Amazon: Selling And Delivering Groceries Is Not A High Margin Endeavor

| About: Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)

Of course, the big news last week was Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) announcing it was acquiring Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM) in a deal valued at $13.7 billion. The deal is an all cash one, but with Amazon's stock trading at a trailing price earnings multiple of 185 times, one might think funding the purchase with stock might make more sense. Nonetheless, this acquisition announcement had ripple effects on many other consumer product companies and not just grocery retailers. One question that arises is whether Amazon's purchasing leverage will put downward pressure on prices for products manufactured by the likes of Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), McCormick & Company (NYSE:MKC), Kellogg (NYSE:K) and many other packaged consumer product companies. Friday's stock market reaction to this broad category of companies suggests the AMZN/WFM merger will be a significant headwind for other companies in this space or to those selling into the space.

Selling and delivering groceries is not the same as selling and delivering books and non-perishable products. As the picture at the beginning of this post shows, consumers have had home delivery options historically. Home delivery of milk, for instance, was a common practice years ago before the popularity of large grocery stores. Still today, consumers have home delivery of grocery options. One firm that has been delivering groceries since 1952 is Schwan's. Schwan's website notes the delivery options it provides to consumers,

  • Personal Delivery: Our knowledgeable Route Sales Representative will deliver your food to your home at a time that is convenient for you.
  • Drop-Off Delivery: No need to be home for delivery. We'll drop off your order at your scheduled delivery time in a reusable freezer bag that keeps your food frozen for hours.
  • Mail Order: Mail Order delivery is available anywhere in the continental United States. It's a convenient option if our delivery service is not available in your area or if you want to send our food to family or friends.

More background on Schwan's can be found at this link.

At the end of the day, the success of any retail store is centered on the customer having a positive experience and the store or business executing on its business plan. And to this end, brick-and-mortar retailers need to make 'positive customer experience' an overriding aspect of their business model if they want to compete with the Amazon's of the world. I could, but won't in this post, list a number of procedures retailers have implemented that do not contribute to a customer having a positive experience.

I am skeptical of how successful the delivery of groceries can be. As I stated earlier, home delivery of groceries is not the same as leaving a non-perishable package on the doorstep. A benefit Amazon is getting with the Whole Foods acquisition is access to 400 plus brick-and-mortar locations. Is Amazon then saying brick-and-mortar is a necessity in order to continue its growth?

And finally, much of what Amazon has been able to do in its pursuit of growth is a direct result of the profitability of Amazon Web Services or AWS. AWS accounts for less the 10% of Amazon's revenue but accounts for 74% of Amazon's operating income. AWS is made up of many different cloud computing products and services. The division provides servers, storage, networking, remote computing, email, mobile development and security. AWS's two main products are Amazon's virtual machine service and Amazon's storage system. AWS is now at least ten times the size of its nearest competitor and hosts popular websites like Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Instagram (a subsidiary of Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB))

So long as the market continues to give Amazon a pass on generating a decent profit from its businesses outside of AWS, AMZN's retail competitors could continue to face challenges. However, I do believe that the AMZN/WFM acquisition may not work out as well as AMZN anticipates. Selling groceries and adding delivery cost on top of a low margin business is not a recipe for fast growth in my view.

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