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6 Industries Amazon Failed to Disrupt

By Leo Sun – Oct 7, 2017 at 10:31AM

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Are we overestimating Amazon's ability to crush everything?

Over the past year, the notion that Amazon (AMZN -1.44%) could disrupt, well, everything prompted many analysts to declare that vulnerable businesses and sectors would be "Amazoned." Some of Amazon's moves have been alarming -- its acquisition of Whole Foods torpedoed most grocery stocks, while the growth of its in-house fashion brands has become a headwind for struggling brick-and-mortar apparel retailers.

However, I believe that analysts often overestimate Amazon's disruptive capabilities, and forget that its expanding ecosystem has its limits. Let's take a look back at industries Amazon failed to disrupt over the past decade, and what that tells us about the company's future.

An Amazon Prime truck.

Image source: Amazon.

Local deals

Back in 2011, Amazon entered the local deals market to challenge Groupon. Amazon didn't launch its own platform, but hosted deals from LivingSocial, a Groupon rival in which it was a major investor.

At the time, it seemed Amazon's expansion into the market could render Groupon obsolete. But the platform flopped, Amazon took a big writedown on LivingSocial, and the service was quietly shuttered in late 2015. Groupon bought LivingSocial at a steep discount the following year.

Mobile payments

As the biggest e-commerce company in the world, it seemed natural for Amazon to add mobile payments to its ecosystem. Amazon currently offers Amazon Pay -- which lets people make purchases from participating non-Amazon websites using their payment information -- but it repeatedly failed to launch a consumer-facing payments platform.

Three of those efforts -- Wallet, Local Register, and WebPay -- all failed to crack a market dominated by entrenched players like PayPal and Square.

Wallet, which lets consumers store gift and loyalty cards on their phones, lasted for just six months before being discontinued in early 2015. Local Register, the company's answer to Square's and PayPal's mobile card readers, lasted for about a year before being dropped in early 2016. WebPay, which enabled peer-to-peer payments, lasted for seven years before being shuttered in 2014. 

Online travel agencies

Back in 2015, Amazon thought it could disrupt the online travel agency (OTA) market dominated by Expedia and Priceline with its own hotel booking platform, Destinations. It also helped customers find "getaway destinations" for weekend trips within driving distance of their homes.

The service eventually reached 35 cities, but Amazon quietly discontinued the platform six months after its initial launch. The reason was obvious -- Expedia and Priceline's duopoly in the OTA market was impenetrable, even for Amazon.

Food delivery

Amazon launched its own food delivery service in 2015. At the time, many analysts claimed that it could render stand-alone food delivery players like GrubHub obsolete.

GrubHub's mobile app.

Image source: GrubHub.

However, Cowen & Company recently reported that GrubHub still controls 34% of the online food delivery market, compared to Amazon's 11% share. GrubHub also recently acquired Yelp's competing Eat24 platform, which controls 16% of the market and will give GrubHub half of the market after the deal closes. This certainly doesn't sound like a company that could be "Amazoned" anytime soon.

Handmade goods

Two years ago, Amazon entered the market for handmade goods with Handmade at Amazon, causing analysts to sound the death knell for Etsy. But Etsy is still here, and continues posting quarter after quarter of double-digit annual sales growth.

Analysts expect Etsy's revenue to rise 20% this year and 18% next year, which indicates that Amazon's reputation as a big corporate e-tailer isn't attracting that many local artisans. Lucky Break Consulting, which warns artisans about using Amazon over Etsy, notably called Amazon a "dictatorial platform that exerts almost total control over the sales process, stripping sellers of virtually all autonomy."


Lastly, we should remember Amazon's Fire Phone, which launched in 2014 and attempted to replicate the success of its Kindle tablets. Unfortunately, Amazon apparently forgot that Kindles were mainly popular because they were cheap, and the Fire Phone's initial price tag of $199 was merely comparable with many other mid-range Android devices.

The device failed to stand out in the crowded market, and the price was slashed to $0.99 (with a two-year contract) within the first month, then killed off a year later.

The key takeaway: Amazon can't take over everything

I think Amazon's a great long-term investment, and its hits clearly outnumber its misses. However, I also believe that some analysts are needlessly panicking about entire sectors getting "Amazoned."

Amazon has repeatedly struggled to unseat entrenched players like PayPal, Expedia, Grubhub, and Etsy, so investors should really study these challenges on a case-by-case basis. And companies that have been heavily sold off on Amazon-related hysteria -- like Blue Apron and Kroger -- might deserve a second look.

Leo Sun owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, PayPal Holdings, and Priceline Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of Square. The Motley Fool recommends Etsy and Yelp. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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