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Twenty-five years after its launch as an online bookseller in Bellevue, Washington, Amazon has surpassed Walmart to become America's largest retailer and transformed its founder, Jeff Bezos, into the world's richest man -- with a net worth of approximately $137 billion.
Amazon now sells everything from running shoes to sofas to gourmet hot sauce, and has broadened its reach further by acquiring Whole Foods, Zappos, Audible, Twitch and Ring to become a dominant player in the worlds of e-commerce, digital streaming and original TV content, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
"The first place shoppers now look is online -- that is the store to them. And when they go to to Internet, they go to Amazon because that’s where they have an account and the credit card is stored," according to Charles Fishman, author of "The Wal-Mart Effect," who said Amazon offers a "frictionless" shopping experience.
Sam Walton founded Walmart so that the people who worked for him could have a place to buy everything they needed, at a price no more expensive than anywhere else, Fishman said. In the early 1990s, Americans would never have thought to buy blue jeans and chicken breasts in the same place, until Walmart -- which changed its name from Wal-Mart in 2018 -- reframed the ways of the American consumer, Fishman said.
"In exactly the same way Walmart changed the way we think about shopping, Amazon has changed the psychology of shopping," Fishman said.
But critics say that Amazon has become too big. Earlier this year, New York politicians led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fought the company’s plans to launch a second headquarters in the city, citing the company’s anti-union stance and decrying the promised tax breaks as excessive.
Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for Amazon and other big tech giants to be broken up. In the case of Amazon, she has argued that the company should not be allowed to serve as both a marketplace and an independent seller on that marketplace.
“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said in March.
Amazon used to promote its products above other vendors. Not anymore—they’re scared by my plan to #BreakUpBigTech. Now we need to make sure there are rules in place so it doesn’t happen again. You can be the umpire or you can own a team, but you can’t do both at the same time. https://t.co/qgbduEc998— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 4, 2019
Amazon has built up an infrastructure and delivery system to to deliver content instantly, and almost everything else within a day of ordering. Its upcoming Prime Day, has become a retail sales driver that starts off Back to School shopping, experts say.
"How has it not changed our lives? It’s an ecosystem," Simeon Siegel, a retail analyst at Nomura/Instinet, told ABC News.
"You wake up to an alarm with an Amazon show and you go to sleep telling Alexa to turn off the light," Siegel said.
Amazon has changed retail habits in ways that are large and small.
"We take for granted now that we can look at a pair of books or shoes or anything with reviews," Fishman said. "When Amazon put up customer reviews, people said it was crazy. 'Who cares what customers say?' 'People won't write reviews.' 'Who cares about the random opinion of strangers I’ve never met?'"
"Now, I wouldn’t think about buying something without a review," Fishman said.