Amazon (AMZN 2.40%) stock has skyrocketed 78% this year primarily because e-commerce activity has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But vaccines are beginning to roll out, and there is hope that an end to the pandemic is on the horizon. While that's likely to cause a moderation in sales for online stores, Amazon's growth story is far from over.
Here are three catalysts for the company heading into 2021.
Amazon's effort with Amazon Logistics (AMZL) doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. This is the company's transportation network, which allows it to fulfill more and more of its e-commerce orders all the way to customers' doorsteps.
Historically, Amazon has relied on UPS, Fedex, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for much of its fulfillment needs, including last-mile delivery. But Amazon's needs tend to strain third-party carriers' capacity, especially at peak times, which was the impetus for Amazon to invest more in its own fulfillment.
It's likely that Amazon itself will fulfill the vast majority of its own orders over time. The company is certainly investing heavily in that capability. On the second-quarter conference call, CFO Brian Olsavsky told investors the company would grow its fulfillment capacity by an astounding 50% this year, up from 15% in 2019.
This year's growth includes significant investments in fulfillment centers as well as transportation facilities. Olsavsky also said on the conference call that this "will be the start of probably a multiyear period where we're higher on [capital expenditures]" for its fulfillment network.
It's incredible that a company of Amazon's size and scale is still growing its fulfillment network by 50% in 2020. But that's how the company is going to end up fulfilling the vast majority, if not all, of its e-commerce orders over time. And once those network investments are made and the company has accomplished that goal, Amazon could potentially even open its fulfillment network to third parties.
In the future when we want to mail a package, imagine being able to just leave it outside for the Amazon delivery person to pick up, probably while dropping off a package anyway. That would increase the utilization of the company's fulfillment network, driving revenue and profits higher.
To the extent AMZL shows early signs of progress next year, it may act as a catalyst for the stock.
Amazon's efforts in grocery stores remain fairly underappreciated, but its concepts should continue to make progress next year. The biggest of these opportunities appears to be in the grocery category, given its $665 billion market size in the U.S. But this isn't only about Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired a few years ago.
This year, Amazon launched its first Amazon Fresh grocery store in Woodland Hills, California. The company appears to have combined what it's learned from owning and operating Whole Foods with Amazon's cutting-edge technology to create a compelling new grocery concept.
At Amazon Fresh stores, customers can use Amazon's new Dash Cart to discover exactly where items on their shopping list are in the store, scan the items as they put them into the cart, and then simply walk out through the Dash checkout lane without stopping because Amazon knows what you bought and charges your account accordingly.
At a high level, the technology is somewhat similar to the "just walk out" technology that it uses in its chain of Amazon GO convenience stores. Both the Dash Cart and GO allow customers to walk out without stopping at a cashier. The difference is that the GO technology relies on cameras and sensors in the ceiling and shelves, while Dash Cart technology is in each cart itself.
Amazon Fresh has since opened additional locations in Irvine, North Hollywood, and Northridge, California;, and Naperville, Illinois. Additional Chicago area stores are planned for Bloomingdale, Oak Lawn, and Schaumburg, Illinois.
Given the massive size of the U.S. grocery market, it's understandable why Amazon is trying so hard to improve upon the food shopping experience. To the extent these concepts gain traction, Amazon will roll out these stores faster. That could be a catalyst for the stock to the extent investors start to appreciate grocery stores as one of the company's next big businesses.
Continued e-commerce penetration
Many investors expect Amazon's e-commerce sales growth to slow meaningfully after COVID-19. If vaccines bring the beginning of the end of the pandemic, more consumers might feel comfortable returning to physical stores to do their shopping.
Online shopping has gained market share of overall retail sales over time because it's a better user experience. Certainly, more consumers are spending more online this year. As they discover the better user experience, it could form habits that drive even more of their spending online even after the pandemic.
To the extent Amazon's growth in online store sales remains robust next year, investors should expect it to act as a catalyst for the stock, since many are expecting a moderation in growth.