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How to Invest in E-Commerce Stocks

By Demitri Kalogeropoulos - Oct 25, 2017 at 9:01PM

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A few good ways to profit from retail's biggest long-term trend.

Many investors prefer stocks that do business in high-growth industries. After all, it's much easier for a company to grow if its sector is expanding by leaps and bounds.

As far as favorable long-term trends go, the shift toward e-commerce is about as big as it gets. The industry crossed $111 billion in the most recent quarter, according to the latest government statistics, or about three times where it stood just a decade ago. E-commerce is now responsible for 8.9% of all retail sales in the U.S, compared to just 1% at the turn of the century.

Where that figure stops is anyone's guess, but it isn't crazy to think that e-commerce could eventually account for 20%, 30%, or more of the total retailing world.

A man typing his credit card information into a laptop computer.

Image source: Getty Images.

The industry shift has already created some big stock market winners. It could produce even greater profits for shareholders over the long term, though. Let's look at a few of the best ways to approach investing in this booming trend.

Buy established giants

A handful of companies already have the infrastructure, branding, and market share needed to sustain a highly profitable online enterprise. A strategy of sticking with these winners would start with the leading e-commerce retailer, Amazon (AMZN 0.87%). It dominates this industry, with $95 billion of product sales in its most recent complete fiscal year.

A customer shops in Wal-Mart while looking at a tablet.

Image source: Getty Images.

A few major brick-and-mortar companies have also done a good job pivoting into the digital sales channel. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT 0.57%), the world's biggest physical retailer, has plowed resources into the digital segment over the past decade and that strategy is delivering results. E-commerce sales jumped 70% last quarter as its online offerings passed 67 million products.

Likewise, Home Depot has one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the internet today. Its digital sales account for over 6% of the business right now and jumped by 20% in the most recent quarter to contribute to market-thumping overall revenue gains.

Look for riskier growth

Next, consider e-commerce stocks that, while they don't yet have an established moat, are soaking up market share through their disruptive approach to the industry. Wayfair (W 1.19%) fits that mold well. The digital selling specialist's sales are growing at a near-50% clip in 2017 as it works to build a defensible business model around home furnishings. That niche has an attractive long-term outlook that executives believe could power adjusted profit margins of as high as 10% of sales.

Shopify (SHOP 0.88%) is another good example of big sales growth that might lead to sustainable profits over time. It owns a platform through which businesses both large and small can build and maintain an online sales presence. Shopify's customer base recently passed 500,000, which helped revenue spike 75% in the second quarter. And while there are questions about the quality of its sales footprint, Shopify is well-positioned to benefit disproportionately from consumers shifting their spending online.

Stay flexible

Whatever stocks you choose to buy, it's important to keep an open mind while looking for ways to invest in e-commerce. Technological shifts like this can have some surprising effects, after all.

Digital selling has completely changed the economics behind video games, for example. Activision Blizzard is using the move to extend the useful life of its properties, smooth out seasonal sales swings, and boost profitability to a new record.

As the game developer's soaring growth shows, the stocks that capitalize best on digital selling over the next decade might not be confined to the areas that investors would classify as "e-commerce"-focused. Instead, it's a trend that's likely to create huge winners (and losers) across a wide range of industries.

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Stocks Mentioned, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$107.13 (0.87%) $0.92
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
$122.27 (0.57%) $0.69
Wayfair Inc. Stock Quote
Wayfair Inc.
$44.08 (1.19%) $0.52
Shopify Inc. Stock Quote
Shopify Inc.
$31.51 (0.88%) $0.27

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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