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Sunday, 6 August, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Amazon condemned as 'terrible'
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: Doggedly upbeat
The editor of the US e-business "bible", Red Herring, has branded online retail pioneer Amazon a "terrible company".

Jason Pontin says he interviewed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last week and found his answers "infuriatingly evasive".


You are left wondering: Could this chuckling maniac actually be right?

Jason Pontin, editor Red Herring
Writing in the Sunday Business, Mr Pontin says his probing of Mr Bezos provided "a good summary of why Amazon is, as we say in the business, crap."

He said he had already noted how if Amazon were ever to justify its stock market valuation, it would have to grow its revenues by more than 80% a year for the next 20 years.

Debts

Mr Pontin - whose Silicon Valley-based magazine is seen by many as an e-commerce "must read" - says Amazon compares itself with discount stores but actually has a very different cost structure.


In other words, the company had to raise 95 cents to meet every dollar of merchandise sold

Jason Pontin
"How does a true discount store, such as CostCo, make money? Through highly efficient inventory management, warehouse management and by squeezing suppliers," he says.

"But Amazon's fulfilment costs averaged 14% of sales, where Barnes & Noble's were just 6%. Wasn't there, we asked Bezos, a disconnection between how Amazon saw itself and the harsh facts of the real world?"

He said Amazon had been kept afloat by the money raised in its stock market flotation and by its debt.

Cash crisis

Now that cash for internet ventures is drying up, Mr Pontin says Amazon is in big trouble.


Is he crazy or are we?

Jason Pontin
"From 1997 through the March quarter of this year," he says, "the company reported $2.9bn in revenues but it raised $2.8bn to meet its cash needs.

"In other words, the company had to raise 95 cents to meet every dollar of merchandise sold."

Mr Pontin says he pressed Mr Bezos for an answer to how he would find more money but was told that everything was "just fine, thank you".

Growth

He says: "Bezos has the ability to sound not unsmart, while saying nothing.

"He still maintains that growth, by some wizardry of the internet, will validate e-commerce.

"He maintains this in spite of his crushing debt load, the departure of his president and his utter inability to say where he will raise cash in the future."

Mr Pontin concludes: "Such is the force of his personality... you are left wondering: Could this chuckling maniac actually be right?

"Or, to put it another way: Is he crazy or are we?"

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