In terms of online shopping, in America, Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). It's the big dog by a mile, it's the first place you go, and it's the gold standard in terms of the shopping experience.
But that also means it has a limited market. There are just so many Americans who will let their fingers do the walking. Those who prefer the football-like crush of Black Friday will still rush to Wal-Mart, and a few other stores, to get our hands on the physical goods.
So the challenge for Amazon this holiday season is to grow the international side of its business. That's complicated. It requires cloud infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure. It also requires obedience to local laws - national, state, and local.
News that the new Kindle Paperwhite will be released in China is highly bullish for the stock. This requires not just all the infrastructure listed above, but also Mandarin-language e-book deliver infrastructure, which the company apparently has ready to go.
For Asia consumers, Amazon has long had a complex set of instructions indicating exactly where it would ship exactly what. There are surcharges on heavy items, special duties and taxes to be paid, and a special paragraph for customers in Brazil. I tried to get some books to a friend in Italy earlier this year, however, and found it took more to ship the things than the books were worth. These costs and delays have long kept Amazon from gaining much traction in international markets.
But the big news is that more countries are being opened up to more goods. Amazon opened in India earlier this year. Its expansion there will be helped by the opening of a new data center in Australia on Monday, joining centers in Singapore and Tokyo.This dramatically improves the footprint of its cloud services, and the company's merchandising is following the cloud.
At last count Amazon had nine separate Web sites in local languages, with China and Japan the main Asian sites. It may be unable to gain the kind of share in China it has here, but at least it's competing there.
Investors need to understand this part of the Amazon story fully when considering an investment. International growth is happening in waves - first cloud, then delivery, finally e-books and other content products. And it's a continuous process that should keep the company growing for many years, despite what may happen in the U.S. economy.
If you want to know why the stock seems to refuse to fall out of bed, despite its sky-high price, that's why. I sold my own shares at $230, took a nice profit, and six months later it's about where it was then.