I get the arguments for and against Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). I really do. Some see it as a company with a CEO who can’t control his spending habits and doesn’t like making money. Others see it as an earth-changing company with a leader who has zippy interest in playing Wall Street’s little earnings games and sees the business years out in advance. I am the latter.
I’m not just a member
Let’s be clear: I own Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) shares and can’t see getting rid of them anytime soon. I consider it an amazing company for so many reasons and Jeff Bezos has won my admiration for being one of the biggest risk takers (Elon Musk is up there, too) in the history of business.
We subscribe to Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime in my house. And unless something drastic occurs, it’s a lock like the sun coming up that we will be Prime members for the rest of my days. There’s simply too much value there for me to even consider not renewing. Three months of toilet paper shipping pays for the entire annual subscription, and the rest is just gravy. Two-day shipping, the Kindle lending library, free video streaming, it all adds up to a lot of value. Consumers can chalk it up as a huge win. But is it a win for Amazon? Some say yes; some say no. I say absolutely.
Membership has its privileges
Here’s the thing: When you find a great business that provides a valuable service, that’s lovely. When that business can charge an annual membership fee that provides so much value that customers can’t justify not renewing, that’s living the dream. There aren’t many businesses like that out there. Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) is one of them, and Costco’s focus on low prices and a great experience for their members has helped it ring up close to 27 million Gold Star memberships. And I think this is a nice comparable to Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime’s opportunity.
The Costco Gold Star is a $55 annual membership fee. As time goes on and families see the value in the membership, it becomes simply a cost of living. It’s a trivial amount when compared to the value consumers feel they are getting on an annual basis. And that’s why when Costco initiated its $5 price increase last year, memberships weren’t affected at all. Who cares about the extra $5? The value proposition is huge.
Prime is very much the same way. This is just me personally, but Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) could double the cost of Prime and I would still happily pay it because it still works out in our favor. The math is there along with all the extras that come with it. But we know Bezos more than likely isn’t going to do that. Heck, I’d be shocked if he raised the price by $5. That’s not the strategy… for now. But it’s clear to see that what he’s doing is creating compelling value-adds to Prime that make the two-day shipping seem truly free. And all the research shows that free shipping is consistently one of, if not the, biggest considerations among online shoppers.
Morningstar estimates that Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has about 10 million Prime members. Not a bad start. And I think that Costco’s 27 million Gold Star memberships give us an idea of the potential that Prime could have in store, particularly if management really starts pushing it. But it probably won’t have to (at least not much). That’s what the Kindle Fire is for. Check out this graph below, courtesy of Morningstar. Do you think Prime can reach 25 million members by 2017? I certainly think it’s reasonable to believe. And that would be a major cash cow for the company and investors: