8 Ways Amazon Changed Your Shopping Life
From free shipping to hilarious reviews, Amazon changed how we shop and what we expect when we do.
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On July 16, 1995, a small Seattle-based ecommerce website, Amazon officially opened for business. The company, founded by Jeff Bezos, made $15.7 million in revenues by 1996 and had shipped more than 20 million items by 1999. That small ecommerce website hit a market cap of $350 billion for the first time this month, becoming one of the top five companies in the U.S. in terms of market value.
In its 21 years in business, the company has helped transform how we shop. Ecommerce itself is powered by the company, with the company driving 60 percent of total U.S. online retail sales growth, according to Forrester. This one company has also been instrumental in how modern shoppers vet their purchases and what they expect when shopping online.
To celebrate its recent birthday and milestone, here are 8 ways Amazon has reshaped consumers' lives.
1. You're on the lookout for funny reviews
Okay we admit, Amazon didn't invent the funny review, but it did help elevate the art and the reviews on its website are a thing of genius.
One could spend all day scrolling through comments about Haribo sugar-free gummy bears or even a gallon of whole milk. No really, you should read them. Even Amazon realized its reviews were an internet gold mine and began to collect them for us.
Here are some of just a few of our favorites:
A banana slicer
A sample: "I would rate this product as just okay...But it works better than the hammer I've been using."
A gallon of whole milk
"Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal? A-W-E-S-O-M-E!"
2. When shopping, you make it your first stop
When you plot an purchase, do you find yourself checking Amazon first? You're not alone. A number of studies show Amazon is consumers' first stop. In one, nearly a third of shoppers said they go to Amazon first, to check reviews and prices.
3. You make it your last stop
Do you showroom? Find a product you like in a physical store and go online to see if you can get it for cheaper? Amazon's initial lower prices helped drive both the site's popularity and showrooming in general. Some stores, like Kohl's and Berkshire Hathaway-backed Nebraska Furniture Mart even launched digital pricing displays to help their prices keep pace with online competitors like Amazon that offer dynamic pricing.
4. You have an e-reader -- somewhere
Amazon's Kindle helped pioneer e-reading when it launched in 2007 -- and popularize a practice even diehard book lovers never thought they'd embrace. Nearly one fifth of American adults owned an e-reader in 2015, according to a Pew Research survey. While e-reader ownership has rarely outpaced tablets, ownership of those devices has multiplied five times over since 2009.
5. You're reading a new book you'd never heard of
Amazon's algorithms are famous for surfacing new products to shoppers based on past purchases. But when it comes to books, Amazon could actually influence what you read in an old-fashioned way. On staff is a group of book editors that comprises a special book review team. This group decides on a range of books they think will connect with their readers and publishes a literary supplement -- the Amazon Book Review -- as well as recommendation lists for Amazon Book Store. Those old-school efforts co-exist with automated recommendations, according to the Seattle Times. The efforts can give visibility to a book you might never have known existed.
Related: 5 Myths About Selling on Amazon
6. You're spending more
Have a Prime membership? You're likely spending more than double on Amazon than friends who don't. Subscribers pay an annual subscription to Amazon in exchange for perks like free shipping and access to catalogs of e-books, movies and digital music. Having shoppers return to Amazon for a host of services make them more likely to shop in general. Prime members spend around $1,500 per year, while non-members spend only $625, according to research by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Members are also more likely to buy more pricey items. This is no small matter. According to the estimates, Amazon has 40 million Prime members in the U.S. alone.
7. You expect free shipping
Free shipping is no longer a novelty -- it's something shoppers expect. A survey by Morgan Stanley last year found free shipping topped the list of services online stores should provide -- beating out both online security and lower prices.
In part, Amazon helped drive our shipping expectations thanks to its slow build-out of an impressive network of fulfillment houses. The network is so strong, centers can be found within 20 miles of a third of the U.S. population. More importantly, the centers are within 20 miles of 50-65 percent of Amazon's same-day U.S. market, according to Piper Jaffray, a research firm. These centers make it easier and more affordable for Amazon to offer a number of shipping options -- and help drive expectations for even shorter turnarounds by consumers, making it even harder for other online retailers to compete.
8. You shop online at all
When Bezos created Amazon in 1995, only 16 million people used the internet, which rapidly increased to an estimated 1.7 billion today. While many retailers have been innovative online, Amazon helped consumers trust online shopping. Customer service has been integral to this effort -- driven by policies that place every staffer on the customer service desk at least twice a year (including the CEO) to remain customer-driven in their jobs.
Additionally, Amazon's use of algorithms, dynamic pricing and its network of warehouses making shipping easier and quicker have worked together to drive its sales beyond its competitors. In a 12-month period, Amazon's ecommerce revenue hit $82.7 billion, according to eMarketer. Wal-Mart could hit only a fraction of those ecommerce sales for that period at $12.5 billion.