Editors' pick: Originally published March 7.
A few years ago, Uber was primarily a company you thought of to take you from point A to point B, while Amazon(AMZN) - Get Report was the online marketplace that sent you orders in a few days or longer using third-party carriers.
But as time has passed, both of those companies have broadened beyond their core products and services in significant ways, bringing the seemingly unrelated pair nearer to a collision.
Uber has expanded beyond ridesharing into delivering food and products from local stores and restaurants, as well as larger retailers. And Amazon launched one-hour delivery through Prime Now, building its own network of contract drivers through a program known as Amazon Flex.
Each company started from very different places, but now Uber and Amazon are starting to find themselves on the same battlefield.
"It's an interesting story because I don't think anyone's thinking Amazon's next competitor is Uber," said Scot Wingo, executive chairman of Channeladvisor, which helps merchants sell on marketplaces like Amazon.
It may not be an immediate collision, explained Wingo, but it's coming.
Looking at Flex in particular, as Amazon hires independent drivers to deliver packages, it builds up a network not dissimilar from Uber's.
"We have been building the infrastructure to support superfast delivery and these are innovations we've been working on for quite some time," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Cheeseman told TheStreet. "Now, through Amazon Flex, we are bringing that same technology to individuals who want to be their own boss while delivering for Amazon."
Sounds familiar, especially when you consider Uber's UberRush and UberEats services have couriers delivering food and products to consumers on their own schedule, working when they choose to work.
"Our mission is to make getting anything in your city more convenient, affordable, and reliable than picking it up yourself," an Uber spokesperson told TheStreet. "We saw early on that there was potential to utilize our extensive network to move both people and packages."
For both Uber and Amazon, it's about leveraging their current assets for further growth.
"Uber has an incredible amount of data because of its core business--traffic patterns, idle time," said Dan Levine, the managing partner at venture capital firm Tenfore Holdings. "A retailer like Amazon starts from a point of incredible knowledge around the things I like to buy because they are the direct sellers of those things."
What can Uber and Amazon do with that data? Expand into new businesses. "The outcome may be the same but they're each taking a different path to add to the data that may be less present in their network from where they're starting," Levine added.
So now we're at a point where both Uber and Amazon are fighting to attract customers who want instant delivery, retailers who want to deliver their products quickly and drivers who want to deliver products on their own schedule.
This situation leaves Amazon with the upper hand, according to Wingo.
"In my experience Amazon often wins those collisions," he said, citing a favorite saying of Jeff Bezos -- "Your margin is my opportunity."
For starters, Amazon already has the infrastructure in place for two-day delivery, so transitioning to one-hour delivery is much less of a stretch compared to Uber, which may already have the drivers and the technology, but doesn't have the experience moving packages.
More importantly, though, Prime Now is a small sliver of Amazon's overall business as well as its overall proposition to Prime members, so Amazon can afford to lose money on it by covering it with earnings from elsewhere in the company, such as Amazon Web Services. While delivery isn't Uber's core product either, ridesharing won't be able to cover losses the company incurs from delivery -- at least not anytime soon.
And customers may find Prime Now more attractive since it's actually free if they're already Prime members, whereas consumers usually have to pay a delivery fee when getting something through UberRush or UberEats. Plus Prime membership includes way more than just instant delivery.
Moreover, what's to keep Amazon from taking on Uber more directly and adding ridesharing to its growing portfolio of experiments? All it would take is adding a feature to the Prime Now and Flex apps; everything else is already in place.
Amazon declined to comment on the likelihood of testing ridesharing in the future.
According to Wingo, Amazon could easily say to itself, "If we built this army of drivers and they have our app, and we have a lot of consumers that have the Amazon app, we can say hey, if you'd like a ride somewhere we have this network of drivers that could take you there."
Assuming that there are times when demand for Prime Now is low, there will be times when a network of Flex drivers are sitting idle, and it only makes sense to utilize that network to its fullest capacity by offering ridesharing, too.
To be fair, Flex is only operating in a few U.S. cities for now, whereas Uber has its driver network already set up around the world, so it would take Amazon some time to catch up to Uber in terms of ridesharing. But where Flex does exist, Amazon will be able to pay drivers a lot more than Uber does.
"It'll be 15% cheaper than Uber," Wingo said. "You're able to do that because drivers are making [about] $20 an hour off packages. People moving is incremental."