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Looking back at the e-commerce giant and 20 years of change

Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 28th June

Founded in 1994, the company humbly began from a garage in Bellevue as an online marketplace for books, capitalizing on the new age of the internet. And by 2001, the company had moved beyond just selling books to sell items like electronics and cookware, steadily growing into the e-commerce entity it is today. Amazon's CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was already a billionaire and becoming a household name.

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At the time, online shopping was gaining traction for its ease and convenience with total e-commerce sales estimated to be $32.6 billion in the U.S., up 19% from the previous year.

It can be hard to put into perspective just how much Amazon has and hasn't changed, but there are a few metrics we can use. Keep reading for a look back on Amazon in 2001 compared to what it is today.

Workers at Seattle's distribution warehouse rush around Wednesday, Dec. 15, 1999 to fill book orders for Christmas. With Christmas just around the corner, this is the busy season for the online company and many employees have been added to meet the demands of buyers. 

Barry Sweet/Associated Press

Yearly sales in 2001:

According to their annual report, sales grew to $3.12 billion in 2001, up 13% from $2.76 billion in 2000. International sales took off in 2001, with 25% of all sales coming from outside the U.S. The largest international markets were in the U.K. and Germany.

The company served over 25 million customer accounts at the time, up from 20 million the previous year.

Yearly sales now:

While the 2001 numbers seem like a lot, they are pennies compared to what Amazon earned in a single quarter of this year alone. For the quarter ending March 31, net sales were $108.5 billion according to Forbes, the company's best first quarter and up 44% year over year.

Profits in 2001:

With the dot-com bubble burst in the early part of the new century, the year 2001 actually saw Amazon go negative in profits. According to the New York Times, the company had a negative operating cash flow of $120 million. At the year's end, the company had $997 million in cash, down from $1.1 billion a year earlier. 

Profits now:

With online shopping skyrocketing amid the pandemic, Amazon had a record year in 2020 with revenue up 38% to $386 billion according to Forbes.

Pacific Medical Center in Beacon Hill

Matthew Rutledge, Flickr

Seattle offices in 2001:

South Lake Union was the tech-centric neighborhood back them. The online retailer moved into the Pacific Medical Center building on Beacon Hill in 1999 and occupied 13 floors for $1.5 million a year. Although it was damaged by the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001, the e-commerce company continued to occupy the building during its rehabilitation.

The company left the building in 2010 and began to move to its new headquarters in South Lake Union.

Guests explore the Amazon Spheres during an opening day unveiling event, Monday morning, Jan. 29, 2018. 


Seattle offices now:

The steel and glass spheres on Lenora Street are as much of a tourist site today as they are Amazon's Seattle headquarters. Sometimes called "Bezos' Balls" by disgruntled locals, the Spheres officially opened in 2018 and feature over 40,000 plants from around the world.

The company currently operates out of 40 buildings in South Lake Union in a sprawling urban campus and is also expanding its footprint on the Eastside, with construction on its new Bellevue 600 office building beginning in spring. employees fill orders at the firm's distribution center Wednesday, Dec. 15, 1999, in Seattle. 

Barry Sweet/Associated Press

Workforce in 2001:

Amazon employed a total of 7,800 employees in 2001 after laying off 15% of its staffers. The shrinking was due to warehouse and customer service center closures after the dot-com bubble burst.

In a message to shareholders in 2001, Bezos wrote "It’s not easy to work here. When I interview people I tell them, 'You can work long, hard, or smart, but at you can’t choose two out of three.'"

Workforce now:

According to the last annual report, the company directly employed 1.3 million people around the world in 2020. Over 75,000 people are employed by Amazon in the Seattle area, according to Geekwire.

Jeff Bezos in 2001:

Known as the geeky founder and CEO of, Inc., Bezos was becoming a household name and face of e-commerce after being named Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" in 1999.

"There were two great themes of the year, online shopping and dot-com mania, and the minute we thought of Bezos it was obvious that he embodied both," the magazine wrote. 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tours The Spheres during an opening day unveiling event, Monday morning, Jan. 29, 2018. The Spheres are an innovative workplace filled with more than 40,000 plants from around the world, that will be available to Amazon employees beginning this week.GENNA MARTIN, SEATTLEPI.COM

Jeff Bezos now:

While he has been the face of the brand for nearly three decades, Bezos won't be CEO of the company he founded for much longer. He announced plans to step down in July and will pass the baton to Andy Jassy, who currently runs Amazon Web Services.

Web design in 2001:

You can almost hear the screechy dial-up internet tone looking at this image. Advertising books and electronics, the website design was certainly much simpler. While the design may be an eyesore now, it was similar to many other catalogue websites back in the day.

Web design now:

The streamlined website is now advertising Prime Day Sales, a promotion that didn't exist until 2005.