Retail

Overstock.com’s Different Vision

Overstock.com has been, through out its history, a company with a genuine ability to surprise.  An e-commerce player of another kind – known for its low prices, an experimental nature and a fondness for out-of-the-box ideas (notably bitcoin), Overstock is also one of the few businesses able to work observers into a rather frothy disagreement.

Cheerleaders point to its stronger-than-expected earnings over the last two quarters, a move to diversify its business offerings, particularly around bitcoin and its attempt to build what its CEO calls bitcoin Wall Street.  They also note that Overstock is a smart long-term play, even if it won’t “overtake Amazon anytime soon.” Particularly encouraging, Overstock is working with regulators to use their blockchain-based tech to patch what CEO Patrick Byrne called “mischief on Wall Street,” like naked short-selling.

“It seems that it’s only a question of time when one of these disruptive technologies is going to pop and change Wall Street forever. This is called the ‘Jump Point’ by social media experts, or ‘going viral.’ They’re in the right position, it seems only a matter of time.”

That is the booster take.  The skeptics have a different opinion, however: Overstock has been called a horrible long-term investment. Those earnings numbers, they argue, aren’t as strong as sold, arguing that top and bottom line growth has been slow over the last few two quarters and that Overstock’s customer acquisition costs are too high. For instance, while sales increased by less than ten percent in both quarters, Overstock’s cost per customer increased by over 25 percent. And one analyst’s innovative new direction is another’s fatal diversion – “the company is still saddled with bizarre and unnecessary side expenses,” noted one analyst.

But Overstock’s CEO remains optimistic about the firm’s future – and not just because he thinks that bitcoin will transform Wall Street (though that is an outcome he very much favors as a “general lover of freedom.”)

“We’re going international in our retail business,” Byrne noted in a recent interview. “We’re also adding to our offering on the site – like a car tab.  Going forward, click the tab and you can search a catalog of 4 million cars.”

Overstock, he noted, is also making a series of internal improvement to the site’s software to “make it run smarter” and better deliver to customers the experience they are hoping to have.

And, yes, the firm’s dedication to bitcoin remains largely unchanged – though it is often reviewed as a quirky outgrowth of Byrne’s libertarianism.

“I am supportive of the idea of money that can’t be created with the stroke of a legislators pen. [Bitcoin] might be even better than gold – because you can beam it across the galaxy. It is space cash, as South Park says.”

Overstock continues to take bitcoin as a payment method, though about 90 percent of what it takes in is converted back into cash: “We have to pay our suppliers” Byrne notes.

Overstock employees can also chose to take all, some, or none of their bonus in bitcoin, if they chose.

Because choice at Overstock.com is, and probably always will be, the overriding consideration. Whether those choices come in the form of bitcoin, cars, or whatever else in on the marketplace.

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