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Amazon at 20: A look back at its best and worst moments

Amazon, the retail and cloud giant, is twenty-years old . But, before it became the powerhouse it is today it had its ups and downs. Here are some of the company's best, and worst, historic moments

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1 of 19 Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

Amazon 1995

1995: At first glance, Amazon looked like just another early website.

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2 of 19 Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

Jeff Bezos on top of the world

1995: On July 5, 1995 Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, It wasn't a moment of revelation. It came from cold, hard calculations while he was a VP at D.E. Shaw, an investment company. Bezos said, "The wake up call was finding this startling statistic that web usage in the spring of 1994 was growing at 2,300 percent a year. You know, things just don’t grow that fast. It’s highly unusual, and that started me about thinking, 'What kind of business plan might make sense in the context of that growth?'"

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3 of 19 Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

The Amazon Garage

1995: The answer, of course was an online book store. Bezos moved to Bellevue Washington and started Amazon in his garage. The company soon moved into a small house and then, after beta testing with 300 friends, Amazon opened its virtual doors on July 16, 1995.

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Amazon's IPO became arguably the most successful ever

1997: Amazon took off like a sky-rocket. In two months, its sales hit $20-thousand a week. Not two years later, on May 15, 1997, Amazon's initial public offering jumped by 30 percent on its first day of trading. A $1,000 investment in Amazon that day was worth over $239-thousand in 2013, and even more today.

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Alexa purchase leads to Echo

1999: Amazon buys Alexa, a web-traffic analysis company for $250-million. 16-years later, Amazon finally figured out a way to make it profitable: Use its cloud-based analytic software to power Amazon Echo, a voice-activated home assistant and entertainment center.

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Long before there was Kindle, Amazon explored eBooks

2000: Before the Kindle, Amazon tried out the eBook market in late November 2000. The company offered PDF and Microsoft Reader. That site never came to anything, but Amazon would keep experimenting with eBooks from this time on.

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Amazon Marketplace

2000: In that same month, Amazon launched Amazon Marketplace. With this service third-party retailers can sell merchandise side-by-side with Amazon. Since 2000, Amazon has expanded it to Amazon Business for business-to-business retailers and Amazon Home Services for home services such as plumbing and home-cleaning.

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Amazon weathers the dot com crash

2001: In the dot com crash's darkest days, Amazon's stock fell to less than $6 a share. Unlike companies such as Pets.com, Kozmo.com, and Webvan, Amazon survived by focusing, as Bezos has always done, on long-term goals over profit and customers.

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Amazon Web Services

2002: When Amazon jumped into the cloud business with Amazon Web Services (AWS), no one knew quite what to make of it. The company's first effort was to create a platform for Amazon-friendly Software-as-a-Service offerings.

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Amazon Prime

2005: Amazon Prime is launched. For $79 a year, Amazon's best customers get unlimited express shipping. And, yet another nail is hammered into the coffin of brick-and-mortar stores.

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AWS Instant

2006: What most of you think of as AWS, EC2 and other Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) services, arrived in 2006. Today, AWS delivered $1.57-billion in sales by itself in the 2015's first quarter.

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Amazon Kindle

2007: Kindle. There were earlier ebook readers, such as 1998's Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader, but the Kindle is what transformed ebooks from a novelty to the replacement for printed books.

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Amazon's 1984 blunder

2009: Amazon worst moment in ebook publishing was when the company deleted copies of—all the irony—George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from hundreds of thousands of Kindles because of a copyright problem. Amazon eventually made it right with customers, but the warning that we only "rent" books from Amazon and the evils of Digital Rights Management (DRM) had become clear.

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Amazon Video

2011: Netflix is easily the most popular Internet video streaming system, but Amazon Instant Video is making a contest of it. By combining free movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime, Amazon has ensured its video offerings will always have an audience.

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Fire OS

2011 Fire OS. Some people would have it that Amazon forked Android to create Fire OS. I see it more as Fire OS is an Android distribution for Amazon services and devices. In either case, it hasn't hurt Amazon.

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Amazon buys robot-maker Kiva

2012: Amazon buys Kiva. Why would Amazon buy a robotic company? To speed up finding products in its vast fulfillment centers. This has worked out really well for Amazon.

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Fire Phone

2014: Just because the Kindle proved a great success doesn't mean that Amazon can do no wrong with hardware. One need look no further than the Fire Phone. Bad hardware and poor pricing led to Amazon's smartphone being a complete flop.

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Amazon vs. Hachette

2014: As Amazon grew into the 800-pound gorilla of ebook publishing, it was inevitable that it would fight with traditional publishers. In the biggest of these battles to date, for a time Amazon made it hard to buy books from Hachette. In the end, Hachette won the battle over ebook pricing, but the war isn't over yet.

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Amazon and its owners

1995 to 2015: Almost from day one, stockholders have complained about how Bezos has also focused on growth over revenue. Still, since on July 6th, the first day the stock market was open after Amazon's 20th birthday, Amazon's stock price was over $436 a share. Clearly, most Amazon stockholders are just fine with Bezos at the company's helm.

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