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Costs and Expenses of Amazon

Amazon’s operating expenses have grown sharply in recent years. The e-commerce giant generated more than $500 billion in net sales in 2022. However, its net operating expenses also remained higher than $500 billion. Amazon had to bear a net loss of $2.7 billion in 2022. Its operating income was only $12.25 billion or less than half of the previous year. Amazon’s cost of sales alone amounted to $288.8 billion in 2022.

Costs and Expenses in Amazon’s Business Operations

The chart above displays Amazon’s total operating expenses from 2018 to 2022 in millions. Its cost of sales are the largest category of operating expenses followed by fulfilment and research and development expenses.

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Amazon is the largest e-commerce brand in the world and also a leading player in the cloud industry. Its net revenue has experienced massive growth over the past few years driven by increased global sales and higher sales of cloud based services.

The net revenue of the company in 2019 grew to $280.5 billion compared to $232.9 billion in 2018. In 2021, its net sales have grown to $469.822 billion compared to $386.064 billion in 2020.

The popularity of Amazon’s ecommerce platform as well as its cloud services has grown a lot during recent years. While Amazon’s net sales have grown rapidly, its operating expenses have also grown faster, driven mainly by growth in research and development expenses as well as the cost of sales and fulfillment costs. 

There are many types of costs involved in running an ecommerce website that serves millions of users worldwide. While cost of sales are the largest operating expenses incurred by Amazon, the expenses related to research and development as well as fulfillment are also among the most significant expenses for the ecommerce and cloud techology platform. 

The chart below shows the various types of costs and expenses incurred by Amazon over the previous four years in its global operation of its ecommerce and cloud businesses. The amounts are in millions.

Amazon’s Operating Expenses20182019202020212022
Cost of Sales$139,156$165,536$233,307$272,344$288,831
Fulfilment$34,027$40,232$58,517$75,111$84,299
Technology and Content(R&D)$28,837$35,931$42,740$56,052$73,213
Marketing$13,814$18,878$22,008$32,551$42,238
General and Administrative$4,336$5,203$6,668$8,823$11,891
Other Operating Expenses net$296$201$(75)$62$1,263
Total Operating Expenses$220,466$265,981 $363,165$444,943$501,735

Cost of Sales:

Amazon’s cost of sales mainly include the purchase price of the consumer products that Amazon sells on its e-commerce platform, inbound and outbound shipping costs, including costs related to sortation and delivery centers, as well as the costs of digital media and content including video and music. The higher sales of Amazon in 2019 drove the growth in its cost of sales in the year. With higher sales, the product costs as well as the shipping costs of the company grew.  Amazon includes costs of shipping for receiving products from its suppliers in inventory.

These costs are recognized as cost of sales upon the sale of products to the customers. The shipping costs of Amazon which include the costs of sortation as well as delivery centers and transportation costs reached $37.9 billion in 2019 from $27.7 billion in 2018. In 2021, the shipping costs of Amazon have grown to $76.7 billion compared to $61.1 billion in 2020.

In the future, Amazon’s shipping costs are expected to continue to increase driven by increased acceptance of the shipping offers from Amazon by its customers. The costs of shipping will also increase because apart from reducing shipping rates and using more expensive methods of shipping including faster delivery, the company also offers additional services. Over time, Amazon will try to mitigate its shipping costs through higher sales volume, optimization of its fulfillment network as well as by negotiating better terms with its suppliers and by achieving higher operational efficiency. Offering lower prices is one of the core pillars of the business strategy of Amazon and one way that the company offers its customers lower prices is through shipping offers. 

The company includes the costs of operating its AWS (Amazon Web Services) segment in its research and development expenses which it includes as Technology and Content expenses in its annual report (form 10K). It is because the company leverages a shared infrastructure that supports both its internal technology needs and external sales to the customers of Amazon web services.

Fulfilment Costs:

The fulfilment costs of Amazon include the costs of staffing and operations of its North American and International fulfilment centers, retail stores, customer service centers and payment processing costs. The company includes the AWS payment processing and transaction related costs as fulfilment costs but the other AWS costs are classified as technology and content expenses.

The changes in fulfilment costs as a percentage of net costs reflect several things that include changes in payment processing and transaction related costs, level of Amazon’s productivity and accuracy, changes in the volume, size and weight of the units received and fulfilled, the extent of the utilization of Amazon fulfilment services by third parties, as well as the mix of products and services sold by Amazon.

The fulfilment costs of Amazon increased in 2019 compared to the previous year due to several factors and mainly due to the growth in variable costs which grew due to higher products and services sales volume, inventory levels and costs incurred due to the expansion of Amazon’s fulfilment network and retail stores. In the future, Amazon plans to expand its fulfillment network in order to accomodate a larger selection of products, and instock inventory levels.

Technology and Content (Research and Development Expenses)

 Amazon classifies its research and development expenses as technology and content expenses. These expenses mainly include the staffing expenses (payroll and related expenses) for the employees engaged in research and development, as well as the employees involved in the design and maintenance of its ecommerce platform and the infrastructure costs. Infrastruture expenses of Amazon include the servers, networking equipment, data centers related depreciation and amortization, rent, utilities and other expenses necessary for running AWS as well as other Amazon businesses. The research and development costs of Amazon grew in 2019 mainly due to increased costs of technological infrastructure and higher spending on the payment and related costs of employees involved in research and development projects.

In 2021, Amazon’s research and development expenses grew to $56,052 million compared to $42,740 million in 2020.

Marketing Expenses:

The marketing expenses of Amazon mainly include the advertising expenses as well as payroll and related expenses of staff employed in the marketing and sales functions, including sales commissions realted to AWS. Amazon uses several marketing channels for the marketing of its ecommerce, Prime Video and AWS platforms. It uses sponsored search, third party customer referrals, social and online advertising, television advertising and other various form of marketing and promotional campaigns. The marketing costs of Amazon are largely variable which is because of growing sales and changing advertising rates. Marketing costs can increase or decrease based on increased or decreased competition as well as changes in the marketing mix of the company.

General and Administrative Expenses:

The general and administrative expenses of Amazon grew in 2019 mainly due to increased costs of payroll and employment related expenses of Amazon employees.

 About Amazon:

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is the largest ecommerce brand as well as one of the leading cloud services brand. The company which was founded in 1994 has seen enormous growth over the last five years and has greatly extended its range of cloud based services. Amazon has its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, United States. The CEO of Amazon is Jeff Bezos. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the cloud services platform of Amazon. Amazon is also the largest R&D spender in the entire industry. The company has divided its business into three main segments that include Amazon North America, Amazon International and AWS.