If you want to check the pulse of shopping habits this stingy holiday season, you can do far worse than strolling through Amazon.com's
I do this every year. It's initially a selfish practice. I'm just trying to score the hottest deals on the site that temporarily bubble up to the top. However, over time, you do get a pretty clear snapshot of the winners and losers long before the actual merchandise makers post their results.
Here are a few things I've noticed.
1. Netbooks are the hot hardware item this season
Last year it was Apple's
Whether Apple should be in the netbook business is hotly contested, even among us in Fooldom. The margins aren't there. Netbooks are lighter yet inferior in many ways. However, it's becoming clear that there will be more netbooks under the tree than MacBooks this year. When Apple announces soft laptop sales over the holidays, just remember that Amazon was tipping you off a month earlier.
2. The hot toy this year is … Hyper Dash
The perpetual chart-topper last year was JAKKS Pacific's
That doesn't leave a lot of room for the publicly traded giants like Mattel
3. Hard times for software
Computer software is the other category I routinely check, and it's been a no-doubter this year. Microsoft's
4. The biggest lesson of all
The most important takeaway from the Amazon bestseller lists is that they are good gauges, but not perfect ones. We don't know the actual volume of goods being sold, just how certain items rank within Amazon's virtual storefront.
It provides relative metrics but not the absolute ones that will ultimately dictate a company's results. So, yes, what I am saying is that if Apple does somehow deliver healthy MacBook growth over the holidays, all it means is that netbooks are everywhere.
Other chapters in the Amazon story that never ends:
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has even done some shopping with Amazon's iPhone app. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.