The Project: Let merchants use its gold-standard e-commerce technology to quickly set up shop on Amazon.

The Payoff: Other retailers now account for 22% of all items sold on Amazon, helping boost the e-tailer to profitability.

For years, retailers such as Target Corp. (TGT ) and Toys 'R' Us Inc. (TOY ) have hired Inc. (AMZN ) to run their Web operations. Now, Amazon has turned its expertise into services available over the Web to any merchant -- for free. Why? Partly to expand offerings on the site. But most important, some 35,000 software developers have created programs to build customized Web stores, check prices from handheld devices, and more. It's a potent new volunteer army that could produce yet more surprises from Amazon.

By Robert D. Hof

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.