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Amazon’s Holiday Sales Growth Slows

But Alexa’s been working up a sweat.

Amazon’s fourth-quarter net sales, spanning the three months ended Dec. 31, 2018, rose 20 percent to $72.4 billion, compared to a 38 percent increase the year before.

Net income was up 58 percent for the all-important holiday period, to $3 billion.

In North America, which accounts for 61 percent of business, net sales increased 18 percent to $44.1 billion, compared to a year-ago gain of 42 percent, and operating income rose 33 percent to $2.3 billion.

On a worldwide basis:

  • online sales rose 13 percent;
  • brick-and-mortar sales fell 3 percent;
  • subscription revenue, including Amazon Prime memberships, rose 25 percent;
  • revenue from third-party seller services rose 27 percent;
  • sales from Amazon’s AWS Cloud services segment rose 45 percent; and
  • shipping costs increased 23 percent.

On the product front, Echo Dot was the company’s best-selling item worldwide, with year-over-year purchases up by the millions of units, contributing to the biggest holiday period ever for Amazon devices.

Alexa was very busy during her holiday season,” founder/CEO Jeff Bezos said.

Apparently the virtual assistant was bustling all year long. According to Bezos, Alexa’s team of research scientists more than doubled in size, leading to advancements in machine learning that yielded a 20 percent improvement in its ability to understand requests and answer questions. Amazon also developed a new unsupervised self-teaching system that helps Alexa learn at a faster pace, and introduced a new text-to-speech system that uses a generative neural network to produce more natural speech.

See: Giving Voice To Verbal Interface

The company plans to host a new AI conference, dubbed re:MARS, covering machine learning, automation, robotics and space June 4-7 at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas.

Back on Earth, the number of devices with Alexa on board doubled in 2018, Amazon said. The count currently stands at over 150 different products, including PCs, headphones, cars appliances and smart-home devices, while over 28,000 smart-home products from more than 4,500 brands are presently compatible with the platform.