At the very least,
made it through Thanksgiving weekend without looking like a turkey.
The online retailer, which last month lowered estimates for holiday season sales, enjoyed a goosed-up stock price Monday as investors feasted on scant but appetizing online shopping statistics. But does a post-Turkey Day goosing of sales mean that Amazon will do better than Wall Street has forecast?
This holiday season is a crucial one for Amazon, as investors debate the sufficiency of Jeff Bezos' cash cushion, the timetable for the company to become cash-flow positive, and its ability to fight off real-world giants like
. Amazon jumped $1.91, or 21%, to $10.99 Monday.
Bump in the Road?
At least there was a bump in sales for Amazon and other online retailers. On Friday, Nov. 23 -- in the real world, one of the busiest shopping days of the year -- the number of people who window-shopped or bought on Amazon's sites jumped 33% from a week earlier, according to Internet research firm Nielsen//NetRatings.
That's a smaller jump than the triple-digit Friday-over-Friday increase enjoyed by online sites operated by Wal-Mart, Target and
. But it's slightly ahead of the industrywide 32% uptick in Friday-over-Friday shopping.
Amazon's numbers are cause for optimism, says NetRatings chief analyst Lisa Strand. Yes, combination offline/online department stores, especially the discount-hyping ones, showed bigger traffic gains, she says. But keep in mind that online giant Amazon still had more shoppers than these top five runners-up combined. When it comes to percentage gains, "Size makes a huge difference," she says.
In addition, says Strand, it's also noteworthy that Amazon edged out the aggregate online shopping growth. "For the largest store to outpace growth of all sites represents strength in the market," she says.
Comparisons to last year's numbers for overall online shopping are reasons for optimism, though not celebration. Friday's numbers showed a 22% jump from the Thanksgiving week daily average, less than the comparable Friday bump-up a year ago. Strand isn't alarmed by the diminished growth; she says the spike may have been blunted by the greater numbers of people already shopping online this year, or by the amelioration of panic that comes from a longer time span between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2001.
The tea leaves from Amazon itself aren't very legible. The company said last month that
it expects sales of between $970 million and $1.07 billion for the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31, lower than the $1.1 billion expected by Wall Street at the time. On Friday, Amazon released results from its pseudoscientific (at best) Holiday Delight-O-Meter, saying that shoppers had ordered 8.9 million items since Nov. 9.
Taking a crack at that data, Merrill Lynch Internet analyst Henry Blodget says it indicates that the number of items sold in the past two weeks is 20%-30% higher than in the same two weeks last year, suggesting that Amazon is likely tracking slightly ahead of consensus revenue estimates for the quarter. But in a Monday note, Blodget immediately hedged on that conclusion, pointing out all the reasons unit volume may not correlate to revenue. (Among its many caveats for the Delight-O-Meter data, Amazon itself says, "The Delight-O-Meter should not be viewed or used as a predictor or indicator of revenue or other financial information relating to Amazon.com.")
Morgan Stanley Internet analyst Mary Meeker is cautiously optimistic about the holiday e-shopping season, following the release of various online commerce stats.
AOL Time Warner
says AOL sites' online transactions in October rose 80% from a year ago;
says sales volume Friday through Sunday was up 75% over the comparable weekend last year;
MSN eShop says it expects online orders this season to grow 150% over last year.
Referring to anecdotal information about Friday, Meeker writes in a note, "While one day does not a trend make ... barring unusual events, e-commerce for the leaders should be strong this Christmas."
If there is a present under Amazon.com shareholders' Christmas tree, it's hard to see for all the hedges.