I read an interesting investigative type piece in the w/end FT about Amazon and what it’s like working in one of their warehouses. It painted a pretty sorry picture of a giant warehouse the size of nine football pitches and disillusioned workers plodding around collecting products for shipment in their oversize trolleys. Everyone takes their orders from a handheld computer device that measures productivity and tells them when they are falling behind. Apparently it’s not uncommon to cover more than 10 miles of walking in a single shift!
It got me thinking about how we buy stuff and how much has changed in the world of retail. The basic principles have never changed – companies make stuff and people buy it. Retail is about bringing the two groups together.
But everything in between has changed and is changing massively and Amazon is at the center of it. The numbers are staggering. According to an analyst at Morgan Stanley, the ecommerce market is expected to reach $1tr in 2016 with Amazon taking at 23.5% share. That would place ecommerce at more than 20% of the entire retail market and Amazon by far its fastest growing and largest player.
So will Amazon continue to grow relentlessly? Will they continue to build out more and more huge warehouses and start to populate them with robots to further drive efficiencies? Will ecommerce dominate virtually very product category apart from the obvious ones where is doesn’t work like petrol and convenience stores.
Amazon is a great company and a trailblazer for the ecommerce industry. But my view is that is their growth will slow and their hub based infrastructure can only go so far. I believe that local retailers will hold on to a meaningful share in the market. Why? Because there is and always will be value in local. For this reason I believe retailers must be multi-channel if they are to reach the most customers with the most products.
Local has a tremendous amount of value that I think there is a temptation to overlook in the face of this stampede to all things on-line.
With local you can see your product, you can feel it and try it on for size. You can talk to people who are knowledgeable about the products and ask them questions. You know where to go if you have to take it back. You can feel more in tune with products that are made or produced locally. And, perhaps most importantly, you can get your hands on products instantly.
That’s why same day delivery is becoming such a big opportunity and what drove our investment in Shutl. We are living in a world that is becoming ever more mobile and fast moving. We want what we want, when we want and where we want.
Even Amazon is talking about the possibility of local warehouses and same day delivery. But this would require them to fundamentally change their hub-based model and would have an impact on their already super-slim margins.
I’m sure Amazon will make some kind of move in this area. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even opened stores or what they will more likely call ‘showrooms.’
Whether you are the world’s largest ecommerce player or a small store the optimum model is a multi-channel one where you can leverage the best of both.
Services that help retailers get as many products as possible into the hands of as many customers as possible is a really dynamic market right now full of opportunities. I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out over the coming years and, as an investor, I’m looking forward to making more investments into companies that are playing a part in this change.