To say that Amazon is a titan of industry would be an understatement. In its 20+ years, it has become not only a success story but a model for all growing businesses. It started in the 1990’s during the dot-com boom, made it through the dot-com crash period, and emerged as the most dominant company in the online retail world. That is no small feat.

Today, Amazon nets upwards of $100 billion a year in revenues and its product range has seemingly no limits. From Amazon Web Service (AWS) to hardware like Kindle or Echo to Jeff Bezos’ personal venture, a rocket company Blue Origin, Amazon’s online success is what made it all possible.

Amazon does online selling right. The lessons small businesses can learn from Amazon could fill an entire textbook and then some. But here are five of the most important lessons to take away.

1. Know Your Customers

Amazon is phenomenal at understanding its customers’ preferences and using that information to increase sales. If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, you may have noticed sections like ‘recommended items’ or ‘customers who bought X also bought Y’ or ‘frequently bought together.’

Based on your past purchases (and other customers’), Amazon recommends other products you’re most likely to buy, which is part of its flawless online experience. They make the purchasing (and upsell) process effortless for the customer.  


Beyond their on-site post-purchase recommendations, most emails received from Amazon recommend products based on past choices. Or when you make a purchase, you’re sent suggestions for complementary products.

This recommendation engine generates 35% of Amazon’s revenues and after implementing it, the company recorded a 29% sales increase. Its conversions for recommended items can be as high as 60%. By effectively leveraging their customer data, they’re able to understand customer needs and improve customer experience moving forward.

2. Continue Experimenting and Measuring Your Results

“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”
– Jeff Bezos

Today it’s incredibly easy to run various online experiments, from split testing to surveys to simply trying out different strategies and marketing channels. Even as a small business, you have all of these tools at your disposal.

With a little planning, you can innovate just like any other big company to stay ahead of the curve. This mindset has proved to be highly profitable for Amazon. It’s how the company came up with free shipping on purchases of more than $25, monthly subscription plans, their recommendation engine, and more.

3. Think Recurring Revenue

Amazon has mastered the subscription model. Rather than throwing a bunch of money into ads and traffic each month hoping to convert at least as many customers as last month, why not lock in your current customers for the long term?

This way, once you acquire a customer, you can guarantee that ongoing revenue and grow your base further. That’s why Amazon offers subscriptions for certain items that we’re more likely to buy again, such as food and home goods. Then there’s Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, and more.


You too as a small business can place more emphasis on recurring revenue. From loyalty cards to subscription plans, the options are plentiful. This business model is superior in the long run. It’s cost efficient and designed for high revenue growth and long-term success.  

4. Make It About the Customer

“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out alright.”
-Jeff Bezos

Many businesses focus on what their competitors are doing. They forget that if they shift all of their focus on giving customers the most amazing experience and do it effectively, their competitors will merely turn into followers.

One thing Amazon realized early on was that all the customer cares about are fast shipping times and great support. Drop an email to Amazon and you’ll get an answer within 24 hours. Likewise, their shipping service is so good, it is now a serious threat to FedEx.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Failed Experiments

As a new or growing business owner, most of your experiments will fail. That’s how you innovate. Without failure, you have no room for improvement. Amazon had so many failed products and experiments that you could argue the company was built on failure.

There was A9 Search and Amazon Auctions, to name a few, as well as a plethora of unsuccessful marketing campaigns. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try different marketing tactics. Some will prove to be a gold mine, but many will fail.

At the same time, only take calculated risks. For example, if you redesign your newsletter, don’t blast it to your entire list; pick a segment and test it there.

While your small business might not turn into a giant like Amazon overnight (or at all), Bezos’ empire is one that should serve as a model for businesses large and small.