For months now, pharmacy and health benefits companies have fretted that they're the next targets of Jeff Bezos's disruption steamroller. In September Inc. acquired Whole Foods Market, a grocery chain that could theoretically add drug counters to stores; a month later came word that the e-commerce giant had secured pharmacy licenses in more than a dozen states. Analysts issued dire warnings; shares see-sawed.

The industry's paranoia is justified given Amazon's propensity to disrupt one sector after another. But it's worth remembering Bezos has been thinking about the corner drugstore for almost 20 years. No clear strategy has emerged, according to three people familiar with the company's plans, because Amazon hasn't yet figured out how to shake up a notoriously complex business. So for the time being Amazon is focused on the $200 billion market for medical supplies. The company already sells bulk packs of latex gloves, bed pads and syringes; now it's getting into medical devices and instruments. Amazon declined to address speculation regarding its potential pharmacy ambitions.

That's not to say Amazon won't eventually start selling prescription drugs. The upside is probably simply too big to ignore. Prescription drugs sales are largely intertwined with groceries and personal items like makeup and shampoo. Every day Amazon doesn't offer antibiotics and Lipitor, it surrenders shopping carts full of milk, eggs, lipstick, lotion, candy and greeting cards to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., CVS Health Corp. and the Kroger Co. Prescription drugs are a gateway to more than $1 trillion in consumer spending, making retail pharmacies as ubiquitous as gas stations, banks and fast-food joints. It's hard to imagine Amazon being anything more than a niche grocery player without pharmacies.

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