Image Credit: Michael Radtke, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

With over 244 million regular customers buying everything from books to socks to uranium ore, Amazon.com has achieved founder Jeff Bezos’ goal of becoming "the everything store." Take a look at some lesser-known facts about the company that has unprecedented access to your wallet.  

1. They Got in Trouble For Selling Dolphin Meat.

And whale bacon. In 2012, environmental activists launched an email siege on the retailer after it was discovered Amazon Japan trafficked in meat products taken from whales and dolphins, including some endangered species. Over 100 items, including canned whale meat and whale jerky, were pulled.  

2. There’s a Giant Cave Bear in Their Lobby.

When Amazon began experimenting with an eBay-esque auction platform, Bezos himself completed a major transaction: he purchased a complete Ice Age cave bear skeleton for $40,000. The towering specimen now stands in the lobby of the company’s corporate offices in Seattle. (The cave bear is known for having a penis bone that was frequently fractured during fights. It is not part of the display.)

3. They Once Cleaned Out Toys "R" Us to Have Christmas Inventory.

Selling toys—particularly during the chaotic holiday season—can be a trying experience for retailers. Unlike many consumer goods, toys are frequently allocated by their distributors. In order to have enough stock to satisfy the 1999 Pokémon craze, Amazon employees gobbled up every last Pikachu from the Toys "R" Us website, took advantage of the free shipping, then re-sold the items to their own customers. (Toys "R" Us, which was just getting into e-commerce, had no system in place to identify mass-scale purchasing.)  

4. You Can Turn Your Kindle Into an Etch A Sketch.

Zhao !, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

E Ink technology relies on magnetic capsules the size of a human hair to display text. While that’s not quite how the fondly-remembered Etch A Sketch works—it used an analog stylus to move aluminum powder—it’s close enough for an app called Doodle to be able to transform your Kindle into a makeshift homage to the toy.

5. Their Fastest Delivery May Have Been 23 Minutes.

When same-day Prime service was instituted in Manhattan, the company claims one customer got their item in a record 23 minutes. (It was an Easy-Bake Oven.) 

6. Those Positive Reviews May Not Be Sincere.

Positive reviews are the currency of books on Amazon; a cluster of praise can often be a deciding factor in whether or not to hit "Add to Cart." In 2012, an Oklahoma business came under fire for offering four and five-star reviews in exchange for fees—up to $999 for 50 glowing endorsements. Similar services are currently being sued by Amazon on the grounds the company has policies against manipulating reviews.

7. You Can’t Buy an iPhone From Them.

You’ll find MacBooks, Apple TV, and other Apple products on Amazon, but there’s a very poor chance you’ll see a new iPhone offered. That’s because the companies don’t appear to see eye-to-eye in business matters, and possibly because Amazon’s Kindle offerings are competing for tablet market share with Apple’s iPad line. (Used phones are available via third-party sellers.)

8.  Their First Customer Got a Building Named After Him.

Amazon

Software engineer John Wainwright was a friend of Amazon employee Shal Kaphan: on April 3, 1995, he got the opportunity to place the first non-employee order from a now-quaint Amazon.com (above) for a book on artificial intelligence titled Creative Concepts and Fluid Analogies. Bezos later named a building after Wainwright to honor the occasion. He also named a building Rufus after a dog that would frequently join his owners at their pet-friendly offices.

9. They’ll Pay Employees To Quit.

In 2014, Amazon launched a "Pay to Quit" program aimed at reducing the number of unmotivated warehouse employees at its fulfillment centers. If a worker hands in a resignation, they’ll get $3,000. By 2017, the amount is expected to be $5,000. Less than 10 percent of the first wave of staffers offered the deal took them up on it.

10. You Can Tour Their Warehouses.

While an Amazon Fulfillment Center may not seem like a popular tourist destination, the company is offering the opportunity anyway. Four Phoenix-area warehouses are among the worldwide locations open for public viewing on certain days of the month—presumably with air conditioning. The company received criticism in 2011 for operating warehouses in excess of 100 degrees, parking ambulances outside to care for heat stroke victims.

11. Their Japanese Mascot is Pretty Adorable.

Kathryn Cartwright, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Danbo, the unofficial sentient shipping box mascot of Amazon Japan, is so popular among consumers that Danbo toys and other merchandise are readily available; memes featuring him in various predicaments are hugely popular. But Danbo (which means “corrugated cardboard”) actually originated in the pages of artist Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga work and has no overt ties to the company—though they don’t seem to mind him one bit.

12. The CIA is a Customer.

The Central Intelligence Agency signed a $600 million deal with Amazon in 2013 for cloud computing storage, part of Amazon Web Services (AWS). The partnership has raised eyebrows due to concern the e-giant might wind up sharing private customer information with the government: a petition is circulating that demands Amazon issue a strict policy of not sharing any data.

13. Bezos Wanted to Call It MakeItSo.com.

An avowed Star Trek fan since childhood, Bezos thought MakeItSo.com would be a fitting name for an online storefront he believed could deliver anything to anyone. That idea fell by the wayside for Amazon.com, named after the world’s largest river. (And because lists for Web links were originally alphabetized.)

14. They Don’t Actually Make Any Money.

Chez Pitch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With $89 billion in sales last year, Amazon has grown to monolithic proportions. But that same timeframe also saw the company lose $241 million overall due to massive operating expenses, putting their profit margin in the tank. With acquisitions, innovations, and generous return policies, the company has set its sights on long-term success, building an infrastructure that will pay off years or decades down the line. The next time you wonder how the company can afford low prices, spend billions in advancing technology all while offering free shipping on a 1.5 ton gun safe, the answer is: they really can’t.  

Additional Sources: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.