Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world. One of the so-called Big Four of Technology, the massive online retailer has annual sales of more than $200 billion dollars. Amazon has also been behind many innovations in technology, including drone package delivery, robotic workers, online cloud services and voice-activated assistance.
Amazon began as an online bookstore, but it has grown far beyond those early beginnings. Along the way, its simple, striking logos have made their own mark on the design world.
Amazon’s Early Days
In 1994, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookstore. In its early days, Amazon was a curiosity. Bezos operated out of his home in Bellevue, Washington, with a handful of employees who packed the books by hand to fulfill their orders.
Bezos originally named his company Cadabra, but he changed the name because of its closeness to the word “cadaver.” The decision to focus only on books was a smart one. Amazon began getting thousands of orders in the first six months it was in business. Amazon was one of the first online sellers to post readers’ reviews to help other buyers.
As its sales grew, however, independent bookstores began voicing complaints about Amazon’s unfair business practices. Some consumers were also wary of the seller. Those concerns have never gone away. In recent years, Amazon has faced lawsuits for price-fixing, using unfair employment practices and selling defective merchandise.
In 1997, Amazon went public. Bezos raised more than $50 million dollars from the initial public offering (IPO). The same year, Amazon added movies and music to its offerings. It also began selling internationally.
By 1999, the company had opened four order fulfillment centers in Kansas, Kentucky and Nevada to handle the enormous orders it had. Today, Amazon operates more than 70 warehouses and fulfillment centers across the country. As the 10under100 blog noted, “If Amazon were a country, it would be the world’s 51st richest nation, just behind Peru, New Zealand and Greece, and ahead of Algeria, Iraq and Qatar.”
A River Ran Through It
Along the years, Amazon’s logo has only changed a few times. Amazon graphic artist Turner Duckworth designed the original one in 1995.
It was a clean, stylish logo that featured a bold letter A with a white, curving stripe running through the middle. The stripe clearly refers to the Amazon River, which is the longest river in the world. The design conveyed Amazon’s image as a large company with a modern, forward-looking approach.
Earth’s Biggest Bookstore
In 1998, the company seemed to search for a visual identity. It added stripes to the river design and then scrapped the whole thing.
After dropping the river design, it used three different logos that same year. It finally settled on the tagline, “Earth’s biggest bookstore” under its name. The design went through a few changes until 2000, when the company released its famous “smile” design.
The smile design is deceptively simple. It features the name Amazon with an arrow underneath it. The curving arrow goes from the letter A to the letter Z. This shows that Amazon is the place to buy everything from A to Z. By 2000, Amazon had gone far beyond selling books, and this logo clearly pointed to the company’s plans to dominate other retail sectors.
The logo serves another function. Because it curves, the arrow looks a lot like a smile. This is a conscious design choice. Amazon often uses advertising that strips away the rest of the logo to reveal a smile. People respond favorably to friendly smiles, and Amazon clearly wants to show that it’s a caring, friendly company.
Small Bookstores Fight Back
Some people are not smiling at the rise of Amazon. Since its early days, Amazon has faced the anger of small and independent bookstores. These booksellers feared the online retailer would drive them out of business. That fight has continued to this day.
Last year, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) launched the BoxedOut campaign to call consumers’ attention to the value of small, independent retailers. The campaign urges people to support local businesses and not “make Amazon even richer.” The ABA represents independent bookstore owners.
In January 2020, independent publisher Andy Hunter launched bookshop.org, which is an online retailer that gives consumers an alternative to the tech giant. Over 200 independent bookstores have signed up, and the venture has the backing of the ABA.
A Prime Lawsuit
Amazon launched its Prime membership in 2005. The company also began using the word “Prime” on its delivery trucks.
That caught the eye of a trucking company in Missouri. The 50-year-old Prime, Inc., trucking company has over 12,000 trucks that sport a similar label. Its lawsuit claims its customers have already said they’re confused by the two logos. The lawsuit demands that Amazon stop using the Prime logo on its trucks and pay damages. A jury trial is scheduled for February 2022.
Read more in our guide on how to trademark a logo.
More Than a Bookstore
Amazon was one of the first companies to see the commercial potential of the internet. Today, Amazon is much more than a bookseller. The company sells electronic books, audible books, clothing, streaming videos, groceries, games, music, web hosting and many other goods and services. Jeff Bezos also owns Whole Foods and the Washington Post. Amazon has a private contract with the United States Postal Service to deliver its goods on Sunday
Some people fear that Amazon has gotten dangerously big and has an oversized influence on American culture and politics. Considering these growing fears, Amazon may have to work harder on its image as a friendly company with a big smile.