Analysis: FedEx, UPS Holders Shrug at Amazon's Big Shadow


Typically, the news of an Internet giant such as Inc. becoming a potential competitor sends stocks tumbling. And so it probably wouldn't have been surprising to anyone had UPS Inc. and FedEx Corp. taken a dive on a Bloomberg News report Feb. 9 that Amazon is setting its sights on the shipping industry.

Instead, at least for one day, shareholders of both companies took it in stride: Shares of UPS and FedEx were either up or little changed on the news of Amazon's potential foray into logistics.

They should be a little more concerned. And the companies should consider themselves on notice. Amazon, having already conquered brick-and-mortar retailers, is moving forward with a plan to take on the responsibility of transporting goods sold on its site from factories in places such as China to consumers in places such as New York, Bloomberg News reported.

The move essentially would take companies such as FedEx and UPS out of the equation. A full-blown Amazon transportation network could cost FedEx and UPS a big chunk of the hundreds of millions in revenue they book from the e-commerce company each year.

That's not great news. And while giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may not be keen to sign up a key competitor as their delivery company, loads of smaller vendors that already have essentially made Amazon their e-commerce platform probably would be agnostic about making it their shipping service of choice, too. Adding to the fun, Gannett Co. — the newspaper publisher — also is reportedly thinking about trying its hand at parcel delivery. It seems like an odd match, but Gannett has a massive national and local distribution network for its collection of publications and could offer lower delivery costs than FedEx and UPS.

So why the muted reaction? Let's focus on Amazon. For one thing, the e-commerce giant's shipping dreams shouldn't come as a surprise. It's been exploring alternate ways of getting packages to consumers for a while now. While the extent and aggressiveness of Amazon's shipping ambitions were somewhat of a bombshell, many of the fears may already be priced into UPS and FedEx shares.

It's also going to take some time for Amazon to build up the kind of scale necessary for a national, let alone global, operation. In the beginning, Amazon's network may be more of a supplement to the companies' services, rather than a replacement option, said Kevin Sterling of BB&T Corp.

So FedEx and UPS have some time to figure out a next move before Amazon starts moving in with a fury. They should start strategizing sooner rather than later. It's hard to imagine Amazon setting up a massive hub-and-spoke system like FedEx and UPS have and hiring the hundreds of thousands of people needed to transport packages all over the world.

But it was also at one point hard to imagine Amazon displacing stores as the shopping destination of choice for many consumers. And equally hard to think Amazon would uproot companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft in the cloud-services industry.

UPS and FedEx have been investing in technology to improve their delivery process and introduced new pricing systems to encourage customers to use smaller packages, creating more space on the trucks. The efforts will make the companies more efficient at handling the surge of e-commerce deliveries that have inundated their networks.

But eventually, FedEx and UPS will have to think about the next step. Figuring out how to compete with Amazon on things such as inexpensive same-day delivery and automated paperwork or how to replicate the local scale of a company such as Gannett may be a good start. FedEx and UPS may not have much to worry about now, but they're going to have to think fast because Amazon usually is10 steps ahead. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg and its owners.


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