At a retail-industry conference in Las Vegas, one center of attention was unavoidable: Amazon and the impact it has on the business.
LAS VEGAS — If one thing is clear at this gathering of the retail industry’s top brass, it is that pretty much everyone in the sector is figuring out how to beat, collaborate with or be the next Amazon.com.
At seemingly every panel at Shoptalk, as the e-commerce conference here this week is known, moderators queried speakers on how to deal with this or that aspect of the Seattle juggernaut’s business — from its encroachment in the field of fashion to its strengths in fulfillment and delivery.
“You’re crazy if you compete against Amazon and you don’t recognize they are bigger, stronger, faster,” said Scott Thompson, the CEO at online shopping service ShopRunner and former head of Yahoo. “They’re playing their sport on their field with their referees and their fans.”
The comments came at the heels of a tough week for department stores and other traditional retailers, which posted surprisingly disappointing earnings, even as Amazon shares broke record levels, buoyed by unexpectedly good results.
It seems as if the rupture in retail created by the Internet has been accelerating as consumer spending recovers from the recession — with Amazon reaping an increasing share of the rewards (analysts say the company captures half the growth in e-commerce dollars). But Amazon acts not only as a retailer eating other retailers’ lunch: Its often contradictory business ventures offer different layers of challenge and even opportunity to competitors.
Deloitte, a consultancy, says the Internet has enabled unprecedented fragmentation in retail. The top 25 retailers have lost nearly 1 percent of their market share between 2009 and 2015, a sign that competition is getting tougher.
Kasey Lobaugh, a principal with Deloitte, said in an interview that new entrants are flooding the field, since online marketplaces and a plethora of delivery services have greatly lowered the barriers to entry.
Amazon has been a key enabler of that fragmentation. A growing part of its revenue comes from allowing other merchants to sell on its website. Through a business known as Fulfillment by Amazon, it even handles those merchants’ logistics. It offers them an online checkout solution if they operate their own websites, and through the Amazon Web Services cloud-computing unit, it also hosts its competitors’ websites.
So Amazon is everywhere — and retailers of all stripes have multiple ways of adapting to a world increasingly pervaded by Jeff Bezos’ creation.
Mark Lavelle, CEO of e-commerce software maker Magento Commerce, said at a Shoptalk panel that the answer lies in creating something that’s different and unique — but also “you have to probably participate” in Amazon’s marketplace.
Still, Amazon generates mistrust among a few retailers. Google, for one, sees in that a big opportunity. The company is expanding a shopping platform with same-day delivery service throughout the U.S., carrying merchandise from big retailers such as Costco Wholesale that don’t sell on Amazon’s marketplace. “Every retailer should have the opportunity to be there and be useful,” said Jonathan Alferness, vice president of product-management shopping at Google.
Amazon’s presence has also enabled companies such as Deliv — an Uber-like fleet that provides retailers with same-day delivery service — to meet a growing need. “Amazon does not have a monopoly on convenience,” Deliv CEO Daphne Carmeli said.
Others think e-commerce is growing at such speed that there will be room for many big players to coexist with Amazon. “There’s going to be more than one player. There’s play or opportunity for a very large No. 2, or even No. 3,” said Marc Lore, CEO of Jet.com, a well-funded challenger to Amazon.