There had been hints before the earnings report that Amazon had a robust holiday season: The company had announced in late December that it made a record number of holiday season shipments to Prime members, and that it signed up 3 million new Prime subscribers in the third week of December alone.
Meanwhile, the holidays generally shaped up to be much healthier online than in brick-and-mortar stores. The National Retail Federation reported that online sales grew 9 percent during November and December, far outpacing the 3 percent sales growth seen in the overall retail industry. And Amazon dominates that online retailing turf; according to an analysis from Slice Intelligence, Amazon captured nearly 40 percent of all online sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6.
Still, the results seemed to disappoint investors, who sent the stock down 12 percent in after-hours trading and perhaps had been expecting even stronger results after the e-commerce giant trumpeted back in December that it had a “record-setting” holiday season for its popular Prime subscription program.
Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, said on a conference call with investors that it was a “huge” quarter for its Fulfillment By Amazon service, in which items from a third-party seller are warehoused and shipped by Amazon. Olsavsky said that this unexpected boom put heightened demand on its warehouses, and in turn, pushed up costs.
The earnings report delivered fresh evidence that the company’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, is an increasingly important pillar of a company that built its name in retailing. Consider this: Amazon’s North America division, which includes its retail arm, saw about $1 billion in operating income on $21.5 billion in sales. Amazon Web Services, or AWS, generated $687 million in operating income on much smaller revenue base: $2.4 billion.
Still, Amazon is hardly taking its foot off the gas in its quest to transform our shopping habits with its e-commerce business. The company this month launched its Dash replenishment program, in which a GE washing machine orders detergent from Amazon when you’re running low, and a Brother printer automatically orders toner and ink when they need refilling. It also continues to push into new markets with its Prime Now same-day delivery offering, which is now available in most major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and New York. They are also expanding it to cities in Italy, Japan and Britain.
(Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)