Stop the presses! Amazon is doomed, destined to become nothing more than a has-been, a wannabe player in the history of technology. Walmart, one of two “if you can’t buy it here, you can’t buy it anywhere!” superstores founded by Sam Walton (the other is the not very creatively named Sam’s Club) will stop selling Amazon’s line of Kindle products. You hear that ringing? It’s the death knell of Jeff Bezos’ bank account.
I’m kidding, of course. In all likelihood, Amazon will be just fine without Walmart or Target (which stopped selling Kindle products earlier this year). Hell, when you consider Amazon’s ultimate goal of selling anybody anything faster and more conveniently than any other retailer, Walmart’s decision to yank the Kindle smells less like controversy and more like ass-covering.
Walmart told Reuters that it will continue to sell “a broad assortment” of e-readers and their accessories, including the iPad and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Walmart’s position makes sense, given that Amazon doesn’t get a kickback from Kindle accessories, and that not selling the iPad in 2012 would make as much sense as not selling the iPod in 2006.
But why the Nook?
If I were a betting man, my money would be on some sense of solidarity on Walmart’s part. Barnes & Noble competes directly with Amazon’s bookselling business (electronic or otherwise) and has felt the sting of customers shifting from dead-tree to digital reading in the same way that other retailers have watched Amazon chip into sales in other categories, from furniture and clothing to televisions and computers. If “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Barnes & Noble is not without companionship.
To the average consumer, the difference between the Kindle and the Nook is slight. Both have online stores that are chock full of books (though Amazon’s store has more), both offer e-ink screens surrounded by a dark grey chassis, and the two products serve identical functions. Those that do know the difference between the two products and prefer Amazon’s Kindle were unlikely to purchase from a physical shop anyway, opting instead for Amazon’s one-click purchasing and free, fast, or free and fast delivery. Most customers probably won’t notice that the Kindle has even disappeared from Walmart’s shelves.
Amazon, then, has very little to lose from being blocked by the very retailers that it’s trying to make irrelevant. Opting to block a competitor’s product in exchange for a near-identical (if slightly inferior) competitor’s device, however, doesn’t bode well for both Walmart and Target’s attempts to embrace the growing tech market.
Target especially seems like it should embrace the Kindle line. The company has been trying to cater to a more tech-savvy audience lately, first with the announcement of Apple “mini-stores” in 25 locations and then by being one of the few retailers selling Spotify and Google Play gift cards. If there are two technology companies that Target should be making friends with they would have to be Apple and Amazon. The company has a partnership with one, but doesn’t appear to be interested in pursuing a relationship with the latter.
The same can be said of Walmart. Like Best Buy, it has become an awesome “showroom” for products that customers can check out in person, scan with their smartphone, and then purchase for a lower price through Amazon. And it’s not like consumers were told to do this by Amazon to act out some nefarious plot, even if that would make for a better story. They’re doing it of their own volition, because Amazon is doing something right that Walmart can’t (or won’t) do as well.
Walmart and Target should be trying to figure out how to leverage Amazon and form some kind of relationship that might allow at least one of these brick-and-mortar stores to survive. Instead, both companies are trying to poke their competitor right in the eye and hoping that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to inflict some damage.