Amazon Exec Says E-tailer Open to Offline Partnerships

While Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) has maintained its official silence on a rumored partnership with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), a top Amazon executive said Wednesday the e-tailer is interested in linking with brick-and-mortar stores.

Amazon chief financial officer Warren Jenson reportedly told analysts gathered at the Merrill Lynch U.S. Internet Conference in New York that Amazon would like to duplicate the success it has had with its Toys ‘R’ Us (NYSE: TOY) alliance.

“We’ll talk with anyone,” Jenson said at the conference, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We have an asset that is not easily replicated.”

Jenson’s acknowledgement that the company is open to partnerships with retailers came several days after the Sunday Times of London reported that Amazon and Wal-Mart were engaged in high-level strategic talks.

Speculation is that Wal-Mart would provide Amazon with a cash infusion and a store presence, while Amazon would handle the e-tail fulfillment for Wal-Mart, which has struggled to find solid footing online.

Other media outlets subsequently reported that the talks were “philosophical” in nature and that no deal is imminent.

Although Amazon stock has enjoyed a brief run-up on the rumors, the news has not helped Amazon avoid negative reports from analysts, several of whom downgraded the stock this week.

Silent Spring

Morningstar.com analyst David Kathman told the E-Commerce Times that Amazon is wise to “keep its options open” by not commenting on the deal.

“A cash infusion, combined with the credibility of Wal-Mart, would have done a lot to get Amazon through the liquidity crisis that many people are seeing for them in the next six to nine months, as their working capital shrinks,” Kathman said. “The Toys ‘R’ Us partnership has been pretty successful for Amazon, and I’m sure they’d like to do more deals like that.”

However, Kathman noted that Toys ‘R’ Us and Wal-Mart have become fierce competitors, with Wal-Mart recently taking over the title of No. 1 toy seller in the U.S.

“That throws a wrench into any potential Wal-Mart deal,” Kathman said.

Low Down on Downloads

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Amazon announced the formation of the Amazon Worldwide Digital Group, and also said that it would partner with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Random House publishing on a new digital book imprint called AtRandom.com Books.

In addition to that partnership, the Digital Group will oversee all of Amazon’s downloadable product sales, including a renewed push into e-books and a wider offering of digital music.

The Digital Group will also be responsible for Amazon’s partnership with digital photography store oFoto and for managing the e-tailer’s new downloadable software store, which was launched in February.

Jeff Blackburn was named general manager of the Digital Group.

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