When Jeff Bezos isn't plotting how to blast himself into outer space or test-driving a 13-foot Transformer-esque robot, he's hunting for the next startup that will bolster his Amazon arsenal. Over nearly two decades, the retailer has gobbled up or invested in at least 128 companies from Paris to Dubai.

What's driven the Seattle behemoth to sink its tentacles into such a broad range of upstarts? "When Amazon decides it wants to win something and the market's important to it, it will try to compete. If it can't, it will ultimately buy the leader," says Jeremy Levine, a partner at venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, a shareholder in Quidsi, which Amazon purchased in 2011 (and shuttered in March).

 
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Retail Darwinism

First, Main Street got swallowed up by malls, which then got swallowed up by the big boxes. Now Amazon's market cap is bigger than Target's and Walmart's combined--along with those of the six other largest traditional U.S. retailers.

 
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But where are all the drones?

With all the talk of Prime Air--the much-hyped futuristic delivery service Bezos first announced in 2013--it's perhaps surprising Amazon hasn't made public investments in drone companies. "I guarantee they've vetted every drone company out there," says independent e-commerce analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "But there probably aren't many that could do what Amazon hasn't already."

FROM THE MAY 2017 ISSUE OF INC. MAGAZINE