Amazon may be a tech and retail giant today, but let us not forget that the company was founded more than 20 years ago as an online book seller and didn't become profitable until 2001. Fast forward to 2019, where the company's revenue is more than $72 billion. The evolution of Amazon is an amazing case study on how to grow a business. Here are five key lessons you can use to make your business better.

Leverage artificial intelligence (AI).

Just look to Alexa as a "living" example of how Amazon uses AI and machine learning to create new customer experiences, collect data to get deeper insights into customer behavior, and increase revenue. You might consider how you too can leverage AI in your own business to accomplish the same, such as by using a chatbot to handle parts of your customer service.

Make your website a self-supporting network. 

Amazon's website is more than just an online store: It's a destination that offers product reviews, Prime membership, even self-created sales days that, dare I say, are starting to rival holiday blowouts in terms of notoriety with Amazon Prime Day.

Look to it as inspiration for ways your e-commerce site can do more than simply sell your goods, whether that be by creating an online community around what your brand represents or serving as a place for your customers to get the latest updates on topics related to your products.

Be aggressive and take risks. 

Jeff Bezos wrote in a letter to his stakeholders, "...failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it's going to work, it's not an experiment."

It took Amazon quite a few tries to get its selling and fulfillment arm off the ground. Before Amazon Marketplace, which lets third-party sellers sell new and used goods on their platform, the company tried Amazon Auctions and zShops. Innovation doesn't come without taking risks and making some missteps, so learn to embrace failure as a stepping stone on your path to greater success.

Build systems to support yourself and your customers. 

From Amazon Web Services (AWS), which allows for pay-as-you-go cloud computing options, to Alexa, which makes it simple to reorder products with just the sound of your voice, Amazon has created a supportive ecosystem that serves both themselves and their customers. What are some systems you can put in place to make your business run more smoothly while doing the same for your customers? 

You don't need to reinvent the wheel, but rather tap into things you're already doing. Think, for example, how you might leverage a partner for fulfillment. A company like Dotcom Distribution has set processes and technology in place, so you can focus on other things such as the core of your business and marketing and customer acquisition and retention. It's like using an accelerator.  

Let your business evolve. 

Remember how Amazon was just where you went to buy books? Today it's where you go to get everything from groceries with Amazon Fresh to last-minute birthday gifts with Amazon Prime to movies with Amazon Prime Video. It brought voice-activated devices into our homes with Alexa and Echo. It offers business solutions with AWS.  

For small and emerging brands, you can think about complimentary and supplementary products and services. This would help with increasing the average order value as well. Even if your business is small, your ideas of where your business could go doesn't have to be. If Amazon has taught us anything, it's that the possibilities are endless.

Published on: Aug 19, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.