Target's Amazon.com-based store

Courtesy Amazon.com

Amazon E-commerce

Amazon.com has always sold goods out of its own warehouses. It started as a bookseller, pure and simple, and over the last decade has branched out into additional product areas and the third-party sales that now represent a good chunk of its revenue (some estimates put it at 25 percent).

Both retailers and individual sellers utilize the Amazon.com platform to sell goods. Large retailers like Nordstrom, Land's End and Target use Amazon.com to sell their products in addition to selling them through their own Web sites. The sales go through Amazon.com and end up at Nordstrom.com, Land's End.com or Target.com for processing and order fulfillment. Amazon essentially leases space to these retailers, who use Amazon.com as a supplemental outlet for their online sales.

Small sellers of used and new goods go to Amazon Marketplace, Amazon zShops or Amazon Auctions. At Marketplace, sellers offer goods at a fixed price, and at Auctions they sell their stuff to the highest bidder. Amazon zShops features only used goods at fixed prices. If an item listed on zShops, Marketplace or Auctions is also sold on the main Amazon.com, it appears in a box beside the Amazon.com item so buyers can see if someone else is selling the product for less in one of the other sales channels.

Courtesy Amazon.com

The level of integration that occurs on Amazon is a programming feat that few (if any) online sales sites can match.

Another sales channel called Amazon Advantage is a place where people can sell new books, music and movies directly from the Amazon warehouse instead of from their home or store. Sellers ship a number of units to Amazon, and Amazon handles the entire sales transaction from start to finish. In all of these programs, Amazon gets a cut of each sale (usually about 10 percent to 15 percent) and sometimes charges additional listing or subscription fees; in the case of Amazon Advantage, the company takes a 55 percent commission on each sale. The Advantage channel is something like a consignment setup, a sales avenue for people who create their own music CDs or have self-published a book and are simply looking for a way to get it out there.

One of the latest additions to Amazon's repertoire is a subsidiary company called Amazon Services. Through Amazon Services, Amazon sells its sales platform, providing complete Amazon e-commerce packages to companies looking to establish or revamp their e-commerce business. Amazon sets up complete Web sites and technology backbones for other e-commerce companies using Amazon software and technology. Target, for instance, in addition to having a store on Amazon.com, also uses Amazon Services to build and manage its own e-commerce site, Target.com.

Target.com homepage

But selling goods isn't the only way to make money with Amazon.com. The Web site's affiliate program is one of the most famous on the Web. Through Amazon's Associate Program, anyone with a Web site can post a link to Amazon.com and earn some money. The link can display a single product chosen by the associate, or it can list several "best seller" products in a particular genre, in which case Amazon updates the list automatically at preset intervals. The associate gets a cut of any sale made directly through that link. The cut ranges from 4 percent to 7.5 percent depending on which fee structure the associate signs up for (see Amazon Associates for complete program details). The associate can also take advantage of Amazon Web Services, which is the program that lets people use Amazon's utilities for their own purposes. The Amazon Web Services API (application programming interface) lets developers access the Amazon technology infrastructure to build their own applications for their own Web sites. All product sales generated by those Web sites have to go through Amazon.com, and the associate gets a small commission on each sale.

Check out Amazon Web Services to learn more about what you can do with Amazon's e-commerce platform.

In the next section, we'll take a look at how all of these programs and channels come together to create a sales and marketing powerhouse.