NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On March 9, 1862, at Hampton Roads, Va., the future of naval warfare was changed forever.
For the first time, two ironclad warships faced off in an epic battle. The CSS Virginia (USS Merrimack) battled the USS Monitor for hours, as their respective flotillas watched. The ships traded cannon fire and each ship landed a couple of hits, but also sustained some damage. Unable to knock each other out, both retired from the engagement, believing the other retired first. Both sides claimed victory.
Now 147 years later, we're about to witness a similar duel between two business ironclads, and it remains to be seen who will retire first, if at all. If I were a betting man, and I am, I would bet we'll see the same result.
, the behemoth brick-and-mortar retailer, launched the first broadside in a modern day battle against online heavyweight
. Last Thursday Wal-Mart fired the first shot by announcing it would sell 10 of the hottest new books online for $10. Amazon returned the broadside by lowering its price for the books to $9, which Wal-Mart immediately matched. The last round of the initial volley had Wal-Mart taking a penny off, reducing the price to $8.99.
joined the battle and matched Wal-Mart, while offering free shipping.
This battle is occurring at a crucial time. Retailers are consulting their crystal balls to predict how bad (or good) the upcoming holiday season will be, and this battle clouds their view.
Wal-Mart's attack on Amazon doesn't consist solely of books. The world's largest retailer is pushing into other products on its Wal-Mart.com site as well.
As we've seen in the airline industry, trying to beat your opponent solely on price is an unsustainable battle. An airline launches a low-fare offer, only to be matched by the competition. Then it's a race to the bottom to see who blinks first. But often times the winner ends up the loser as it flies a packed airliner for a loss. The airline graveyard is littered with companies who engaged in this strategy. While Amazon and Wal-Mart won't be going out of business anytime soon, the price war may result in a stalemate.
Amazon has the advantage of online brand name recognition, along with an established and efficient online ordering infrastructure. Wal-Mart lacks these advantages. In some ways, Wal-Mart may be falling victim to
"we can do everything" disease. Reminds me of a saying: "Plumbing can't be hard ... plumbers do it."
On the other hand, it is Wal-Mart, and it has the resources to make this a serious battle. Wal-Mart isn't afraid to throw a little cash at this effort, and it regularly runs national television advertising campaigns.
It remains to be seen what other retailers with online storefronts will do.
Barnes & Noble
need to take notice and strengthen their fleets, or face losing market share.
Firing Line: I believe this battle may end like that historic day during the Civil War, with both giants leaving the battle bruised but not defeated. Watching from the shore, one can only marvel at the awesome power of two giants engaged in a spirited battle, trading glancing blows. But from the shore, it's easier to notice the storm on the horizon, which, if it arrives, could damage both warriors.
-- Written by Matthew "Whiz" Buckley in Chicago.
Matthew "Whiz" Buckley is the chief strategy officer of
, a provider of options education for options traders of all levels. He is also the managing partner of
, a business-consulting firm specializing in leadership development, risk management and strategic planning for Fortune 500 companies and related organizations. Buckley flew the F-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy. He's a graduate of TOPGUN, has close to 400 carrier landings and flew 44 combat sorties over Iraq. After leaving active duty, he worked as managing director of strategy at a Wall Street firm and CEO of a financial media company. He is an internationally recognized speaker and combined his experiences in the military and corporate America in his book "From Sea Level to C Level."