Solving the Silence from Seattle

The post-holiday time is always a quiet one. There is a natural letdown as the New Year begins and people quietly work their way back into their workaday routines.

But there is something unnaturally quiet about the past couple weeks. Yes, it’s still early, and, as we learned in Florida during the last presidential election, it’s better to get the numbers right than to get them quickly. But isn’t it awfully quiet out there?

And because the expectations were higher there than anywhere else, the silence is particularly deafening in Seattle — the home of Amazon.com, which has been promising for a long, long time that it would reach profitability at the end of 2001.

Waiting on Space Needles

By most accounts, Amazon.com had a great holiday season — at least in terms of traffic to its Web site, the number of unique visitors and the like. Amazon did reveal that its Delight-o-Meter had registered a sizeable increase in items sold during the holidays as well.

But all that information doesn’t speak a word about the all-important top and bottom lines. Did revenue grow as much as hoped? And was there enough of it to leave behind a profit after all the numbers had been crunched?

So far, investors and analysts have remained calm and patient. The stock has held its own, and unlike several other Internet companies, Amazon has been the subject of few analyst reports in the past several weeks.

They deserve time to get it right. Amazon, after all, is now a far-flung international company with a steady stream of sales on three continents, not to mention its partnership deals.

It must take an army of accountants working overtime to figure out Amazon’s piece of the the sales action produced by Toys “R” Us (NYSE: TOY), Target (NYSE: TGT) and Circuit City (NYSE: CC).

Too Much Starbucks

Patience is a virtue, of course, but who could blame any of the stakeholders for being anxious and jumpy?

The last few weeks of the holiday shopping season only served to make things more unclear. Weak November sales prompted some analysts to lower their forecasts. Others stuck by their numbers, citing a late-season surge of shoppers undeterred by past delivery snafus.

The post-holiday reports from Yahoo! (Nasdaq; YHOO) and AOL only add to the confusion. Did sales grow as much as it seems, or did more consolidation of shoppers and sales take place?

The answers will trickle in over the next couple of weeks. By the end of January, things will be straightened out. But already it seems clear that expectations are different, and the questions being asked are not the same as those in past years.

Solid Bet

No e-commerce question has been asked more than the one about Amazon.com’s promise of pro forma operating profits for the fourth quarter of 2001.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Jeff Bezos and company will pull it off. Maybe they’ve already done the math and are sitting on the results, grinning healthy post-holiday grins and waiting for the perfect moment to make their investors and employees happy.

I hope this is the case; I hope they’re making us wait on purpose. If so, it will be worth the wait.

Rite of Passage

If the opposite is true — if the silence isn’t golden — Amazon may already be working on a way to spin its way out of trouble. And there are several loopholes through which it can squeeze.

The economy was, in fact, awful. And real-world retailers, by most early accounts, have had a dismal season. They were, to an extent, a victim of circumstance.

There is no shortage of excuses. Let’s hope that Amazon doesn’t need to employ any of them. At least, not this year.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


2 Comments

  • Amazon continues to use smoke and mirrors and the so-called financial experts still can’t see the truth. PRO FORMA profits. What company couldn’t be profitable using pro forma accounting?

  • The December 27, 1999, issue of Time Magazine named Bezos its “Person of the Year”. At that time, Amazon was losing a million dollars a day. Since that time, Amazon stock has lost 85% of its value. In calendar 2000, its net income was negative $1.4 billion, double the loss from the previous year.

    What explains your infatuation with a business that epitomizes the wrongheadedness that crashed the Nasdaq last year?

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