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The Great Amazon-Walmart Showdown Is Coming, Says Tech CEO

PayPal cofounder and CEO of Affirm Max Levchin told BuzzFeed News that he is not "too worried" about Amazon becoming a monopoly, given the competition from Walmart and smaller retailers.

Posted on September 27, 2017, at 6:11 p.m. ET

Getty Images/Araya Diaz

As retailers scramble to stave off competition from Amazon, one boldface name from Silicon Valley has yet to be fazed by the company's market power and ability to undercut others on pricing and delivery.

Max Levchin, a cofounder of PayPal and former chairman of Yelp who is now CEO of the online lending startup Affirm, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Amazon has "not yet" become a monopoly because of competition from major retailers like Walmart as well as from smaller brands, which are investing in ways to attract and keep customers in the real world as well as online.

"In the presence of a much larger player, Amazon cannot appear to be a monopoly," Levchin told BuzzFeed News at the National Retail Foundation's conference in Los Angeles. "They've only designed something that naturally becomes effectively a single stop."

But, he continued, "the very fact that Walmart now has to fight Amazon to maintain its share or perhaps even for its sort of strength or dominance suggests that monopolies don't really naturally last very long if they rest — and they never rest, as a result of competition."

Levchin's newest company, Affirm, offers loans to people so they can make specific purchases and pay over time, as opposed to paying with a credit card. Affirm loans are not revolving lines of credit, but rather transaction-specific loans for small-dollar amounts that have fixed repayment dates and interest rates. A serial entrepreneur, Levchin's previous companies include Slide, a media-sharing service he sold to Google.

If all Americans used @Affirm vs credit cards, we could save people $90BILLION a year in fees alone.

@mlevchin / Twitter / Via Twitter: @mlevchin

Walmart is still much larger than Amazon in terms of net sales. During 2017 fiscal year, Walmart reported $485.9 billion in revenue and $481.3 billion in net sales. Amazon, on the other hand, reported about $136 billion in net sales in 2016.

Outside of the physical retail space, Levchin said, Amazon "is the giant among midgets" as it expands into nearly every retail category from shoes to groceries to brick-and-mortar food stores with its recent merger with Whole Foods.

But even with this growth, Levchin said he's "not too worried about Amazon's monopolistic position."

"The showdown between the two giants that's emerging is Amazon-to-Walmart," he said. "Walmart is clearly sharpening their weapons. It's not like they're like, 'Oh gosh what do we do?' I don't think Amazon is a monopoly now."

Walmart has made a number of moves over the last year to double down on its digital assets, including its recent acquisition of and revamped online marketplace.

"I think smaller businesses here are trying to compete by establishing unique experiences, focusing on lifetime value, customer interaction, [and] building features that Amazon can't do because they're focused on breadth," Levchin said. "I think that's a deterrent to a true monopoly state. But they're enormous. You can't deny that."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.