(Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc is launching a new business offering loans to some of its online sellers, a move that could boost the growth of its Internet marketplace while exposing it to potential credit risks.

The new program is called Amazon Lending and sellers on the company's marketplace have been sent emails offering loans from Amazon Capital Services Inc, a unit of Amazon, according to a merchant who received such an email from the company recently. The merchant did not want to be identified because Amazon has not announced the program publicly.

An Amazon spokesmen declined to comment.

Getting into the lending business is a big step for Amazon that will expose it to more credit risk but may also fuel more sales by merchants on its marketplace. Amazon takes a cut of those sales, so revenue and profits could get a boost.

Some online merchants lack upfront cash to buy all the inventory they would like to sell on Amazon.com, especially heading into the crucial holiday season.

Banks and other sources of loans for merchants pulled back in the wake of the financial crisis, leaving an opening for alternative sources of financing. Factoring, a common source of financing in the retail business that is provided by lenders such as CIT Group and Wells Fargo, can be tough to tap for smaller merchants.

"Some of these businesses are only constrained by cash flow," said Scot Wingo, chief executive of e-commerce advisory firm ChannelAdvisor. "These spot loans will help these folks grow by getting them extra cash to buy more product."

ChannelAdvisor helps online merchants sell on Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces. Wingo posted a copy of one of the Amazon Lending emails on ChannelAdvisor's blog on Thursday.

Amazon is competing against a start-up called Kabbage, which extends cash advances ranging from $500 to $50,000 to online merchants.

"We're flattered that Amazon is building a business modeled on ours," said Kabbage co-founder Marc Gorlin. "It's validating that big companies are getting into the small business financing space."

Former PayPal President and Yahoo! ex-CEO Scott Thompson joined Kabbage's board on Thursday.

Amazon is lending up to $800,000 to some merchants, Wingo said, adding that this is a pretty aggressive entrance into merchant financing. The company is charging some sellers interest rates of up to 13 percent, but some other merchants are being offered rates as low as 1 percent, he added.

"This is definitely cheaper than credit cards and faster and easier than banks, so may fill a big hole for sellers," Wingo said.

Amazon is pre-qualifying some sellers based on their performance on the company's online marketplace. The money can be used by sellers to buy more inventory and increase sales on Amazon.com, according to the email.

Sellers can sign up for loans through their existing Amazon merchant accounts and if approved, Amazon said it will send the money to their bank accounts within five business days. Monthly interest payments on the loans will be deducted automatically from merchants' Amazon seller accounts, the email explained.


"We would absolutely be interested in borrowing money like this," said Joshua Wood, vice president of operations at Ozbo, an online merchant that sells on Amazon.com.

"We have a 65,000-square-foot warehouse that we would love to fill with inventory that we would blow through during the holiday season," he added.

Ozbo is limited in how much inventory it can buy because most of its cash flow is being plowed back into other projects to grow its business, he explained.

Getting a credit line from a bank has been difficult because lenders require a personal guarantee from Ozbo's main investor, Wood said.

A loan from Amazon to buy more inventory would also lower Ozbo's per-item costs to buy the products it sells, he added.

"Everything is driven by volume," Wood said.


Kabbage, backed by investors including David Bonderman of TPG Capital, United Parcel Service and BlueRun Ventures, advances money to merchants to pay for a wide range of things, including inventory, supplies and to hire staff.

Amazon's financing must be used for inventory sold on Amazon.com, while Kabbage advances cash to sellers on Amazon.com, eBay, Yahoo!, Etsy and Shopify.

"The main differentiator is that we are platform agnostic," Gorlin said. "Our goal is to support merchants wherever they sell."

Kabbage merchants pay 2 percent to 7 percent for a 30-day advance. For an advance of up to six months, they typically pay 10 percent to 18 percent. That depends on the performance of their business and sellers' credit information, although no one is turned down solely for their credit score, Gorlin explained.

To get an advance from Kabbage, sellers provide the login for their online stores, a login for their bank account and their social security number.

Kabbage checks sellers' creditworthiness with this information, but it also analyzes their sales on online marketplaces, how they interact with customers on Facebook and Twitter and their record of shipping products with UPS.

This process is automated, so sellers can get cash advances in their PayPal accounts or bank accounts quickly - sometimes in as little as seven minutes, Gorlin said.

EBay does not offer a service like this for its sellers. However, Gorlin said eBay is a "good partner" of Kabbage. EBay may not provide its own advances, because the company may not want to upset its sellers by sometimes turning down their requests for working capital, he added.

Amazon shares closed up 2.8 percent to $256.59 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Alistair Barr; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Phil Berlowitz and Leslie Gevirtz)

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Qwikster

    If there is one lesson to be learned from The Great Qwikster Debacle of 2011 it is this: Don't take your perfectly good service and make it more expensive and then harder to use. In July, Netflix <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/netflix-price-subscription-plan_n_895779.html" target="_hplink">unbundled their DVD rental and streaming plan,</a> effectively forcing customers to pay $6 more for the combo plan they had grown accustomed to. Then, in September, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/qwikster-netflix-streaming-dvds_n_969135.html" target="_hplink">Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced</a> that DVD rentals and streaming would become two totally separate services. The streaming service would retain the name "Netflix," while the DVD branch would be called "Qwikster." Reactions were predictably negative, and on October 10, before Qwikster had even launched, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/qwikster-dead-netflix-kills_n_1003098.html" target="_hplink">Netflix ended the failed experiment. </a> But the company has paid dearly. In October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/netflix-account-losses-q3-2011_n_1029269.html" target="_hplink">Netflix announced</a> that it had lost 800,000 subscribers during the July - September quarter. In November, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/nflx-netflix-hits-20-month-low_n_1108357.html" target="_hplink">the AP reported</a> that the company had lost 75 percent of its market value. Hastings, who is largely blamed for the blunders, will see his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/22/reed-hastings-netflix-stock_n_1166059.html" target="_hplink">2012 stock options awards cut in half</a>. <em>Image via AP</em>

  • HP's Attempted Spinoff Of PC Branch

    In August, Hewlett-Packard stunned customers when it announced plans to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/hp-will-keep-pc-unit_n_1043709.html" target="_hplink">spin off its entire PC unit</a> in order to focus on enterprise software. This move was part of then-CEO Leo Apotheker's plan to reinvent HP, currently the world's largest PC maker in terms of market share. Apotheker's new direction would have steered HP away from hardware and toward "enterprise information management." But it wasn't to be. In September, former eBay President and CEO <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/meg-whitman-hp-ceo_n_976062.html" target="_hplink">Meg Whitman replaced Apotheker at the helm of HP</a>. A month later, <a href="http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1821731" target="_hplink">research firm Gartner found</a> that HP's PC market share had grown by 3.2 percent during the third quarter of 2011, despite upheaval inside the company. Soon after, the plan to shed personal computers was dead. <a href="http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2011/111027xa.html" target="_hplink">Whitman issued a statement</a> in late October regarding the reversal. "HP objectively evaluated the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off PSG. It's clear after our analysis that keeping PSG within HP is right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees," she said. Apotheker's botched reinvention plan also involved axing smartphones and tablets running webOS software, including the HP TouchPad, and possibly selling off webOS. The company now plans to retain webOS and will open-source the platform's code. <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/09/hps-whitman-well-make-webos-powered-tablets-in-2013/" target="_hplink">Whitman also told TechCrunch</a> that the company aims to manufacture new webOS-powered tablets by 2013.

  • BlackBerry PlayBook

    If the saga of the BlackBerry PlayBook were a book, it would be the saddest story ever told. In an odd choice, PlayBook developers excluded apps for email, contacts and calendars from a tablet that parent company RIM billed as the "<a href="http://us.blackberry.com/business/software/playbook/" target="_hplink">world's first professional-grade tablet.</a>" Popular apps for social networking and entertainment, such as Facebook and 'Angry Birds,' were also absent from the tablet at launch. To make matters worse, RIM has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/blackberry-playbook-os-2-delay-rim_n_1033536.html" target="_hplink">delayed the PlayBook OS 2.0 update</a>, a software upgrade critical to the tablet's survival, until February 2012. As the holidays approached, RIM <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/blackberry-playbook-price-drop_n_1107941.html" target="_hplink">slashed the price of the PlayBook</a> to $199. Just six months earlier, the tablet had launched with a $499 price tag. <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/12/rim-to-take-485-million-loss-on-playbook-inventory.html" target="_hplink">According to the Los Angeles Times,</a> RIM said in early December that it lost $485 million due to unsold PlayBooks.

  • Playstation Network Outage

    In April, the Sony Playstation Network experienced a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/playstation-network-hacker-stole-user-data_n_854106.html" target="_hplink">massive data breach</a> that forced the company to shut down the cloud-based platform for nearly a month in order to fix the security issues. The company informed customers that the names, addresses and possibly even credit card data belonging to the PSN's more than 70 million users <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/sony-playstation-network-hack-how-to-protect-yourself_n_854293.html#s269979&title=Change_Your_Password" target="_hplink">had already been compromised.</a> Unfortunately, Sony had waited in silence for a week before taking the network offline. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/08/sony-hack-problems_n_873443.html" target="_hplink">Hackers continued to target the PSN</a> when Sony began bringing it back online in May. All PSN services were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/02/playstation-store-back-online_n_870147.html" target="_hplink">fully restored by early June</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/23/sony-playstation-network-hack-cost_n_865432.html" target="_hplink">According to the Associated Press,</a> Sony spent $170 million on the fallout from the debacle.

  • Jawbone Up

    Coming from a company best known for bluetooth headsets and the popular <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2011/11/23/holiday-gifts-iphone-ipod-speakers_n_1110109.html" target="_hplink">Jambox speaker,</a>the November launch of<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/jawbone-unveils-up-wristband_n_1072535.html" target="_hplink"> Jawbone's Up fitness tracker</a>was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/jawbone-unveils-up-wristband_n_1072535.html" target="_hplink">awaited with anticipation.</a> The Up was marketed as a device which, when worn around the wrist, would track the user's sleeping, eating and exercise habits, which it did -- sometimes. As the folks at Engadget, who went through two dud wristbands during their testing process, <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/06/jawbone-up-review/" target="_hplink">wrote in their review</a>: "It's a shame the Up wristband is breaking all over the place, because it's otherwise a promising idea for a gadget." <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/09/tech/gaming-gadgets/jawbone-explains-up-failures/index.html" target="_hplink">So many users reported malfunctioning devices</a> that in December Jawbone decided to refund anyone who was unhappy with their Up -- no questions asked. At that time, <a href="http://jawbone.com/up/guarantee" target="_hplink">according a statement released by Jawbone's CEO,</a> the company had "temporarily paused production" of the device to engineer a fix for two errant circuit board capacitors which appeared to be the cause of the problems.

  • Motorola Xoom

    When it launched in February, Motorola billed the Xoom tablet as an iPad killer, and many people, <a href="http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/12/2011-tech-fails-oof?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=twitterclickthru&pid=2778" target="_hplink">including Wired's Mike Isaac, really wanted that to be the truth.</a> Isaac writes, "I wanted the Xoom to kick ass. I really did. But, alas, the Xoom was all but D.O.A. before hitting retail shelves." Though the device offered promising features --Google's Android 3.0 (aka "Honeycomb") and 4G LTE connectivity -- Motorola <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/motorola-xoom-shipments-q3-2011_n_1062664.html" target="_hplink">managed to ship only 100,000 Xooms in the third quarter of 2011.</a> How many iPads shipped in the same time period? 11 million. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/motorola-xoom-tablet-sales-_n_853754.html" target="_hplink">Initial reviews were mainly positive</a>, but there are several reasons why the Xoom failed to thrive. Honeycomb, for one, was labeled <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/motorola-xoom-tablet-sales-_n_853754.html" target="_hplink">"unstable" and "incomplete"</a>. The price was also a deterrent: $600 with a two-year wireless contract, $800 without.

  • Nintendo 3DS

    Nintendo's $250 glasses-free 3D portable gaming device launched globally in March to lackluster sales, thanks in part to the device's high price tag and a limited selection of 3D games. In order to boost sales, Nintendo announced in July that it would <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/28/nintendo-3ds-price-drops-from-249-to-169-august-12th-current/" target="_hplink">slash the price of the 3DS</a> down to $170. <a href="http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/12/2011-tech-fails-oof?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=twitterclickthru&pid=2777" target="_hplink">It worked,</a> but Nintendo paid dearly for the discount. <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/242701/nintendo_takes_927_million_loss_far_worse_than_original_forecast.html" target="_hplink">In October, the Japanese game-maker said</a> it would post its first annual loss in three decades.

  • Facebook Places

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/facebook-axes-places-who-_n_935082.html" target="_hplink">The death of the Foursquare-esque check-in service, Facebook Places,</a> was quietly announced in August, at the end of <a href="http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=10150251867797131" target="_hplink">a blog post detailing Facebook's new privacy features.</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/19/facebook-places-features-_n_687504.html#s128538&title=How_To_Check" target="_hplink">Facebook Places was one year old. </a> The check-in service is survived by the roughly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/facebook-axes-places-who-_n_935082.html" target="_hplink">30 million people who actually used it.</a> Though Places as a service flopped, Facebook began offering more location-tagging options for wall posts, photos and status updates. In December, the social network <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/05/facebook-gowalla_n_1129720.html" target="_hplink">acquired check-in startup Gowalla</a>. Facebook will discontinue the smaller company's mobile app and will incorporate Gowalla employees into the Timeline team to focus on more location-based features, <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2011/12/02/technology/gowalla_facebook/" target="_hplink">sources told CNN Money</a>.

  • Google Buzz

    In 2010, <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/introducing-google-buzz.html" target="_hplink">Google launched Buzz</a> as a way for Google users to share content across platforms like Twitter, Picasa, Flickr and Gchat. Unfortunately, most of the buzz generated by the service was negative. Shortly after the launch, some users noticed that Google Buzz made their most frequently emailed contacts public to other users. <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-31322_3-10451428-256.html" target="_hplink">CNET called the glitch a "privacy nightmare." </a>Google apologized to users and <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/189329/google_apologizes_for_buzz_privacy_issues.html" target="_hplink">quickly fixed the issues,</a> but trust in the service had been irreparably damaged. In October 2011, several months after the highly successful launch of the more privacy-centric Google+ network, the web giant <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/google-buzz-igoogle-fall-sweep_n_1011306.html" target="_hplink">announced that it planned to shutter Google Buzz for good</a>.

  • Google TV

    Logitech CEO Guerrino De Luca pretty much said it all <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/logitech-ceo-on-google-tv-revue_n_1088168.html" target="_hplink">when he told investors in November</a> that the Revue, Logitech's Google TV set-top box, was "a mistake of implementation of a gigantic nature." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/logitech-ceo-on-google-tv-revue_n_1088168.html" target="_hplink">Logitech partially blamed</a> the year's $100 million operating loss on the <a href="http://www.logitech.com/en-us/smartTV" target="_hplink">"TV of the future"</a> gamble. In July, thanks to "negative sales" (more returns than purchases), Logitech <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2389344,00.asp" target="_hplink">dropped the Revue's price from $300 to $99</a>. But Google TV project isn't dead yet. Sony is still selling its <a href="http://discover.store.sony.com/internettv/#/home" target="_hplink">smart TVs and Blu-ray players with Google TV built in</a>. In October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/google-tv-v2-software-update_n_1063956.html" target="_hplink">Google TV version 2</a> began rolling out to Sony and Logitech devices. Google plans to <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/11/22/google-tv-is-dead-long-live-google-tv/" target="_hplink">add even more hardware partners in 2012</a>.

  • Color

    Of course hindsight is 20/20, but it's still sort of fun to smirk at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/23/color-social-network-bill-nguyen_n_839865.html" target="_hplink">this statement from a partner at Sequoia Capital,</a> one of the companies that helped Color Labs raise $41 million in funds: "Once or twice a decade a company emerges from Silicon Valley that can change everything. Color is one of those companies." Not exactly. When Color launched in March, the photo-and-video-centric location-based social networking app was immediately slammed by reviewers. <a href="http://appadvice.com/appnn/2011/03/color-app-universally-slammed-reviewer" target="_hplink">According to App Advice,</a> out of the 697 early reviews in the App Store, 70 percent had rated Color as "poor." After the initial flop <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/22/color-reborn-fused-with-facebook-the-41m-social-photo-app-is-back/" target="_hplink">Color went quiet for 6 months</a>, only to reemerge in September as a <a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/color-recasts-itself-as-a-facebook-photo-and-video-app/" target="_hplink">photo and video app deeply integrated with the Facebook platform</a>. Initial reviews were <a href="http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-09-22/tech/30188331_1_mobile-app-android-facebook-friends" target="_hplink">cautiously positive.</a> <em>Image via Color</em>

  • 'Duke Nukem Forever'

    After 14 years of rumors about an updated "Duke Nukem" game, the real deal underwhelmed consumers when it was finally unleashed this year. Even fans of the "Duke Nukem" franchise thought the game was rampantly mysogynistic, gross and stupid. <a href="http://arstechnica.com/gaming/reviews/2011/06/duke-nukem-forever-review-barely-playable-unfunny-and-rampantly-offensive.ars" target="_hplink">Ars Technica said in its review of the game</a> that it "makes you feel dirty." <a href="http://www.joystiq.com/2011/06/10/duke-nukem-forever-review-fail-to-the-king-baby/" target="_hplink">Joystiq described</a> a sequence in which the player is tasked with "spanking a woman into submission" as "as painful as it sounds." <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2011/jun/10/duke-nukem-forever-game-review" target="_hplink">The Guardian called the game "shamelessly inappropriate."</a> Unsurprisingly, <a href="http://playstationlifestyle.net/2011/07/06/analysts-disappointed-in-duke-far-less-sales-than-expected/" target="_hplink">sales of "Duke Nukem Forever" were lackluster.</a> <em>Image via Flickr: i eated a cookie</em>

  • Flip Cam

    In April, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/cisco-flip-camera-killed_n_847962.html" target="_hplink">Cisco killed the Flip camera,</a> its line of mini video-recording devices that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/technology/13flip.html" target="_hplink">The New York Times referred to as</a> "one of the great tech start-up success stories of the last decade." The move was part of a plan to restructure the company and included <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/cisco-flip-camera-killed_n_847962.html" target="_hplink">laying off 550 employees.</a> Cisco had purchased Pure Digital Technology Inc, the original maker of the Flip camera, in 2009 for $590 million. Although some suggested that the move was due to smartphones making mini video cameras obsolete, sales of such cameras, led by Flip, <a href="http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/04/15/cisco-ditches-flip-camera-biz-whats-the-future-for-mini-moviem/" target="_hplink"> actually grew from $4.5 million in 2009 to $5.7 million in 2010</a>, according to a report from the Consumer Electronics Association. Though Cisco wouldn't disclose the reason for the discontinuation, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/technology/13flip.html" target="_hplink">The New York Times reported</a> that the popular Flip cam never made sense for a company known primarily for its enterprise networking services. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/technology/13flip.html" target="_hplink">As one analyst told the Times,</a> "I don't think there's an analyst on the planet who thought that Flip was a good acquisition." <em>Image via Flip</em>