Amazon’s weapons of mass disruption

Amazon’s scale, reach, deep pockets, and tight customer ties make it a force to be reckoned with

Something big is coming. (Nasdaq: AMZN) is set to unveil a revamped slate of Kindles that will be quicker, sharper, sleeker, and cheaper — a recipe for gangbuster sales and a thorn in Apple‘s (Nasdaq: AAPL) side. That might not be all. Amazon is known to have a smartphone in the works. Don’t be surprised to see it steal PR thunder from the iPhone 5.

But even bigger things are in store for Amazon, the 801-pound gorilla of online retail. Amazon’s scale, reach, deep pockets, and tight customer ties make it a force to be reckoned with in whatever arena it wants to pick a fight. But while everyone is hung up on Kindles and smartphones, they’re overlooking some of the biggest game-changers Amazon has in its arsenal.

Here are six weapons of mass disruption that Amazon could fire at a moment’s notice.

1. Amazon TV
Forget an Apple television. Apple would have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to make building televisions worth its while. Competition is fierce, pricing is cutthroat, and copycatting is shameless. There are easier ways for Apple to make money.

But Amazon can make television work. Whereas Apple’s content ecosystem exists to fuel hardware sales, Amazon’s hardware exists to fuel repeat, high-margin media sales. Amazon could sell televisions at cost or a small loss, as with Kindles, because they more than make up the profits on the back end. Imagine televisions rolling off the line preloaded with a Prime trial, the Amazon Appstore, and a slick, interactive, at-home shopping experience that allows couch surfers to buy the item they just saw advertised via Amazon with one click of their remote control.

The biggest disruption of all would be an ad-supported television. Amazon could rip a page from its Kindle playbook and sell some of its already dirt cheap TVs below cost — perhaps US$150 below comparable rival TVs — by building in banner and video ads that could roll when you turn on your television, flip to certain channels, and more. The possibilities are endless and a big win for both Amazon and cost-conscious shoppers. Thrifty shoppers get a premium TV at a fire-sale price, and Amazon gets a virtual storefront installed in your living room for years on end.

2. Amazon Private Label
Don’t stop with TVs. Amazon could replicate Costco‘s success with its popular Kirkland Signature store brand and launch its own line of affordably priced private-label goods. The best place for a launching pad for Amazon is in personal care — think razor blades, nappies and the like. These are everyday items that consumers are already used to paying up for. Even better, they’re non-perishable and cheap to ship.

Consumer juggernaut Procter & Gamble’s gross margin is almost 50% — more than double Amazon’s — which means Amazon could aggressively undercut brands like Gillette and Pampers with plenty of profitable room to spare. Amazon’s Kindle has proved that it knows how to work the razor-and-blade business model. Now it’s time to get literal.

3. Amazon Streaming
Amazon could cripple Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and create a cadre of more engaged members by unbundling its instant-video offering from Prime and selling it a la carte. Sure, Netflix boasts a bigger selection today, but Amazon would steal oodles of customers if it priced its subscription at US$5 a month — US$3 below Netflix. Upselling Amazon instant-video subscribers into Prime would be a snap. Or go even more rogue and roll out an ad-supported free instant video experience. Admittedly, I’m not sure that this move creates more value than keeping instant video bundled with Prime over the long haul, but it would make Amazon an instant heavy hitter in video membership and keep Netflix — a dangerous foe — stuck playing defence.

4. Amazon Stores
It might sound antithetical, but Amazon needs a physical presence. Yes, really. That’s why it has launched Amazon Lockers and is rumoured to be fiddling with a bricks-and-mortar store concept. Give me more, Amazon. Amazon Stores should serve as Kindle showrooms, cozy shrines to reading, and convenient ordering and fulfillment locations. And the concept should extend beyond U.S. shores. Amazon Stores in developing markets would be prime venues to see and touch Kindles, operate as massive lockers, and help bridge the comfort gap from offline to online spending while cutting shipping costs.

Here’s another twist on a physical presence — without the burden of big budget. Amazon could kindle a relationship with fellow Seattle consumer biggie Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX). Books and coffee shops are a natural fit and crossover opportunity. Starbucks locations could carry Kindles, host Amazon lockers, and offer a free coffee or other discounts when you order a new e-book while on Starbucks’ Wi-Fi network. Options abound. This natural alliance gives Starbucks customers one more reason to make it their “third place” and Amazon a real-world footprint that jibes with its brand and model.

5. Amazon Browser
Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) smashing success with its Chrome Web browser is a wake-up call. Amazon could follow Google’s lead and build its own desktop-centric Web browser with an eye toward moving it closer to the customer. Tapping into users’ Web browsing and search-query data would allow Amazon to hyper-target the virtual storefront to shoppers’ desires. And consumers just might bite: An Amazon browser could differentiate by weaving in instant video, its app store and social games, and an enhanced, integrated shopping experience. It helps that Amazon could smartly offer users, say, US$10 in Amazon store credits when they download the browser.

6. Amazon Travel
Amazon is the first place I look for physical goods. It should be the same for travel: airline tickets, cruises, car rentals, and hotel stays. Everyone from Google to Kayak has a different twist on the third-party travel sales model, but Amazon has a unique edge that would allow it to undercut competition and steal share. Amazon can upsell you on your purchase. Flying to Italy? Maybe you’d like a discounted Amazon Kindle to help you pass the time. And, naturally, some e-book travel guides to help you prepare for and navigate your trip.

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The Motley Fools purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

A version of this article, written by Joe Magyer, originally appeared on

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