Jeff Bezos’s latest shareholder letter, released on Thursday, opens with the first-ever disclosure of Amazon’s total share of sales from the merchants that use the company’s e-commerce sites as a sales conduit. The company has long said that those merchants sell about half of the individual items sold on Amazon, but it has never given their contribution to the total value of physical merchandise sold on the site. That number – a common e-commerce metric known as gross merchandise volume – has always been a secret at Amazon. Not anymore. Based on Bezos’s letter and Amazon’s previous disclosures, it’s possible to roughly calculate Amazon’s gross merchandise volume dating back to 2015. It’s a remarkable number – nearly $300 billion worth of goods sold on Amazon last year. Compare that with the $95 billion in total merchandise and ticket sales reported by eBay, the distant No. 2 player in U.S. e-commerce. (Walmart sells more than $500 billion in merchandise each year, and China’s Alibaba sells more than $700 billion in goods.)
But there’s a dark cloud in Amazon’s figure. The growth of Amazon’s total merchandise sales slowed considerably last year, according to Bloomberg Opinion calculations based on Bezos’s disclosures. This figure is not the first sign than Amazon’s retail juggernaut may have slipped a bit. In 2018, Amazon’s nearly $300 billion in GMV was about a 19 percent jump from the prior year. That was notably slower than the rates of increase of 24 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in 2017 and 2016. It’s hard to explain the slowdown in Amazon’s merchandise sales growth. If anything, it seems as if Amazon is grabbing a larger share of e-commerce sales and that the internet is stealing more sales from physical stores, which have accounted for something like 90 percent of all U.S. retail sales. And yet Amazon’s retail sales growth – although still impressive – is slowing noticeably.