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This Is How Walmart Will Defend Itself Against Amazon

And: Ethics in business follow ethics in government, Valerian follow up…

John Battelle
Jul 24, 2017 · 5 min read
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Amazon v. Walmart market cap over time. Source: Wolfram Alpha.

For a short item in a daily newsletter, my post on Google and Amazon’s feed-driven ambitions brought some outsized email responses my way. Suffice to say, people in the industry are paying close attention to the topic, and that got me thinking a bit more about where this all might lead. Given it’s Monday, and the news is a bit slow, indulge me in a bit of speculation.

Here’s the headline: I predict Walmart will attempt to either partner with Instagram, or to invest in (and partner with) Pinterest. Or both.

Why? Well, let’s break down what you need to succeed at selling stuff online at scale. First is supply: you need impossible-to-fake strengths in logistics — warehousing, inventory management, distribution. Second is capital: your balance sheet must be abundant, and already accustomed to shouldering the capital stress of holding vast amounts of physical goods. And third is demand: you need access to consumers at a point at which they are demonstrably interested in buying things.

Amazon has built all three over the course of two decades. Walmart has the first and second, but is struggling to get consumers to see its sites as the answer to the third. And that’s why I predict they’ll end up courting Instagram and Pinterest. Both have consumer demand — Pinterest in particular is a quiet giant in the online commerce conversion funnel. And neither have the appetite to use their cash and/or investor patience to make a direct assault on Amazon’s stronghold. But a partnership with the Avis of e-commerce? That makes some kind of sense to me, and I predict it will to them as well.

After a tumultuous first half of the year featuring ballooning harassment scandals in the tech industry and viral videos of customers being dragged off commercial flights, corporate America is waking up to the importance of ethics, argues Patrick Quinlan in Recode. “Slowly, brands are waking up to the fact that strong ethics and core values are no longer a ‘nice to have,’ but a necessity,” he writes. “This shift is what I call ethical transformation — the application of ethics and values across all aspects of business and society. It’s as impactful and critical as digital transformation, the other megatrend of the last 20 years.”

We have to admit, we’re pleased a mainstream tech site is covering the shift towards value-driven business, given that’s been the focus of NewCo for nearly five years now. And we’ve had first hand experience working with senior leadership at large companies who are struggling to inject purpose into industries beset by Wall Street’s vicious indifference to anything but shareholder return. It’s not easy work.

Of course, the only way to change Wall Street’s mindset is to ladder ethical and purpose-driven behavior to a stronger, more profitable bottom line. And for all of us to demand, as workers and consumers, that our leadership view ethics and integrity as paramount. It’d be best to be on the right side of this one, as it’s a shift that will truly matter.

Which brings us to the most visible leader in the free world…our president. What a travesty.

It’s time for business to call out Trump, if for no other reason than he’s a cheater by the basic ethics of our capitalist system. Want proof? There’s a boatload of it in this Wired roundup of the election money Trump has been pouring into his own pockets, often at taxpayer expense. Yes, that’s right — Trump is actively taking federal funds, and funneling them into his own pockets. Yes, it’s likely “not illegal” (yet), but only because no one thought to create a law against the brazen self-dealing in which Trump specializes. His campaign pays rent in Trump buildings, buys Trump water, has fundrasiers in Trump resorts and hotels. Trump’s campaign has paid itself $600,000 this year so far, but that’s not counting the tens of millions that Trump is raking in by leveraging his presidency to double initiation fees at places like Mar a Lago, or jack up rents and fees at Trump Tower, which is costing taxpayers nearly $30 million (so far) to protect.

Last week Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, gave up and quit, and his exit interview is not to be missed. Here’s a line from that story that all citizens should consider. Summarizing Trump’s approach to ethical questions, Shaub paraphrases the president’s lawyers thusly: “We’re going to do the bare minimum of what is legal, and we’re going to do things that are questionable, as long as there is an argument that, maybe, it’s legal.”

Unacceptable. It’s time to clearly state that Trump must go, and business must lead in the call for him to do so.

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Should have listened to Rotten Tomatoes…

Regular readers will recall I suggested you all go see Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets this past weekend. Seemed like a slam dunk: The director of The Fifth Element with a $180 million budget? No brainer! Well, I at least practiced what I preached — I took my entire family to a Valerian matinee, which I figured (rightly) would be less crowded. But while the special effects and the fantastical set dress were worthy, the rest of the movie was a spectacular flop. Terrible story development, spark-free acting (not that the bar’s that high in an action movie, but still…), and a director incapable of making any decisions about what to leave in, much less what to take out. With so many nods to previous sci-fi thrillers (the heroes fall into a trash bin, for god’s sake), Luc Besson barely left room for the movie itself, which after two grinding hours, had to be recapped for a faltering audience by a clichéd bad guy breakdown. And the heroine’s speech about love? Let’s just say the Internet memesters will not be kind. Two thumbs down, and our apologies for suggesting you waste your time and your hard earned money.

New at NewCo Shift: Mary Ladd on why collections scares her more than having cancer, Bryce Roberts on the questions VCs should be asking, Chris Newman says we don’t need another green revolution, and Andrew Busey on the real risks of AI. And new on NewCo Shift’s member only section on Medium: Azeem Azhar on AI and computing (open for non members), and Andrew Leonard on the Chinese co-founder of Silicon Valley.

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since…

John Battelle

Written by

A Founder of NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since the industrial revolution

John Battelle

Written by

A Founder of NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since the industrial revolution

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