While the fourth quarter has not quite ended and it will take a while to sort out all the winners and losers of the 2016 holiday shopping season, two clear victors have emerged.
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Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) said in a press release that "this 2016 holiday was the best-ever season," noting that it shipped more than 1 billion items worldwide with Prime and Fulfillment by Amazon. The online retailer also reported strong sales for its Alexa-powered devices Echo and Dot, with sales for the artificial intelligence (AI) home assistants seeing sales rise by over nine times compared to last year's holiday season.
The other big winner of the season, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), claimed 44% of all phones and tablets activated during the season, according to data from Flurry's Analytics Blog. That's actually down from 49% last year, but it's still double the nearest competitor.
Amazon's Echo and Dot devices were big sellers this year. Image source: Amazon.
Amazon totally crushed it
While the online retailer rarely shares specific sales numbers for its devices or membership counts for Prime, it did offer some information in its post-Christmas press release. The company called the number of devices purchased from its Echo family of products "record setting," while also calling its Fire TV Stick and Fire tablets best-sellers.
"Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we're thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result," said Amazon's Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke. "Despite our best efforts and ramped-up production, we still had trouble keeping them in stock."
Amazon also celebrated (without offering any numbers) its $99-a-year Prime service, which offers free two-day delivery along with other perks. The company said that "more people around the world tried Prime this holiday season than any previous year." It also said that Dec. 23 was the biggest day ever for Prime Now (its two-hour delivery service available in limited markets) with the number of items ordered increasing by three times over last year.
A good year for Apple, too
Apple does very little discounting during the holiday season (though it did offer some limited deals on Black Friday). That did not stop it from seeing iPhones and iPads fly off the shelves, with the company leading in activations, with 44% of all devices. That's more than twice the 21% Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) was able to score to come in second, according to Flurry.
Still, while "Apple devices continue to be the gift to give," according to Flurry, Samsung has to be pleased that it not only held the No. 2 spot, it inched up 1% over last year. That's a victory given the massive recall of Galaxy Note 7s the company had to conduct in 2016.
These results show that while Apple remains popular, Samsung had enough goodwill to move past its difficult year. That may be good news for the Galaxy maker in 2017 when Apple will likely release a 7s, not a full update to its phone.
The gifts that keep on giving
By selling phones and home-based voice assistants in large numbers, both Amazon and Apple set themselves up for a strong year. Anyone who owns an iPhone or iPad will likely buy apps, Apple Music, or other services, putting more money in Apple's coffers. The same is true for Echo, which allows customers to subscribe to Amazon's music service and buy items from the online retailer.
In addition, while some people do mix and match, if a person buys an iPad or iPhone, he or she may purchase other devices in the Apple family. The same is true for Amazon, as Echo sales could lead to people buying Fire tablets or Fire TV because they have become comfortable with the retailer's Alexa voice assistant. It's possible for both companies that going forward these sales could lead to consumers using their devices to automate their homes -- allowing for even more sales opportunities.
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Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He has an Echo and an iPhone, but did not buy them this holiday season. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.