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Amazon analyst on pandemic sales growth: ‘The genie never goes back in the bottle’

·Technology Editor
·3 min read
In this article:
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Amazon (AMZN) is set to announce its Q1 2021 on Thursday April 29, and while the company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud operation is usually top of mind for investors and analysts, it’s the tech giant’s ecommerce business that could take center stage this time around.

According to Oppenheimer Senior Analyst Jason Helfstein, Amazon investors will be watching to see whether pandemic-driven consumer spending on online goods will drop as people have become more comfortable venturing back out into the world.

“We think the cloud story is well set up, and investors are probably not worried about that,” Helfstein told Yahoo Finance Live. “It’s probably more of, did Amazon take so much share during COVID and people buying shampoo online for the first time that as the economy is reopening, they’re going to lose share.”

Amazon became even more a go-to for consumers during the pandemic, as stay-at-home orders forced people to find new ways to get their shopping done. That translated to some huge wins, with the company reporting $125 billion in revenue in Q4 2020, the first time it topped the $100 billion revenue mark in a quarter.

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD, on September 19, 2018. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD, on September 19, 2018. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon said the quarter was so large thanks to a historic holiday shopping season and its annual Prime Day event, which it moved from July to October due to the pandemic. And while that could set up Amazon for some difficult comparisons in the coming quarters, Helfstein says it’s unlikely consumers who began shopping online during the pandemic will give it up entirely.

“We’ve always found in ecommerce, the genie never goes back in the bottle,” said Helfstein. “Yes, people will go out and about their lives but at the end of the day, is buying shampoo in a store enjoyable? And so if it’s such an easy thing, a habitual thing you’ve kind of done online, you’ll just keep doing that.”

That lines up with what other analysts are expecting from the company in Q1 2021. According to Bloomberg, Wall Street is looking for Amazon’s quarterly revenue to jump some 38% year over year, from $75.5 billion in Q1 2020 to $104.5 billion in Q1 2021.

Such a massive sales boost would line up with the incredible growth Amazon saw in its Prime subscriber numbers for 2020. In his last shareholders’ letter as CEO released earlier this month, Jeff Bezos revealed that Amazon now has 200 million Prime subscribers, with 50 million joining the service in the last year.

Prior to the pandemic, it took Amazon at least two years to add 50 million subscribers on its way from 100 million users to 150 million.

Outside of its ecommerce growth, Helfstein says investors want to know what Amazon will do with the billions of dollars it previously earmarked for pandemic-related expenses. As vaccine supplies grow and stay-at-home orders lift, the company will be able to divert that cash elsewhere by investing into its various ecommerce efforts.

“The question is where does it go? Does it go to grocery? Does it go into pharmacy? They have some ambitions in healthcare,” Helfstein said.

“So I think investors would like to understand how this affects the story over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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