The Battle For Online Market Share In The Back-To-School Shopping Season

Includes: AMZN, EBAY, WMT
by: Christopher F. Davis

Yes it is that time of year again. Tans are fading fast and vacations are coming to a close. Indeed it's time to think about school once again. From pencils and pens to backpacks and textbooks or high end electronics, back to school shoppers will be doing a bulk of their shopping online this year. In fact, shoppers online are expected to spend significantly more than brick and mortar shoppers in the next few weeks before that start of the upcoming school year, according to the National Retail Federation. Back to school shoppers completing their purchase online are estimated to spend an average of $874 on back-to-school supplies, over 25% more than the overall shopper average. Further, the National Retail Federation estimates that 40% of shoppers will purchase at least one item online during the current back to school season, up from just under 11% in 2003. So if the bulk of the shopping is going to occur online, how best to play it? I think the answer lies beyond brick and mortar and online sales powerhouse Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and rather with the bellwether of internet shopping Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and the once famous auction style site, which is now a mainstream general internet shopping destination, eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY).

AMZN: The back to school shopping season is important for AMZN's current quarter. Each year its sales have grown in the comparable quarter for the last few years as it is a destination for parents and students to pick up supplies, as well as excellent value on new and used textbooks. Further, they profit off of independent sellers who sell their own textbooks through the site and then take a nice commission for doing so. Further, it expanded its textbook rental service from Kindle-based textbooks to physical textbooks. The retailer offers students a choice of thousands of titles that can be rented for the semester. With increased traffic and increased sales, expect AMZN to perform very well this quarter.

Besides purchasing books and supplies, AMZN is trying to ramp up sales on clothing and accessories as well. A recent promotion offered a 20% discount on the next clothing item purchase for those subscribing to product updates, in an effort to expose consumers to their wide array of clothing options. Further, and whether this will come in time for the current quarter, AMZN is also said to be preparing to launch a newer model of its Kindle tablet product line, which could potentially bolster its back-to-school and of course its holiday season revenues. Rumors have been swirling for some time that Amazon plans to launch a 10-inch version of the Kindle Fire, larger than its existing 7-inch devices, and closer in size to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad.

The success of this back to school season will be one of the largest determinants in AMZN being able to put up a quarterly beat.

AMZN has a 52 week trading range of 166.97 to 246.71. Shares currently trade at $233.40 on average daily volume of 3.27 million shares. AMZN is not cheap, as investors are betting on massive growth. They have a premium valuation multiple of 285.4, with a PEG ratio of 7.7.

EBAY: As the one stop shop for just about anything and everything you could ever be looking for, from a cheeto that resembles Chuck Norris, to automotive equipment, to bedding to tablets and laptops, EBAY may actually stand to gain some of the back to school market share. Analyst Ronald Josey at Think Equity has stated "I really do think that they are a big beneficiary of 'back to school.'" He has also discussed their mobile growth. He has a buy rating on the stock. There are a few reasons why the everything online auction retailer is looking to have a strong second half of 2012, beginning with back to school sales for the current quarter. The first is that, the retailer has also been aggressively growing its fixed price business (aka buy it now). During the most recent quarter eBay's fixed price business accounted for 65% of its merchandise sales volume. I expect this number to grow. Secondly, they are a great place to find excellent deals on used textbooks, just like Amazon, through its partner site They also feature tons of offers on the technology that older students see as a necessity including laptops powered by Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows operating system, or an Xbox 360 for the dorm room. Let's not forget the explosive growth of AAPL iPads and Macs that are being sold to college students across the globe. EBAY generates significant revenue from such technology during this quarter, attributable to back to school, as they lead into the holiday season quarter.

EBAY has a 52 week trading range of $26.86 to $46.15. EBAY currently trades at $45 a share on average daily volume of 11.6 million shares. Unlike AMZN, EBAY is not priced for extreme growth, with a multiple of 15.85 and a PEG ratio of 1.41.

In summary, I think that both EBAY and AMZN represent great plays on the online shopping boom for the upcoming back to school shopping season. Let's not rule out Wal-Mart , who not only has their brick and mortar stores, but also generates a lot of revenue online. However, unlike AMZN and EBAY, you are not going to find incredible deals on textbooks, nor be able to score a late night deal on big ticket items such as an iPad or laptop or MSFT Xbox 360 for the dorm room. While WMT may be able to compete on newer items, AMZN and EBAY have a lock on used items, and better deals can many times be found on these sites for even brand new items.

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