Scot Wingo is CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp (NYSE:ECOM), a public e-commerce adviser to retailers and manufacturers, with $68 million in revenue and more than 2,400 clients in 2013.
The company helps businesses sell products over hundreds of online channels. Wingo is also an acknowledged industry expert on Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq:AMZN) and eBay Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY), publishing benchmark monthly sales data for the two vast online marketplaces. He has studied Amazon for more than a decade. Wall Street analysts often turn to him for advice.
Wingo spoke to IBTimes over email about Amazon, the global e-commerce outlook and his own ChannelAdvisor business. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: What are the business risks for Amazon over the next few years? Why does it matter if its revenue growth slows slightly in early 2014, as the company has warned?
A: Amazon is so far ahead in areas such as cloud computing infrastructure (Amazon Web Services) and warehouses ["fulfillment centers"] that a downside risk needs to make those investments turn from an asset to a liability. It's hard to imagine what that looks like.
[CEO Jeff] Bezos famously said they vote on long-term trends such as consumers wanting products for low prices and shipped fast. It’s only if consumers change that there’d be risks, and I don’t see that happening.
Amazon has been investing and thus not been wildly profitable for over a decade now. If the company slowed down to levels more in-line with e-commerce growth (say 12-14 percent, below its recent 20 or so percent) that would be a big change. Perhaps Amazon would need to slow down its investment levels.
Q: eBay and Amazon have interesting but little-known industrial business-to-business divisions, where companies buy industrial equipment from online marketplaces. Can you talk about these businesses?
A: More and more industrial business-to-business companies are finding that their buyers are expecting Amazon or eBay levels of convenience. They are taking action by buying products on those platforms. Sellers are responding by listing.
For eBay’s fourth quarter, the business and industrial category shifted $1 billion worth of goods for the quarter and grew 16 percent. That’s pretty impressive for a category that is boring industrial stuff.
(Wingo told retailers at an industry conference in January that Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE:EMR) executives flew in to visit him, asking for advice on how to deal with Amazon Supply. He told IBTimes the companies shared perspectives, but didn’t give further details.
(“Amazon is revolutionizing the whole B2B space as well,” said Wingo earlier. “This is the most sexy bolt-buying experience you’ll ever experience. … I don’t know anything about bolts, but it’s like 8,000 choices for people that wanna buy bolts. This is much, much better than what’s out there in the B2B world.”)
Q: Can you comment on the broad holiday sales performances of eBay and Amazon for 2013?
A: eBay’s sales grew in line with e-commerce sales growth, but Amazon came in at 2.5x broader e-commerce industry growth. We saw eBay slow down after the week of Cyber Monday. Amazon peaked at Cyber Monday but sustained sales throughout December with another spike in the last four days of the holiday.
It’s not 100 percent clear what happened here, but some guesses are:
- Amazon was more promotional than eBay
- eBay didn’t run a TV ad campaign this year
- Perhaps hard-to-find items were grabbed up early by shoppers, which helped eBay early on, but which didn’t lead to sustained sales strength
Q: What do you think of Amazon’s prospects in India? Can they beat out key rival and market leader Snapdeal?
A: Both eBay and Amazon and I suspect some of the Asian marketplaces (China’s Alibaba or Japan’s Rakuten Inc. (TYO:4755)) will come to India and bring the e-commerce clash of the titans with them. If Snapdeal can out-innovate them and deliver a unique consumer experience, they will survive the onslaught. If not, perhaps they will ultimately have to partner with (or be acquired by) one of the big players.
In the U.S., we've seen companies like shoe seller Zappos and Diapers.com innovate and mount a good battle. But ultimately they’ve had to merge with Amazon.
We have a second generation of companies (sports merchandise retailer Fanatics.com, home goods seller Wayfair.com) that appear on the path of staying independent and potentially doing their own initial public offerings, instead of joining with the mega-sites.
Q: Can you discuss a few of the most interesting international markets for e-commerce?
A: Things are going to get very interesting in the world of e-commerce. You have the U.S. companies heading into Latin America, and the BRICs. You have the Asia-Pacific companies coming to the U.S.
E-commerce is like a Risk game board, and the armies are going to start moving around. The one thing we can all agree to is the adage – never start a ground war in Asia.
We also have a lot of customers in China and they love cross-border trade (CBT) because it’s more profitable than their domestic environment. The rewards of selling overseas are definitely worth the challenges.