Amazon’s Big Weakness in the Supreme Court Sales Tax Ruling

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source: TheStreet

As much as 0.3% of the retailer’s sales could be at risk following Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, an analyst says.

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) has been touted as barely touched by the Supreme Court ruling on state sales tax collection.

That interpretation, though, fails to evaluate the nuances of Amazon’s business model, one analyst said.

“Where [Amazon] is vulnerable is third-party sales, which accounted for 52% of units sold in the first quarter of 2018 (an all-time high),” wrote Tom Forte, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co., in a note on Friday, June 22. ” It is especially vulnerable because we estimate its third-party sales are a lot more profitable that its first-party ones.”

How much more profitable? Third-party vendors contribute 55% of their sales to Amazon’s contribution margins (gross margin less marketing expenses), whereas first-party sales put Amazon in the hole by 2.5%, according to D.A. Davidson research. The biggest contributor is Amazon Web Services at about 93%, followed by advertising at roughly 83%, the bank wrote.

Forte said one reason for the disparity between the two types of sales is that Amazon slashes prices so dramatically on its first-party goods, such as TV sets and furniture, to beat competitors that the margins are very low, whereas the commissions it earns on third-party sales adds up to higher margins.

First-party vendors sell wholesale directly to Amazon Retail, using the Vendor Central interface; once the vendor sends its inventory to Amazon, it controls the pricing, and the listing displays as “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.”

Third-party vendors sell to consumers using Amazon’s Seller Central interface, either through the vendor’s own account or a partnership with other third-party sellers that sell the vendor’s brand or product.

“We believe as much as 0.3% of Amazon’s sales could be at risk following the ruling. That number is based on multiplying its 2017 mix of North American non-Amazon Web Services revenue (59.7%) against our estimate of its mix of U.S. sales (90%) times our projection of its mix of third-party sales (13%) and our estimate for big-ticket sales on Amazon (5%),” Forte wrote.

Amazon posted $177.87 billion in sales in 2017, according to its annual report, putting the potential lost sales at $534 million.

Through the high court’s Thursday ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., first- and third-party vendors are now on a level playing field. Central to the case was whether e-tailers must collect state sales taxes on purchases made through their sites even if the companies lack a so-called nexus in a state, such as having a warehouse or store there. In the decision, the Supreme Court upended its 1992 ruling, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, that had held sway over sales tax collection for many years, and ruled that states can compel retailers to collect taxes on online sales even if the retailers lack a physical presence in the state.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have long complained they were unwittingly ceding business to online retailers that didn’t collect sales taxes on purchases. Government entities, such as South Dakota in this case, have missed out on sales-tax dollars through retailers such as Wayfair Inc. (W) , which lack a physical presence in most states, to the tune of some $8 billion to $33 billion annually, as noted in the Thursday Supreme Court opinion.

Amazon collects state sales tax where applicable on its own merchandise, but it doesn’t generally assess it on items shoppers purchase from third parties via Amazon Marketplace. The exceptions are Pennsylvania and Washington, for which it does collects sales tax on third-party Marketplace purchases made by customers living in those states.

Amazon declined comment for this story.

Multinational Conglomerate GE Goes All In On Content Marketing

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[Source: Forbes]

Major brands are using custom content as an increasingly important part of their marketing mix. The world of content marketing, from digital native posts to lush print magazines, is thriving—one of the few areas of ad-based media that’s booming outside the duopoly of Facebook and Google.

In fact, the global content marketing industry will grow at an annual rate of 16% per year through 2021, reaching $412 billion by the end of 2021, according to a report published last November by the British market research firm Technavio.

Marketers, dissatisfied with the performance of traditional display ads and digital marketing, are building meaningful customer relationships by telling stories, not about themselves, but about their customers and the interests and values they share.

It’s little wonder, then, that brands are hiring journalists and setting up their own content operations, and media companies are setting up content-creation studios to help brand marketers meet their objectives.

One marketer deep into brand marketing is GE, the 126-year-old multinational conglomerate that operates in the finance, aerospace, healthcare, and energy industries, among others. The company had 2017 revenues of $122 billion.

[GE on Junes 26th will be dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the venerable stock index that for over 100 years has tracked blue-chip stocks and served as a performance indicator for not just the stock market, but the entire economy. GE as recently as 2005 was the most highly valued publicly traded company in the U.S. It will be replaced on the Dow index by Walgreens.]

The company produces GE Reports, a web-based magazine with daily content, and GE Brief, a twice-weekly newsletter that has 100,000 subscribers and a total audience of double that.

I recently chatted with Tomas Kellner, the editor in chief at GE, about how a giant finance-and-manufacturing company obtains value from content marketing. The main thing, he says, is to understand that content marketing works because it’s about telling stories that are relevant that people want to read. At that level, it’s a simple concept.

“It’s stories that connect to the larger themes that people want to read about,” Kellner says. For example, at GE, that would be about climate change and energy, and about how to get more renewables to people. GE makes wind turbines, gas turbines, storage batteries. Those are our products, but that doesn’t mean we have to only talk about our products.”

The whole point, Kellner says, is to respect the reader. After graduation from journalism school, he says, he spent time at Forbes, and worked under some great editors, who instilled in him a respect for storytelling. “I have to create stories that are well told and worth reading,” he says. “They have to have appealing protagonists and meaningful challenges. So that’s how I approach content marketing from my perch as editor in chief of GE Reports and the GE newsletter.”

GE Reports’ competition isn’t IBM or Boeing or Intel, Kellner says, it’s really The Wall Street Journal. His mission is to break through the noise and distractions of cell phones, incessant notifications, media saturation. It’s not easy. “People don’t set aside 10 minutes each day to read branded content,” Kellner says.

With that understanding, though, the job gets easier. After all, the story ideas can become almost limitless: Science, technology. Lifestyles. How innovation and invention work. “It took eight hours to fly from Paris to New York 50 years ago, and it takes eight hours today,” Kellner says. “Why? Where are the people working on making it a four-hour flight? There are people at GE who can take us through this journey.

“These are all interesting topics that people want to know about. You could look at the future of medicine—that’s a field we could address. Even smaller companies are doing things that people would want to know about. The reaction might be, ‘I had no idea!’

And that’s why we exist.”

For all GE’s size, the content-marketing operation at GE is small, says Kellner, who’s been at GE Reports since 2011. “We are a tight and frugal operation,” he says. “I’m the editor, and internally I’m working on GE Reports with two colleagues on the communications team. Externally, we have a network of freelance journalists and videographers who help up develop stories and video.” The newsletter launched a year ago.

As media evolves, content marketing is too. Kellner says that for GE, text-based media isn’t as valuable as it once was. He’s overseeing a migration to video, where the majority of stories now are 90-second videos, distributed over social-media platforms. “LinkedIn is an extremely powerful platform for a company like GE,” he says. “YouTube is quite good as well. We supplement videos with live broadcasts too. We’ve had 10,000-plus views on some of our broadcasts. And you get the engagement and feedback right away, you can see what kinds of questions people are asking.

Which leads to an occasional criticism of content marketing: Lack of ROI. Some observers say it’s not about marketing, sales and ROI, but about building relationships, which are more important in the long run. Others say all marketing has to produce measurable results, or why bother doing it?

“ROI is tough,” Kellner says. “We are a B2B business. It’s very difficult for us to measure direct impact. Did we help sell a multimillion jet engine or a turbine or not?”

That said, Kellner says, there are a variety of ways to indirectly track ROI. “If the New York Times or a smaller trade uses my stories or links back to me, I use that to show ROI,” he says. “Our newsletter, GE Brief, has 100,000 subscribers. Having 100,000 people who willingly subscribe to you—that’s ROI. The viewership on our website is amazing. We get 18 million monthly views, mostly organic.”

Also, investors link back to GE stories, which are then seen on investor boards. The investor community is an important audience for public companies, Kellner notes. “And then, when we publish a good story, there’s an increase in inbound calls, and we chalk that up as ROI, too,” Kellner adds.

In the end, Kellner says, “Brand journalism is really a transaction where the reader or viewer is paying us with their time, and we are rewarding them for the time spent with a piece of information they can use in their lives.”