For almost a decade, Amazon got big, fast because it was one of the handful of Internet companies able to prove the dot com bubble was not entirely a bust. Like EBay, Amazon successfully bridged the transitional gap that began in the 1990s between traditional brick and mortar retailers and online sellers.
But now, Amazon's business model has matured, diversified and advanced to the point that the company's decided competitive advantage against other e-commerce sites, traditional brick and mortar stores, and even many technology companies begs a question.
Has Amazon become the most competitive company ever built?
Amazon was originally founded as an online bookseller after Jeff Bezos took a cue from independent booksellers by focusing his new online store in the 1990s during the dawn of the Internet age on customer service.
Bezos started with books simply because he figured out that books had ISBN numbers, and that worked well with Internet ordering, since categorization and ordering was simplified.
Bezos took classes offered by the American Booksellers Association, the lead organization of independent booksellers. He was struck by a seminar on customer service, catering Amazon to interact and know the customer. If customers shopped for mystery, Amazon knew to recommend more mystery books.
All that remained after that was discount pricing, or taking advantage of lower costs without brick-and-mortar overhead to give deals each and every day.
Once Amazon became the online leader in book selling, the company quickly diversified into other retail products, including household items, electronics and others, while adding third-party vendors to boost product offerings and commissions requiring little overhead.
Tablet Likely on the Way
Amazon was among the first companies to show that yes, the dot com boom wasn't all bust. But the company didn't stop there. It developed the Kindle, the leading e-reader, and profitably changed publishing in a way that many traditional book publishers weren't ready for, with e-books.
At the moment, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing is also among the leading forums for self-publishing in the world. Users can upload books for free, and Amazon gets a cut of every sale.
Now, Amazon is poised to enter the tablet world, as observers say the company will launch perhaps as early as this year an Adroid-based product to compete directly with Apple's iPad. Like Apple, Amazon has the apps and content available online to back up the bold move. Based on Amazon's success with the Kindle, success with a tablet doesn't seem to be a question. Rather, the question seems only to be how successful Amazon will be with its tablet.
Still, that diversification alone isn't what has Amazon starting to look like it might be the most competitive business ever built.
For example the firm William Blair noted in a July 21 report titled "More Retailers Struggling to Navigate Amazon's Surging Current" that Amazon's prices on 1,000 identical items is greater than 10 percent when compared to a cross-section of U.S. retailers.
The firm notes that consumers are now increasingly using smart phones and other mobile devices to price-shop, illuminating Amazon's advantage on the spot -- suggesting that advantage will only grow in the future because of advancing technology and Amazon's competitive pricing across the board.
In other words, fast-advancing personal technology is fuel to Amazon's raging, business-model fire. No competitor can touch Amazon's prices in thousands of products and more people every day gain the ability to price check on the spot, then order from Amazon in one click if they desire.
More revealing may be incredibly bullish sentiment by Morgan Stanley, which gets quite specific in the argument made as to why Amazon might be the most competitive business model ever built. Morgan Stanley rates Amazon as "overweight," remaining aggressive buyers of the stock, noting that Amazon is doing it bigger and faster than Wal-Mart did, growing from a humble start as a discount retailer in Arkansas to become the world's largest retailer.
"Amazon is the Wal-Mart of our era but it's better, in our view -- Amazon.com is the combination of technology + logistics company, allowing it to participate in a transition of physical to digital retail supported by store-less (in Seattle) business model that leads to higher long-term economic returns," said Morgan Stanley, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon Facing Challenges
So bullish are analysts on Amazon they have to look hard to find potential knocks that may impact the stock. Amazon manages Target.com on its Web site, and there's always the threat that partnership could end. Amazon faces sales tax issues in many states throughout America that loom large, but to date, the company has ably navigated without significant impact to sales.
There's profit pressure on the Kindle as Amazon reduces prices, and there's also the heavy investment Amazon is making in a current double-down cycle, perhaps launching a tablet and other technologies like the new Kindle. But even so, many analysts note that Amazon's strength is remarkably allowing profits to continue on the rise despite heavy investment.
Other strength factors looking ahead including potential abroad for growth in Kindle sales, and the potential expansion of video and related content sales if Amazon does successfully launch a tablet later this year. Also, remarkably, despite it's growth and origination as an online company, Amazon's only real tangible, operating-overhead expenses relate to company headquarters and warehouse facilities.
Those factors, combined with Amazon's competitive advantage across many consumer retail categories, are why Amazon's stock is trading at almost 100-times trailing earnings.
That's why in spite of the lofty stock price, most analysts maintain aggressive buy positions on Amazon. That's also why the question at hand is legitimate.
Bezos and Amazon may very well have built the most competitive company ever.