Despite Amazon reporting more large gains in sales and earnings in the second quarter of 2021, investor attention was drawn to the conglomerate’s outlook for the third quarter, which sees revenue increasing 10-16% over last year’s third quarter. Operating income is projected to fall from last year’s third quarter of $6.2 billion, to between $2.5 billion and $6.0 billion. Revenue in the just-concluded second quarter jumped 27% (the mid-point of its forecast) over 2020, and operating income rose 33%, to $7.7 billion. Some analysts saw the modest forecast as a sign that the pandemic-fueled boom for Amazon could be cooling.

In a conference call with analysts, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky didn’t deny that growth had cooled in the quarter, including in its online stores business. He noted that pre-pandemic, Amazon had been growing at about a 20% quarterly rate, and that the company may return to that sort of growth.

Olsavsky pointed out that in last year’s second quarter, Amazon was coping with exploding growth as more people shopped online following widespread lockdowns, which fueled a 49% increase in online revenue over the second quarter of 2019. The opening of more physical stores, more people going outside as lockdowns have eased, and comparisons to a period last year when consumers were buying lots of goods they often don’t buy in bulk—such as gloves and cleaning supplies—were among the reasons for the relatively modest increase in online store sales in the second quarter, Olsavsky said.

Online revenue increased 16% in the quarter, and at $53 billion, the segment is the largest of Amazon’s businesses. The company's third-party business had a 38% increase, to $25 billion, while AWS revenue jumped 37%, to $14.8 billion. Subscription services revenue rose 32%, to $7.9 billion. Retail sales remains Amazon’s smallest operating group, with sales up 11%, to $4.2 billion.

Olsavsky said because of the uncertain course of Covid-19, Amazon wasn’t providing guidance beyond the third quarter. He did, however, allow that Amazon is facing some difficult quarterly comparisons ahead.