Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Reign of Amazon

Zero Hedge has the story: Amazon is eating its competition.

Recently, the venerable Macy’s closed dozens of stores and laid off thousands of workers. The Limited shut down all of its stores. Other once great department store chains—from Sears to Penny’s—are dying a slow death. Only Walmart seems to retain its vitality, and it announced, just yesterday, that it is laying off people.

And Amazon rules over all of them. The ensuing chart involves market capitalization, which is the value the stock market places on the company. And we know that Amazon does more than retail. And, of course, the stock market is not always right. With that cautionary note in mind, we see that Amazon is bigger than the aggregate of all its competitors.

Zero Hedge explains:

Sears went from being worth $27.8 billion to $1.1 billion (a 96% decrease), while JCPenney went from $18.1 billion to $2.6 billion (a 86% decrease).

Amazon, on the other hand, did okay for itself.

The online retailer gained 1,934% in value over the same timeframe, making it one of the most valuable companies in the world, and a key piece of Jeff Bezos’ business empire.

The picture is the same when you look at sales figures. Zero Hedge writes:

Ten years ago, the future of brick and mortar retail sill looked bright. The aforementioned retailers were worth a collective $400 billion, and Amazon was only valued at $17.5 billion.

But disruption often comes without warning. Or if there were warning signs, they went unheeded by retailers.

Big box and department store sales plummeted, as consumers increasingly went online to do their shopping. This year, it is estimated that revenues are equal to just 62% of their totals in 2006.

It’s always worth paying attention to shifting economic realities. As an economist recently noted, the trend toward consolidation and bigness is swamping entrepreneurialism.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"As an economist recently noted, the trend toward consolidation and bigness is swamping entrepreneurialism."

Can you speak more to this? I'm not aware this is going on. A link to the economist's article, perhaps?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Capitalism is still the great policy, but socialistic governments have put it on life support."

Too true. Government is competing with the private sector for resources. The original ideas posited for government regulation and interference are no longer in play. The two are in constant war with each other. Government has forgotten its place as referee rather than actor. It does not help the country.

David Foster said...

About $160 billion of Amazon's market cap is estimated to be Amazon Web Services, which is a cloud computing platform rather than part of their retail business. The remaining $190B is still pretty impressive, though.

Also impressive is that Amazon was able to turn AWS...which started out as their internal platform for service delivery...into a runaway commercial success, rather than just an ancillary business to retail.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Robert Samuelson's take on this in the Washington Post is interesting: it all comes down to productivity growth. His piece was also published today.

David Foster said...

Re the Samuelson's interesting that there are currently two narratives that are getting a low of play. Narrative 1: the robots will take all the jobs. Narrative 2: productivity growth has stalled and this will lead to bad economic times over the long term.

These narratives can't *both* be true.

Anonymous said...

As more 'teens' and 'youths'mess up shopping malls, people would prefer to shop from home.

Anonymous said...

Has Amazon ever turned a profit?

Ares Olympus said...

Back to Amazon's original business of books, I heard the Barnes and Noble in downtown Minneapolis is closing. I didn't shop there that often, but for browsing, real book stores are nice. What do we do when there are no local book stores?

And even on the used-book market, Amazon is hard to beat. I'll go through periods of skimming the local thrift stores for book, and I've gotten some good bargains, you have to do a lot of work to get something you really want.

In comparison, you can go on Amazon, and find many out-of-print books selling for $0.01, with $3.99 S&H of course, but even $4.00 is a great price compared to hours of physical browsing. And I've even seen old math books with 3 copies selling on Amazon for $150+, and 3 months later, someone will sell a copy for $20. Patience pays off, and it does seem to be a buyers market for most books.

I've also bought a KindleFire last year, and lots of kindle books, and free or $1 apps, or free ones usually have upgrade options. I've considered selling some Android apps online, or least I have the development kits to make them, but if I was one of those lucky guys with a "killerapp", and sold 50,000 copies for $1, Amazon takes a 40% cut or so? I can't remember. Yet, probably 100% mark ups are standards for selling anything retail.

I'm certainly not interested in buying stock in Amazon, but you have to admire a company that has thrived on relatively small margins. I'd not say people are foolish if they invest modestly.

I do think some of their activities, even like the used book markets could be "stolen" by a cheaper upstart that can connect buyers and sellers with a smaller cut.

It is certainly hard to imagine what our future will bring, but if the bigbox retail are the old dinosaurs of materialism, and it takes online new dinosaur of materialism, I wonder what will survive the next economic recession.

Maybe it'll take an energy crisis to kill the "just in time" supply system we're setting up? But really it seems collective debt will hit us sooner. Does Amazon have unlimited credit to carry loses through a slowdown when they overbet how big the future sales will be.

But until then, it looks like we're in a consumer's materialistic heaven of cheap stuff (between bigbox stores AND online) that keeps us confidence that tomorrow will be better than today. I mean if you ignore the collective debt, it seems all good.

David Foster said...

""As an economist recently noted, the trend toward consolidation and bigness is swamping entrepreneurialism."

I think this is highly questionable. Yes, it is difficult to start a small business and there is a high failure rate. Yes, there are a lot of unnecessary obstacles thrown in the way by the regulatory systems.

But some constraints have become *less* binding. If you want to start an on-line provider of goods or services, for example, far less capital investment and technical expertise is required than was needed a decade or so ago, due to the availability of Cloud platforms such as...Amazon Web Services.