This year is starting to be an exceptionally disruptive one for traditional multi-channel retailers. Even stalwarts like Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and Sears have announced store closures in the face of renewed online competition and threats to their traditional store-based business models.
While the online channel has been a bright spot with sales growing by 14.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 over 2014, Amazon accounted for the majority of that growth. Industry analyst Macquarie estimates that in 2015 for every $1 of e-commerce growth, Amazon took 51 cents, and for every $1 of adjusted total retail growth, Amazon took 24 cents.
And, despite billion-dollar investments by competitors like Wal-Mart and Target to build out their e-commerce infrastructures, most U.S. consumers prefer Amazon as a shopping destination. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of shoppers planned to do most of their online shopping at Amazon over the holiday season, versus 16 percent at Wal-Mart, 3 percent at Target and 2 percent at Macy’s.
With Amazon’s rapid expansion of “Prime,” its two-day home delivery service, this growth trend should only accelerate and traditional multi-channel retailers will continue to lose share.
What Amazon Is Doing Better
Amazon’s flexible technology stack allows it to offer consumers a broader product assortment, greater convenience, highly competitive pricing. All of which make Amazon a formidable competitor for traditional multi-channel retailers.
Four clear points of competitive advantage for Amazon:
- Broader Product Assortments Via a Marketplace
For the last 15 years, Amazon has positioned itself as a market-place. To quote Jeff Bezos’ annual 2015 shareholder letter, “Today, close to 50 percent of units sold on Amazon are sold by third-party sellers. Marketplace is great for consumers because it adds unique selection, and it’s great for sellers – there are over 70,000 entrepreneurs with sales of more than $100,000 a year selling on Amazon.”
This puts traditional brick-and-mortar retailers at a huge disadvantage versus Amazon. In covering the toy category Profitero wrote, “Even when Amazon curates its massive assortment to a more manageable list of products for its holiday promotions, other retailers have difficulty matching the breadth of Amazon’s listings.” Here’s how category leaders fared as a percentage of Amazon’s Holiday Toy List: Toys “R” Us: 69 percent, Jet.com: 63 percent. Wal-Mart and Target at 59 percent and 57 percent, respectively.”
Simply put, if you’re offering consumers a more limited selection of toys because of your limited supplier on-boarding and product data management capabilities – you will end up with lower sales too.
- An Obsession With Consumers
Amazon offers its consumers greater ease of use over other retail e-commerce web-sites. It’s superior search and query, recommendations based on past purchases, one-click ordering at check-out, multiple consumer reviews and ratings, and most recently dash buttons for automatic re-ordering are key differentiators. When combined with the Prime membership, Amazon has a broader 360-degree view of consumers including insights into on-line transactions, purchase frequency, entertainment preferences, and regional demographics. All of which helps Amazon tailor its online experience to the needs of consumers, and continually experiment with and improve upon its functionality.
- Highly Competitive Pricing
A key advantage driving its Marketplace program and multiple supplier options is aggressively lower pricing. Amazon has always placed growth and “customer value” over short-term profits. It’s also helped by economies of scale and investments in infrastructure and logistics that have helped it offer, not just two-day delivery capabilities, but one-hour delivery on an important subset of 25,000 items in 30 cities with Prime Now. It’s highly profitable $10 Billion AWS business could also help it subsidize growth into attractive but lower margin areas like on-line grocery.
- Fewer Technology and Organizational Silos
Perhaps Amazon’s greatest advantage is being a 20-year old company – it skipped the generations of legacy technologies that hold today’s retailers back. Un-burdened by investments in mainframes, inflexible and high-cost relational technology, and investments in huge data centers – Amazon led the move to the cloud with AWS. It focused on what its consumers needed, designed innovative technology solutions largely in-house, and then commercialized these technologies. It also grew largely organically and did not face the huge costs of M&A-induced technology integration or having an on-line business in Silicon Valley that ran completely separately from its stores division!
Today Amazon offers consumers a broader product assortment, greater convenience, highly competitive pricing, all powered by a flexible (and profitable) technology stack.
How Can Retailers Compete With Amazon?
Over a series of blogs, I’ll discuss how retailers can compete better with Amazon.
Stay tuned for my next blog and I look forward to hearing your feedback!