Amazon.com Inc. officials reported a quarterly profit that just missed analysts' estimates, but the company said it expects a record holiday season and outlined a heady expansion plan reminiscent of its ambitions in the dot-com years.
Net income for the quarter ended Sept. 30 was $54.1 million, or 13 cents per share, compared with $15.6 million, or 4 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. Revenue, meanwhile, jumped to $1.46 billion from $1.13 billion. Wall Street had expected 14 cents a share on sales of $1.47 billion, according to a survey by Thomson First Call. Amazon said it expects full-year 2004 net sales between $6.68 billion and $6.93 billion and 2005 net sales between $7.40 billion and $8.15 billion -- numbers that also fall short of expectations.
Investors responded by pushing the stock down 8.7 percent, to $36.05, in after-hours trading Thursday night.
For the past three months, the Seattle-based online retailer has been on an international push. It purchased Joyo.com Ltd., which operates the largest online retailer of books, music and videos in China, and it opened toy stores at its German and Japanese Web sites. Sales at the company's international sites jumped 52 percent, to $646 million. That represents 44 percent of all of its sales worldwide.
The online retailer that became famous for selling books also said it would continue adding merchandise in sports and outdoor equipment, health and personal care, jewelry and other categories. It now sells items from more than 8,000 merchants, including brand-name conglomerates and mom-and-pop operators that specialize in products such as cheerleading clothing and trinkets -- an evolution that analysts say is putting Amazon in competition with online auction site eBay.
Amazon also has ambitions to become a research and development powerhouse for e-commerce technology, saying it will continue to invest significant amounts of money in hiring top computer scientists and programmers for the foreseeable future. It recently launched A9.com, a search engine engineered by its subsidiary in Palo Alto, Calif. A9 aims to become the premier online search site for e-commerce. For now, A9 uses Google, but analysts have speculated it will soon begin using its own search module, posing a potential competitive threat not only to Google, but also to Yahoo and Microsoft.
Amazon also is positioned to start a DVD rental business. Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Szkutak said the economics were sound and that the company is already familiar with the market with its sales of DVDs and its IMDB.com movie data site. But he said the company was not prepared to announce anything at this time. Netflix, which for the past few years has been the most successful online mail-order DVD rental company, recently lowered its monthly subscription price in response to rumors of such competition.
As Amazon enters its 10th holiday season, it hopes to boost sales by slashing prices and continuing its free shipping offer on many orders over $25, officials said. It hopes to sell things such as quarter-carat diamond earrings and MP3 music players at discount prices. Amazon said it expects merchants to begin sales the day after Thanksgiving.
"Our decision to put dollars into lower prices and free shipping instead of TV advertising continues to be embraced by customers," founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos said in a statement.