Those who do cross swords with Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos, though, do so at their own peril — including, perhaps, Walmart. “Walmart would be stupid to try to go head-to-head too much with Bezos,” states Hoch. The problem, he notes, is that Amazon is out to increase market share and willing to forego profits to accomplish that. When this might change and what the end game is are not clear, says Hoch, who adds: “They’ve been doing this forever. I met a strategy person there in 1998 and asked her, ‘What is the business plan?’ She said GBF — Get Big Fast. And they are still following that strategy. For a while there it looked like they were going to make a little bit of money. Then they decided not to. It’s kind of weird — Jeff Bezos can just decide whether or not to make money.”
Both Amazon and Walmart are “willing to lose money in certain categories, and it’s got to be difficult for anyone in those categories,” says Wharton marketing professor David Bell, who points out that the two giants have been moving into the same space for some time — including one well-documented skirmish. In his book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone tells the story of how Amazon and Walmart both wooed Quidsi, the start-up behind Diapers.com. Amazon won, though not until Bezos engaged in some rather ruthless tactics. (The book, by the way, lists on Amazon.com for $17.47, a 38% discount off the publisher list price.)
But Nemer cautions against underestimating Walmart, which now has five million items for sale on its website (including Stone’s book on Bezos for $16.80, a 40% discount below cover price). “The competition between Amazon and Walmart is still not really appreciated by a lot of people,” he says. “Most folks think Amazon has a huge lead, and are not aware [that] Walmart plans to continue expanding in this area. If you ask most people how many employees Walmart has in online, they will say a number in the tens or maybe hundreds. It’s in the thousands. They are making great progress — they already have.”
With the advent of 4G telecommunications networks consumers can check the prices for items online in seconds and without going home or finding a desk top. This is likely to have a profound effect on retail establishments unaccustomed to such a high degree of competition with companies that do not need to maintain physical stores in often high rent neighbourhoods. What appears clear is that the retail sector is set for further consolidation, with those capable of dominating the online shopping experience most likely to win out.
Amazon surged higher in October and has so far held the gain. While increasingly overextended relative to the 200-day MA, a sustained move below the 200-day MA would be required to question medium-term scope for additional upside.
Wal-Mart is an S&P500 Dividend Aristocrat yielding 2.38%. It completed a more than decade long base in 2012 and has returned to retest the upper side of this year’s range. While some consolidation is possible in the current area, a sustained move below $70 would be required to question medium-term scope for additional higher to lateral ranging.
Elsewhere in the retail sector, Whole Foods Markets continues its international expansion and although its march higher has been punctuated by occasional sharp pullbacks, it has found support in the region of the 200-day MA on successive occasions. The share appears to have entered another medium-term process of mean reversion.
France listed Casino Guichard which has substantial Latin American operations, is testing the upper side of a decade long base. A break in the progression of higher major reaction lows, currently near $70, would be required to question medium-term scope for additional upside.