Not only did the e-tail giant dive further into physical retail last year with the acquisition of Whole Foods in a clear effort to gain shopping ground held by the likes of Wal-Mart, but it banked 44 percent of all U.S. e-commerce sales and 4 percent of total U.S. retail sales during 2017, equaling an estimated $200 billion in sales, according to new research from One Click Retail.
And that momentum doesn’t look to be easing any time soon.
“There’s zero risk Amazon stops growing,” Simeon Siegel, an analyst with Instinet, said.
The company’s stock looks to be on a similarly secure path. Shares have drifted up steadily over the past five years and on Wednesday rose another 1.28 percent to a new high of $1,024.20.
Although Siegel noted that mathematically speaking, Amazon’s growth will start to shift as the company itself gets bigger and it brings on more third-party sellers — moving sales volume — and expands to offering even more products to more shoppers in more geographic locations. But that doesn’t mean a dollar slowdown is on the horizon.
“The idea is that to have peak growth, you have to peak out with the consumer,” something Siegel doesn’t see Amazon contending with any time soon, if ever.
“There’s no socioeconomic stigma associated with Amazon like there is with really any other type of retail,” he added. “Amazon’s audience is restricted only to people that can get online.”
Its utilitarian charm is certainly paying off. Last year saw Amazon best itself, and by virtue every other retailer, through the various shopping holidays it has either engineered or promoted. First there was Prime Day, set in the retail doldrums of early July, with sales estimated by industry analysts to be around $1 billion. Then came Cyber Monday, which Amazon said was its biggest shopping day ever. And its “best-ever” holiday season followed, with sales surpassing the 2016 season, when holiday sales came in around $4.75 billion.
One Click analyst Spencer Millerberg said that “2017 was a very big year for Amazon.”
Overall sales throughout the year were led by categories like consumer electronics, a segment that includes items like laptops, headphones and Amazon’s own Alexa-powered devices, and home and kitchen goods, which pulled in an estimated $8.5 billion and $5.5 billion in sales, respectively.
But those aren’t Amazon’s growth drivers.
That distinction goes to categories such as luxury beauty, which Amazon defines as professional-level hair, makeup and skin-care products, and its growing stable of private-label brands covering everything from paper towels to athletic apparel.
Amazon’s total apparel category, including intimates, jeans and outerwear, grew 32 percent by early October, and One Click said the fourth quarter is expected to surpass that growth “significantly.”
In 2016, One Click estimated Amazon to have sold $3.4 billion in U.S. apparel, while Instinet put its global apparel sales much higher, at 10 to 20 percent of revenues, or between $18 billion and $36 billion. Aided by successful partnerships with brands like Calvin Klein and Levi’s, Siegel of Instinet estimated that Amazon’s global apparel sales could top $85 billion by 2020, leaving other retail giants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy’s Inc., with $25 billion and $22 billion in 2016 apparel sales, respectively, running to catch up.
But even as Amazon dominates the online world, it doesn’t have the retail universe to itself. Its biggest rival is Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, even with online sales accounting for only 3 percent of its overall revenue, which totaled $482.13 billion in 2016, well above Amazon’s $136.5 billion in sales that year. The discrepancy shows there is a difference in each company’s consumer reach, but also that there are plenty of shopping dollars around to fight over.
Ike Boruchow of Wells Fargo found in a recent survey that there is even room for Amazon to grow with current users. While more than 80 percent of 1,400 shoppers surveyed use Amazon, 50 percent said the site only accounts for less than 40 percent of their total shopping. Amazon’s attempts to permeate every aspect of a consumer’s life with voice assistants and in-home delivery, among other innovations, is likely to see that total shopping number increase in the months and years to come.
“Amazon still has significant runway for consumer adoption,” Boruchow said.
Amazon’s hold on e-commerce may be insurmountable at this point, but Wal-Mart’s most recent third-quarter financials showed a 50 percent surge in its online business, bolstered by apparel-driven tie ups with Lord & Taylor and acquisitions of digitally native brands like Bonobos.
But Amazon also has a luxury beauty play that’s starting to take shape. The segment grew 47 percent year-over-year, totaling around $400 million, according to One Click. For comparison’s sake, Ulta Beauty tallied $4.85 billion in sales in 2016. Amazon’s beauty sales might be small in comparison, but the company’s offering is nowhere near as extensive and many prestige beauty brands are not keen to do business with a mass e-tailer.
Such a clear growth opportunity is likely why Amazon is said to have locked up a deal with Violet Grey, the online luxury beauty retailer and content platform.
With booming business and the ability to acquire what it pleases (Target was even floated by one analyst as a possible Amazon addition for this year), there have been rumblings of antitrust issues, egged on by President Donald Trump. He’s either alluded to or outright accused Amazon of being a monopoly and having unfair tax advantage on a few occasions.
Leon Cooperman, chief executive officer of the hedge fund Omega Advisors, said during a December appearance on CNBC that Trump asked him twice during a dinner not long after Amazon cut its $13.7 billion deal to acquire Whole Foods whether the e-tailer was a monopoly. Cooperman said no both times, but it didn’t stop Trump from subsequently calling Amazon a “no tax monopoly” on Twitter.
In 2016, while still a candidate, Trump said Amazon founder and ceo Jeff Bezos had “a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much,” adding that “Amazon is controlling so much.”
At any rate, antitrust enforcement in the U.S. tends to be very hands-off and focused on consumer harm, like outright price fixing, rather than possible undue influence in a given industry. The Whole Foods merger was approved in August after a cursory investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
The antitrust situation is different in Europe, where Amazon is also expanding but the governments there seem keen to level the playing field for smaller competitors. Amazon was recently sued by France’s economic minister for allegedly demanding unilateral control in its dealings with third-party vendors. France’s Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control said the action was part of the government’s effort to “act at a national and European level to better regulate the activity of large digital platforms and to ensure greater transparency, balance and loyalty in their relations with companies.”
Antitrust talk around Amazon here and abroad is likely to continue, however, but to what end is anyone’s guess.
“The larger it gets the more these conversations will be had,” Siegel noted. “How that will play itself out at this point is unknowable.”
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