Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has become a giant, but digital sales are still only in their early days. Even though the company seems ubiquitous, only about 13% of retail is digital.
On this episode of Industry Focus: Tech host Dylan Lewis is joined by Motley Fool contributor Daniel Kline to talk about the rise of digital retail and its ongoing transformation. That includes looking a bit into the future to discuss trends like changes in transportation and how many nontech companies are still involved with technology.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 29, 2018.
Dylan Lewis: Dan, we would be remiss if, in the grand scheme of tech and disruption over the past 25 years, we did not talk a little bit about e-commerce and Amazon.
Dan Kline: Do you remember the first time you made an online purchase?
Lewis: It must have been in the late 90s. My mom was super into eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) back then, and I was a pretty avid baseball card collector. There were a lot of times where I was trying to get this one specific card, and some guy in Oklahoma was selling it on eBay, so I was involved in the auction. I think that was my early online purchase experience.
Kline: It's funny, I would say eBay was probably my first online purchase. Online purchasing for me went from dabbling in eBay, to occasionally buying on Amazon or some other random website, to now, I order from Amazon maybe four times a week, and I probably use Instacart at least three or four times a month to get groceries and whatnot.
Lewis: For all of the activity that we experience and see with e-commerce, what's incredible to me is, it's still such a small portion of overall retail activity. For as much as people lean on Prime and create all these purchases for things that they would never normally buy online, it's a fraction of the overall marketplace.
Kline: It's about 13%, if I remember correctly. What's funny about it is, it's amazing how often, at Christmas time, it was reported that digital sales are bigger than physical sales, which is just not true under any circumstances.
But, what we are starting to see change now -- and I think it's going to tilt those numbers greatly -- is Amazon and everybody else -- Walmart, Costco, whoever it is -- are figuring out last-mile delivery. I'm sure you saw the Amazon announcement where they're building a fleet of vans, privately operated vans that are going to go from their warehouses to do individual orders. You see the rise of Instacart, which is people in their cars doing individual orders. McDonald's uses Uber Eats in a lot of markets to deliver your soggy, horrible Big Mac -- I don't understand who's getting McDonald's delivered.
That's going to be the next transformation, and that will really change retail. You might actually go to the supermarket, pick out all your stuff, and then have it delivered. This whole omnichannel world, where convenience is key, is going to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I live in a high-rise building. Maybe you do, too. It's hard to buy some things -- water. I don't want to carry water from my parking garage to my house -- so, I have it delivered, and it comes right to my door. There are so many things like that that you're going to see in this next group of transformation.
Lewis: I'm glad you mentioned looking forward in the future. We've spent a lot of time looking in the past, so far, in the show. I want to spend some time looking into our crystal ball a little bit, what do we expect to continue to happen? I think it might be a little irresponsible to forecast out 25 years. But, to your point about transportation, I think that's a major trend to watch.
I think we've seen, over the past maybe 10 to 15 years in particular, this tech creep. You have these companies that are not traditional financial companies merging together. PayPal is a hybrid company. They're in payments, but they're really a tech company. Uber is a transportation company, but they're really a tech company. I think that's only going to continue.
Kline: Earlier this year, I moderated a panel at the Electronic Transactions Association. One of the people on my panel was the tech guy at Shake Shack. I would argue that Shake Shack is a tech company. They're not a pioneer, they're really more looking at what other people are doing and how they can adopt it. But the days where any company that interacts with people, unless your model is that you're folksy and you don't have technology, you have to have a technology component. The question is going to be how far it goes.
The gentleman from Shake Shack, one of the things he brought up was, we could absolutely have the technology so that when you walk in, we know what your past order was, we know what you're allergic to, we know what you like and you don't. But, we don't think our customers are going to want that. That's going to be creepy to them, as opposed to, you can go into the app and pull up your past order. That feels a little bit less Big Brother-y.
There's going to be a whole array of, "Here's all the things we can do. Should we do them?" In healthcare, your phone might be able to order an ambulance. That's really good. But, do you want everything you do broadcast in that same fashion? You probably don't.
Lewis: I know on Wednesday show, Kristine spent some time talking about Teladoc's (NYSE:TDOC) services, and the idea of e-health, not having to go to a doctor to actually meet your doctor. If you're really sick, being at home. I think that that's something that's really appealing to a lot of people. That's going to be pretty disruptive in the healthcare space.
Kline: I use Teladoc now. Teladoc is very limited. The couple of times I've used it has basically been, my wife and son both got, let's say, strep throat, and I have all the symptoms, and it's dumb to go in and pay for an office visit. So, for $25, you can do Teladoc. But, when you start to marry Teladoc with something like an Echo Look, and some of these two-way devices, or the Apple Watch, which can transmit health information, you're going to start having office-like appointments from your living room. Besides that being transformative, it's also convenient. It frees up time to do other things.
In the next couple of years, the changes are going to be incremental. It's going to be more automated delivery, it's going to be easier access to stuff, things like Teladoc getting better, Netflix maybe being a little bit more intuitive about what you should be watching. I don't think it's going to be, two years from now, robot overlords or food pills.
Lewis: What's tempting, I think, is to look at a lot of these spaces and a lot of these themes that we've talked about already -- connectivity, mobile, e-commerce -- and say, "OK, those have happened already," or, maybe, "They're in the process of happening." For investing purposes, it might not feel like you're hopping on some really hot trend. To the point about e-commerce still being such a tiny portion of overall retail activity, you need to remember that these are still pretty early on in their growth ramps as major trends.