Deep And Wide

12 09 2011

It’s funny how people complain about the powerhouses in our lives. Walmart probably takes the brunt of it, of course, with their 3000+ stores and brick-and-mortar (BAM) presence in nearly every US city. Tales abound of Moms and Pops whose lives and businesses have been pre-empted by the retailing giant, of a certain retail plasticity that has all the appeal of another McDonald’s (another powerhouse), of prices that few can hope to compete with.

And then there’s Apple, the computer giant that sneaked into our lives with iPods, then iPhones, and now iPads. Once you take a few sips, you realize the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good, and you start to buy laptops and desktops. In case you haven’t noticed, you also started buying all of your music from them, too.

It’s easy to begrudge the grip these powerhouses have, but the simple reality is this: We let them. At the end of the day, these companies offered us something the others did not, and by virtue of that, catapulted to market supremacy in their own spheres.

But there’s another powerhouse slowly growing, deepening, widening, and if you think this company hasn’t already upset the apple cart, think again. Because before long it’s going to own the apple cart.

That company, of course, is Amazon.

From its humble online debut in 1995 to today, Amazon has slowly but surely started building an empire. Beginning with books and then quickly growing to practically anything that can be sold, Amazon is rapidly positioning itself as the world’s store.

Whereas Walmart adopted the little-bit-of-a-lot model via BAM, and Apple follows the a-lot-of-a-little path (both hardware and music sales), Amazon is going for a–lot-of-a-lot. Why not? It has no BAM stores, only warehouses and server farms. And with its Kindle Tablet nearing release, its powerhouse status will soon be cemented.

Because we let them. Because they offered us something no one else did.

You see, the new Kindle Tablet is much more than just a jazzed up new e-reader. No, it puts Amazon’s entire online store in a handy little device. It’s more than just e-books; it’s about clothes, shoes (they bought Zappos a couple of years ago), cameras, sporting goods, and even groceries.

Who needs a BAM store, right?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may go down in retail history as the most prescient of businesspeople, even more than Steve Jobs and Sam Walton. Whereas Jobs and Walton answered the call for sexy electronic gadgets and low prices respectively, neither truly met all of our needs and wants. We can only consume so many gadgets and songs; we can only desire so much cheap stuff at the store on the edge of town.

But we will all need to keep consuming from the seemingly endless array of goods whose depth and width is synonymous with the river for which it is named. Bezos has amassed a retail offering the likes of which few can conceive, and competitors cannot touch. Putting it in the hands of Kindle Tablet owners is almost like giving shoppers the keys to the store. “Come on in. Just leave me your credit card number on the way out.”

No, the Kindle Tablet will not be an iPad killer. But it has the potential to be a killer app. And anyone standing near the banks of this mighty river had better beware, for the river is rising.

Dr “Flood Stage” Gerlich

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