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Amazon ad rates rocket in pandemic-fueled surge

by SPENCER SOPER BLOOMBERG NEWS (WPNS) | June 10, 2021 at 1:47 a.m.
The Amazon.com Inc. company logo on the side of a delivery van in Leigh-on-Sea, U.K., on Nov. 26, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Chris Ratcliffe.

Amazon.com's advertising rates jumped more than 50% in May from a year earlier, signaling the online retailer's rising profitability should continue through busy periods like its forthcoming summer sale Prime Day and the holiday shopping season.

The rise in ad rates, reported by industry researcher Marketplace Pulse, may give lawmakers and regulators momentum in their effort require Amazon to pay higher taxes and push merchants on the e-commerce platform to raise prices at a time they are grappling with higher shipping costs and other inflationary pressures.

The pandemic-fueled surge in online shopping has triggered greater advertising competition on Amazon, where global shoppers will spend an estimated $578 billion this year, according to EMarketer Inc. Big brands like Procter & Gamble Co. and Clorox Co. are taking billion-dollar advertising budgets to Amazon to maintain their dominance as sales shift from stores to websites. They're duking it out with small brands that have trouble breaking into physical stores with limited shelf space, but have a fighting chance online if they pay to be seen on Amazon.

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The cost per click for Amazon search advertising was $1.16 in May, up from 75 cents a year earlier, according to Marketplace Pulse. That's driven the average advertising cost of each Amazon sale to more than 30% of a product's price, up from about 20% a year ago. Amazon's advertising revenue in the U.S. alone will surpass $20 billion this year, according to EMarketer, as it continues to nibble away at the market share of Alphabet Inc.'s Google, the leader in digital advertising.

"Prices will continue to rise over time," said Juozas Kaziukenas, founder and chief executive officer of Marketplace Pulse. "Smaller brands trying to enter the market, it will be increasingly expensive to do it when they are up against established brands who are willing to pay to protect market share."

The competition also is greater from deep-pocketed aggregators who are buying up popular Amazon brands in hopes of becoming consumer brand conglomerates in the digital frontier. Companies such as Thrasio, Perch and Branded have announced debt and investor funding exceeding $2 billion to buy and expand Amazon brands, with advertising a key tool for growth.

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