Ask a techie in Silicon Valley and you might think Amazon is unstoppable — even when its “store of the future” is just a concept, the commerce world pays attention to Jeff Bezos & company’s every move.
But don’t count out that other commerce giant, Walmart, just yet. On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Kara Swisher spoke with Recode’s Jason Del Rey about Amazon and Walmart’s ongoing rivalry, which escalated recently: In June, Amazon announced plans to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion on the same day that Walmart confirmed it would buy Bonobos for $310 million.
“There’s totally room for both of them,” Del Rey said. “I think you’re going to see Walmart, especially if this Whole Foods deal goes through ... You know, they’ve been making a big push in grocery, I think they’re really going to push that hard.”
Whole Foods gives Amazon a stronger physical presence in urban centers and in well-off suburbs, while Bonobos is one of many recent e-commerce plays Walmart has made recently. Del Rey said that, starting with its $3 billion purchase of Jet.com last year, Walmart and Jet CEO Marc Lore have made it their mission to bringing top digital talent in-house.
“You don’t spend $3 billion on a very young business that had not proven it was sustainable in any way on its own if you feel like you’re in an even average position,” he said. “They’ve made some smaller acquisitions, and a big piece of that is bringing in good digital leadership that probably wouldn’t go to work at Walmart otherwise. Andy Dunn, who’s the co-founder and CEO of Bonobos, would he have gone and worked at Walmart if Marc Lore wasn’t there? He has said publicly, no.”
Del Rey said the Whole Foods deal makes sense for both sides of the table, as it sets Whole Foods on a new path when their business has stalled, and gives Amazon easier access to the sort of consumers who would pay for Amazon Prime.
“Any retail sector, Amazon wants to own a big piece of it and help it move online,” he said. “And over the last 10 years, they’ve tried, through Amazon Fresh and other initiatives. They’ve made some progress in that decade, but I’m confident in saying they haven’t made the progress they would have liked to have made.”
He pointed out, however, both that the Amazon brand has a negative connotation to some consumers and that, in brick-and-mortar, Walmart is much more firmly entrenched with people from all income brackets.
“It’s easy to forget that $99 per year for [Amazon] Prime is a big deal to a large swath of America,” Del Rey said. “They have a long way to go to bring it down. The other piece is, there are still a lot of Americans who, when they hear ‘Amazon,’ they think, ‘Big, scary corporation that’s killing mom-and-pop shops.’”
“That used to be Walmart,” Swisher pointed out.
“To a lot of people, it still is Walmart, too!” Del Rey said. “Amazon is, in a lot of ways, the new Walmart, but Walmart is still the old Walmart.”
Have questions about Amazon, Walmart and others in e-commerce that we didn’t get to in this episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to TooEmbarrassed@recode.net.
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.