Both companies are winners in their own right. Amazon (AMZN 0.64%) is not only the premier name in the e-commerce arena, the coronavirus pandemic has been an opportunity for the company to flex its muscle. It'll come out of this time with a much bigger logistical/capacity footprint. Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble (PG -0.56%) was starting to connect with consumers in brand new ways -- including online -- even before COVID-19 took hold. The consumer staples giant capitalized in the stay-at-home movement nicely, reporting around 12% of last quarter's sales were done online. That's about twice the proportion of digital revenue P&G was driving a couple of years ago, with more such growth on the way.
If there's only room for one of these names in your investment portfolio right now, though, it has to be Amazon. Here's why.
Full steam ahead, despite COVID-19
That's neither an easy call to make nor one rooted solely in Amazon's faster growth pace. On a risk-adjusted basis, both stocks are comparable. And, despite big run-ups this year from Procter & Gamble as well as Amazon, both stocks are valued near their typical price-to-earnings ratios -- past and projected. Owning a P&G stake here could hardly be considered a mistake.
There's something not many investors seem to be thinking about right now as they dissect potential stock picks, though. That is, what happens after the pandemic is finally quelled? Life will return to something similar to the pre-COVID-19 "normal," but a handful of companies are positioning better than others for that return during the pandemic. Amazon is arguably among the names doing the most on this front.
Case in point: It's largely been lost in the noise of COVID-19 and political bickering, but the king of online shopping has built a massive number of new logistics centers this year. In September alone it opened around 100 new distribution and sorting centers in North America, en route to increasing 2019's warehouse square footage figure by 50% before the end of 2020. These locations ultimately allow Amazon to deliver more merchandise to your front door (or garage) even faster than it's been able to in the past, making Amazon.com the more convenient place to shop online.
Of course, if you're going to be shopping at Amazon.com anyway, you may as well take advantage of the free shipping included with a subscription to Amazon's Prime. Plenty of people appear to have made this decision this year. Although Amazon only occasionally updates the figure, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that through September, 14 million U.S. households signed up as Prime customers, which should bring the subscription service's U.S. headcount to 126 million.
It matters. Although the free shipping perk Prime members enjoy doesn't come cheap, these customers are known to spend more than non-Prime shoppers do.
And the company is making sure these newly initiated Prime customers have good reason to stick with it even once the pandemic abates. In July, Amazon expanded the testing of its delivery robot fleet to Atlanta. Called Scout, these autonomous, cooler-sized vehicles will navigate sidewalks and help make cost-effective use of this year's newly built fulfillment centers (many of which have been located in suburban areas).
The future Amazon was built for
None of this is to suggest Procter & Gamble hasn't adapted to new norms of consumerism. CEO David Taylor has regularly used the term "smart audiences" of late, referencing not the IQ of its products' buyers, but the segmentation of its customer base in a way that drives more sales of its consumer goods. Digital data and digitally driven sales have become a big part of P&G's marketing mix.
Few companies will ever be able to catch up with Amazon in this regard, however. In some ways, the permanent changes in how people shop caused by the coronavirus contagion are the future Amazon.com was built for when it was launched as a quirky online bookstore more than 20 years ago. Yes, free shipping and all these new buildings are costing the company a fortune. It's worth it, though. Sales are up 35% year over year through the first three quarters of 2020, while operating income is up 50%.
The only concern that current -- and prospective -- Amazon shareholders may want to entertain is retention. Will all these people continue to shop at Amazon.com in the future like they did during the throes of the COVID-19 epidemic? Nobody knows for sure, but given Amazon's history, they probably will. The company's gotten very good at becoming a subtle fixture of consumers' lifestyles. This year's pandemic only aided the e-commerce giant in this regard.