Milestone: Amazon beats rival Walmart... for second place

For the first ever, Amazon has sold more than its eternal rival Walmart over the course of a year. In doing so, it has beaten its eternal rival in the race... for second place, as one other retailer dwarfs both of them.



In the twelve months ending in June 2021, consumers have spent more than 610 billion dollars (520 billion euros) on Amazon, according to Factset financial research about which the New York Times reports. On the other side, Walmart, published a turnover of 566 billion dollars (480 billion euros) for the twelve months to the end of July earlier this week.


It is a milestone that illustrates how radically shopping behaviour has changed in recent decades: for the first time, Amazon now dethrones the most successful retailer of the past fifty years. However, that is not enough to become the largest retailer in the world: neither Amazon nor Walmart have gained a firm foothold in the gigantic Chinese market, and local behemoth Alibaba is now bigger than the two American giants combined.


New rules

Is this a historic moment, a tipping point? The model which allowed Walmart to achieve global dominance is well known: huge stores selling an enormous product range at ultra-low prices – thanks to very strict cost control and efficient logistics operations – made sure the retail giant crushed the competition and reached an unprecedented scale.


But e-commerce has rewritten the rules of the game in retail. Major Walmart stores sell up to 100,000 different items. That seems huge, but if you include the marketplace sellers, Amazon offers more than 350 million different items. In addition, the pandemic favoured online players: Walmart's revenue grew by 24 billion dollars (20 billion euros) last year, Amazon's by nearly 200 billion dollars (170 billion euros). That lead is only likely to grow: Amazon is currently taking off with 41 cents of every dollar spent online in the US. Walmart has to make do with 7 cents: the company expects to realise online sales of “only” 75 billion dollars (64 billion euros) this year...


Hide and seek

An important side-note is that the revenue that Factset attributes to Amazon is higher than what the retailer itself reports. Amazon is playing hide and seek, observers say, by only stating the amount of the fees it charges its two million partner sellers, and not the actual turnover through its marketplace. A conscious strategy: Amazon wants to appear smaller than it actually is, to avoid annoying questions about market dominance. The company prefers the role of underdog, but that seems really untenable now.


That is why analysts estimate the so-called "gross merchandise value", or the amount customers spend on Amazon, be it from Amazon's own inventory or from third-party sellers. As the latter account for 56 % of sales, Amazon's GMV is almost 60 % higher than what Amazon itself indicates. Counting the domestic market only, Walmart still sells more than Amazon for the time being, and it also employs more people. But it may even lose that leading position next year. Incidentally, Amazon has been (much) larger than Walmart in market value since 2015.