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Steeper Competition Could Be a Headwind for Shopify Stock

A couple of weeks ago, yours truly pointed out that the young e-commerce company, Shopify,(NYSE:SHOP) was in a race against the clock. Specifically, I argued that while the company’s business concept was solid enough, current and prospective owners of SHOP stock weren’t going to wait around indefinitely for SHOP to generate GAAP profits and positive free cash flow.

My data, by the way, indicated that Shopify wouldn’t generate real profits until sometime around 2021, in-line with Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Willi’s estimate that Shopify’s “clear path to profitability” will lead it into the black within two to three years.

And that forecast may prove to be accurate.

There’s a little-noticed X-factor in play here, however, that could easily slow the company’s march towards real profits and lower Shopify stock price.

Profits Spark Competition

By and large, the fans and owners of SHOP stock have underestimated the threat to the company from the likes of Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Wix.Com (NASDAQ:WIX), and Etsy(NASDAQ:ETSY).

Those who know the Shopify story well will probably not believe that any of those companies poses a threat to SHOP stock. Wix is a mere website-building company, and Shopify is catering to the smaller outfits that Amazon didn’t try to recruit. Etsy (NASDAQ:ETSY), meanwhile, mostly serves small-scale crafters.

But now that Shopify has proven that there’s opportunity in the mid-sized and small-scale e-commerce markets, other players are entering those markets.

Case in point: In September, Amazon launched “Storefronts,'” designed to connect the platform’s users with small U.S. companies. Almost 20,000 small shops are now selling their goods on Amazon.com, leveraging the giant’s enormous reach that Shopify just can’t offer. And Wix? Actually, it’s not just a website-building and site-hosting outfit. It offers e-commerce options as well, and though it’s arguably not as robust on that front, its e-commerce business is still respectable.

But the advent of Shopify hasn’t just prompted moves by Amazon and Wix, both of which had to do very little to become more small-business-friendly. Powerhouse Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) is getting in on the small business e-commerce mania, too.

Adobe is still not terribly well-suited for tiny ventures that are being run out of someone’s garage or basement. But Adobe’s 2018 acquisitions of Magento and Marketo have given owners of SHOP stock yet another competitor to worry about. Magento competes nearly head-to-head with Shopify, and Marketo, a marketing-technology platform primarily used in the business-to-business arena, could dent Shopify’s top and bottom lines.

And more alternatives are surfacing. There’s not much Shopify does anymore that other outfits don’t also do.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

In some ways, Shopify’s story parallels the advent of streaming video service from Netflix(NASDAQ:NFLX), but Shopify probably won’t do as well as NFLX did

The year was 2007. By that time, broadband-internet was widespread, enabling many if not most people to download television shows and movies to computers. Though such downloading was still unusual and a bit clunky at times, Netflix forged ahead with the idea anyway.

No other better-positioned companies like Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) or Comcast(NASDAQ:CMCSA) even tried to establish a competing service, as they didn’t recognize just how big streaming video could — and would — become.

They’re playing catch-up, now that Netflix is in the black.

Disney already offers a streaming version of its ESPN sports channel, and a streaming platform that features much of its namesake content along with content from its Star Wars and Marvel franchises is in the works. In the meantime, DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) is making some inroads against Netflix with its Sling TV platform, which is becoming robust and cost-effective enough to start posing a real threat to the streaming-media pioneer. Hulu is also making slow and steady progress.

And that’s just a small sample of other streaming players.

The common element among all those relatively new threats to Netflix is that their only real obstacle was their willingness to try to compete with NFLX. Once Netflix proved there was a market, legitimate competition crawled out of the woodwork. Netflix has already been slowed by its competition, and its competitors will only improve as time goes on. They’ve also started a spending war that Netflix may not be able to effectively fight.

In that same vein, Shopify blog has just proven there’s a market for small-business-minded e-commerce platforms. Now the company will face much tougher competition. Most owners of SHOP stock aren’t aware of the magnitude of this threat.

The Bottom Line on SHOP Stock

Die-hard owners of SHOP stock will be quick to point out that Netflix did have to beat competing companies to take the lead in the streaming market, and that it’s tough to beat a market leader that has a first-mover advantage. They’ll say that since Shopify was the first name to dominate its market, newcomers will find it tough to topple too, just as they’ve had difficulty dethroning Netflix.

That argument may well hold some water, but there are plenty of leaks in it.

Most importantly, Shopify doesn’t enjoy the same kind of moat that Netflix did, and SHOP stock doesn’t have a technological moat. Bigger players like Adobe and Amazon could instantaneously buy what might take months (if not years) for Shopify to build for itself. Those rivals have only begun to show their teeth, and product reviews Shopify hasn’t established the kind of lead that Netflix had as of just a few years ago.

Given the road that lies ahead, SHOP may not reach the promised land of profits anywhere nearly as soon as analysts have collectively guessed. Of course, that would likely be bad news for SHOP stock and the owners of SHOP stock.

Kirjoitettu Monday 21.01.2019


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