It turns out, Amazon may have built too much, too soon, analysts say.
The world’s largest online retailer on Thursday reported $2 billion in incremental costs from having excess fulfillment and transportation capacity, a dramatic shift from just two years ago when Amazon had to turn away merchants’ goods because it had room only for vital supplies.
The company is lowering its capital expenditure plans for 2022, its Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said. Amazon will spend less on fulfillment projects this year than last, while transportation investments will be flat to slightly down.
The new reality began to emerge halfway through 2021. Amazon was on track to double its warehouse and delivery network, a feat necessitated by consumers’ embrace of at-home shopping to avoid COVID-19 infections in stores. For the first time, space was not the retailer’s main constraint; it was labor to staff facilities fully. At Amazon’s scale, that meant hiring 270,000 workers in six months.
After the Christmas holiday, consumer demand dwindled, as always. Online sales dipped from a year ago, Amazon’s results showed. Brick-and-mortar stores beckoned shoppers once the Omicron wave subsided, and still others faced a choice between buying goods and filling their cars with high-priced gas. Amazon says order patterns have remained the same.
Nevertheless, Olsavsky told reporters the company appeared to be “overbuilt for current demand.” He said Amazon had no regrets, later telling analysts: “Many of the build decisions were made 18 to 24 months ago, so there are limitations on what we can adjust mid-year.”
David Glick, a former Amazon vice president who is now chief technology officer of the on-demand fulfillment company Flexe, said extra space was no major challenge.
“Amazon may have gotten a little ahead on fulfillment capacity, but they will grow into that excess capacity over the next year,” he said. A new program for Amazon to store and ship goods that independent merchants directly sell to consumers, known as Buy with Prime, may help, too.
Amazon will eventually need these warehouses, agreed Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. But Amazon’s disclosure provided little solace.
“Didn’t they see this coming when they built all these fulfillment centers?” Pachter asked, noting how Amazon doubled over two decades of capacity in just 24 months. “Why not do it in 48?”
Operating income fell 59% to $3.7 billion in the first quarter, while a decline in Amazon’s shares in electric vehicle maker Rivian resulted in the company’s first net loss since 2015.
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