If you’re in the business of selling things—clothes, shoes, groceries, music, video, books, or technology—you will end up competing with Amazon, which has built huge businesses in each of those areas. Indeed, the company led by CEO Jeff Bezos has put the fear of God into any number of companies it bumps up against.
That’s why a recent Onion parody outlining Bezos’ advice to startups rings true. Here are faux Bezos’ words of wisdom:
So how can an enterprising investor seek new opportunities without being creamed by Amazon? Morgan Stanley has some suggestions.
First, investors should scrutinize companies that offer highly specialized products. If something is designed for a small sub-segment of a big market, Amazon is less likely to go there, in theory. Amazon has always been about big volume sales, after all.
Specialized niches can be found in travel, luxury goods, even groceries, according to Tuesday’s report by Morgan Stanley (ms) analyst Brian Nowak.
This rings true. While Amazon’s pending $13.7 billion acquisition of grocery chain Whole Foods looms large over big box stores like Walmart and regional chains like Kroger and Stop & Shop, its impact on smaller local specialty stores doesn’t seem as dire. Here’s betting that my hometown Russo’s, which focused on fresh produce, high-grade meat, cheese, baked goods and flowers, will do just fine whatever happens with Amazon and Whole Foods. (Fingers crossed.)
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Nowak also said that businesses that face complex regulatory requirements would be difficult for Amazon to enter. In this bucket he puts pharmaceuticals, healthcare, automobiles, financial services, insurance, energy, and utilities and telecommunications. In pharma, for example, R&D can take years and is closely scrutinized. The sales cycles in these areas can also be drawn out in a way that seems antithetical to Amazon’s fast, volume sales approach.
So, it does seem likely that Amazon would steer clear of pharmaceutical R&D but may also move into prescription drug distribution.
Any sort of service that requires home or office visits for inspection, installation, or repair would likewise be unattractive to Amazon, according to the report. Thus, the analysts think it unlikely that Amazon would jump into home improvement or car repair.
Perhaps, but again the lines are blurry. For one thing, Amazon (amzn) already sells car parts and all sorts of hardware on its e-commerce site. It also offers Amazon Home Services, a competitor to Angie’s List and Task Rabbit. Customers can use this service to find people—although not Amazon employees—to clean house, assemble furniture, and the like.
In the realm of IT services, Amazon Web Services, the company’s 11-year old cloud computing unit has bulked up service and support both by expanding its own service capabilities and signing up companies like Accenture and Cap Gemini as allies in taking care of customers after a sale.
One caveat here: The report makes valid points, but it should be noted that 12 or 13 years ago, very few people watching Amazon’s book-selling business anticipated that the company would become a leader in IT services, which is exactly what happened.
It is no exaggeration to say that AWS blindsided IT incumbents including Hewlett-Packard, (hpq) IBM (ibm), Microsoft (msft), and Cisco (csco). About six years ago, an exec for one AWS competitor complained about that no one in IT thought they could be bested by a “book seller.”
So when it comes to Amazon, people should never say never.