Kindle Fire Sales Surge, But Can Amazon Sustain the Pace?

We've seen this bump before, but Amazon hasn't made it last

Amazon.com, Inc (AMZN) put out a news release trumpeting Black Friday Kindle Fire sales that were up threefold compared the previous year. With Android tablets taking over the sales charts, pushing even the Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPad –the original consumer tablet– below a 25% market share, do Amazon’s impressive Black Friday numbers signal the beginning of an era where the Kindle Fire becomes a serious contender?

Kindle Fire driving amazon tablet sales
Source: Amazon

Don’t count on it.

Amazon first entered the tablet market in 2011 with the original Kindle Fire Tablet, a 7-inch model priced at $199. That holiday quarter, according to IDC stats, it sold 4.7 million tablets, going almost instantly from zero to a 15.9% market share. But in Q1 2012, Amazon had dropped to 4% of the global market.

During the 2012 holiday season, Amazon grabbed 11.5% of the market before fading back to just a 3.7% share. Holiday sales in 2013 saw it hit a 7.6% share, but by Q1 2014 it had dropped to 1.9% after selling just 1 million Kindle Fire tablets.

The pattern has been consistent since the first Amazon tablets were released: the Kindle Fire does well during the holiday sales quarter as consumers snap up high tech gifts, then sales bottom out and keep Amazon out of the Top 5 tablet sales vendor list for the rest of the year.

Despite producing tablet hardware that is very competitive and offering bargain prices, the company simply can’t maintain any momentum it gains through holiday sales — let alone build on it.

The numbers clearly show Amazon tablets see a yearly holiday sales bump. But they also show something else — the Kindle Fire market share has been sliding since the original was released in 2011.

Not just the everyday volume, but also during that crucial fourth quarter when it experiences the holiday bump. Amazon’s share of those holiday tablet sales dropped steadily from nearly 16% in 2011 to less than 8% in 2013.

Whose Tablets is the Kindle Fire Bumping?

When Amazon sees its holiday tablet sales increase, whose market share is it eating into?

In Q4 2011, the big losers were Barnes & Noble Inc.’s (BKS) Nook and the BlackBerry Ltd (BBRY) PlayBook.

In Q4 2012 the Kindle Fire once again smoked the Nook, which dropped nearly 28% year-over-year. Apple’s share of tablet sales also slipped that holiday quarter, but they continued to slide into 2013 (as Kindle Fire sales tanked). Android tablets from Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) and ASUSTeK Computer Inc. were responsible for Apple’s iPad plight, not the Kindle Fire.

In the 2013 holiday quarter, Amazon tablets showed their first real sign of losing steam, dropping well below a double-digit market share for the quarter, despite the customary holiday bump. The reason?

There were no more easy targets to take market share from.

For the first time, Amazon was faced with the Kindle Fire having to force consumers to choose it over an iPad, Google Inc (GOOG) Nexus or Samsung Galaxy. The Nooks and PlayBooks of the world were all but gone, Apple had a more affordable iPad option in the Mini and consumers were picking Android as their platform of choice.

Don’t Expect Those Black Friday Numbers to Amount to Much

Amazon is touting three key points from its 2014 Kindle Fire holiday sales. According to the company, Black Friday numbers for the Kindle Fire tablets were triple what they were in 2013. Showing that customers weren’t just getting some of the cheapest tablets around, Amazon also pointed out that JD Power had ranked Amazon as being highest in customer satisfaction with tablets. And Amazon’s own Kindle Fire tablets occupied the top three positions in Black Friday tablet sales for the company.

Amazon tablets are always discounted for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and in 2013, the company announced record Kindle Fire sales over the holiday shopping weekend, with three Kindle Fire models topping the Amazon.com tablet sales chart.

That performance was followed by those disappointing overall holiday sales numbers.

Given the brutal market for tablets –and let’s not forget the fact that Amazon has almost no presence in developing markets, where the bulk of future tablet sales growth is expected — 2015 seems likely to continue the trend of declining overall market share for Amazon’s tablets.

When Q4 2014 tablet sales numbers are released, I expect to see that Kindle Fire Holiday bump at its lowest level yet. However, even though those Amazon tablets are now occupying the low-hanging fruit territory the Nook once represented, don’t expect the Kindle Fire to be eradicated in similar fashion. Amazon’s supporting infrastructure — from its App Store to digital media integration — is too strong for that.

But beyond holiday bumps, I also wouldn’t expect the Kindle Fire to appear anywhere in that global Top 5 tablet sales chart in 2015.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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