Egos at Amazon must be riding high this month. The retailer sold out  of its flagship product, the Kindle DX, not once but twice. Then, to cap it all off, this morning investment research and banking firm Cowen and Company called Amazon a "next generation Wal-Mart."
Analyst Jim Friedland wrote in a research note: "In our view, Amazon is a next-generation Wal-Mart, and we believe the company's focus on lower prices and a superior shopping experience versus online and offline competitors will result in substantial share gains over time."
The reasons for Cowen's vote of confidence are numerous, citing greater penetration in non-media categories, more orders per customer resulting from Amazon Prime (a discount shopping program) and the ability to reinvest profits (a la Wal-Mart) from higher margin revenue sources into lower prices across the board. The report notes that Wal-Mart has 7.7% of U.S. retail share, while Amazon owns only 0.3%. That's a lot of room to grow.
Friedland was particularly impressed by Amazon's positioning as a result of the Kindle's success. The company estimates Amazon will sell 900,000 this year and 1.4 million next year. By 2013, Kindle penetration could reach 10% of Amazon's customer base, or 2% of the U.S. population, the report says.
So is Amazon on the way to Wal-Mart-like highs? Much like Wal-Mart, Amazon's growth potential stems from its ability to sell everything from Kindles and MP3s to patio furniture and kitchenware, and to do so at very competitive prices. A recent push into private label  products suggests Amazon has its eye on those non-media categories, and the immediate availability of many Amazon products, its easy searchability, and its investment in customer service lend it a competitive advantage over both online and brick-and-mortar rivals. Much as Wal-Mart redefined the retail model over the past three decades, Amazon may rewrite the book for the Internet age.