About 20 years ago, I was in a staff meeting at The Sun News, called primarily to discuss the impact of the digital revolution on the editing of our newspaper.
We already had computers, of course, but now we were confronting a strange new universe consisting of such terms as internet and world wide web and aol.com and email.
The managing editor, whose name I have long since forgotten, asked a simple question at the outset of our meeting: “How many of you have heard of Amazon?”
Maybe two or three hands went up out of the 20 or so newsroom staffers. Mine was one of them.
I knew about Amazon because it was primarily a bookseller – as were my wife and I.
We still owned a bookstore in North Myrtle Beach and we viewed that electronic upstart as a competitor.
Eventually our bookstore experiment ended and, while we still shopped at bookstores and loved the smell and feel and look of books, on occasion we turned to Amazon for that hard-to-find title.
Every time I was amazed at the ease of ordering and the speed of delivery.
As a rule, we’ve never done much online business. I have accounts with Amazon and Netflix, but I’ve never logged on to eBay or Craig’s List. I don’t like the idea of putting too much personal information into cyberspace.
For the most part, I prefer to patronize local businesses, even chain stores that provide jobs for people in the community. I once wrote a column urging others to do the same.
But Amazon makes it easy to order items not readily available – and as a company official once told “60 Minutes,” Amazon has “one of everything.” Judging from its website, I would not disagree.
Just two weeks ago, for instance, I turned to Amazon and ordered a T-shirt for my bride – a kind of political protest T-shirt that I couldn’t find locally.
It arrived from a company called Crazy Dog T-shirts and turned out to be too small. I emailed the company and asked if I could return it for a larger size.
I immediately got a return email, telling me to keep the shirt and give it to a friend or a needy person. The company would send the larger size.
I believe it’s this kind of customer service from stores that deal with Amazon, like Crazy Dog T-shirts, that has helped spur the company’s meteoric rise in the last two decades.
Amazon has 341,400 employees worldwide and is now the eighth-largest employer in the United States. With revenues of $135 billion in 2016, it is the largest internet company in the world.
It recently purchased Whole Foods and its 400 stores for $13.4 billion. Some analysts see the purchase as an attempt to challenge Walmart as a physical retailer.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos named the company after the largest river in the world, the Amazon River, because he intended, even in 1994, to make it the largest online retailer in the world.
After watching him work Amazon for 22 years, I would never bet against that happening.
Contact Bob Bestler at email@example.com.