The VALUEx investment conference I hosted last month in Vail, Colorado started with a presentation by Josh Tarasoff, a general partner at Greenlea Lane Capital, whose long-stock idea was Amazon at the time trading at a modest 179 times trailing earnings. The rich valuation was not lost on Josh. In fact, this was a perfect presentation to start the conference, as the theme of the conference was to challenge our thinking, that is to borrow a line from Apple to think different. Amazon is one of the best-managed and most innovative companies in the U.S., if not globally. It constantly pushes the boundaries of what it is. It went into cloud hosting because it felt it had unique expertise running its own enormous website, and now Amazon is going into supply it will ship goods to you if you run a retail operation.
Joshs take on Amazon was that it changes the way we shop. Our normal brick and mortar shopping habits are simple: We go to stores every so often, where the merchants have performed their black art of merchandise selection, trying to maximize their limited real estate to have the highest appeal to the average shopper (to be more precise: the shopper with the largest wallet). Amazon doesnt try to appeal to the average shopper or to the wealthiest one, it appeals to the most important shopper you. Its merchandising strategy is simple: Supply everything! With the Internet and thus Amazon being on our smart phones, tablets, PCs, etc., we can shop on Amazon whenever we realize we need something instantly.
Amazon is habit-forming for younger generations and habit-changing for older ones. This way to shop will gradually become embedded into the DNA of younger generations. A few days ago I needed an iPhone car charger. I didnt add it to my mental shopping list of things to buy next time I go to Best Buy, I simply fired up the Amazon app on my iPhone and bought it. I almost cannot think of a second website where Id go if I needed to buy something. I might Google it if it was an expensive item; if not Id just go directly to Amazon.
Amazons brick-and-mortar-free cost structure puts it at a competitive advantage against other retailers. The thing I find very refreshing about Amazon is that it allows its competitors to post their merchandise on the Amazon website they can even do so at lower prices if they like. If a customer buys the competitors product, Amazon still makes a commission on the sale. Though weve been conditioned by Amazon to think of this as a normal way of doing business online, think about how this would look in the brick-and-mortar setting. Imagine Kohls allowing Target to put its pair of Nike shoes right next to Kohls pair of the same shoes, at a lower price.