Amazon May Seem Unstoppable, But Google Is Powering the Counterattack

Back in 1990, other stores still had a chance against Walmart. As recalled in Charles Fishman’s The Wal-Mart Effect, a great history of the rise of the retail giant, it was that year when Walmart surpassed Kmart in sales. It wasn’t until 1992 that Walmart sold more than Sears. But by 2011, Walmart had higher sales worldwide than the combined total sales of the next six biggest retailers: Kroger, Target, Walgreens, Costco, Home Depot and CVS.
That year, Amazon ranked 15th on the list of overall largest retailers. Its sales for the past year, however, are likely to bump it to at least number seven in the rankings, ahead of CVS, and just a few billion behind Target. Amazon is bigger than Lowe’s, Best Buy, Safeway, Macy’s and Rite Aid, not to mention Kmart and Sears (now both part of the same company). Some Wall Street analysts believe Amazon’s sales could yet triple by 2016, which would make Walmart and Amazon the only two true rivals in retail.
The single best precedent for Amazon’s rise is Walmart’s own, and whether one day Amazon could top Walmart will be interesting to see. In the meantime, if its own experience offers any lesson, Amazon cannot rest. Though the company continues to cement its dominance as the internet’s default destination for buying stuff, a small army of little guys are seeking to peel off chunks of Amazon’s business, much as Amazon started out by taking aim at bookselling. And if Amazon was able to unseat so many iconic stores in just 15 years, then Jeff Bezos knows that the same could happen to him.
Bezos also knows that, unlike him, the startups biting Amazon’s ankles have an ally that sports a huge pair of shoulders on which to stand. Oh, and unlike Amazon, this giant – Google – makes huge profits.
Google’s increasingly aggressive effort to steal online retail from Amazon is turning into one of the most intriguing business battles of the year, and not just because of the sight of two behemoths pounding on each other. Google’s unique position in the internet’s infrastructure means that it can count on more than its own resources to take on Amazon. The search giant also serves as the platform from which everyone else trying to beat Amazon can use to fire their salvos. It’s a pretty high perch from which to take aim.
San Francisco-based Inkling is specifically shooting for Amazon’s book business. Founder and CEO Matt MacInnis observes that the Kindle isn’t especially well suited to the oversized, graphics-intensive layouts of many textbooks. Inkling seeks to overcome this limitation of traditional e-book formats through a layout engine specifically designed to re-envision textbooks for tablets, smartphones and the web.