is also willing to compete against itself and reinvent existing categories. Famously focused on the long-term and unwilling to kowtow to short-term shareholders interests, Amazon has not only used innovation to grow a plethora of new services but it has also now delivered the promised returns.

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