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Summary:

I spent five times as much on Christmas presents this year as last year. That is, I spent $500 in one frenzied day of shopping. Last year, I spent $100 a day over 10 days of shopping. OK, I made those figures up, but you can […]

I spent five times as much on Christmas presents this year as last year.

That is, I spent $500 in one frenzied day of shopping. Last year, I spent $100 a day over 10 days of shopping.

OK, I made those figures up, but you can see the problem with such selective statistics. I can pretend my spending increased fivefold when in fact it was really cut in half. And yet that’s how Amazon slices and dices its closely watched holiday sales numbers.

Amazon says customers ordered “over 6.3 million items ordered worldwide on the peak day, Dec. 15″ (or a “record-breaking” 73 items per second!). That raises more questions than it answers. Why focus on just one day? Do “items” include individual MP3 files? Why not just tally the total dollar value of all the goods it sold? We could be buying more items but spending so little on each that Amazon’s total sales decline.

So when Amazon released its annual “best-year-ever” PR release after Christmas, the celebration was even briefer than a Festivus party at the Costanzas. Amazon’s stock rose 4.6 percent early Friday to $53.79, but closed pretty much unchanged at $51.78.

Observers noted that not only was the shopping season shorter this year by five days, but the growth rate of Amazon’s “peak day” slowed to 17 percent this year from 35 percent in 2007. Others chided Amazon for being tightfisted with numbers during a holiday season in need of good news. Paul Kedrosky went gloomier, suggesting Amazon could itself fall victim to weakening sales.

Instead, Amazon offers slightly cute and completely useless factoids, like how far all the Coldplay CDs that Amazon sold would stretch if laid side by side (an exercise useful only if you bring in a steamroller).

Amazon’s technical expertise is good enough that they are capable of offering a window into the mind of the American consumer — which has changed drastically in the past three months. We saw a taste of this further down into the press release, where Amazon listed the top-selling products this season in each major category.

Among gadgets, consumers weren’t going for the cheapest-priced items, preferring quality at good value. Apple’s iPod Touch was a bestseller, as was an Acer netbook retailing for $370 and a 52-inch Samsung HDTV at $1,800. Nintendo’s Wii, unsurprisingly, dominated video game sales.

Culturally, Amazon’s sales suggest consumers fixated on dark tones. The gothic “Twilight,” with its tale of forbidden and protective love, topped books and its movie soundtrack also sold well. Apocalyptic themes in “Wall-E” and “The Dark Knight” resonated in DVD sales. The darkness fetish even extended into the toys category, where Eyeclops night vision stealth goggles were the top seller.

Insight into how long this sour mood might last. Too bad that Amazon, so good at collecting this kind of data, is so bad at sharing it.

  1. Would it be better if AMZN said they had their worst day ever on December 15th? Not sure what the big deal is. The quarterly report will show the “real” numbers. May be you should view the glass as half full. Keep you chin up. Happy Holidays!

  2. It’s probably other days are not as amazing as Dec 15, and the total sales over the holiday season are not exceptional good. That’s the way of PR by exposing the best data they got.

  3. Amazon always releases a cutesy press release the day after. Just be glad there was growth in revenue and likely profit. They’re not releasing their quarterly results; any financial person who pretends like it should be otherwise is a… well… bad analyst. That’s not how Amazon operates, and it’s not how most top performing companies do either. Sorry, Santa ain’t gonna grant that wish. Bah humbug.

  4. Hey, in this economy, good news is good news, even if it is twisted a tiny bit by only sharing partial data. Like the person above said, many companies don’t publish ALL their numbers, and they probably shouldn’t.

  5. I agree with Gadget Sleuth!
    It seems to me that amazon is doing something right….they have a fighting spirit in these tough times.
    I am sure when we see the long list of bankrupt retailers in January, AMAZON would be far far away from it.

  6. A Fateful Month for Big Tech Companies Monday, January 19, 2009

    [...] issue: They call it Black Friday, but it was the beginning of good tidings for Amazon. Its stock surged 63 percent from pre-Thanksgiving lows to early January. Then came [...]

  7. Kağıt Maket Saturday, May 16, 2009

    Amazon: The Scrooge of Holiday-Sales Data great article thank you.

  8. Black Friday, Red Ink: Big Discounts Will Kill Profits – GigaOM Friday, November 27, 2009

    [...] Black Friday, Red Ink: Big Discounts Will Kill Profits By Kevin Kelleher November 27, 2009 No Comments 0 0 0 0 It’s that time of year again. The holiday shopping season has shifted into full gear, and so have the economists, analysts and retailers who wring their hands over things like Black Friday sales figures. Or those of its fake, and widely mocked, online counterpart, Cyber Monday (which is far from the busiest shopping day on the web — online sales at Amazon, for example, typically peak in mid-December). [...]

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