January in retail is a little bit like the off-season of a professional sports league. Teams dust themselves off from the grueling holiday season playoffs, evaluate their coaching staffs, and assess the balance of power in their divisions. In this month’s period of exhausted self-reflection, one of the industry’s broad conclusions is clear: Amazon.com is on its way to establishing a dangerous dynasty.
Amazon recently said it had its best holiday season ever in 2012, selling 26.5 million products around the world at a record-breaking pace of 306 items per second. Earlier this week, Amazon stock hit an all-time high, buoyed by a Morgan Stanley report that predicted the global e-commerce market will hit $1 trillion by 2016, with Amazon poised to capture nearly a quarter of that. The company is madly adding such customer freebies as new movies and television shows to its Netflix -slaying Prime Instant Video program, and its commitment to having the lowest price anywhere is increasingly exerting a gravitational effect on the strategies of rivals.
On Tuesday, Target announced a new policy of matching competitors’ prices year-round—a tactic geared toward slowing the emergence of “showrooming,” the practice by which shoppers browse in a store and then buy online, often from Amazon. Target, whose stock is also near an all-time high, is the second-largest retailer in the country, behind Wal-Mart. But if current growth rates continue, it will soon lose that title to the upstart from Seattle. Read the rest of this entry »