Is Amazon a Copycat?

Jul. 7.11 | About:, Inc. (AMZN)

I went bearish on Research in Motion (RIMM) in late March partially because of the company's apparent inability to do anything other than put out cheap imitations of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) products. And, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs noted when introducing iPad 2, RIM is not alone. Everyone from bellwether Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) to Motorola (NYSE:MMI) only answers Apple's dominance with inferior knock-offs of Apple products.

Using this type of logic, I should chide (NASDAQ:AMZN) for the same, yet I do not. As I wrote in a recent article, Amazon's forthcoming tablet could add somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion to revenue this year alone. A couple of differences exist between an innovative company like Amazon playing copycat and the old guard or beleaguered companies like RIM and Motorola doing likewise.

When Amazon emulates what is inherently an Apple idea (e.g., the tablet, music in the cloud) or an area Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) dominates (e.g., instant video), it may or may not actually want to compete with the leader. While Amazon's competitive intentions are not always clear, one thing, across virtually all of its endeavors, remains obvious: It launches initiatives with the explicit intention of generating meaningful revenue. Today. Unlike Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon no longer wastes its time tinkering around with lofty ideas in a Silicon Valley (or South Lake Union) garage.

Amazon rolls out business line after business line that generate meaningful revenues. Kindle provides one of the better recent examples. And then there's the nearly $1 billion business humbly labeled as "other" in Amazon's annual report. Made up of Amazon Web Services, credit card agreements and other initiatives, "other" grew revenues by 46 percent between 2009 and 2010.

And don't look now, but Amazon has decided to rip off Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN). Sort of. Because the number of Groupon copycats that exist sits beyond even the most powerful computer's mathematical capabilities, I will not even try to get my machine to list them all.

If you gave Amazon your email, you may have already received your first Amazon Local deal. It all depends on where you live. My first deal came through this morning:

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If you click through the email, you, of course, receive complete details and the option to buy the deal, just like with Groupon. On that first page you see after taking the email bait, Amazon also includes an offer for its branded credit card. This first deal appeared slow to catch on. As of around 8:30 a.m., California time, only 44 people took the deal.

If you click on "buy," Amazon takes you to a page that asks you to log-in using your ID and password. If you do not have one, you can create one. For research purposes, I wanted to buy the deal, but I rarely leave the cozy confines of Santa Monica, especially for the soulless bowels of downtown Los Angeles. I can only assume, knowing Amazon as well as I think I do, that it uses further cross promotion on the landing page that confirms your Amazon Local purchase.

If you look closely at the buy page, however, you see that Living Social, Groupon's biggest competitor, actually powers the Amazon Local deal.
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Not only does Amazon continue to prop up Living Social in its war against Groupon, but it does what Amazon does best: Drive business to its e-commerce core. As noted, to take advantage of the Amazon Local deal, you need an Amazon account. If you don't have one, you must create one. And we all know what that might lead to. If you do have one, you're now logged in. In either situation, Amazon's got you right where it wants you.

Unlike Apple ankle biters RIM, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and others, when Amazon copies what another company does, it does so with a more than credible offering and a clear vision and sense of purpose. It's not a willy-nilly game of catch-up. Amazon would not invest millions in Living Social and pull off what appears to be, on the surface, an act of intellectual theft against Groupon unless it was doing it to further cement itself as arguably one of the best investments of the decade.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.