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Amazon is pursuing ‘too many ideas’ and needs to focus on what works, analyst says in open letter

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There are better places for Amazon to put their capital to work, says Bernstein's Mark Shmulik

In its quest to upend everything from health care and grocery stores to internet satellites, Amazon has become too unfocused and is missing out on opportunities in its core businesses, according to Bernstein analysts, who on Wednesday published what they called an “open letter” to CEO Andy Jassy and the board.

Amazon remains dominant in e-commerce and cloud computing with Amazon Web Services. In some other areas, however, the company has spent heavily without seeing the results, the analysts said.

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“We fully support Amazon’s efforts to uncover and capture the next AWS-sized opportunity,” wrote Bernstein’s Mark Shmulik, who has an outperform rating on the stock. “But what we’ve seen recently is a company simply pursuing too many ideas, with weaker ideas taking away the oxygen, capital, and most importantly focus from the truly disruptive initiatives that ‘only Amazon can do.'”

Amazon’s stock performance compared to its “closest mega-cap peers” — Apple, Microsoft and Google —has also left investors wanting, Shmulik said. Amazon shares are up 50% year to date, but they’ve underperformed top peers by about 52% over a five-year period, he said.

The stock was down 3.6% to $122.12 as of early afternoon New York time.

Shmulik urged Amazon to get back to its “Day One” mentality, referring to a phrase championed by Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, who was succeeded by Jassy in July 2021. Bezos famously said a Day One mentality would help Amazon stave off its demise, and described it as continuing to innovate rapidly like a startup, no matter how large the company becomes.

“Day 2 is stasis,” Bezos said in a 2017 shareholder letter. “Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Amazon should “divest, seek outside funding, or trim spend” in healthcare and its nascent low-earth-orbit satellite venture, called Project Kuiper, Shmulik wrote. He pointed to Amazon’s multi-year effort to break into health care, before abandoning efforts like its Care telehealth service, Halo health and fitness band, and a joint healthcare venture called Haven.

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Kuiper “appears even more extreme as an investment area,” according to Shmulik, with Amazon committing $10 billion to build out the initiative. Google’s lack of success with its Project Loon, Fiber, and Fi efforts signals “capital intensive low-margin utilities aren’t worth the effort regardless of how ‘cool’ the technology may be,” he wrote.

Amazon should even take a page out of Alphabet’s book and strip out Kuiper, health care and possibly Alexa into “other bets,” Shmulik said. Doing so, he says, would show a “far healthier and more profitable core business” and wouldn’t detract from the company’s effort to “build the next AWS.”

Shmulik is also skeptical of Amazon’s ongoing efforts to expand in international markets like Brazil, Singapore and India, where competition remains stiff. He calls it a case of throwing “good money after bad,” despite the strategic value that those markets may hold.

When it comes to Whole Foods, Fresh supermarkets and Go cashierless convenience stories, Amazon needs to “make a call on physical grocery,” Shmulik wrote. Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017, and has continued to build out its grocery offerings on its website, while launching other experimental shops. Recently, the company paused further expansion of its Fresh and Go stores as Jassy looks to cut costs.

Instead of continuing to “tinker with” its Fresh and Go stores, Shmulik said Amazon should “purchase a proven concept such as potential divested KR/ACI stores,” referring to the stores Kroger and Albertsons’ are selling off as part of their planned merger.

Amazon should focus on its core strengths and keep pushing into other areas where it’s gained traction, Shmulik said, encouraging a continued buildout of its advertising and media arms, as well as its Buy With Prime service, which allows websites off of Amazon to take advantage of its Prime delivery benefits.

The current scattershot approach is confusing to shareholders and needs to be cleared up to stem continued underperformance, Shmulik added, calling out uncertainty around where Amazon falls in the artificial intelligence race.

“We get investor questions today asking ‘is AWS in last place in AI?’, ‘is retail actually a profitable business?’, and even ‘do we want Andy on the earnings call?'” Shmulik wrote. “It points to one underlying issue: Amazon doesn’t own its own narrative.”

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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