Look out, Jeff Bezos. Amazon.com Inc.'s $2.8 billion in annual revenue has been eclipsed by another E-commerce contender--a purveyor of flame throwers, burros, and Lamborghini Diablos that generated $3.6 billion in sales last year. The mastermind behind this E-retailing juggernaut? Uncle Sam.
That revelation comes from a recent study by Federal Computer Week magazine and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which tracked the government's E-commerce activity. Of course, straight revenue comparisons may not be fair. After all, it's not exactly a level playing field for Amazon since the government's $3.6 billion came from 164 sites. That was a bit of a shock for Allan Holmes, editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week. "When we first started, I had no idea how many sites we would find. I thought maybe a few dozen." Plus, that revenue figure would be significantly lower without the Treasury Department, which generated $3.3 billion from the sale of bonds and notes.
But the remaining $300 million in sales is still a significant achievement, considering the government hasn't done much to promote its efforts. Looking to bid on luxury items such as helicopters or sports cars? Try Bid4Assets, which sells property seized by the U.S. Marshals Service in criminal raids. "The federal government has always had surplus property and auctioned off property seized in drug busts. Now they're able to do it more efficiently and reach more people," Holmes says.
That means consumers can shop online for fire trucks at the GSA Auctions site (http://www.gsaauctions.gov), rare wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management (http://www.adoptahorse.blm.gov), or oil-drilling leases from the Minerals Management Service (http://www.gomr.mms.gov).
While the federal government's E-commerce revenue (sans Treasury Department) lags behind eBay Inc.'s $431 million, Uncle Sam's product selection certainly rivals the online auctioneer. But maybe that's not such a good thing. "The flame thrower was not only surprising, but a little unnerving," Holmes says. It's been purchased already, but interested parties looking to expedite summer barbecues can check back with the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (http://www.drms.dla.mil).