Amazon: Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?

By | February 4, 2015

While had a surprisingly profitable fourth quarter, according to RSR’s recent eCommerce benchmark, eCommerce in Context; Coping With Maturity, fewer than half of retailers view the on-line steam-roller as a competitive threat. In fact, these retailers have lost their fear of most of the “usual suspects” – Amazon, Walmart, Google and even their own suppliers.

As it turns out, their biggest concern is with the consumer: and finding ways to engage her and retain her attention. We can’t disagree.

In one sense, there’s nothing new here. We’ve seen the concern over consumer engagement before…it consistently ranks as a top-three business challenge by a plurality of retailers…but we never asked such a direct question about the elephants in the room in earlier studies. I confess to being gob smacked by the responses.

We’ve talked a lot about the maturing eCommerce marketplace, how the best retailers will survive in a post-Amazon, post-Walmart world, but it was fascinating to see our theories borne out in retailer opinions.

The truth is, very few retailers could survive on Amazon’s margins, and most can’t bring in quick money with memberships in free shipping clubs (warehouse clubs excluded). And Amazon has started coming under real pressure to deliver bottom-line results to go with its top-line growth. That’s a tough row to hoe for a company that’s decided to be the perennial low-cost provider.

The Street reports that even with earnings two and a half times consensus estimates and a rapid rise in Amazon’s stock, other key metrics lag the market and similar companies. In fact, their stock raters are calling Amazon a “sell.” Far less buzz was generated by this season’s pre-Cyber Monday report of “robots picking product” than last year’s “drone delivery” experiments.

None of this means that retailers are ignoring Amazon’s strengths. They know they’ve got to improve their fulfillment processes, leverage their most expensive asset, the store, and keep their prices sharp to stay in the game. But realistically speaking, there are retailers making a lot more money than Amazon does and maintaining reasonable growth trajectories. As fourth quarter results are trickling in, we’re seeing some strong performers.

Retailers are still investing in their eCommerce platforms, but they’re looking at it in a very different way than they did just a couple of years ago. They think about extending the use of those investments across other selling channels. Most specifically, they want to bring those capabilities into the store.

Tech investments will continue, with a focus on streamlining back-end processes and inventory reductions, but the context is very different. Retailers are looking at their enterprises much more holistically than they have in years.

My fellow Forbes contributor Walter Loeb has called Millennial consumers, “Cybrids.” They do much of their product research on-line, always have phones in hand, and have a lot of social interaction in cyberspace. But… they still like the experience of shopping in stores.

Our eCommerce benchmark certainly indicates that retailers feel the same. They’re gearing up to meet their customers anyplace the shopper is willing. It was fascinating to see how that plays out in their planned technology investments.

I have to say, this was one of the most enjoyable data I’ve seen in some time. It’s always fun when retailers surprise us. It turns out, they just might be right. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not nearly as many retailers as there were a few years ago. Give “eCommerce In Context: Coping with Maturity” a look. We think you’ll enjoy it too.