business news in context, analysis with attitude

Wired has an excellent interview with journalist and author Jason Del Ray writes about the dueling giants in his new book, "Winner Sells All: Amazon, Walmart, and the Battle for Our Wallets."

At one point, Del Rey talks about some of the commonalities between the two companies, which boil down to things that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos "stole from Walmart founder Sam Walton:

"One big one is frugality. So that's the idea that when you're running your company internally, you shouldn't have any excess spending. Amazon is not the Silicon Valley tech companies that have free lunches and dry cleaning on campus and the like. And that comes from a Walmart idea of everything being about lowering the price for the customer. And if we're spending any excess money internally or on packaging or, I mean, on employees was in another way, then that is all going to lead to higher prices, and that's a no-no. So frugality was something that was a big deal for Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, and for Jeff Bezos as well.

"Another one was bias for action. That's an Amazon leadership principle. Essentially it means we need to move fast when we're trying new things. So we might be able to be 80 percent sure that this new idea is great in about two weeks of planning, and maybe it would take us six months to be 100 percent sure we have the right plan. But it is better to move quicker with the best amount of information you have than to hem and haw about new product decisions, new initiatives, and the like. And that is something that comes from the early days of Walmart as well.

"And then the last one that comes right to mind is—Amazon has changed on this front over the years, but Jeff Bezos saw in Walmart the idea that your pricing strategy is your marketing strategy. Essentially, if you keep prices very low, you really don't have to advertise very much because customers will realize this. It'll be part of your DNA, part of what consumers expect and trust when they shop with you. And that, at some point in Amazon's early history, became a key part of how they thought about pricing online."

And then, there was Del Rey's answer to a question about whether his reporting for a book about the Walmart-Amazon competition had changed the way he shops:

"I've covered these companies for a decade, so I have known the pros and cons of how they operate and how the convenience that we seek from them impacts employees and partners and the like. So I've struggled with all that for a while and tried to spread out my shopping. I'd say I didn't really know how good Walmart's online pickup business could be as a shopper. And the other thing is they are now doing this thing at Walmart, which they could have been doing decades ago, which is they will reroute an online order to a store. You order it online. You think it's coming in two days, they realize it's in the store a mile away and it'll show up on your porch that day. And maybe I would've expected that from Amazon, but from Walmart, it seemed like, I know it's not magic, there are people doing this work, but kind of seemed like magic. So if they can execute that at scale it could be really formidable in racing Amazon for our convenience. But that was something that was surprising that I learned just reporting out and testing."

You can read the entire interview here.

KC's View:

Lots of seemingly conflicting reporting out there this morning.  On the one hand, Amazon soon is likely to be bigger than Walmart.  On the other, Walmart is a tougher competitor to Amazon than previously expected.

The thing is, all of this may be true.  Which only means that the death match between the two companies may be an extended battle with lots of collateral damage.