If you give it away, they will come.
That, in a nutshell, was this year's Christmas on the Internet. The dot-coms, blessed with a market that hates sales down at the mall and loves giveaways on the Net, gave it away in spades.
Oddly, that may turn into a positive, not a negative, for the stocks of these Net retailers. You see, next month, when we see the
numbers for Christmas, we are going to bid up all of the stocks that gained eyeballs. Then these companies can issue stock or convertibles at the inflated prices we will pay, and they will be in shape to continue to destroy traditional retailers.
This process will go on until only a few bricks-and-mortar outfits are left. It will happen for the same reason that almost every single merchant that was dominant 20 years ago in every town around the country lost out when
came to town. It will happen because the dot-coms that get critical mass will then get the same benevolent terms that Wal-Mart has, without the rent or the shrinkage. And that formula is virtually unstoppable.
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Amazingly, from where I sit, only one thing could stop this whole juggernaut: an aggressive move by Wal-Mart itself. Let's say I was running Wal-Mart right now, and I wanted to blunt
. I would do exactly what Wal-Mart did to
Toys R Us
a few years back: I would stock millions of units of the 20 biggest-selling toys, and I would simply go online and charge the low Wal-Mart wholesale price for them. No one can match Wal-Mart's pricing power. eToys has to provide every SKU under the sun. Wal-Mart just has to offer the items most often purchased. That effort would severely undercut eToys, which can't afford to give things away like that. I am sure that eToys pays more per unit than Wal-Mart. That's why Wal-Mart would have to win.
Wal-Mart could have done the same thing to
, but that battle is now lost. Wal-Mart must stop the other Net retailers before they pick apart one aisle after another and get the critical mass to merit Wal-Mart's wholesale prices. And, believe me, they will, if Wal-Mart doesn't stop them.
Put simply, the stock market wants the dot-coms to win. Only Wal-Mart stands in their way from winning.
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James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Amazon.com. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at