When Amazon announced last week that it will acquire Whole Foods Market, a grocery chain with over 450 retail stores and deep industry talent, for $13.7 billion, Amazon’s stock price rose 2.4% on the news, increasing its market capitalization by $11 billion. At the same time, the price of SuperValu plummeted 14.4%, Kroger dropped 9.2%, and Sprouts fell 6.3%. You could almost hear the three-year plans of every grocer, and nearly every other traditional retailer, grinding through the shredding machines.
Nobody in the industry should be surprised that the future of retailing is moving toward a fusion of digital and physical experiences. However, Amazon’s announcement makes the nature and speed of that movement far more challenging. Too many traditional retailers have built their plans on three questionable premises: (1) They can add digital capabilities faster than Amazon can add stores; (2) Amazon’s competitive space (e-commerce) is still constrained to only around 8% of U.S. retail sales, or $391 billion of $4.9 trillion per year; and (3) store-based retailers could profitably transition to a digital world by growing e-commerce sales cautiously enough to avoid diluting earnings and cannibalizing higher-margin store sales, while retreating to the most profitable stores and product categories that would be hardest for Amazon to attack. Until last week, food was considered such a safe haven.
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