Amazon’s hostile takeover

In my previous article we investigated the new strategy implemented by Starbucks in which they closed their online stores and force consumers to physically enter their stores to purchase something. This runs strictly against the business models of giants like Amazon who are happy to sell to consumers in the c omfort of their own home – epitomized by the launch of Amazon Prime – a same day delivery service on selected items bought on Amazon.

But what are Amazon (AMZN) doing in response to this apparent new culture of buying in store? In true Darwinian fashion, they strike back with their own vision of how consumers will be purchasing in the years to come through an appropriation of the semi-monopolized safeguarding market.

ffElectronic payments are a growing market. Traditionally, everyone had a bankcard that was linked to two providers – Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V). These two safeguard companies are well trusted by users and renowned worldwide as being safe, secure and trustworthy. Since the launch of the internet, new providers came along such as PayPal (PYPL) – who ensured a safeguarding through internet transactions. But the market seems to be shifting in another direction now, which will leave these companies in the rubbish-bin of history.

Moody’s Stephen Sohn and his team of analysts tell us that the electronic payments market is large, with plenty of new entrants. This poses a threat to current payment ecosystems of networks and cards. The potential interlopers include, but are not limited to: Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), and Apple Inc (AAPL). The new goal is to create a gateway system that bypasses Visa and MasterCard’s safeguarding by doing it in-house. Alongside this, we are seeing a myriad of new entrants into the market. If this happens, we could see an even more centralised power from online companies.

We can infer two things from this shift. Firstly, the fact that there are new entrants into the market means that there is a market to be tapped into. This must mean that consumers feel more comfortable doing in house deals with companies than in the past. If there is more competition for roles that were traditionally accomplished by Visa and Mastercard, then it means people are not as suspicious as they once were – which is understandable – consumers often have a lot of faith in companies like Amazon and Google.

Secondly, that online companies are themselves pushing for easier trading on the internet – which is directly opposed to Starbucks’ (SBUX) vision of the future. If this market were tapped by online retailers, they could cut out costs making it cheaper and quicker to purchase online.

This being said, Sohn reports “material displacement of traditional electronic payment providers remains unlikely.” As we have established, Visa and MasterCard have near universal acceptance in the USA which will make them very difficult to dislodge. This may make it difficult for online companies to fulfil their ambition of securing their place in this market.

As a generalisation, tech companies such as Alphabet and Amazon subscribe to the philosophy “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” So far, there have been collaborations between already existing safeguard mediums (Visa and Mastercard) and new-comers into the market (inc. GOOG and AAPL).

So, what can we make of all of this?

It seems that there is a heavy focus on consumer perception to predict the future of sales. Amazon are dependent on online sales to survive and cannot allow Starbucks, or any other competitor such as Nike, to create a social-trend where experience is crucial in the buying of goods. Their response to this is in creating better and easier ways to buy and sell online. Although Starbucks wish to create a new trend, online companies are building on an already existing one.

We will have to wait and see how consumers react to Amazon’s adaptation of buying online.

 

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in: Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX), Nike (NKE), or PayPal (PYPL). Henry James International Management does not currently own a position in: Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX), Nike (NKE), or PayPal (PYPL).

(Please note: James O’Leary currently holds a position in: APPLE (AAPL), VISA (V), and MasterCard (MA. Henry James International Management currently owns a position in: APPLE (AAPL), VISA (V), and MasterCard (MA).

 

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

Manifestations of artificial intelligence (AI) stretch back as far as Greek mythology however, it has only taken off in a huge way in recent years. As interest in this field grows more, big-name companies, such as Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel, and IBM are competing to acquire private AI technology development companies, with nearly 140 companies having been acquired already. Market research firm Tractica has predicted that spending on AI will grow from $640 million in 2016 to $37 billion by 2025.

A front runner in the development of AI has been the UK, where London-based venture capital company Octopus Ventures first invested in the natural knowledge answer engine Evi (now the technology behind Amazon’s Echo) in 2008. The firm continues to be an active investor in AI, selling products, such as the app Swiftkey, to high profile companies like Microsoft. Octopus Venture’s Investment Director, Luke Hakes, believes that their AI successes are why the UK is now the inspiration for other countries in how AI can be commercialised, and this growing interest will have the effect of more funding being put into AI companies.

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As well as seeing the AI market itself grow exponentially, other companies are experiencing growth off the back of AI’s success. Companies who develop and make chip technology have seen a revival as the demand for new AI products had prompted the need for chips tuned to carry out very specific functions, and with the ability to store and synthesise information in novel ways. Companies such as Advanced Micro Devices, Intel, and Nvidia have all benefited from this growth, with Nvidia’s latest quarterly results stating that it has nearly tripled sales of chips to data centers involved in AI. 21% of the company’s revenue is now from computing tasks that include AI, amounting to $409 million for the last quarter.

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Growth in this sector is being spurred on as well-established companies implement AI technologies to enhance their user experience. Facebook has developed its own AI program, DeepText, that analyses posts to understand the context of them, recognises faces in photos to make it quicker to tag people, and is even able to identify people and their voices in video content. Outside of the online sector, much research is being carried out into the use of AI in the transport field. By 2035 around 76 million vehicles with some level of autonomy will be in use, comprising a market that will be worth $77 billion.

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Although much of the development into these technologies is relatively new, investment in AI seems to be strong and stable, with a predicted steady increase in the future.

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in Google, Twitter, Intel, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices or Nvidia. Henry James International does not currently own a position in Google, Twitter, Intel, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices or Nvidia for any client portfolios. James O’Leary does currently hold a position in Apple. Henry James International does currently own a position in Apple).

pixaAll content in this blog represents the opinion of James O’Leary