Amid retail slump, Amazon's flying high

An Amazon.co.uk employee with a cart full of toys walks through books and other retail goods piled up in the company's facility in Milton Keynes, England in 2006.

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KAI RYSSDAL: This holiday season hasn't been so good, though, for most retailers. Not only aren't they selling as much as they wanted to. But a lot of what they do sell they've got to discount so heavily they're losing money. That's most retailers. Just not all.

Amazon announced this morning it's just had its best holiday ever. The company says on December 15th alone it sold more than 6 million items -- that's almost 75 sales a second.

Marketplace's Steve Henn explains why Amazon was able to buck the trend of one of the worst retail shopping seasons ever.


STEVE HENN: Sarah Hubner has a bit of an online shopping addiction.

SARAH HUBNER: I have a weakness. Well, I don't call it a weakness. Books. I love books.

If she hears about a new author on the radio or a subject piques her interest, it's only a matter of time before . . .

HUBNER: I get bored at work and I switch over to Amazon.com and . . ..

So far, her little addiction hasn't pushed her into the poor house. Her online shopping cart is full of deferred purchases. Her wish list is long.

A decade ago, Hubner would go to the mall to do her holiday shopping. But these days she tries to avoid the big chains, the parking lots and the Muzak. And by shopping online she may even save some money, too.

MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN: It has very competitive prices. And for time-starved consumers there is nothing better.

Michael Silverstein is a retail analyst who follows Amazon for the Boston Consulting Group.

SILVERSTEIN: It is the easiest, fastest shopping. You can actually buy things for everyone on your list in 20 minutes.

Amazon may have benefited a bit from some big snow storms this holiday season. But that's not the only reason Amazon seems immune from this downturn. Silverstein says Amazon appeals to a different demographic than some of its competitors.

SILVERSTEIN: It's actually a little richer, younger, educated, more computer savvy. The segment that continues to go to the mall typically has more children, slightly lower middle class incomes and . . .

It's been hit a lot harder in this recession.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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