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Amazon details its shopping habits

Amazon.com's previously announced deal to acquire Alexa Internet will cost it $250 million, a substantial sum for a company whose net revenue was little more than $370,000 last year.

3 min read
Amazon.com spent $250 million to acquire Alexa Internet, a substantial sum for a company whose net revenue was little more than $370,000 last year and whose technology may not have an immediate application at Amazon.

Amazon announced the deal last month as well as the acquisition of Exchange.com and Accept.com. Details of the deals were first revealed in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday.

According to the filing, Amazon will use about $250 million in stock to purchase Alexa. For Exchange.com, the retail giant is spending about $4 million in cash and $196 million in stock. The filing did not disclose how much Amazon is paying for Accept.com, but based on previous regulatory filings, the price is around $195 million.

The Alexa deal is perhaps the most intriguing of the three acquisitions. Exchange, which operates sites dedicated to hard-to-find books and music titles, seems to mesh clearly with Amazon's current offerings. Little is known about Accept, although the company and Amazon say that it is involved in the "e-commerce space."

Alexa has developed a Web browsing tool that runs Web browsers. The tool, which Alexa says has some 600,000 users, provides traffic information on sites they are visiting and links to related sites. The company also is creating an archive of Web sites and pages.

Neither Amazon nor Alexa are discussing how Amazon will use this technology. Amazon spokesman Bill Curry said only that when it considers acquiring a company, Amazon looks for talented people, technology that's valuable to its customers, and a "zeal for making e-commerce better and easier for customers."

"That's what took us to Alexa and Exchange," Curry said.

Derek Brown, a financial analyst at Volpe Brown Whelan, suggested that Amazon will use Alexa's technology to monitor Amazon customers as they surf the Web. If a customer visits a golf-related site, for example, Amazon could use Alexa to market its golf-related goods to that customer, Brown said.

"Previously, Amazon would have been excluded from that transaction," Brown said.

But Brown said the ability to track and directly market to customers might not be worth what Amazon paid, and it is "quite possible" that Amazon overpaid for Alexa, which lost $4.4 million on $372,000 in revenues last year.

"It certainly seems like a high price, given the financial performance of the company to date," Brown said.

E-commerce analyst Erica Rugullies of Giga Information Group suggested that Alexa's technology could improve customer loyalty at Amazon by making Amazon's site easier to navigate. Amazon could use the technology to alert music customers about related auctions or books and help them easily jump to those sites.

"They need something like this to help manage this spiderweb of sites that they're developing," Rugullies said.

Still, Rugullies questioned the cost of the acquisition. "That was a lot of money to spend," she said. "It's hard to say, 'Yes, it was worth it.'"

But Lauren Cooks Levitan, financial analyst at BancBoston Robertson Stephens, called the $250 million "insignificant" compared with Amazon's $22 billion market capitalization. Whether Alexa is actually worth $250 million may be "the $64,000 question," Levitan said, but what's important is how much the company is worth to Amazon.

"What it's worth as a part of Amazon, by definition, is a much bigger number than what it's worth alone," Levitan said.

Because of the company's large customer base, Levitan said, Amazon already knows more about online shoppers than any other online retailer. Alexa's technology could give it further insight into customer preferences.

"It does seem like a neat little tool," Levitan said.

Alexa, which began operations in February 1996, claimed no revenue prior to 1998, during which time it lost some $3.03 million.