Online pioneer Amazon (AMZN) , a holding in Jim Cramer's charitable trust, Action Alerts PLUS, is increasingly showing a desire to venture into the world of brick-and-mortar retailing. From getting ready to open bookstores in Portland, Ore., and Chicago next year, to reportedly looking to debut curbside grocery pickup locations, clearly Amazon realizes it needs some physical presence if it wants to put all of retail out of business (which is its goal, of course). Huge strategy change relative to its founding, but one that is long overdue.
Reading the tea leaves makes one wonder why an apparently store-loving Amazon shouldn't go big and just buy a dying Staples (SPLS) . Consider the pros on such a deal that would undeniably catch heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and drive a ton of traffic to news sites for at least a month.
Staples Stock is in the Toilet
Amazon has the cash and a growing appetite for a physical presence, and Staples has a severely depressed stock price. Staples shares fell to their lowest level in almost 20 years on Tuesday. At about $7.80, shares are the cheapest since December 1997, and are now down about 19% so far this year. Over the past year, Staples's stock shed an astounding 36%, compared to a 6.6% gain for the S&P 500 Index.
The market is voicing two things at the moment when it comes to Staples. Firstly, the company's results for the rest of the year may be worse than the horrible first half. That isn't out of the realm of possibilities given Staples' stepped-up discounts on key items such as ink and toner and heightened competition from Amazon, Walmart (WMT) and others in office supplies.
With Staples shares in the toilet and a ton of talent turnover (including a new CEO), Amazon has a rare opportunity to strike and not overpay. Furthermore, Staples isn't really an over-leveraged retailer, which is always attractive to a suitor.
Secondly, the market flat-out doesn't believe Staples could drive value without Office Depot (ODP) .
What Amazon Would Get for Its Money
Staples has a list of assets that should intrigue Amazon:
A network of more than 1,600 mostly giant superstores that could be utilized in two ways. Firstly, the stores are left open and Amazon turns them into a modern-day flea market of sorts, selling everything from office supplies to big screen TVs. In other words, bring the Amazon shopping experience to a physical store -- which includes a best-in-class digital ordering process. In fact, why not make shopping the discount stores only available to Prime members? Secondly, Amazon only leaves the top stores open to sell office supplies and some other gear while the rest are converted into smaller distribution centers and pickup hubs. Amazon would gain instant access to communities in a way it doesn't have today.
A sizable online business that, while not clunky, could use the Amazon magic touch.
A well-established commercial delivery network in North America. Amazon could basically own the office-supplies market among Fortune 500 companies by writing a check for Staples. Setting up this type of network could take a great deal of time for Amazon, and prove costly.
The reality is that digital innovation is moving so quickly that Amazon is at the point where it needs to start thinking about buying dying retailers to gain access to turnkey operations that need some reconfiguring. Building out new retail businesses at scale that drive meaningful results takes time, and time is something not rewarded online. So why shouldn't Amazon take advantage of a beat-up Staples, which has been building its unique collection of assets for over 30 years? Circuit City stunk; it never did anything pioneering enough to warrant a bid by Amazon. Blockbuster had death written all of it when Redbox launched its first box at a 7-11. RadioShack was a joke. But buying Staples makes some sense.
You're welcome for the sales pitch, Jeff Bezos.