Unfolding Amazon.com's Fluff

This morning's press release out of Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) reveals a lot of colorful -- yet practically useless -- anecdotes.

  • In the rare moments when the leading e-tailer had Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) Wii consoles in stock, they sold at a pace of 17 per second.
  • The company sold enough Hannah Montana wigs to outfit an entire audience at one of her many sold-out shows.
  • If you stack all of the GPS units that Amazon sold over the holidays end to end, you could connect New York City with Philadelphia.

We get it, Amazon. You're big. However, unless you tell me how many of those GPS orders were for Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN  ) -- and what kind of slice of the overall GPS market you think you carved for yourself -- I'm left with animated images of wigged-out concertgoers and a bumpy road for Mets fans en route to see their team play on the road against the Phillies.

The real meat of the matter
Some of the more useful -- yet ultimately incomplete -- nuggets of information relate to Amazon's peak performance.

  • Forget Cyber Monday. Dec. 10 was Amazon's busiest day, taking in orders for 5.4 million items, or 62.5 items per second.
  • Its fulfillment operations peaked the day it shipped out 3.9 million units.
  • Its Amazon Customers Vote promotion, now in its second year, garnered 4.6 million votes from users who wanted a shot at getting great deals on limited supplies of showcased merchandise.  

Amazon isn't telling us explicitly how well it fared over the telltale holiday shopping season, but it's giving us enough rope to lasso a ballpark projection. See, Amazon put out a similar release last year.

On its peak selling day last year -- which also happened to be the second Monday of December -- the company took in orders that "exceeded 4 million items." So on its busiest day this month, Amazon sold as much as 35% more in terms of unit volume.

Amazon's busiest fulfillment day last year found it sending out 3.4 million units. This year's winner is just 15% higher, but I would put more weight on the peak ordering day data (since shipments can be smoothed out while the snapshot of one-day demand is a better indicator). In other words, I'd expect the company's top-line growth to clock in within its guidance issued back in October. It was looking for net sales of $5.1 billion to $5.45 billion during the quarter, translating into a 28% to 37% advance from a year ago.

It may still exceed that sum, because we can't confuse units with sales. If Amazon is selling bigger-ticket items this year, net sales may even exceed the company's guidance. In that sense, it's heartening to see Amazon's top-sellers include pricy items like video game hardware, digital cameras, flat-screen televisions, and laptops.

Investors shouldn't dream of Amazon duplicating the Harry Potter-powered 41% net sales gain that the company scored in the third quarter, but it's not entirely out of the question if unit and average selling prices grow in tandem. In other words, I'm not going out on much of a limb in projecting that Amazon will top analyst expectations the way it has in each of the past five quarters.

Tell me something that I didn't know
You won't find a lot of news in the company's list of top-sellers within certain categories. I already spilled the beans earlier this month, as an addict to the company's best-seller lists. I had already told you that JAKKS Pacific's (Nasdaq: JAKK  ) EyeClops was the hot toy, and that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) MacBooks and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) Internet tablets were the top computing buys.

Anyone with time to spare can spend the weeks leading up to Christmas sorting Amazon's categories to spit out the top-sellers. Certain areas like books and CDs will typically parallel weekly lists produced by The New York Times and Billboard, respectively, but you can learn plenty by exploring other categories, such as toys and electronics, to spot the trends before the rest of the market does.

So, sure, this morning's press release contains a lot of colorful fluff. You probably can't do a whole lot with the knowledge that Amazon sold enough auto wrenches to stretch all along the Daytona 500 track. However, when you add it all up, it virtually confirms that Amazon is coming through with another monster quarter as it further entrenches itself as the definitive online retailer.

As Hannah Montana sings, it truly is the best of both worlds, no matter where you get the wig.   

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