Mercato raises $26M Series A to help smaller grocers compete online

The pandemic upended the way people shop for their everyday needs, including groceries. Online grocery sales in the U.S. are expected to reach 21.5% of the total grocery sales by 2025, after leaping from 3.4% pre-pandemic to 10.2% as of 2020. One business riding this wave is Mercato, an online grocery platform that helps smaller grocers and speciality food stores get online quickly. After helping grow its merchant sales by 1,300% in 2020, Mercato has now closed on $26 million in Series A funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round was led by Velvet Sea Ventures with participation from Team Europe, the investing arm of Lukasz Gadowski, co-founder of Delivery Hero. Seed investors Greycroft and Loeb.nyc also returned for the new round Gadowski and Mike Lazerow of Velvet Sea Ventures have also now joined Mercato’s board.

Mercato itself was founded in 2015 by Bobby Brannigan, who had grown up helping at his family’s grocery store in Brooklyn. But instead of taking over the business, as his Dad had hoped, Brannigan left for college and eventually went on to bootstrap a college textbook marketplace, Valore Books, to $100 million in sales. After selling the business, he returned his focus to the family’s store and found that everything was still operating the way it had been decades ago.

Image Credits: Bobby Brannigan of Mercato

“He had a very basic website, no e-commerce, no social media, and no point-of-sale system,” explains Brannigan. “I said, ‘I’m going to build what you need.’ This was my opportunity to help my dad in an area that I knew about,” he adds.

Brannigan recruited some engineers from his last company to help him build the software systems to modernize his dad’s store, including Mercato’s co-founders Dave Bateman, Michael Mason, and Matthew Alarie. But the team soon realized could do more than help just Brannigan’s dad — they could also help the 40,000 independent grocery stores just like him better compete with the Amazon’s of the world.

The result was Mercato, a platform-as-a-service that makes it easier for smaller grocers and speciality food shops to go online to offer their inventory for pickup or delivery, without having to partner with a grocery delivery service like Instacart, AmazonFresh or Shipt.

The solution today includes an e-commerce website and data analytics platform that helps stores understand what their customers are looking for, where customers are located, how to price their products, and other insights that help them to better run their store. And Mercato is now working on adding on a supply platform to help the stores buy inventory through their system, Brannigan notes.

“Basically, the vision of it is to give them the tech, the systems, and the platform they need to be successful in this day and age,” notes Brannigan.

He likens Mercato as a sort of “Shopify for groceries,” as it gives stores their own page on Mercato where they can reach customers. When the customer visits Mercato on the web or via its app, they can enter in their zip code to see which local stores offer online shopping. Some stores simply redirect their existing websites to their Mercato page, as they can continue to offer other basic information, like address, hours, and other details about their stores on the Mercato-provided site, while gaining access to Mercato’s over 1 million customers.

However, merchants can also opt for a white-label solution that they can plug into their own website, which uses their own branding.

The stores can further customize the experience they want to offer customers, in terms of pickup and delivery, and the time frames for both they want to commit to. If they want to ease into online grocery, for example, they can start with next-day delivery services, then speed thing up to same-day when they’re ready. They can also set limits on how many time slots they offer per hour, based on staffing levels.

Image Credits: Mercato

Unlike Instacart and others which send shoppers to stores to fill the orders, Mercato allows the merchants themselves to maintain the customer relationship by handling the orders themselves, which they can receive via email, text or even robo-phone calls.

“They’re maintaining that relationship,” says Brannigan. “Usually, it’s a lot better if it’s somebody from the store [doing the shopping] because they might know the customer; they know the kind of product they’re looking for. And if they don’t have it, they know something else they can recommend — so they’re like a really efficient recommendation engine.”

“The big difference between an Instacart shopper and the worker in the store is that the worker in the store understands that somebody is trying to put a meal on the table, and certain items could be an important ingredient,” he notes. “For the shoppers at Instacart, it’s about a time clock: how quickly can they pick an order to make the most money.”

The company contracts with both national and regional couriers to handle the delivery portion, once orders are ready.

Mercato’s system was put to test during the pandemic, when demand for online grocery skyrocketed.

This is where Mercato’s ability to rapidly onboard merchants came in handy. The company says it can take stores online in just 24 hours, as it has built out a centralized product catalog of over a million items. It then connects with the store’s point-of-sale system, and uploads and matches the store’s products to their own database. This allows Mercato to map around 95% of the store’s products in a matter of minutes, with the last bit being added manually — which helps to build out Mercato’s catalog even further. Today, Mercato can integrate with virtually all point-of-sale (POS) solutions in the grocery market, which is more than 30 different systems.

As customers shop, Mercato’s system uses machine learning to help determine if a product is likely in stock by examining movement data.

“One of the challenges in grocery is that most stores actually don’t know how many quantities they have in stock of a product,” explains Brannigan. “So we launch a store, we integrate with the POS. And with the POS we can see how quickly a product is moving in-store and online. Based on movement, we can calculate what is in stock.”

This system, he says, continues to get smarter over time, too.

“We’re certainly three to five years ahead, and we’re not going back,” says Brannigan of the COVID impacts to the online grocery business. “It’s very plentiful now in many places, in terms of e-commerce offerings. And the nature of retail businesses is competitive. So if 1% of people are online, it might not drive other people. But if you have 15% of stores online, then other stores have to get online or they won’t be able to compete,” he notes.

Mercato generates revenue both from its consumer-facing membership program, with plans that range from $96/year – $228/year, depending on distance, and from the merchants themselves, who pay a single digit percentage transaction fee on orders — a lower percentage than what restaurant delivery companies charge.

The company has now scaled its service to over 1,000 merchants across 45 U.S. states, including big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, and others.

With the additional funding, Mercato aims to expand its remotely distributed team of now 80 employees, as well as its data analytics platform, which will help merchants make better decisions that impact their business. It also plans to refresh the consumer subscription to add more benefits and perks that make it more compelling.

Mercato declined to share its valuation or revenue, but as of the start of the pandemic last year, the company had said it was reaching a billion in sales and a $700 million run rate.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #grocery-store, #lukasz-gadowski, #machine-learning, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #startups, #supermarkets, #velvet-sea-ventures

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Norway’s Kolonial rebrands as Oda, bags $265M on a $900M valuation to grow its online grocery delivery business in Europe

Food delivery startups, and specifically those focused on grocery delivery, continue to reap super-sized rounds of funding in Europe, buoyed by a year of pandemic living that has led many consumers to shift to shopping online. Today, the latest of these is coming out of Norway.

Kolonial, a startup based out of Oslo that offers same-day or next-day delivery of food, meal kits and home essentials — its aim is to provide “a weekly shop” for prices that compete against those of traditional supermarkets — has raised €223 million ($265 million) in an equity round of funding. Along with that, the company — profitable as of last year — is rebranding to Oda and plans to use the money (and new name) to expand to more markets, starting first with Finland and then Germany in 2022.

The market for online grocery ordering and delivery is gearing up to be a very crowded one, with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured by investors into the fuel tanks of a range of startups — each originating out of different geographies, each with a slightly different approach. Oda believes it has the right mix to end up at the front of the pack.

“We have found ourselves in a unique position,” CEO and co-founder Karl Munthe-Kaas said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We have built a service targeting the mass market with instant deliveries and low prices, because if you want to capture the full basket for the family, you can’t be a premium service. We’ve done that, and we’re profitable.”

And now, it will have the backing of two e-commerce heavyweights for its next steps. SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Prosus (the tech holdings of South Africa’s Naspers), are co-leading the round, with past backers Kinnevik and a strategic investor, Norwegian “soft discount” chain REMA, also participating.

Munthe-Kaas confirmed to TechCrunch in an interview that Oda is valued at €750 million ($900 million) post-money.

The funding is a big leap for Oda (the name is not officially going to come into effect until the end of this month, although the company is already describing itself with the new brand, so we’ll follow that lead). PitchBook data notes that before this round, Oda had only raised about $96 million, and its last valuation was estimated to be just $178 million in 2017.

The company has certainly come a long way. Founded in 2013 by ten friends, Kolonial originally seemed to have a more modest vision when it first started out: Kolonial in Norwegian doesn’t mean “colonial” (a connotation Munthe-Kaas nevertheless said the startup wanted to avoid, one big reason for the change), but “cornershop.” These days, Oda is focused more on competing against large supermarkets — its average order size is $120 — yet with a significantly more efficient cost base behind the scenes.

It’s also been helped by the current climate. Online grocery shopping has been growing and maturing for a while now, but the last year been a veritable hothouse in that process: Covid-19, shelter in place orders and a general desire for people to keep their distance all compelled many more consumers to try out online grocery shopping for the first time, and many have stuck with it.

“We have seen a significant inflection point with grocery over the last year with the market transitioning online, accelerated by Covid,” said Larry Illg, CEO of Prosus Food, in a statement. “Oda’s leadership and impressive growth in Norway paired with its ground-breaking technology and ambition to scale across Europe and beyond makes them an ideal partner to tackle the grocery opportunity over the coming years.”

Oda has over the years grown to become the sector leader in a category it arguably helped define in its home country. It was profitable last year on revenues of €200 million, and it currently controls some 70% of Norway’s online grocery ordering and delivery market based on its own particular approach to the model.

That model involves Oda building and controlling its own supply chains from producers to consumers (no partnerships with third y partphysical retailers), producing several of the products itself (such as baked goods) to order, and using centralized fulfillment centers to manage orders for large geographies.

“Centralized warehouses means 50 supermarkets in one location,” Munthe-Kaas said, adding that this also makes the business significantly greener, too.

Those fulfillment centers, meanwhile, are operated at “extreme efficiency”, in his words. Oda’s grocery item picking averages out at 212 units per hour — that is, the amount of items “picked” for orders in a week divided by the number of hours in a week. The next closest UPH number in the industry, Munthe-Kaas said, was Ocado in the UK at 170 UPH, and the norm, he added, was more like 100 UPH, with physical store picking (where customers select items from shelves themselves) averaging out at 70 UPH.

All of this translates to much more cost-effective operations, including more efficient ordering and stock rotation, which helps Oda make better margins on its sales overall. Munthe-Kaas declined to go into the details of how Oda manages to get such high UPH numbers — that’s competitive knowledge, he said — noting only that a lot of automation and data analytics goes into the process.

That will be music to the ears of SoftBank, which has had a complicated run in e-commerce in the last several years, backing a number of interesting juggernauts that have nonetheless found themselves unable to improve on challenging unit economics.

“Oda’s leading position in Norway is testament to the merits of its bespoke and data-driven approach in offering a personalised, holistic and reliable online grocery experience,” said Munish Varma, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We believe that Oda’s customer-centric focus, market-leading automation technology and fulfillment efficiency are a winning combination, and position Oda for success in scaling internationally for the benefit of customers and suppliers alike.”   

The big challenge for Oda going forward will be whether it can transplant its business model as it has been developed for Norway into further markets.

Oda will not only be looking for customer traction for its own business, but it will be doing so potentially against heavy competition from others also looking to expand outside their borders.

There are other online supermarket plays like Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it also raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions); and Ocado in the UK (which also has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions).

And there is also the wave of companies that are building more fleet-of-foot approaches around smaller inventories and much faster turnaround times, the idea being that this can cater both to individuals and a different way of shopping — smaller and more often — even if you are a family.

Among these so-called “q-commerce” (quick commerce) players, covering just some of the most recent funding rounds, Glovo just last week raised $528 million; Gorillas in Berlin raised $290 million; Turkey’s Getir — also rapidly expanding across Europe — picked up $300 million on a $2.6 billion valuation as Sequoia took its first bite into the European food market; and reportedly Zapp in London has also closed $100 million in funding.

Deliveroo, which went public last week, is also now delivering groceries (in partnership with Sainsbury’s) alongside its restaurant delivery service.

These, ironically, are more cornershop replacements than Oda itself (formerly called Kolonia, or “cornershop” in Norwegian), and Munthe-Kaas said he sees them as “complementary” to what Oda does.

Indeed, Munthe-Kaas remains very committed to the basic rulebook that Oda has lived by for years.

“You need to beat the physical stores on quality, selection and price and get it home delivered,” he said. “This is a margin business and the only way to optimize is to be completely relentless.”

But he also understands that this might ultimately need to be modified depending on the market. For example, while the company has not worked with other retailers in Norway — even the investment by REMA is not for distribution but for better economies of scale in procuring products that REMA and Oda will sell independently from each other — this might be a route that Oda chooses to take in other markets.

“We’re in discussions with several other retailers, wholesalers and producers,” he said. “It’s important to get sourcing terms and have upstream logistics, but there are many ways of achieving that. We are super open to making partnerships on that front, but we still think the way to win is to run the value chain.”

#ecommerce, #europe, #food, #funding, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #online-grocery, #prosus, #softbank

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China’s tech firms rush to deliver solutions for grocery shopping

Nearly all of China’s largest internet firms have established a presence in online grocery. Just this week, news arrived that Alibaba co-led the $196 million C3 funding round of Nice Tuan, the two-year-old grocery group-buying firm’s fourth round year to date.

People in China shop online for almost everything, including groceries. At first, grocery e-commerce appears to have caught on mainly among the digitally-savvy who have grown reliant on the convenience of e-commerce and don’t mind paying a bit more for delivery. Many elderly shoppers, on the other hand, still prefer visiting traditional wet markets where ingredients are generally cheaper.

Now tech companies in China are scrambling to capture grocery shoppers of all ages. A new business model that’s getting a lot of funding is that of Nice Tuan, the so-called community group buying.

In conventional grocery e-commerce, an intermediary platform like Alibaba normally connects individual shoppers to an array of merchants and offers doorstep delivery, which arrives normally within an hour in China.

A community group-buying, in comparison, relies on an army of neighborhood-based managers — often housewives looking for part-time work — to promote products amongst neighbors and tally their orders in group chats, normally through the popular WeChat messenger. The managers then place the group orders with suppliers and have the items delivered to pick-up spots in the community, such as a local convenience store.

It’s not uncommon to see piles of grocery bags at corner stores wating to be fetched these days, and the model has inspired overseas Chinese entrepreneurs to follow suit in America.

Even in China where e-commerce is ubiquitous, the majority of grocery shopping still happens offline. That’s changing quickly. The fledgling area of grocery group-buying is growing at over 100% year-over-year in 2020 and expected to reach 72 billion yuan ($11 billion) in market size, according to research firm iiMedia.

It sounds as if grocery group-buying and self-pickup is a step back in a world where doorstep convenience is the norm. But the model has its appeal. Texting orders in a group chat is in a way more accessible for the elderly, who may find Chinese e-commerce apps, often overlaid with busy buttons and tricky sales rules, unfriendly. With bulk orders, sales managers might get better bargains from suppliers. If a group-buying company is ambitious, it can always add last-mile delivery to its offering.

Chinese tech giants are clearly bullish about online grocery and diversifying their portfolios to make sure they have a skin in the game. Tencent is an investor in Xingsheng Youxuan, Nice Tuan’s major competitor. Food delivery service Meituan has its own grocery arm, offering both the traditional digital grocer as well as the WeChat-based group-buy model. E-commerce upstart Pinduoduo similarly supports grocery group purchases. Alibaba itself already operates the Hema supermarket, which operates both online and offline markets.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #food, #funding, #grocery-store, #group-buying, #meituan-dianping, #online-grocery, #pinduoduo, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

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KKR, Rakuten to acquire most of Walmart’s stake in Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu

Walmart announced today it will sell most of its shares in Seiyu, the Japanese supermarket chain it acquired 12 years ago, to KKR and Rakuten. The deal values Seiyu at about $1.6 billion and means Walmart will almost completely exit its operations in Japan.

Under the agreement, investment firm KKR will buy a 65% stake in Seiyu, while Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce company, will take a 20% stake through a newly created subsidiary called Rakuten DX. Walmart will retain a 15% stake in Seiyu.

After struggling with strong competition in Japan and low margins, Walmart reportedly considered relisting Seiyu or its holding company, Walmart Japan Holdings last year.

Rakuten is already familiar with Seiyu’s business because it formed a strategic alliance with Walmart in 2018 that included launching an online grocery delivery service in Japan. Called Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper, the online delivery service includes a dedicated fulfilment center, in addition to inventory picked up from Seiyu’s supermarkets.

After the deal, Seiyu will be part of Rakuten DX, which is intended to bring more brick-and-mortar stores online through Rakuten’s e-commerce and cashless payment channels.

Japan’s online grocery delivery market has trailed behind other countries, due in part to the reluctance of shoppers to purchase fresh food online. But the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rapid shift in consumer habits. According to a July 4 report from the Japan Times, internet sales accounted for about 5% of total grocery sales, compared to 2.5% before the pandemic.

Rivals to Rakuten include grocery delivery services run by Aeon (in partnership with Ocado), Amazon and Ito-Yokado.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #japan, #kkr, #on-demand, #online-grocery, #rakuten, #rakuten-dx, #seiyu, #tc, #walmart

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Instacart, in partnership with ALDI, will support SNAP EBT for online groceries

Instacart is making its grocery delivery and pickup services more accessible to lower-income customers by offering customers the ability to pay for groceries using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. This is the first time Instacart shoppers have been able to use government assistance programs when paying for groceries, and follows earlier moves by larger retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and others in extending SNAP EBT to online grocery.

In Instacart’s case, the option is being made available in partnership with ALDI, which will offer the ability for SNAP EBT participants to access fresh food and other staples using the online service.

When shopping, Instacart users will be able to add ALDI’s EBT SNAP-eligible items to their cart, then select how much of their benefits they want to allocate to their order before checking out.

Image Credits: Instacart

The program will launch over the new few weeks, and will first arrive at ALDI’s over 60 Georgia stores before expanding to over 570 stores across Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania in the months ahead.

Instacart says it runs its Customer and Shopper Care team from Atlanta, which one reason why it selected Georgia as the debut market — adding it was important to first support the communities where its own employees live and work.

Today, online grocery shopping is often seen as a luxury service, but that should not be the case. Often, it’s just as affordable to shop online than in-store (if using the pickup option, at least), as customers can more easily compare prices with other retailers online. For some lower-income customers, online shopping can also save time when they’re stretched between jobs and family commitments.

The pandemic has now further complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and in particular, for high-risk individuals. These customers now have to take risks with their lives and health to shop in-store, making online grocery more of a necessity.

“The introduction of Instacart’s EBT SNAP payments comes at a time when food insecurity in the U.S. has compounded as the nation continues to be impacted by COVID-19,” Instacart stated in its announcement. “According to Feeding America, due to the effects of the pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, which includes a potential 18 million children. In Georgia specifically, food insecurity impacts 12.5% of the population and disproportionately affects communities of color,” it noted.

Instacart is now one of several online retailers supporting SNAP EBT for groceries.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had been working to make online grocery more accessible to SNAP recipients through an online purchasing pilot program with support of retailers including Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite, and others. The pilot retailers  have made it possible to shop for groceries online, then pay using SNAP EBT.

ALDI and Instacart are not listed on the USDA’s website as program participants, however.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #georgia, #grocery-store, #instacart, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program

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Walmart+ launches Sept 15, offering same-day delivery, gas discounts and cashierless checkout for $98/yr

Walmart today officially unveiled its new membership service and Amazon Prime rival, which it’s calling “Walmart+.” The $98 per year service will combine free, unlimited same-day delivery on groceries and thousands of other items, with additional benefits, like fuel discounts and access to a new Scan & Go service, similar to Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, that will allow members to check out at Walmart stores without having to wait in line.

The service will be available starting on September 15, 2020 nationwide, reaching over 4,700 Walmart stores, including 2,700 stores that offer delivery. Members can choose to pay the $98 per year after a 15-day free-trial period, or they can pay $12.95 on a month-to-month basis.

At launch, the new program promises more than 160,000 items for same-day delivery with no per-delivery fee on orders totaling $35 or more. This is the same value proposition that Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” program offers today. With the launch of Walmart+, “Delivery Unlimited” members will be moved to the rebranded and expanded service.

In addition to delivery savings, the new Walmart+ membership will include fuel discounts of up to 5 cents per gallon on any fuel type at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations nationwide. Walmart+ members will enable the discounts by using the Walmart mobile app, either by scanning a QR code or entering a PIN at the pump. Further down the road, the program will expand to include Sam’s Club fuel stations as well.

Image Credits: Walmart

The Scan & Go membership perk, meanwhile, lets Walmart+ members pay without having to wait in checkout lines — a nice perk to have amid a pandemic, where time in store means time exposed to potential carriers of the novel coronavirus. Using the Walmart app, customers scan scan items as they shop, then pay for them using Walmart Pay for a touch-free checkout experience.

Walmart two years ago had tested cashierless Scan & Go technology in its stores, but killed the program due to shopper theft. Arguably, fewer people will use Scan & Go because it’s a paid service, which could help store staff better combat the earlier problems.

Image Credits: Walmart

As with “Delivery Unlimited,” the Walmart+ orders are picked by in-store staff then handed off to partners like Postmates, DoorDash, Roadie and Point Pickup for delivery. Not owning the end-to-end experience can cause issues for consumers, however — especially because a poor delivery experience can damage Walmart’s reputation, or because customer service issues can’t be always dealt with directly when a middleman is involved. Walmart has also seen partners come and go, as delivery services ended their relationship with Walmart over the costs involved.

Walmart claims its new program is not a Prime rival. But it could encourage some number of Prime members to make a switch.

“We’re not launching Walmart+ with the intent to compete with anything else. We’re launching it with the needs of customers in mind,” explained Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside.

“Of course, I hope that brings in more customers and makes them more loyal, but when you’re as big as Walmart is — and serving as many people as we are — this is about really doubling down with the customers that we have and getting more share of wallet and more share of mind,” Whiteside added.

Prime is a much more expansive program. For comparison, Prime offers tens of millions of products for two-day delivery, over 10 million for one-day delivery and over 3 million for same-day delivery on orders of $35 or more. Walmart+ is focused more specifically on same-day delivery, as Walmart.com already offers free one-day or two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more without requiring a membership fee.

Prime today also offers a huge array of other perks — like access to free music, video, audiobooks, Kindle books and more. Walmart+ does not.

Still, for many customers, the value in Prime is rooted in its promise of speedy delivery. But at the same time, Amazon has tested the limits of its customer loyalty by steadily raising Prime’s subscription price over the years to now $119 when paid annually, or $12.99 per month. Walmart+ undercuts Prime at $98 per year or $12.95 per month while largely catering to the online grocery shopper — a target market that has rapidly grown during the pandemic. Walmart recently reported the pandemic helped drive its own e-commerce sales, fueled  by online grocery, up 97% in the past quarter.

Image Credits: Walmart

Meanwhile, Amazon’s grocery strategy since its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods has yet to be streamlined. Amazon today continues to offer two different online grocery services, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, with a varying array of pickup and delivery options, potentially leading to consumer confusion.

That said, the pandemic has led to massive sales increases for Amazon and Walmart, along with other essential retailers like Target, with all involved reporting stellar earnings in recent quarters.

Walmart’s plans for a new subscription program had previously been reported and a placeholder website has also been live for some time. In August, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors on the company’s earnings call that it was readying the launch a membership program that would be centered around delivery. He noted also at the time how Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” subscription, launched last year, would serve a “great base of an offer” for the broader program, but didn’t offer a launch time frame.

Earlier reports said the service would include other perks, like access to more grocery time slots, promotional deals and eventually a Walmart+ credit card. The retailer declined to speak to its plans, only saying that Walmart+ benefits would expand over time.

“As is the case with any great membership offering, these benefits are not intended to be static. We will continue to leverage our assets and scale to bring solutions at unprecedented value, all while holding true to the everyday low prices that customers know they can always expect from Walmart,” Whiteside said. “In the future, we will be leveraging our wide-ranging strengths to add additional benefits for members in a range of both services and offerings,” she added.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #subscription, #tc, #walmart

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Pandemic helped drive Walmart e-commerce sales up 97% in second quarter

Walmart’s investments in e-commerce, including online grocery delivery and pickup, are continuing to pay off for the retailer. In the company’s Q2 earnings, released this morning, Walmart reported its U.S. e-commerce sales were up 97% — an increase attributed to more customers shopping online during the pandemic, stocking up on household supplies, and shopping for grocery items online.

Today, Walmart offers grocery pickup at 3,450 locations and same-day delivery at 2,730 stores. Since February, it has expanded time slots by 30% to help meet consumer demand.

Overall, the company also benefited in the quarter from the impact of U.S. consumers’ government stimulus checks. As those stimulus funds ran out, sales began to normalize. But Walmart’s July comparable sales still grew by more than 4%, the company noted.

Walmart’s online marketplace also got a boost from the larger e-commerce bump, with sales up by a triple-digit percentage.

In addition, Walmart’s U.S. same-store sales were up 9.3% in the retailer’s fiscal second quarter, led by strength in general merchandise and food. Walmart President and CEO, Doug McMillon, also noted the retailer saw strong sales in categories like TVs, computing devices, and connected home — sales that also have ties to the pandemic which is forcing people to spend more time at home. He also said some consumers continued to stockpile items in coronavirus hotspots, like cleaning supplies, which were still often out-of-stock. Both cleaning supplies and paper goods (e.g., TP and paper towels) led Walmart’s consumable sales in the quarter.

The overall rise in grocery orders, meanwhile, can be partially attributed to the pandemic’s impacts and not just the ease of shopping for grocery items online. As more people have been cooking meals at home instead of dining out at restaurants, their grocery orders have also increased. Walmart said both grocery pickup and delivery saw “all-time high sales volumes” in the quarter.

The pandemic has been changing how consumers shop, too, the company pointed out. Instead of regular trips to the store, consumers now shop less frequently but buy more during each trip. Combined with the shift to e-commerce, that led to a 27% increase in comparable average ticket sizes in the quarter, while comparable transactions dropped 14%.

On the earnings call, McMillon briefly confirmed Walmart’s plans to introduce a membership service, as had been previously reported. The company is said to be working on its own alternative to Amazon Prime, dubbed Walmart+. But the launch has been repeatedly delayed, Vox recently reported. According to the CEO, Walmart has been testing the delivery component to the membership service since last year with its “Delivery Unlimited” program, which McMillon referred to as “a great base of an offer” for a broader membership program.

Today, Delivery Unlimited subscribers pay either $12.95 per month or $98 per year to order groceries online from Walmart.com without a per-order fee. Walmart+, however, will reportedly include other perks, like gas discounts and special product deals. McMillon didn’t speak to the specifics of its service, saying instead that Walmart will have more to offer when it’s ready to talk about it.

Overall, Walmart beat on earnings in the quarter, with revenue of $137.74 billion, topping estimates of $135.48 billion. Earnings per share came in at $1.56 adjusted, versus the expected $1.25. Net income also rose year-over-year to $6.48 billion, or $2.27 per share, up from $3.61 billion, or $1.26.

#ecommerce, #grocery, #online-grocery, #pandemic, #shopping, #walmart

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DST Global pumps $35 million into Asian e-grocer Weee!

Coronavirus stay-home orders have sparked an unprecedented demand for grocery delivery around the world. Now investors are clamoring to bet on promising players in the field.

That includes DST Global, the investment firm helmed by Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. Most recently, it poured $35 million into Weee!, a California-based startup that delivers Asian groceries like fresh kimchi and Japanese desserts from its own warehouses to major cities across the U.S. The funding boosted the five-year-old startup’s total raise since launch to over $100 million.

Weee! declined to share its post-money valuation, but the figure likely surpasses $500 million given it’s widely known that DST Global does not generally back companies whose valuation is under $500 million.

Online grocery is a capital-intensive business with thin profit margins, so it’s unsurprising to see many contenders — in both China and the U.S. — operating in the red. Against the odds, Weee! turned profitable earlier this year and went cash-flow positive.

That means the startup was in no rush to fundraise, probably giving it more bargaining power in negotiating terms with a storied investor like DST Global, whose portfolio spans Spotify, Twitter, Airbnb, Slack, Didi, Gojek, just to name a few.

Weee! certainly matches DST Global’s investment target as a high-growth startup. In June, the company recorded 700% year-over-year growth in revenue and was on course to generate revenue in the lower hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020, it told TechCrunch at the time.

Since the U.S. begins winding down lockdowns and people return to supermarkets, some grocery delivery services have seen their revenue growth slow. Weee!, however, is currently growing 15-20% more than its March peak. Liu explained the sustained boom stems from the service’s product differentiation: Asian specialties that one can’t even find in Chinatowns.

“People don’t want to pay extra if [an online grocery] only provides convenient delivery but no product differentiation,” said Han Shen, founding partner of iFly.vc, a California-based fund that backed Weee! in its Series A round.

In addition, Weee! tries to streamline every step of its operations, from product procurement, warehouse management, staff allocation, through to door-to-door delivery. The result is zero food waste thanks to fast inventory turnover.

“There is no secret tactic that we can’t talk about, nothing more than achieving efficiency throughout the entire process,” Shen observed.

In the meantime, Weee! works to keep prices down by cultivating direct relationships with suppliers like local farms and opting for next-day delivery rather than the more costly 30-minute standard expected in China, where he grew up. Earlier this year, former chief operations officer of Netflix Tom Dillon joined the board to help beef up Weee!’s operational efficiency.

With the new proceeds, the Asian e-grocer hopes to hire new talents and expand its delivery service from eight key regions to 13-14 cities across the U.S. by the end of this year.

#asia, #dst-global, #e-grocer, #ecommerce, #food, #grocery, #online-grocery, #tc, #weee

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Missfresh racks up $495 million in funding as China’s e-grocery booms

The COVID-19 lockdown around the world introduced online grocery to many shoppers for the first time, boosting an industry that had long drawn skepticism. In China particularly, the older generations often worry about buying perishable food without scrutinizing them in person.

Still, venture investors are bullish on the future of online grocery. One beneficiary is China’s Missfresh, which announced (in Chinese) Thursday a new funding round of $495 million led by a fund under state-backed China International Capital Corporation. Other investors include ICBC International Securities, Tencent, Abu Dhabi Capital Group, Tiger Global, and a fund managed by the government of Changshu county, home to Missfresh’s east China headquarters.

By placing mini-warehouses closer to customers, the six-year-old startup is able to offer 30-minute delivery to households across 16 Chinese cities.

Few players are able to compete in e-grocery, for the business requires early investment in large-scale cold chains and expensive user acquisition to make home deliveries profitable. Unsurprisingly, almost all forerunners in China’s online grocery are backed by or collaborate with an internet giant.

Missfresh is deeply integrated into Tencent’s WeChat messenger. Alibaba has its own in-house Freshhippo supermarket chain that comes with a delivery service. Restaurant delivery platform Meituan added grocery to its offering last year. Dingdong Maicai is a rare case without the backing of a major tech firm, seeking funds from venture capital institutions like Qiming Venture Partners and Gaorong Capital.

Some question how many new adaptors will stick to on-demand grocery shopping in post-lockdown life. Research suggests they may. China saw 11.6 million more daily active users of e-grocery in May compared to the same period a year before, according to research firm QuestMobile. Consumers may be hooked to the convenience, but those who see their corner stores shutter due to lost business during the lockdown don’t have a choice but to go digital.

#asia, #china, #e-grocery, #ecommerce, #grocery-store, #meituan-dianping, #missfresh, #online-grocery, #qiming-venture-partners, #tiger-global

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From farm to phone: A paradigm shift in grocery

In the blink of an eye, millennials, moms and grandparents alike have abandoned the decades-old practice of wandering dusty grocery aisles for the convenient and novel use of online grocery. While Instacart, Amazon Fresh and others have been offering an alternative to brick-and-mortar grocery for years, it is the pandemic that has classified them as essential businesses and more than ever afforded them a clear competitive advantage.

But these past couple months have seen not only drastic changes in consumer behavior, but also fundamental shifts in the business models adopted by grocers worldwide. These shifts are not temporary — indeed, they are here to stay, corona-catalyzed and permanent.

Fulfillment innovation can drive efficiency and cost savings

For the consumer, online grocery generally starts and ends the same way: They place their order on an app or website, and hours later it shows up at their door. But the ways those orders are being fulfilled run the gamut.

The most widely known approach comes from Instacart, which relies on hundreds of thousands of human shoppers fulfilling customers’ online grocery orders by shopping side-by-side with regular brick-and-mortar customers. The model clearly works for Instacart, which is valued at nearly $14 billion after its latest raise.

However, this model is far from ideal. Even pre-COVID, shoppers were known to crowd out regular customers, not to mention introduce high delivery costs and the element of human error to the fulfillment process.

One obvious solution has become the central fulfillment center, or CFC. CFCs are large, standalone warehouses — often serving distinct geographies — that can supply both brick-and-mortar stores and online grocery deliveries. As order volumes rise and consumers demand faster and faster delivery times, innovation has already been infused into the CFC model.

Some grocers, notably Kroger, believe that introducing robotic automation into CFCs via solutions such as Ocado can create economies of scale for fulfillment. These CFCs deploy fulfillment robots, controlled by air-traffic control tech, that run along a grid system and move goods via categorized crates. Kroger is continuing its investment in the model, recently announcing three new Ocado-automated CFCs in the West, Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States. The smallest location is over 150,000 square feet.

While Kroger remains uniquely attached to the CFC model, Albertsons/Safeway, Walmart and many others prefer the microfulfillment center (MFC). MFCs, typically far smaller in size (think ~10,000 square feet), are automated warehouses carved out of the back of existing stores that drive faster fulfillment times in a smaller geographic area, allowing chain stores to use their numerous geographic locations to act as effective fulfillment/delivery hubs for e-grocery coverage.

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US online grocery sales hit record $7.2 billion in June

Despite the slow reopening of the U.S. economy over the past several weeks, online grocery shopping is continuing to reach ever-higher numbers as Americans seem to be in no rush to return to the store. According to new research released today by Brick Meets Click and Mercatus, U.S. online grocery sales hit a record $7.2 billion in June, up 9% over May, as 45.6 million households turned to online grocery pickup and delivery services for a larger portion of their grocery needs.

This figure is higher than the $4 billion seen in March 2020, when the U.S. first went under coronavirus lockdowns. Since then, online grocery sales have been growing quickly — jumping to $5.3 billion in April, then $6.6 billion in May, as more consumers shifted their shopping to online services, grocery included.

The customer base for online grocery also grew from 39.5 million monthly actives in March to now 45.6 million as of June, the report found.

Remarkably, only 16.1 million customers were using online grocery as of August 2019, totalling then just $1.2 million in sales.

The growth isn’t just due to a large influx of new customers to online grocery, but also due to more frequent orders. Customers may be ordering from online services not only for their large “stocking up” trips, but also for those smaller grocery runs they would often do in between — to grab ingredients for their weekly recipes or to replace the more quickly depleted items, like milk, bread and other staples, perhaps.

According to the new research, order frequency ticked up from 1.7 orders per month for active households in May to 1.9 orders in June, demonstrating this increase.

In addition, more retailers, including independents, have added capacity for online order fulfillment amid the coronavirus pandemic to meet consumers’ changing needs. This has also resulted in an increase in sales as more customers are able to shop online and get a timeslot for delivery or pickup.

Walmart Grocery in April even began pilot testing a way to offer 2-hour “Express” grocery delivery service to customers who were willing to pay an upcharge. The company said this was a direct result of its newly added capacity aimed at serving its online grocery customer base. Instacart, meanwhile, added new features in April aimed at opening more delivery windows. And many retailers — including Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, and Shipt, among others — have been hiring to help address the growing number of online orders.

When asked about their increased usage of online grocery in June, consumers reported fears of contracting coronavirus as their main concern, the report said. Specifically, 44% of households claimed they had “high levels” of concern about someone in their home being infected, up 2 percentage points from the prior month. This increase was also almost entirely driven by the 9% increase among shoppers in the over-60 age segment.

But on the downside, the increased choice in online grocery providers has made it more difficult for services to attract repeat usage, the data indicates. As of June, the likelihood of a shopper to use a specific online grocery service again within the next 30 days now sits at 57%. While this figure did grow by 1 percentage point since May, it’s still far below the pre-COVID 74% repeat rate seen back in August 2019. 

General interest in online grocery was also growing. Among both active online grocery shoppers and those not active, 32% said they were either “extremely” or “very likely” to use a service in the next 90 days — up 2 percentage points from May. The interest, not surprisingly, was strongest in households which had used a online grocery service in June, with 57% showing strong interest, compared with only 17% of the non-active households.

The data for the research was sourced from 1,781 U.S. adults in June (6/24-6/25), with responses weighted by age to reflect the national population of U.S. adults. The firms’ prior surveys also used a similar methodology, timing and sampling.

“Even though some retailers have seen sales decline within their respective business, the new reality of increased capacity across the market – and related greater choice (or options) for shoppers – means that all grocery retailers will need to accelerate their efforts to make shopping online even more seamless to thrive going forward,” said David Bishop, partner and research lead, Brick Meets Click, in a statement.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #grocery, #online-grocery, #shopping

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Walmart’s Sam’s Club launches curbside pickup nationwide

Walmart’s online grocery business has been a significant contributor to its growing e-commerce sales, particularly now amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now the retailer is expanding access to curbside pickup at its warehouse club chain, Sam’s Club. Today, Sam’s Club announced the nationwide launch of curbside pickup, bringing the service to all its 597 clubs across the U.S.

The retailer had been piloting curbside pickup at 16 club locations before today’s launch, and saw positive results. With the pandemic sending more shoppers online, Sam’s Club has since expedited the rollout to all locations, where it’s free for Plus-level members and above.

To use the service, Sam’s Club members can either order online or via the Sam’s Club mobile app by looking for products marked as “Pick up in Club.” At checkout, they’ll then be able to select a pickup time. Same-day pickup will be one of the options, the retailer says. Similar to how curbside works at parent company Walmart, Sam’s Club shoppers will park in one of the designated spots when they arrive at the store and a Sam’s Club employee will load the items into the customer’s car.

Store associates, meanwhile, use custom-built technology like the Quick Pick app for employees, which is used to pick and dispense orders.

Online pickup orders can be scheduled from 7 AM to 9 PM, Monday through Saturday, and 10 AM to 5 PM on Sundays, the retailer says.

While the service is free for Plus members, it will also be offered to non-Plus members for a limited time. However, they will have more limited time slots available: 10 AM to 8 PM, Monday to Saturday, and 10 AM to 5 PM on Sundays.

“While free Curbside Pickup is a new Plus member benefit, we recognize all of our members are looking for contact-free shopping options as part of the current environment,” said Lance de la Rosa, Chief Operating Officer, Sam’s Club, in a statement about the launch. “Because of that, we are going to temporarily make the service available for every member and do what we can to help them get the products they need, when and how they want them.”

Of course, the company’s long-term plan is to get these free members to upgrade, while also taking away more business from online grocery rivals, including Amazon, Instacart and Target’s Shipt.

Even ahead of the pandemic, Walmart had been surging ahead of Amazon as consumers’ preferred online grocery provider. It’s also now reportedly looking to rebrand its unlimited online grocery delivery service as Walmart+. Combined with Sam’s Club’s new option for curbside, the retailer will have a number of ways for consumers to shop from a Walmart-owned store.

 

#curbside-pickup, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-grocery, #sams-club, #walmart

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What grocery startup Weee! learned from China’s tech giants

When Larry Liu moved to the U.S. in 2003, one of the first challenges he experienced was the lack of Chinese ingredients available in local groceries. A native of Hubei, a Chinese province famous for its freshwater fish and lotus-inspired dishes, Liu got by with a limited supply found at local Asian groceries in the Bay Area.

His yearning for home food eventually prompted him to quit a stable financial management role at microcontroller company Atmel and go on to launch Weee!, an online market selling Asian produce, snacks and skincare products.

Like other players in grocery e-commerce, the five-year-old startup has seen exponential growth since the coronavirus outbreak as millions are confined to cooking and eating at home. Nearly a quarter of Americans purchased groceries online to avoid offline shopping during the pandemic, according to Statista data. Online grocery giants Instacart and Walmart Grocery boomed, both hitting record downloads.

In a Zoom call with TechCrunch, Liu, who’s now chief executive of Weee!, said that COVID-19 played a “very important role” in his company’s recent growth, and paved its way to profitability.

“It happened a lot faster than we expected, but we were growing rapidly with even more ambitious plans for expansion prior to COVID-19,” he said. “People are buying more because restaurants are closed. Many are first-time users of grocery delivery.”

The startup’s revenue is up 700% year-over-year and is estimated to generate an annual revenue in the lower hundreds of millions of dollars.

Online grocery, the WeChat way

#asia, #china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #food, #foodtech, #grocery-delivery, #grocery-store, #instacart, #larry-liu, #market-analysis, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #pinduoduo, #startups, #walmart, #weee

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Amazon expands use of SNAP benefits for online grocery to 11 more states

Amazon customers in nearly a dozen more U.S. states are now able to use their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to purchase groceries online, the retailer announced on Thursday. The news represents a significant expansion of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program introduced in 2019 that aimed to open up online grocery shopping to those on public assistance. This program is even more critical now, as in-store shopping puts consumers at risk of contracting the deadly novel coronavirus. 

To date, participating retailers in the USDA pilot program have included Walmart, Amazon, ShopRite, and other smaller chains.

Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that the 11 new states that now support using SNAP for online grocery, include those that were added starting last week through today, Thursday, May 28.

The initial expansion of the pilot added New Mexico, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, which all became active last week. On Tuesday of this week, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, and New Jersey rolled out. And today, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia were added as well.

With these new additions, Amazon customers on public assistance can shop online for groceries across a total of 25 U.S. states plus Washington D.C. At checkout, they can pay for groceries using their SNAP EBT.

Including the new states, Amazon now offers the use of SNAP EBT for online grocery in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

However, Amazon is not the only retailer offering online grocery for SNAP EBT customers in these 25 states.

According to the USDA’s website, SNAP users can now order their groceries online through either Amazon or Walmart in these markets.

The site also indicates that Amazon is the only retailer supporting the District of Columbia at present. In addition, ShopRite supports the use of SNAP for online groceries in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. And Wright’s Markets is participating in the pilot program in Alabama.

The USDA’s website indicates several more states are now in the planning phase so they can add online purchasing as a shopping option soon. These include Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

As part of Amazon’s participation in the USDA program, it not only enabled the use of SNAP EBT as a payment method, it also made its Amazon Fresh service available to SNAP recipients in states where Fresh is available without requiring a Prime membership. And it offered free shipping on both Amazon Fresh and Amazon Pantry orders.

At launch, Amazon had said the USDA pilot program would “dramatically increase access to food for more remote customers.”

However, in the coronavirus era, access to online grocery can be a life-saving measure for some.

The pandemic has complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and for high-risk individuals on SNAP in particular. These consumers now have to risk getting COVID-19 every time they out for groceries themselves. And as more workers become unemployed due to the economic impacts from the pandemic, more people are joining public assistance programs like SNAP. 

In light of the pandemic, the USDA said it would fast-track any state that wanted to join the pilot. California, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia, D.C., North Carolina, and Vermont, were just approved in April, for example. In May, the USDA approved Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

In under 6 weeks, the USDA has expanded access to the program to a total of 36 states plus D.C., it say, though many are not yet live. When they launch, however, online purchasing for groceries will be available to more than 90% of SNAP participants, the USDA has noted.

 

#amazon, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #e-commerce, #ebt, #ecommerce, #grocery, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #public-assistance, #shopping

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Amazon puts new online grocery shoppers on a waitlist

Amazon is putting new online grocery customers on a waitlist due to rising demand for its grocery pickup and delivery services amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The retailer on Monday announced it will ask new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers to sign up for a waitlist if they’re interested in either service, with some number of waitlisted customers invited to shop every week as Amazon increases its capacity for these online orders.

The company also said it will adjust store hours for some of its Whole Foods locations in order to focus its staff’s attention online on fulfilling online grocery orders during this time. One of its Whole Foods stores, located in Woodland Hills, California, is also now being used temporarily as an online-only store, meaning it will be closed to foot traffic.

Amazon has been working to address increasing consumer demand for online grocery in several ways since the health crisis began. It expanded online grocery pickup from 80 stores to over 150 in the last several weeks, and is continuing to grow that service’s footprint. It has also been releasing delivery windows throughout the day to make it easier for customers to see their options from both the Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market homepages. And it’s been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand online access to SNAP (commonly known as food stamps) in states including Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington, with plans for further expansions.

This rise in demand for online grocery is not unique to Amazon, however.

As now millions of Americans are being asked to stay home amid the COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve turned to online grocery providers as a safer alternative to shopping in stores. Last week, for example, grocery delivery service Instacart rolled out several new features aimed at opening up more delivery windows as demand reached record levels. Meanwhile, Walmart’s Grocery app saw its highest-ever number of downloads to date, boosting its app’s ranking even higher than Amazon’s for a time. 

This record growth has strained these businesses, which have even seen some workers walking off the job in protest at both Instacart and Shipt. But their ability to get their demands heard has been more difficult as there are now many unemployed ready to sign up to work.

Amazon in March announced it planned to hire at least 100,000 more people to help it meet its growing customer demand, including for grocery delivery, and would invest over $350 million to support employees and partners during the COVID-19 crisis. The new hires will help Amazon to more quickly receive inventory, restock and deliver products to customers, it said, while also increasing the delivery window availability.

Today, Amazon announced its original 100,000 jobs pledge has been filled with those new employees now working at sites across the U.S. The retailer today says it’s creating an additional 75,000 jobs as demand continues to grow. The company noted, too, that anyone is welcome to apply — including those who lost their jobs in industries like hospitality, restaurants, and travel — not just those who have retail or warehouse experience.

In addition, Amazon said its original estimate of $350 million it planned to spend to increase wages will likely now be over $500 million.

#amazon, #amazon-fresh, #ecommerce, #grocery-delivery, #online-grocery, #whole-foods

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