Tuesday, August 29, 2017

(The Big Disrupt) Amazon: The Retail Apocalypse Has Begun In Earnest





Much, maybe too much, has been written about the so called "Amazon effect" and, as Walmart, Kroger and Target have found out for the nth press release running, every word has been justified. And with the recently approved acquisition of Whole Foods and the subsequent price cuts across popular items, life will become even harder for big box retailers already under pressure to drop prices by German discounters Aldi and Lidl. 

Add to that Amazon already slashing prices left and right for Amazon Prime members and is already selling Amazon echos in selected Whole Foods stores, Amazon's plan to take over the massive grocery market has begun in earnest.   

However, Walmart, Amazon's principal competitor in the marketplace, haven't been sitting around twiddling their thumbs as they announced partnership with Amazon's bitter rival Google to sell their products via Google's AI assistant Google Home as well as Google's e-commerce offering, Google Express.
  
This is a brilliant move for the Bentonville based big box retailer as it gets its expands its reach online as well as in the home in one fell swoop but take a closer look at factors surrounding the deal, the new relationship between Google and Walmart looks highly reactive. Despite Google's considerable strengths in language processing and machine learning, Google Home is a distant second to Amazon's Echo and with Walmart drawing a clear line between them and Amazon forcing vendors to take sides, A deal with Google was the only option worth entertaining. 

Nonetheless, the new Google relationship will almost definitely see Walmart continue to its impressive growth online which is currently at faster pace than Amazon. However, as Amazon continues to slash Whole Food's notoriously high prices, starch inefficiencies up and down Whole Foods's supply chain and then establish Amazon Prime as Whole Foods defacto loyalty program, it only a matter of time before Walmart and other start to bleed market share to the Seattle based company as Amazon will be able to match or undercut grocery retailers across whole food ranges while expanding and retaining its prime subscriber base at sky high rates with perks no retailer can match whether its NFL games or Amazon Prime Videos' growing selection of acclaimed movies and original tv shows. 

What this all means is we're at the beginning of a major disruption where we see large and well-run companies like Walmart bleed market cap and market share at levels unseen to one company. Indeed, the bleeding has already started with Walmart, Kroger, and Target losing billions in market cap in the last two months because a company that's barely a blip in their marketplace put a few well-timed press releases. 

Because of this, Amazon is a game changing antitrust case waiting to happen as it forcing CEO's in a growing number of industries from sports apparel to Pay TV to address the Amazon question. However, it's hard to see Amazon getting broken up as US antitrust law protects consumers, not producers. With that in mind, the FTC will have a hard time breaking up a company that's a deflationary force in just about every market it enters.  

Indeed, this is what makes Amazon so scary as they use their considerable resources to lower prices while spending heavily on improving its products and services forcing even market leaders like Netflix and Walmart to match them on both fronts. Unlike Amazon, most companies cannot do this for sustained periods of time and get away with it without Wall street punishing them every quarter which gives Amazon an edge in just about every market it feels it can win or compete in effectively. 

In sum, the last four days are the first steps into a world where one member of the four horsemen (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) takes centre stage and the smart money is that Amazon stays there.  



Game of Thrones Review Season 7 Episode 7: ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ 

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Game of Thrones 
Season 7 Finale
By Garrett Yoshitomi 

We finally made it. It’s been a long seven years, but the end is finally starting to crystallize, as Game of Thrones closes out its penultimate season with “The Dragon and the Wolf.” As I predicted last week, “The Dragon and the Wolf” focuses more on setting up season eight, rather than providing an exciting standalone, episodic romp. We don’t get a ton of action this week, or any particularly harrowing cliffhangers, but the closing minutes are a thrill, and the seventh season finale is a good episode, overall. The main focus is the culmination of Tyrion’s less than brilliant scheme, to deliver a wight to Cersei, in the hopes that it will convince her to agree to a truce with Daenerys. 

The meeting with Cersei goes about as poorly as expected. Tyrion makes some clever opening remarks, Jon pitches his tried and true “The Real War is Against the Army of the Dead” speech, all while Cersei looks on with smoldering contempt and mild disinterest. The tone quickly changes, though, when Sandor Clegane rolls out their trump card- the captured wight from beyond the Wall. Unfortunately, this dog and zombie show does little to effectively change Cersei’s mind; although, the entire reveal is quite exciting and well executed. It would have been easy for the writers to color Cersei as staunchly skeptical, even in the face of a snarling, teeth-gnashing wight. She could have ignored Jon's logical plea for mutual self-preservation, and viewed the wight as nothing more than a cheap parlor trick- a bit of magic conjured up by a red priest. However, the reactions of Cersei, and her party, are quite genuine- from the visible cracks in Jaime’s typically cool and confident demeanor, to Qyburn’s morbid fascination with the undead’s flailing severed hand. One thing’s for sure, everybody, even Cersei, understands just how real of a threat the White Walkers are.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
But of course, Cersei refuses to align herself with the enemies of her House, even when presented with such an obvious option that would benefit her own people, as well as the greater good of all of Westeros. She does offer her own counter-terms: that she’ll agree to a truce, if Jon Snow, as King in the North, refuses to pledge his allegiance to either her side, or Daenerys’. Jon predictably (and honorably) declines; however, even if he had agreed, it’s fair to wonder if Cersei would have even held up her end of the bargain, considering her actions from later on in this episode. (My bet is that she wouldn’t have.) But, is there some ounce of goodness in Cersei? Some innate desire to do the right thing? Somewhere buried deep, deep, (deep), down inside of her, past all of the horrific torture fetishes and affinity for wearing black? I kind of doubt it; or at least, if there is, I don’t think this small amount of goodness will ever manifest itself in a significant, tangible way. When it’s all said and done, Cersei still stands in our heroes' ways, even as the White Walkers start literally knocking on Westeros’ front door. 

It’s not very surprising that Cersei remains unconvinced that the threat of the Long Night is enough to put aside her differences with Daenerys. And, it’s also no surprise that she ultimately reneges on the offer of military support that she pledges to Jon at the end of the dragon pit meeting.  For the most part, that’s really the best possible way to describe this episode- no real surprises, just everything going…about as expected. Of course, the expected isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a lot of fans would be disappointed if Game of Thrones ends with the Night King sitting on a throne made of the corpses of our beloved main characters. But, the predictable events of the finale do feel a little out of sync with where we should be story-wise, at this point in the series. 

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Regardless of what Game of Thrones fan forum or podcast you frequent, going into this season, the general consensus seemed to be that Cersei would serve as the main antagonist for season seven, before giving way to the White Walkers in season eight. Now, fan speculation will always be just that, speculation, but Cersei’s tyrannical rule is trivial compared to the genocidal threat the White Walkers represent, and it would make sense narratively for Cersei’s storyline to wrap up completely, before the focus shifts to the war against the White Walkers- the literal crux of the entire series. But, now that Cersei’s sticking around for what remains of the foreseeable future (if she’s made it this far, I highly doubt she’d be written off early into next season, if at all), the show will have to split its screen time, as well as our focus, between the deadly onslaught of the army of the undead, and the small pinpricks of whatever political havoc Cersei thinks she can still wreak. 

But, you know what I wasn’t expecting during this episode? The long-awaited final act in Theon Greyjoy’s series-long redemption tour. The Artist Formerly Known as Reek has quietly carried some of Game of Thrones most memorable moments. From his sadistic imprisonment, at the hands of Ramsey Bolton, to his daring rescue of Sansa in the season five finale (arguably the first win in a loooong time for the Starks, at that point). We’ve been waiting years for Theon to finally redeem himself, but after his inability to help Yara, after she was taken prisoner by Euron, back in episode two, it seemed like that day would never come. But, this week, Theon finds redemption in the most simple, yet powerful way, possible. He proves himself worthy in the eyes of his fellow Iron born, after besting Harrag in combat, but more importantly, Theon is forgiven by Jon, who bestows upon him, the highest level of forgiveness possible- that Theon was, is, and always will be, a Stark. 

(Photo Credit: HBO)
The concept of family is quite prevalent throughout the finale, though not in the typical Thrones fashion of Houses and secession. Family is what motivates Cersei to circle the wagons around King’s Landing, abandoning Daenerys and Jon to their fates against the undead. Several times during her meeting with Tyrion, Cersei mentions that the death of their father, Tywin Lannister, is what allowed her enemies to slowly kill off her family. Since Tywin’s death, and especially after climbing the Iron Throne, Cersei has tried to fashion herself after her father, formulating intricate political plans with precision, callous, and above all else, with the preservation of the Lannister House in mind. And, Tywin isn’t the only dad offering his children guidance from beyond the grave. Ned Stark’s wise words, “When the snows fall, and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” end up pushing Sansa and Arya to work together, in order to best Littlefinger’s attempt to divide the Stark sisters against one another. 

But, I believe it’s Jons words to Theon, that best capture the true importance of family, an importance that will ultimately shape the final season of Game of Thrones. Family’s not about birthright- just ask Viserys or Stannis Baratheon about that. It’s not about maintaining a one-way sense of loyalty to a House that would never return the favor (as Sam and Theon eventually figured out). It’s about the values passed down from generation to generation, like the North’s belief that a man’s word should mean something, or a Lannister always paying his debts. These values transcend blood and status, shaping the Great Houses from the inside out, rather than by which son was born first, or who married whose daughter. Which is why, it doesn’t matter whether he’s Aegon Targaryen, or Jon Sand. Jon Snow is the future king of Westeros because of the lessons he learned from the father who raised him, not because of the name passed down by the father he never knew. 

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