This holiday season was brutal. A sky full of retailer earnings are falling like wounded sparrows, some of them surely to meet their doom. Don't even think about growing sales unless your name is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) -- or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Amazon reports fourth-quarter earnings Thursday night, and this report will look like a paragon of power next to disappointing peers like eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). Market researcher comScore says that Amazon's online traffic grew 7% this holiday season compared to 2007, second only to Apple and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) among consumer-facing sites. Higher Web traffic tends to mean higher sales in the e-commerce field, just as higher foot traffic points to more registers ka-chinging in a physical store.

If we pretend that 7% more visitors mean 7% higher sales, it's certainly far worse than the 42% year-over-year revenue improvement seen last holiday season -- but it's still impressive to grow at all when the consumer crowd tightens their collective purse strings. It makes sense, too. When budgets tighten up, shoppers tend to prefer comparison-shopping. And online, Amazon stands ready to greet them with arms wide open and deep discounts.

Fools in general don't trust the retail sector much at all, judging by the CAPS ratings we see there:


Market Cap (billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating (5 stars max.)

Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT)











Best Buy (NYSE:BBY)







Financial data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's and Yahoo! Finance as of Jan. 28, 2009.

Nope, no love here, not even for traditional giants of the trade or for Amazon, which still has a heartbeat. Management already told us that the 2008 high-octane shopping season was the "best ever," at least in terms of the number of items shipped. Add in the groundbreaking and high-margin cloud computing services and the potential profits inherent in the best-selling Kindle E-book reader, and I see something special happening here.

The sky may be falling, but Amazon stands strong. If I were buying one retail stock today, at what could be the deepest bottom of the barrel I think we'll ever scratch, it would be Amazon.

Further Foolishness:

Wal-Mart Stores, eBay, and Best Buy are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. eBay, Best Buy,, and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors. Those disclosure rules ensure that he can't get into Amazon for another ten days. Bummer.