Now begins the North American battle of Amazon vs Walmart, with the winner to take on Alibaba on the world’s retailer stage.
I love watching the Kentucky Derby, especially those horses that start off slow, then pick it up on the back straight, and then basically fly past everyone on the last turn, like they are standing still. That’s how I feel about watching the Alibaba brand.
The joint venture between Walmart and Google is a signal that both might be a little bit scared of Amazon.
But, Alibaba is using their dominance in the world’s largest market (China) to pick up all that speed in the back straight and likely beat both Amazon and Walmart.
Walmart is a tough competitor. They won’t go down without a fight.
Obviously, Amazon has a huge advantage in the US, but things are about to get really ugly as Walmart and Amazon attempt to destroy each other.
But, if you have ever dealt with Walmart, you would have to be an idiot to ever count them out. Their culture focuses on the relentless fixation on fast-moving items that helps drive cash flow. Sure, Walmart beats up their vendors over price–but that’s mainly to drive sell through. If your brand moves slow, there is no debate–you are told to speed up your sales, and if you don’t, you are gone.
I remember when Walmart starting sending us their weekly sales data. My first thought was “Wow, this is true partnership, amazing data, thanks Walmart”. Then the questions started to come. “Your 250ml cherry flavored cough syrup is not selling fast enough, what will you do to accelerate turns”. We lowered the price. Or even worse, “Your Listerine Pocketpaks product accounts for the highest theft of any product in our stores, fix it”. We changed the packaging, just because they asked us. In the bricks and mortar space, while most department store retailers sell through their inventory in 130-150 days. Walmart sells through their inventory in 29 days. That’s cash flow.
I expect Walmart will go lower on price than Amazon can tolerate. What retailer owned the low price positioning before Walmart? Sears. If you go compare prices at Walmart and Sears, you will see why Sears stores are empty and about to go bankrupt.
Does the Google partnership help Walmart? A little. But both better step it up fast. If Walmart loses to Amazon, the case study class starts off with “Walmart should have started their on-line war with Amazon in 2002, not 2017.”
Even if Amazon can tolerate lower prices and eventually beats Walmart, it will do some damage to their profits. Amazon will experience lower margins, squeezed cash flow, and a divided consumer base. It will further open the possibility of seeing Alibaba entering the US market.
Why Alibaba will win
Alibaba, valued at $420 Billion has seen an 80% increase in the market capitalization in the past twelve months. In the same period, Amazon has seen a 20% increase, still with a slight lead at $465 Billion.
Here are 5 reasons why Alibaba will eventually win the global e-commerce retail space:
- Alibaba can utilize their home-field advantage. Alibaba is dominating the Chinese market, which is the #1 e-commerce population in the world. China has 500 million active on-line users, is twice the size of the US market. Walmart and Amazon will divide up the US market.
- Alibaba has a business model that delivers higher profitability. Alibaba’s business model, with no listing fees, with the bulk of their revenue coming from keywords and digital-advertising is closer to the social media model. This gives Alibaba significantly higher margins than Amazon.
- Alipay payment system. Alibaba launched a digital payment system in 2004, just for their own customers. Along with WePay, it has become the accepted method of payment in China. They have moved to a cashless and even cardless payment world.
- Alibaba will ride the growth curve of the Chinese Economy. Despite the recent slowdown, China’s economy is still growing at almost three times the rate of the US – around 7% over the last couple of years, compared to less than 2.5%.The US has a growing trade deficit – it imports more than it exports – while China imports significantly less than it exports, resulting in a trade surplus.
- Alibaba’s sales will benefit from the growth of the Chinese Middle Class. In the last ten years, the average income for China has tripled. It is expected that from 2012 to 2022, those in China making more than $34K US will increase from 3% currently up to 9%, and those in the growing middle class ($16K to $34K) will increase from 14% up to 54%.
So when will Alibaba move west? Likely after the Walmart vs Amazon dust settles. By 2020, I would expect both Walmart and Amazon to be weakened. Whoever wins will have to take on a very healthy, highly profitable, cash-rich Alibaba. Realistically, Alibaba could end up two or three times the size of Amazon.Then it will be like watching that horse in the Kentucky Derby, with Alibaba rounding the final turn on the way to the finish line.
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In retail, the smart money should be on Alibaba for the win.
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