Amazon vs WalMart online –, WalMart Labs a threat to

Let’s start with some figures culled from this Market Watch article on WalMart’s Annual Meeting and from Wikipedia’s page

  1. 2012 Sales for Amazon vs online – $61 billion for Amazon, $9 billion for WalMart.
  2. 2013 Expected Sales for Amazon vs online – $75 billion for Amazon, $10 billion for WalMart.
  3. WalMart 2013 expected sales – $487 billion. This is both online and from WalMart stores.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are two contests going on here –

  1. While Amazon’s expected 2013 revenues of $75 billion are just 15.4% of WalMart’s expected 2013 revenues of $487 billion, Amazon is hoping to capture a larger and larger share of retail sales. Its move with AmazonFresh into groceries is one of several signs of its eventual plans.
  2. While WalMart’s expected 2013 online revenues of $10 billion are just 13.33% of Amazon’s expected 2013 revenues of $75 billion, WalMart is hoping to significantly strengthen its online offerings to take on Amazon on its home turf.

Amazon is hoping to strike at the heart of WalMart and WalMart’s WalMart Labs is hoping to strike

WalMart vs Amazon in the US

WalMart has 3,898 WalMart stores in the US and 612 Sam’s Club stores. This gives WalMart a huge advantage over Amazon when it comes to physical stores and locations. Everything that Amazon is building up to make same day delivery a reality – Well, WalMart has large parts of that already set up and working.

Amazon doesn’t have any stores but it’s setting up a lot of warehouses and the expansion of AmazonFresh Grocery Delivery service to LA (supposedly within weeks) is a sign that Amazon intends to go up against WalMart more and more.

Amazon supposedly has a customer base of 30 million people. It’d be safe to assume that over 20 million of those are in the US.

WalMart supposedly has 200 million customers – not sure what portion of those are in the US.

Amazon dominates online retail in the US. WalMart dominates retail in the US. A lot will depend on how quickly, and to what extent, online retail eats up market share from traditional retail.

WalMart vs Amazon Worldwide

WalMart has 5,733 international stores in an impressively large number of countries –

  1. Argentina
  2. Botswana
  3. Brazil
  4. Canada
  5. Chile
  6. China
  7. Costa Rica
  8. El Salvador
  9. Germany
  10. Ghana
  11. Guatemala
  12. Honduras
  13. India
  14. Japan
  15. Lesotho
  16. Malawi
  17. Mauritius
  18. Mexico
  19. Mozambique
  20. Namibia
  21. Nicaragua
  22. Nigeria
  23. South Africa
  24. Swaziland
  25. Tanzania
  26. Uganda
  27. United Kingdom
  28. Zambia

Amazon has subsidiaries in the following countries (courtesy Wikipedia’s page) –

  1. Asia – China, Japan, India
  2. Europe – UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy.
  3. North America – Canada.
  4. South America – Brazil.

Internationally, there’s little doubt that WalMart has a sizeable advantage. It reaches more countries. In quite a few of the countries it has lots of stores and a large customer base. It has a very good understanding of lots of international markets.

Amazon’s advantage is that it sells worldwide via its subsidiaries and via For example, it sells its Kindle eReader and its Kindle Fire HD Tablet in 170 countries. It also allows sales of other goods to lots of countries from its websites.

WalMart’s advantage is in being present and having stores in many more countries. Amazon’s advantage is in selling products online to nearly every country in the world and having some strong subsidiaries in some important markets like the UK.

For reference: Amazon has 90,000 or so employees worldwide. WalMart has 2.2 million worldwide employees.

Next, let’s look at what resources and financial assets Amazon and WalMart have to fight an Amazon vs WalMart war.

Amazon vs WalMart – Some Financial Figures & Assets

  1. Net Assets – Amazon has $32.55 billion in Assets. WalMart has $203.1 billion in Assets.
  2. Operating Income and Net Income – Amazon had operating income of $676 million and net losses of $39 million in 2012. WalMart had $27.801 billion operating income and $16.999 billion net income in 2012.
  3. Revenue – Amazon had $61 billion in revenue in 2012. WalMart had $469.162 billion in revenue in 2012.

We see an interesting contradiction here –

  1. Amazon with $32.55 billion in assets, $676 million in operating income, and $61 billion in revenue has a market capitalization of $126 billion.
  2. WalMart with $203.1 billion in assets, $27.801 billion in operating income, and $469.162 billion in revenue has a market capitalization of $251.11 billion.

Perhaps Wall Street traders expect Amazon to leverage its technological and/or logistical skills and abilities to take out a large chunk of WalMart’s business. Perhaps they just expect it to take a large share of total retail.

Regardless, WalMart is in a very strong position financially and it’s hard to see it making it easy for Amazon to take over a large part of retail. It’s clear that Amazon intends on doing exactly that. Where Amazon has a weakness is that it neither has huge assets nor huge profits. So, if the Amazon vs WalMart war turns into one of attrition – How is Amazon going to keep fighting?

While Amazon makes forays and follows its gameplan for domination of all of retail, WalMart is implementing its own anti-Amazon strategy.

Could turn WalMart Labs into a major threat for

If we consider just, then the figures seem tilted massively in Amazon’s favor –

  1. accounts for just 13.33% of the revenue of $9 billion revenues in 2012 for are dwarfed by Amazon’s $61 billion revenues.
  2. WalMart has none of the technical savvy of Amazon. While Amazon is building Amazon Web Services and Kindles and Kindle Fire HDs, WalMart is making very few moves in the online space that people know of.
  3. Amazon has all the coolness and the blessings of Wall Street. Developers who would jump at the chance to work for Amazon might feel WalMart is not ‘technologically’ good enough.

Well, WalMart is going about acquiring technology and developers very smartly. There are two things has to be wary of –

  1. WalMart has an incredible amount of assets and a huge profit stream. $203 billion in profits can buy a lot of technology companies. As can $16.999 billion in net annual income (2012 profits).
  2. WalMart is already buying up technology companies left, right and center. Acquisitions in the last few years include – (movies, see WalMart Press Release), OneOps (Cloud Services), TastyLabs (makers of Delicious), OneRiot (Mobile Ad Firm), Kosmix (social media, interesting interview with Kosmix founders who also founded Junglee and worked at Amazon), Grabble (POS technology), SmallSociety (iOS Apps, interesting article on WalMart setting up offices in tech cities).

WalMart’s WalMart Labs is slowly and surely putting together the pieces to fight on its own turf. Given that WalMart generates $17 billion a year in profits and Amazon generates less than a billion a year. Given that Amazon’s total assets are just $33 billion, Amazon has to worry about what might happen if WalMart Labs hits a home run.

The even scarier possibility is that WalMart doesn’t view WalMart Labs as a means to take on Perhaps WalMart views WalMart Labs as the next step in online retail – the semantic shopping web (this is based on the Kosmix interview linked to above). might be building what it thinks can take down brick and mortar retail. WalMart Labs might be a reaction/response to that. Or it might not.

What if WalMart Labs isn’t anti-Amazon? What if it’s the evolution of Amazon and online shopping?

The better strategy for WalMart would be to out-evolve

We basically have – Amazon using online efficiencies to try and take out traditional retailers like WalMart.

The standard defence to this would be to build WalMart’s own website and take on Amazon head on. However, that would be fighting the war on Amazon’s terms. Amazon understands the current online retail model very well.

The better strategy for WalMart Labs and would be to figure out what’s next in online retail and web shopping. Perhaps it’s semantic/social shopping that combines data points from sites like Pinterest and Twitter with customer history and customer purchases and provides a predictive, ever-evolving stream of choices for the user.

If WalMart Labs can help develop this, then WalMart can hit where it really hurts. It could then take over online retail using the next evolution in online shopping and trap Amazon between brick and mortar retail and semantic/social shopping.

Amazon’s two weaknesses persist

Whether it’s competing against Apple and Google or competing against WalMart, Amazon’s two main weaknesses are the same –

  1. It doesn’t have any highly profitable cash cows. It’s hard to fight wars on revenue alone.
  2. It doesn’t have huge assets. $33 billion is very impressive. However, it’s dwarfed by the assets of companies like WalMart ($200 billion) and Apple ($176 billion) and Microsoft ($121 billion).

Amazon’s competitors could use the exact same strategy that Amazon has been using against its ebook rivals. Sooner or later some company will. It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon reacts when that happens.

Amazon vs WalMart isn’t going to be decided by Amazon vs – unless wins

We aren’t talking about books or music here. We aren’t going to have all of retail switch over to the Internet anytime soon.

Amazon vs WalMart might go on for another 20-30 years.

However, at the present moment, vs is very interesting. If WalMart Labs can deliver a few big hits, it could really slow down and greatly increase the chances that WalMart beats Amazon in the long-term.

WalMart comes to its senses and stops selling Kindles

Reuters reports that WalMart will stop selling Kindles – both Kindle Fire and Kindle will no longer be sold at WalMart.

It’s the second big retailer after Target to do so. It’s interesting that all these companies are coming to their senses. Here’s what WalMart had to say –

“We have recently made the business decision to not carry Amazon tablets and eReaders beyond our existing inventory and purchase commitments,” Wal-Mart said in a memo sent to store managers on Wednesday. “This includes all Amazon Kindle models current and recently announced.”

An analyst thinks the main reason is that Amazon is considered a competitor –

“I think part of it could be margin, though the bigger point is that Wal-Mart and Target view Amazon as a competitor,” Tilghman said.

Yeah, suddenly they wake up and realize Amazon is going to destroy them if they don’t wisen up fast.

Retailers selling mini Stores is Madness

When WalMart started selling Kindles it seemed, to me, the most insane decision ever. Here’s part of what I wrote (the link has the entire post) –

It’s absolutely inexplicable to me that stores like Best Buy and Target and WalMart would sell Kindles and accelerate their own demise.

Do they not realize that Kindle Fire is a direct connection to That Kindle and Special Offers will end up eroding the sales of the retail stores?

She (Best Buy spokeslady) might as well say –

We are getting tired of selling all these electronics. So we thought we should let Amazon get a direct connection to our customers so that our customers start buying electronics from instead.

This is a standard standard pattern. Fool the existing market leaders into giving you a piggyback ride. Then turn on them when you have enough reach/control/power.

Technology Companies ALWAYS destroy the Incumbents – Right after promising them Salvation

It’s an endless list of new technology companies that destroy existing markets –

  1. Newspapers put their faith in Google. How’s that working out? What they really should have done is banned Google from carrying any of their content.
  2. Borders let Amazon run its online store. Smart move Borders.
  3. Book Publishers are trusting Google and Amazon and B&N. They are going to get skinned alive. Now that the Agency Model has been ruled illegal it’s going to happen even quicker.
  4. The Music Industry let Apple take control of the music industry. It might be great for users but it’s not great for Music Publishers because they are selling $1 songs instead of $11 Albums. Additionally, all the control is with Apple and (to an extent) Amazon.
  5. The list goes on and on. New, upstart technology companies always make an idiot of existing industry giants. The sad thing (from a strategy perspective) is just how often the established gatekeepers think that the new upstarts have the best interest of the existing gatekeepers in mind. Oh this nice young man wants to help us. Young Man, here’s a list of our best customers and thank you so much for all the help.

For all these points PLEASE keep in mind that I’m not saying ‘This is not good for customers’. Of course it is. If you can get free music and free movies and free software – it’s obviously great for customers. And it’s great for the technology company supplying you all this for free – it can run ads and make money, or charge you a subscription.

It’s bad only for the creators and the gatekeepers. Because they gradually lose profitability and control.

It’s madness for the existing powerful companies in a space to accelerate their own demise by trusting new technology companies. The more ‘savior’ and ‘good’ a company seems, the higher the chance it’ll eat you alive (you = existing gatekeeper).

WalMart and Target should NEVER have sold Kindles

If you expect the companies to have half a brain they should have understood that Kindles which allow buying any book, any time, instantly would erode their own book sales. So carrying the eInk Kindle was a stupid decision.

However, it takes a special level of pigheadedness and stupidity to not see what the Kindle Fire was and is.

Perhaps now that Amazon went overboard with Sponsored Offers and Recommendations, it finally struck the fine people at WalMart that they are selling mini stores. Better late than never.

People underestimate the Power of the Path of Least Resistance

WalMart and Target, and people who defend their ridiculously bad decision of selling mini stores, probably make a lot of assumptions –

  1. People would never shop for groceries online.
  2. People would not be willing to wait an entire 2 days.
  3. People would want to see things in person.
  4. People would not go to a store and then buy online.
  5. People want the convenience of a large store they can do their entire shopping at in one trip.
  6. People want to see real people.
  7. People want same day gratification.
  8. People love the weekly drive to the stores.
  9. People want the social aspect of shopping.
  10. People want to support their local retailers.

Let’s take WalMart’s case and consider why each of these assumptions is shortsighted –

  • People would never shop for groceries online. Well, Amazon is setting up Amazon Fresh and gradually expanding it. We’re soon going to find out how people react to grocery shopping online if there’s same-day delivery.
  • People would not be willing to wait an entire 2 days. They won’t have to. Amazon is setting up enough distribution centers to achieve same day and next day shipping in lots of areas.
  • People would want to see things in person. The Zappos approach – free returns. Amazon already has 30 day returns. They could expand and say – buy 3 items and keep the one you want.
  • People would not go to a store and then buy online. They do it all the time already.
  • People want the convenience of a large store they can do their entire shopping at in one trip. What store can be bigger than an online store selling ten million items?
  • People want to see real people. Not really. It helps but it costs a LOT to have good qualified sales people. Brick and Mortar stores are losing that and it means that the value of real people customer service is declining.
  • People want same day gratification. Amazon is setting things up to deliver this.
  • People love the weekly drive to the stores. That’s just nonsense.
  • People want the social aspect of shopping. Again, this is a bit of a fantasy.
  • People want to support their local retailers. WalMart, how did that work out for all the small grocery stores you drove out of business?

Yes, there are very REAL advantages to shopping in a store. However, there are also disadvantages. And Amazon keeps reducing the advantages real stores have (instant gratification, quick gratification, selection), and it keeps increasing the advantages it has (cheaper prices, wider selection, no checkout lines, etc.).

The Path of Least Resistance is already online stores for a sizeable percentage of the population (perhaps 15% to 20%). As Amazon keeps refining things it’ll reach the point where 40% of the population prefers online shopping. At that point the retail stores will be in trouble because they will start losing out on volumes and impulse purchases and their prices will become less competitive.

Every Kindle Fire is an Mini Store in Customers’ Hands

This is the part that totally baffles me. Was this not clear to Target and WalMart from the start?

They have the following options –

  1. Sell iPads where they make a cut and Apple doesn’t sell anything other than digital content. Not ideal but not bad.
  2. Sell Google Tablets where they make a small cut and Google is only interested in online search and in getting a cut of online transactions. This is worse than Apple because there’s less money and Google has more of a ‘I want a cut’ mentality. However, this is still not that bad.
  3. Sell Kindle Fires where they make a small cut and ALSO make it easier for their users to BUY EVERYTHING easily from Amazon. This is absolutely crazy. It’s the equivalent of WalMart setting up Stores in people’s houses.

There’s no Room for Confusion – Selling Kindle Fires was a self-defeating move by WalMart and Target

People fall into two categories –

  1. People who realize that selling Kindle Fires is the stupidest thing WalMart and Target could do. That WalMart and Target are hammering in the nails into their own coffins by selling mini stores to their loyal customers.
  2. People who assume that ‘Having that Amazon mini Store in people’s hands 2 to 3 hrs a day doesn’t matter’ OR that ‘People will pick a tougher path over The Path of Least Resistance’.

The latter category will use strange arguments like – People could still go online to from any Tablet. Yes, of course. But that’s very different from having a device which literally bombards users with ‘Stuff they can buy from Amazon’ constantly.

Big difference between –

  1. Once a week I go to on my iPad I bought at WalMart.
  2. Every 15 minutes I see one thing I could buy from Amazon on my Kindle Fire HD I bought at WalMart.

Add on the fact that MOST media purchases on iPad go to Apple whereas most media purchases on Kindle Fire will go to Amazon.

It’s not even close. WalMart and Target were literally signing over hundreds of dollars in digital media profits per customer to Amazon with every Kindle Fire purchase. They were also losing a few hundred dollars in physical item profits per customer themselves (which also would go to Amazon).

It’s such bad strategy that it’s painful. It physically pains me to see WalMart and Target selling Kindle Fires. It’s one thing to get beaten by technology because it’s better technology. It’s completely different to be stupid/ignorant/clueless enough to hasten your own demise and to hand over your BEST customers as fast as you possibly can.

We aren’t yet at the Inflection Point

Well, WalMart has come to its senses. Target came to its senses about 5 months ago. At some point other retailers will realize what’s really going on. We haven’t yet reached an Inflection Point – a point at which retailers are GUARANTEED destroyed and Amazon is completely unstoppable. If more retailers start realizing what is REALLY going to happen with all the Kindle Fires they are helping sell, then hopefully retailers can avoid the Inflection Point.

A state of equilibrium, where Physical Retailers and Amazon keep competing without killing each other, would be nice. A LOT of people assume this is what’s going to happen. Actually, it’s very unlikely. If you think about the advances that are happening, and think about the 10 to 20 year scenario (instead of 2 to 4 years out), then it becomes evident that physical retailers need to BOTH lock online reatilers out of their stores AND create their own online presence. If that doesn’t happen, Amazon will dominate ALL of retail in the US within 20 to 25 years. Then all the retail battles will be fought only between online retail giants like Amazon and Rakuten.

Looking at 10 Kindle annoyances, Physical Book + eBook combos

Now that the Kindle 3 has the holiday market all to itself a few interesting questions come up –

  1. Are there any risks for the Kindle?
  2. Where’s the motivation for Amazon to continue improving the Kindle? It was the Nook that led to a ton of improvements last November. What’s going to motivate Amazon this time around? Anything?
  3. Which company is going to help push ereader prices lower now that Sony is going for ‘quality’ and Nook is going for $249 LCD screen reading devices?

Let’s start by looking at a list of 10 Kindle annoyances from PC World.

10 ways Amazon could potentially improve the Kindle

Keir Thomas at PC World lists his top 10 Kindle irritations

  1. Only One User. This is actually a very valid complaint. He talks about not being able to have a user-specific set of bookmarks and notes. The other, perhaps more important, benefit would be having limited accounts with either parental controls or buying restrictions.  
  2. Where are the Apps?  He talks about the lack of apps like a to-do list and mentions that he could live with apps that had occasional flashing and blanking of the screen. Another valid point – There’s definitely a need for more Kindle apps.
  3. Not allowing Dictionary look-ups for phrases. Don’t fully understand this.
  4. The Lack of Covers. He isn’t the only one bothered by Publishers’ amazing ability to forget to include book covers. Perhaps they’re too busy trying to decide whether they should price their ebooks higher than paperbacks or higher than hardcovers.
  5. The Progress Bar at the bottom. This is a strange complaint. He doesn’t want it as he doesn’t want to be reminded he’s not reading a physical book.
  6. Lack of more Fonts. A somewhat valid complaint.
  7. Free 3G isn’t free for personal documents. This is hilarious – so it’s not enough for Keir Thomas that Amazon offers free store browsing and free downloads and free Internet surfing and, for US Kindle owners, free worldwide Internet surfing wherever there is WhisperNet. He thinks Amazon should also pay for his personal document transfers. Perhaps he’d like a breakfast buffet to go with that and a Netflix account and an Amex Platinum card with no limits.
  8. Global Font Choices. He would like font choices to be on a per-book basis. That would actually be a disaster – imagine having to change the font size and style on every single book you ever read.   
  9. The Location of the Home button. His argument is not that it gets pressed accidentally but that it’s not placed in a more central location. Well, 1 inch away from the 5-way seems pretty central to me.
  10. Too easy to turn pages by mistake. This is a somewhat valid argument. Until you figure out how to pick up the Kindle without pressing the page turn keys you are going to turn pages by mistake.

There are some very good points in there – Kindle does need multiple user profiles (especially ones with limited access rights), more fonts would be great, Amazon should get more apps out. There are also some very unique complaints which probably don’t appear on most Kindle owners’ wishlists. However, what’s refreshing is that the reporter went to the trouble of actually using a Kindle before writing about it.

Will a few of these suggestions be incorporated?

If Nook 2 had been an eInk or ePaper based eReader it would have put a lot of pressure on Amazon to improve the Kindle. Then we would have seen drastic improvements to Kindle 3 and Kindle 2 software – perhaps even some of the things listed above. Without dangerous competition Amazon has little motivation to keep improving the Kindle.

Except … there actually is still some very dangerous competition for Amazon. Exhibit 1: WalMart.

WalMart’s DVD+Streaming combination, and Amazon’s similar offering, set a new standard for physical+digital combo offers

WalMart just announced that anyone buying the 3-disc special DVD of Toy Story 3 would also get a digital copy from the Vudu movie streaming service (which WalMart bought in February 2010). It’s a very interesting physical plus digital combination offer and hopefully makes its way to books.

Amazon is making some strong moves too – It has a program called Disc + On Demand where users who buy select DVD or Blu-Ray discs from Amazon get to watch the movie instantly using Amazon Video on Demand. The digital download will sometimes be a rental that must be watched within 30 days and sometimes it’ll be an actual digital copy you can keep forever (or until you re-locate to Mars).

We suddenly have two separate and equally impressive digital+physical combination offers –

  1. WalMart’s ‘buy the physical DVD and get the digital download free’ offer for movies.
  2. Amazon’s ‘buy the physical DVD and get an instant video rental or a digital copy’ offer for movies. It’s ostensibly so you can see the movie before your Disc arrives – However, in cases where Amazon gives you a digital copy to keep it’s effectively a physical+digital combination deal.

There are certain qualifiers – it’s only available on select movies (in case of WalMart just one movie), it might be ended at any time, DVDs are generally very expensive. However, the really big deal is that physical+digital combinations are now a reality and the digital version is a free add-on.

Please Note: The prices are the same as for physical DVDs. So the digital version is a bonus – It’s not a trick where the price is double or 50% higher.

You know what – getting similar offers for books would be marvellous. Buy a hardcover and get a 14 day rental of the Kindle version – perhaps even get a Kindle Edition for free.

It’s remarkable what fierce competition will do – WalMart and Amazon just raised the value bar for DVDs. This is exactly the sort of thing we’ll miss out on in ebooks if some company doesn’t start challenging Amazon and the Kindle soon.