Customers in the UK will soon find out. Recent reports suggest that three of the country's largest supermarket chains are rolling out surge-pricing in select stores. This means that prices will rise and fall over the course of the day in response to demand. Buying lunch at lunchtime will be like ordering an Uber at rush hour. This may sound pretty drastic, but far more radical changes are on the horizon.
But the pending deal -- a record purchase for Amazon -- has opened the possibility of the nation's biggest tech companies acquiring businesses known for bricks-and-mortar stores rather than software. As struggling retailers, banks and automakers weigh buying technology to catch up to the smartphone age, the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook may find it simpler to rescue the hobbled. "Amazon is effectively saying that if retailers are going to tool themselves up with technology, then it will tool itself up with a physical presence and high-street brand," said Paul Cuatrecasas, chief executive of the British investment bank Aquaa Partners. "It helps justify the belief that the larger tech giants will start buying up established companies, like banks and automotive manufacturers. The impact could be immense and generational."
In a recent episode of HBO's Silicon Valley, Richard, the show's protagonist startup founder, and Monica, one of his investors, stroll through the aisles of a bountiful grocery store that looks not unlike Whole Foods. "You do realize I am literally the only person in this grocery store actually buying stuff for myself?" Grown men and women grab items off a shelf, hunch forward to consult their smartphone apps, and repeat. The satirical message: This is the future Silicon Valley wants. Society is inching ever closer to Mike Judge's fictionalized universe, although, in the real-world version, all those delivery startups might get displaced by Amazon.
Amazon is the exception to nearly every rule in business. Rising from humble beginnings as a Seattle-based internet bookstore, Amazon has grown into a propulsive force in at least five different giant industries: retail, logistics, consumer technology, cloud computing, and most recently, media and entertainment. The company has had its share of missteps -- the expensive Fire phone flop comes to mind -- but is also rightly known for strokes of strategic genius that have put it ahead of competitors in promising new industries. This was the case with the launch of cloud business AWS in the mid-2000s, and more recently the surprising consumer hit in the Echo device and its Alexa AI assistant. Today's Amazon is far more than just an "everything store," it's a leader in consumer-facing AI and enterprise cloud services. And its insatiable appetite for new markets mean competitors must always be on guard against its next moves. As the biggest online retailer in America, the company accounts for 5% of all retail spending in America, and the company has been publicly traded for two decades. While its market capitalization has swelled recently, so too have expectations. Wall Street banks like Morgan Stanley expect Amazon to continue growing at a rate that no company its size has ever done before: 16% average compound growth in sales through 2025. If Amazon were able to satisfy the lofty goals, it would be "the most aggressive expansion of a giant company in the history of modern business." Understanding the many-headed beast that is Amazon is no easy feat, especially because Amazon is far less transparent than its peers. As the Times has written, "It isn't just secretive, the way Apple is, but in a deeper sense, Jeff Bezos' e-commerce and cloud-storage giant is opaque. Amazon rarely explains either its near-term tactical aims or its long-term strategic vision. By all accounts, Amazon is just getting started in newer initiatives like cloud services, artificial intelligence, and logistics. Given Amazon's enormous breadth, we won't be covering every aspect of its business. Jeff Bezos, the company's founder and long-time CEO, first hatched the idea for Amazon while working on Wall Street at the hedge fund and tech private equity group D. E. Shaw & Co. For a while, it was bootstrapped as an internet bookstore with Bezos' money along with contributions from friends and family. In 1995, Bezos raised nearly $1M in small checks from 20 local angels with a typical check size between $30k and $50k. Among those angels, Nick Hanauer, Eric Dillon, and Tom Alberg (of Madrona Venture Group) were brought on as company advisors.
The Amazon-Whole Foods deal is expected to lead to lower prices and other changes across the industry. Amazon is buying Whole Foods Market for 13.7 billion dollars. We talk to shoppers about the deal. For anyone in the business of selling, supplying or hauling groceries: Things just got real. The online seller is bringing its firepower to a grocery industry plagued by razor-thin profit margins.