"Amazon can't own the entire e-commerce space," said Jeff Crowe, a partner at Norwest Venture Partners. "If you come at it with a fundamentally different value proposition, there are enough people that will respond to it positively."
Crowe was referring specifically to Jet.com, perhaps the boldest effort yet to take on Amazon. Norwest is among the firms that have poured more than half a billion dollars into Hoboken, New Jersey-based Jet, which launched last year. The aim is to sell everything that Amazon can at the lowest possible prices, using algorithms to help surface deals and control costs.
Jet founder Marc Lore previously sold Quidsi (parent of Diapers.com) to Amazon for about $545 million. Crowe called Jet a "swing-for-the-fences idea" and said Lore and his team are best positioned to chase it.
Most of the go-big ideas in e-commerce in recent years have failed. Flash sale site Fab.com sold for $15 million in 2015 after once being valued at $1 billion. Two years earlier, ShoeDazzle sold to JustFab for a small sum after raising $66 million.
Hudson's Bay announced in January that it's buying Gilt for $250 million, a quarter of the price investors once ascribed to the flash service.
When Zulily, the e-retailer focused on women and kids, sold to home shopping network QVC last year for $2.4 billion, it was one of the biggest e-commerce acquisitions ever. But it was below Zulily's IPO price from 2013 and came after a dramatic stock slide.