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What is Amazon, really?

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos has built the company into the largest e-commerce company in the world—but that’s not all it does.
This article is more than 2 years old.

In the beginning, Amazon.com sold books.

Today Amazon is a titan of e-commerce, logistics, payments, hardware, data storage, and media. It dabbles in plenty more industries. It’s the go-to site for online shoppers and merchants alike, a modern necessity that independent sellers love to hate. Prime, Amazon’s signature $99-a-year membership program, has an estimated 85 million subscribers in the US, equivalent to about two-thirds of American households. To even call it an e-commerce company feels completely inadequate. 

Behind every Amazon business decision is the “flywheel” philosophy. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos borrowed the term from business consultant Jim Collins back in the early days of Amazon. It describes a cycle in which a company cuts prices to attract customers, which increases sales and attracts more customers, which allows the company to benefit from economies of scale (bundling together logistics and other routine costs), until, ultimately, the company can cut prices again, spinning the flywheel anew.

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