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Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) has been well-known as a disruptor in retail over over the past 20 years. While this disruption started with simply offering a wide selection and great prices online, the company has continued to disrupt the retail world each year. While price, selection, and convenience continue to be at the core of Amazon.com's value proposition, the company has invested in ways to differentiate itself from brick-and-mortar retailers such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) .
In just the first few months of 2014, Amazon.com has rolled out several innovations that are unmatched by its competitors. The recent release of Amazon Fire TV is the latest example of how Amazon.com has rolled out its own hardware to encourage consumers to utilize its digital video, music, and app offerings. To make the product more than just an outlet for Amazon's Instant Video store, Amazon.com made sure to differentiate the product from the existing market controlled mostly by Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) Apple TV and Roku by providing gaming and voice search functionality. Even Gary Busey approves!
Fire TV is the latest evolution in an ongoing competition between Amazon.com and Apple for digital media sales, whether it be video, music, books, or apps.
Innovations that improve the customer experience
Amazon.com's relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction is at the heart of its long-term growth strategy. This pursuit isn't limited to e-readers, tablets, and set top boxes; Amazon.com has also improved the shopping experience for low-tech items such as groceries.
As part of the slow rollout of AmazonFresh, Amazon.com developed Dash, an evolution toward "shopping made simple:"
Amazon Dash is just one example of how Amazon.com is constantly investing in ways to disrupt each market in which it competes.
Competitors are falling farther behind
While Amazon.com is rolling out innovations like Fire TV and Dash which fundamentally change the way consumers shop for media and groceries, the brick-and-mortar competition remains several steps behind. Wal-Mart's recent beta test of Savings Catcher is an attempt to gain market share via price war, but it doesn't really transform the way consumers shop. In fact, it actually adds a step to the process by requiring the consumer to go online, enter information from an in-store receipt, and then keep track of any resulting e-gift card for future use. Plus, Savings Catcher currently doesn't work on online orders or price match against a number of competitors including Amazon.com.
At this point, most competitors are focusing on an omni-channel strategy that more cohesively integrates a retailer's website and in-store experience. While this helps consumers learn more about products and provides the ability to buy online and pick-up in store, it is far from revolutionary. This "innovation" is laughable compared to Amazon.com's work toward a future customer experience that includes the potential for 30 minute delivery via drone. Quite simply, the competition still hasn't fully accepted the ongoing shift in the way companies sell and delivery goods to consumers.
Investment in growth comes at a price
While Amazon.com is busy developing ways to gain market share and increase customer satisfaction, innovations do come at a cost. Amazon.com is well-known by investors for not making very much money. Aside from being competitive on price, Amazon.com is also incurring significant costs to develop the technology and build the infrastructure needed to continue to improve its value proposition to customers. This includes research and development for everything from Dash to drones, as well as the expansion of fulfillment centers that will enable future growth. These costs may hurt the bottom line today, but they position Amazon.com for further growth in the future.
Amazon.com's growth is expected to be significant, with revenue estimated to grow 20% in each of the next couple of years compared to Wal-Mart's 3-4% growth. While top line growth is great, many investors are unwilling to consider Amazon.com until it starts generating higher earnings; by starting to monetize recent investments, Amazon.com is expected to grow EPS roughly 50% per year over the next five years.
Amazon.com is a buy at today's prices
Waiting for earnings growth to materialize will cause investors to miss an opportunity to acquire shares at a very reasonable valuation. Shares of Amazon.com are down 20% from the highs reached at the beginning of the year, providing investors with the chance to opportunistically buy shares of a company with unparalleled momentum:
This assessment is based on far more than anchoring to past share prices. If the 20% decline had some basis in Amazon.com's operations or changes in the competitive environment, this could be a completely different analysis. However, Amazon.com's operational strength continues to grow as innovations like Fire TV and Dash add to the reasons for customers to continue to flock to the company. With strong growth expected in 2014 and a tremendous long-term growth opportunity, there are far more reasons to expect that Amazon.com will continue to strengthen its position in retail than there are to doubt the long-term viability of the company.