Indicator Favs: Let's Get Ready To Retail : The Indicator from Planet Money This week we're picking our favorite Indicators and adding a little behind the scenes peek. Today, the first time Stacey and Cardiff realized they share a taste for the bizarre in podcasting.
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Indicator Favs: Let's Get Ready to Retail

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Indicator Favs: Let's Get Ready To Retail

Indicator Favs: Let's Get Ready to Retail

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Last week. Cardiff Garcia recorded his final episodes as co-host of THE INDICATOR. But before he packed up his mic and his cables, he and Stacey picked out five favorite indicators that shaped the show. We will be listening back all week. Today, the episode where they realized the show might actually work.

CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. It's THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Cardiff Garcia.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Cardiff, you and I started this show, THE INDICATOR, just over three years ago.

GARCIA: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: And you are leaving us to start your own venture.

GARCIA: I am. And before I do go, Stacey, you and I and THE INDICATOR team wanted to set aside a week to play our favorite episodes from the last three years and even give a little behind-the-scenes peek at how THE INDICATOR's made.

VANEK SMITH: And, Cardiff, you know, when we were starting out, when we started THE INDICATOR, it was such a ragtag operation. We had one producer. There were just three of us and, like, an infinity number of calendar days to fill.

GARCIA: Day after day after day. And the show launched two weeks after I started at NPR.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) I know.

GARCIA: So we had two weeks to figure out what the show was going to be, you know, the style and the length and everything else.

VANEK SMITH: And also, Cardiff, like, you and I didn't really know each other that well.

GARCIA: Right.

VANEK SMITH: You know, you came on, and I was like, whoa. I thought, you know, you're just, like, this really serious, really knowledgeable Financial Times journalist. And I was coming from Planet Money, which, you know, was sort of very stunt-y (ph). We were always doing this crazy stuff like buying oil and everything.

GARCIA: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: And...

GARCIA: But I was like, wait a minute. This person knows how to do, like, all this amazing storytelling. And she knows how to, like, voice things behind the mic. Like, I was so impressed, and it was intimidating for me, too.

VANEK SMITH: Aww (ph). I didn't know any of this, though. And so this piece that we're about to play - this was actually kind of a big watershed moment on THE INDICATOR. I had this, like, nutty idea for how to make the episode. And I kept, like, being like, OK, I'm going to go talk to Cardiff about this and ask him what he thinks. But I couldn't do it. I was, like, too nervous and ashamed and, like, intimidated by you. So I said nothing and just decided to, like, ambush you. So I just, like, tapped you on the shoulder, and we went into the studio. And I literally just handed you this piece of paper. I just remember thinking, this guy is going to think I am such a yahoo. It's kind of like, quit this job before we've even started.

GARCIA: You were wrong. I loved that you were such a yahoo. It was awesome because I was one, too.

VANEK SMITH: I was so wrong. I mean, at the end of recording this episode, I remember thinking, like, oh, my gosh. This show is going to work. This guy is the best. And for this reason, this remains one of my very favorite episodes. It originally aired, by the way, on March 8, 2018. It was just weeks after the show had started.

GARCIA: And it was originally called - and this will make sense when you hear it - Let's Get Ready to Retail.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

GARCIA: Quick heads up before we start the show - the data you hear in this piece is a few years out of date.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

VANEK SMITH: There is an economic death match going on right now in the U.S. It involves two of the biggest, most successful companies on the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BUFFER: Ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble.

VANEK SMITH: Today's indicator is $3.6 trillion. That is the amount of money people in the U.S. are expected to spend this year on so-called physical goods, basically just stuff - clothes, alarm clocks, computers, saute pants, frozen pizzas, everything. That is according to Forrester Research. So consumers are going to spend around $3.6 trillion on all of that stuff, and these two companies are fighting over those dollars.

SUCHARITA KODALI: It's sort of a zero-sum game. If one company gains, the other is going to lose.

VANEK SMITH: This is Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research.

KODALI: It is being called King Kong versus Godzilla.

GARCIA: King Kong versus Godzilla.

VANEK SMITH: I love it.

GARCIA: But what we're actually talking about is Amazon versus Walmart. This fight has been going on for a while, but lately the nature of the fight itself seems to be changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VANEK SMITH: In this corner, with a half-trillion dollars worth of sales every year and more than 5,000 stores in the U.S., the undisputed retail champion of the world, Walmart.

GARCIA: Walmart is huge. It dominates retail in this country. And for all the online buying happening right now, almost all of retail in the U.S. still happens in brick and mortar stores. And Walmart has a lot of those. A hundred and forty million people go into Walmart stores every week.

KODALI: There are more people that go to a Walmart store every week than watch the Super Bowl.

VANEK SMITH: For decades, nobody could even dream of challenging Walmart. Then, of course, a competitor emerged, a very different kind of competitor.

GARCIA: And in this corner, weighing in at $177 billion in annual sales, it floats like a crappy civilian drone you just ordered, and it stings like a browser history you accidentally left open.

VANEK SMITH: Amazon.

GARCIA: Amazon.

VANEK SMITH: Amazon does not have thousands of stores, no Super Bowl foot traffic. But it does have a secret weapon, says Sucharita.

KODALI: Amazon Prime.

VANEK SMITH: Sucharita says Amazon Prime is kind of retail genius. It offers two-day shipping, all of these free movies, TV shows, books, discounts. There's Alexa now. She says Amazon Prime offers legitimately good deals, deals that suck people in. And then those people start spending tons and tons of time and money on Amazon. Half of U.S. households are Amazon Prime members.

GARCIA: And Amazon's customers are young. Their average age is 37. They're also pretty wealthy, at least relatively, and they're pretty tech-savvy. Walmart's customers are different. They average about 50, and they're middle- to lower-income. A lot of their sales also come from food stamps.

VANEK SMITH: And now Amazon and Walmart are going after each other's customers. Amazon's going after older, lower-income people, and Walmart is going after younger, wealthier types. And things have started really heating up.

GARCIA: Here now is a play-by-play of this round.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VANEK SMITH: Amazon threw a big punch when it bought Whole Foods to get into the grocery business.

GARCIA: Walmart offered free two-day shipping on its website.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Whoa.

VANEK SMITH: Amazon countered, started letting people pay with cash and offered discount Prime memberships to lower-income shoppers.

GARCIA: Walmart left uppercut, right cross combination, bought jet.com, an online retailing startup.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VANEK SMITH: For a while now, it seems like Amazon and Walmart were just kind of trading punches and duking it out, but recently something changed. Walmart released its quarterly earnings, and they showed a lot of growth but not enough growth.

KODALI: It delivered better numbers than it's delivered in a long time, but the challenge is that Amazon's growing so much faster.

GARCIA: Walmart's online sales grew 23% in the last three months of 2017. That is huge. But in that same period of time, Amazon's sales grew by 38%, and Walmart investors understandably kind of freaked out. They started selling off Walmart stock, and they've kept selling it.

VANEK SMITH: In the last two weeks, Walmart's stock price has dropped about 15%. Sucharita says there's been this shift in investors' minds. Walmart is starting to be seen as this outdated old-timer.

GARCIA: And there's something to point out here in the numbers, too, which is that even though Walmart's actual sales are more than two and a half times higher than Amazon's, Amazon as a company is more than twice as valuable in the stock market. And that's because shareholders see more potential in Amazon. They don't see a Walmart versus Amazon fight at all. It's more like Walmart versus Amazon and Amazon versus everyone for everything.

VANEK SMITH: Now, obviously, there are risks to this business plan. Expanding so fast into so many different businesses is difficult and expensive, says Sucharita. Amazon is also taking on companies that are a lot more focused, and it could end up scattering its resources too much. But she says Amazon has been pulling it off so far. For Amazon, the fight with Walmart is just not the main event. Its eyes are on a much bigger prize - total world domination. Can that be our indicator today, Cardiff - total world domination?

This rerun was produced by Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi and originally by Darius Rafieyan. It was edited by Jolie Myers and is a production of NPR.

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