At the height of the tech bull market of the 1990s, there was much talk about technologys role in the future. Many of the predictions from that decade have reached fruition. People said that the Internet would change everything. I guess that it has.
There was also talk of what was called disintermediation. Basically this means that the traditional distribution channels such asshops,wholesalers and brokers would be replaced by companies dealing direct with customers, viathe Internet.
Amazon is a great company, but
Take the example of retail. People thought that traditional bricks and mortar retailerswould be disintermediated by online retailers. After all, Internet shops wouldnt have to pay the costs of rentingandstockingretail premises, and the costs of sales and checkout staff. These electronic transactions would be faster, easier and cheaper. Surely traditional department stores, shops and supermarkets wouldnt standa chance?
And who would be at the vanguard of this revolution? Wellmany people said it would beAmazon (NASDAQ: AMZN.US).
Now, Im a great fan of Amazon. This company provides a wider range of products that any other in the world. If there is something I want to buy quickly and cheaply, I always check Amazon first. And if there is a product I cannot find anywhere else, Amazon probably sells it.
But theres just one difficulty. Amazon makes no money. Let me say that again: Amazon makes no money. The current share price of Amazon is $290.74. Here is itsearnings per share (EPS) progression over the past three years:
Now, if this was a start-up company in its first few years, this would be understandable after all, it is investing to grow its business. But Amazon is in its twenty-first year. All through this time, it has never been consistently profitable.
Internet shopping is actually more expensive
In fact, the UKs leading Internet shop is Tesco (LSE: TSCO). It very successfully collects peoples orders from their computers, picks and packsthe products from its superstores, and brings these goods to the customers door. And this business is profitable.
But, heres the thing. In order to make money, it charges around a fiver to deliver its products to your home. It actually charges you more tomake purchasesvia the Internet than you would have paid if you had taken your car over to the supermarket and shopped in the traditional way. You see, Internet shopping is more expensive than visiting the shop yourself.
Now, lets look at an Internet-only retailer thatpeople have talked about as the next big thing in shopping: ASOS (LSE: ASC). Its current share price is 2660p. Here is its recent and predicted EPSprogression:
Rather like Amazon, ASOS even after its recent share price falls is on a very high P/E multiple (the 2015 P/E ratio is64). You could give a similar start-up company argument, but ASOS was created some 15 years ago. Again, this is an admirable company which produces impressive products(and one of my wifes favourite shops), but I see strong similarities with Amazon.
In fact, I think the nearest thing we have to the future of retailare firms likeNext (LSE: NXT), Dixons Carphone and SuperGroup.
Take Next: this business has a retail website that is better than any other I have seen. And it has shops which are the envy of the industry. And the products it makes are well-nigh perfect quite simply, this company covers every base.I guessthe future of retail is nearer to its past than you might ever have expected.
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