Walmart is buying JoyRun assets to add ‘peer-to-peer’ product delivery

The last time we wrote about JoyRun, it was raising $10 million. Today, the Bay Area startup has some very different news to share, as it becomes part of Walmart as Walmart has purchased select assets in a bid to enhance its supply chain. The mega-retailer announced today that it has acquired “select assets – including the talent, technology platform and IP” from the company, in a bid to incorporate its peer-to-peer food and drink delivery service into its own last-mile logistics.

Walmart EVP Srini Venkatesan notes that the app has amassed a network of 540 third-party merchant partners and north of 30,000 people who have delivered goods with the service since its launch half-a-decade ago. JoyRun’s service is a bit of twist on more standard delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats.

As we described it back in 2017, “The company’s app lets people find out who, nearby, is already heading out to a restaurant that they like, then tack on an order of their own.” It will be interesting to see how Walmart integrates this technology into its existing chain, though from the sound it, Walmart would essentially be relying on non-professionals to delivery goods like groceries.

The system would likely operate in a manner like Amazon Flex — a kind of Uber/Lyft gig economy-style approach to delivery.

“This acquisition allows us to further augment our team and ongoing efforts to explore even more ways to deliver for customers in the future,” Venkatesan adds. “For instance, Runners could complement our SPARK program and 3rd Party delivery providers. Our goal is to deliver as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Walmart expects the deal to close “in the coming weeks,” which will incorporate JoyRun into its Supply Chain Technology team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

#apps, #delivery, #joyrun, #ma, #walmart

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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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Reliance Retail buys Urban Ladder for $24.4 million

Reliance Retail has acquired a majority stake in furniture and decor platform Urban Ladder, making a broader push into e-commerce as the largest retail chain in India gears up to fight Amazon and Flipkart.

In a filing to the local stock exchange, Reliance Retail said it had acquired a 96% stake in Urban Ladder for about $24.43 million. The Indian retail giant, which retains the option to acquire the remainder stake in the seven-and-a-half-years-old startup, said it has proposed to invest up to $10.06 million more in Urban Ladder by December 2023.

Founded in early 2012, Urban Ladder sells home furniture and decor products online. It also operates a chain of physical retail stores in several Indian cities. The deal size suggests that it was a fire sale.

The startup had raised about $115 million from Sequoia Capital, SAIF Partners, Steadview Capital, and MIT and other investors, according to Crunchbase and Tracxn. In the financial year that ended in March, the Indian startup reported a loss of $6.63 million on a turnover of $58.2 million.

Reliance Retail said (PDF) the investment “will further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives and widen the bouquet of consumer products provided by the group, while enhancing user engagement and experience across its retail offerings.”

Urban Ladder is the latest acquisition for Reliance Retail, which earlier this year said it had entered into a $3.4 billion deal with Future Group to buy several of India’s second largest retail chain’s businesses. In August, Reliance acquired a 60% stake in pharma marketplace Netmeds’ parent firm Vitalic for about $83.2 million.

Reliance Retail, which is part of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm), has raised about $6.4 billion in recent months after its sister subsidiary, Jio Platforms, secured over $20 billion this year from Facebook and Google among other high-profile investors.

Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with Jio Platforms. JioMart now has a presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and it also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #india, #reliance-retail, #urban-ladder, #walmart

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ByteDance asks federal appeals court to vacate U.S. order forcing it to sell TikTok

In a new filing, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance asked the federal appeals court to vacate the United States government order forcing it to sell the app’s American operations.

President Donald Trump issued an order in August requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. business by November 12, unless it was granted a 30-day extension by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In today’s filing (embedded below) with the federal appeals court in Washington D.C., ByteDance said it asked the CFIUS for an extension on November 6, but the order hasn’t been granted yet.

It added it remains committed to “reaching a negotiated mitigation solution with CFIUS satisfying its national security concerns” and will only file a motion to stay enforcement of the divestment order “if discussions reach an impasse.”

Security concerns about TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company were at the center of the executive order Trump signed in August, banning transactions with Beijing-headquartered ByteDance.

The executive order claimed that TikTok posed a threat to national security, though ByteDance maintains that it does not. But in order to prevent the app, which has about 100 million users in the U.S., from being banned, ByteDance reached a deal in September to sell 20% of its stake in TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. With the Biden administration set to take office in January and ByteDance’s ongoing legal challenge against the divestment order, however, the future of the deal is now uncertain.

The new filing is part of a lawsuit TikTok filed against the Trump administration on September 18, seeking to stop the ban from going into effect.

In a statement to Bloomberg, TikTok said it has been working with the CFIUS to address its national security concerns.

“In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework,” it said.

With the divestment order set to go into effect on Thursday unless the CFIUS grants an extension, TikTok said it made the filing “to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the U.S.”

TechCrunch has contacted ByteDance for comment.

TikTok asks U.S. federal appeals court to vacate U.S. divestment order by TechCrunch on Scribd

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #oracle, #tc, #tiktok, #u-s-government, #walmart

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Walmart and Cruise partner to test autonomous grocery delivery in Arizona

U.S. retailer Walmart and autonomous vehicle company Cruise are pairing up to test grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Under the pilot program, customers will be able to place an order from their local Walmart store and have it delivered via one of Cruise’s autonomous, electric Chevy Bolt cars. While the vehicles will operate autonomously, a human safety operator will always be behind the wheel.

The companies haven’t provided details on the size of the fleet or customer area that will be served, beyond stating it will be in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. The pilot program is expected to begin early next year.

“Technology that has the potential to not only save customers time and money but also be helpful to the planet is technology we want to learn more about, Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product in the U.S. wrote in a blog post Tuesday. Ward said this pilot supports the retailer’s “road to zero emissions by 2040.”

Image Credits: Walmart

The program announced Tuesday is the latest example of Walmart exploring ways to expand pickup and delivery services. Walmart launched in April a program called Express, which provides orders in two hours or less for an additional $10 on top of the usual delivery fee. Express was initially piloted at 100 stores and is now scaled to more than 2,800 locations.

Walmart has also partnered with a handful of autonomous vehicle developers to test out how the technology might eventually be used at a commercial scale. The retailer signed a deal in 2019 with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers in Surprise, Arizona. Autonomous delivery startup Nuro launched a pilot program with Walmart in the Houston in 2020. The retail giant participated in a pilot with Postmates and Ford in the Miami-Dade and last year the retailer tapped AV startup Gatik to deliver customer online grocery orders from Walmart’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.

While Cruise is best known for its plan to launch driverless robotaxi service in San Francisco, the company has also dabbled in delivery. Cruise and Doordash completed in 2019 a delivery pilot in San Francisco. At the time, CEO Dan Ammann said partnering with DoorDash would provide the company with “critical learnings as we further our mission to deliver technology that makes people’s lives better and more convenient.”

And it appears it did. When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into North America, prompting government lockdowns, Cruise initially paused its testing in San Francisco. The company then started delivering prepared meals for two food bank. Cruise has now made nearly 125,000 deliveries.

#cruise, #tc, #walmart

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Indian logistics startup Xpressbees raises $110 million

Xpressbees, an Indian logistics firm that works with several e-commerce firms in the country, said on Monday it has raised $110 million in a new financing round as online shopping booms in the world’s second largest internet market.

The Pune-headquartered startup’s Series E financing round was led by private equity firms Investcorp, Norwest Venture Partners and Gaja Capital, the five-year-old startup said. Xpressbees, which concluded its Series D round three years ago, has raised $175.8 million to date, according to research firm Tracxn. The new round valued the startup at more than $350 million.

Xpressbees helps more than 1,000 customers — including financial and e-commerce services giant Paytm, social commerce startup Meesho, eyewear seller Lenskart, phone maker Xiaomi, online pharmacy NetMeds and online marketplace Snapdeal — deliver their products across the country. It has presence in over 2,000 cities and towns, and it processes more than 2.5 million orders a day — up from about 600,000 daily orders last year.

“We have been truly impressed by their strong customer centricity and capital efficiency which has resulted in exceptional feedback from top players in the e-commerce sector!” said Niren Shah, managing director and head of Norwest Venture Partners in India, in a statement.

Xpressbees started its journey within FirstCry, an e-commerce for baby products, in 2012. But in 2015, it became an independent company with Amitava Saha, co-founder and chief operating officer of FirstCry, moving out of FirstCry to become chief executive of Xpressbees. Supam Maheshwari, who co-founded FirstCry and serves as its chief executive, is the other co-founder of Xpressbees.

The startup said it plans to deploy the fresh capital to further automate its hubs and sorting centres, and expand its delivery footprint to cover the entire country. “I am delighted to see the impact we are making in the logistics ecosystem in the country,” said Saha in a statement.

At stake is India’s growing logistics industry, which NVP’s Shah estimated to be worth $200 billion. “We continue to believe that new age technology led logistics players such as Xpressbees will continue to play a pivotal role both in the growth of the e-commerce sector in India,” he added.

E-commerce sales, which account for less than 5% of all retail sales in India, skyrocketed during the pandemic after New Delhi enforced a two-month nationwide lockdown. During their festival sales last month, Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart reported a record surge in their sales. The firms have created more than 150,000 seasonal jobs to accommodate the growing demand of orders. Xpressbees works with over 30,000 delivery staff.

Xpressbees competes with a handful of established firms and startups, including SoftBank-backed Delhivery, which became a unicorn last year, and Ecom Express, which has presence in about 2,400 Indian cities and towns. 

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #delhivery, #flipkart, #funding, #gaja-capital, #india, #investcorp, #logistics, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #walmart, #xpressbees

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Google and Walmart face growth hurdles as India caps payments transactions

Google and Walmart have a new challenge ahead of them as they race to expand the reach of their payments apps in India: They won’t be permitted to grow beyond a limit.

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the body that operates the widely popular UPI payments infrastructure, said Thursday evening that it will enforce a cap to ensure that no single payments app processes more than 30% of UPI transactions in a month.

The payments body said the move is aimed at addressing the “risks” and “protecting the UPI ecosystem as it further scales up.” The change goes into effect in January 2021.

UPI is a payments infrastructure built by large banks in India and is backed by the Indian government. It has become the most popular digital payments method in the country in recent years.

The cap of 30% will be calculated based on total volume of UPI transactions processed in the preceding three months, it added.

The move, described by an industry executive as the most absurd thing they have heard in months in India, will severely impact Google and Walmart, whose respective apps already process more than 35% of UPI transactions each.

In fact, Walmart’s PhonePe processed more than 40% of about 2 billion transactions on UPI network last month.

It remains unclear how any payments app will comply with this limit. Let’s say PhonePe or Google Pay has already processed about 650 million transactions in three weeks. Would it just switch off UPI payments on their app for the remainder of the month?

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #google, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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Walmart reportedly ends contract with inventory robotics startup Bossa Nova

Robotics and automation startups have seen a strong uptick in interest over the course of the pandemic. And it’s easy to see which companies have a newfound interest in automating their workforce amid a seemingly endless virus-driven shutdown. But Walmart, which has long promised to take an increasing focus on such technology, has reportedly pulled the plug on one of its highest-profile partnerships.

The mega-retailer has ended a contract with Bossa Nova Robotics, according to new reporting from The Wall Street Journal. Walmart had announced in January that it would bring the Bay Area-based startup’s inventory-scanning robots to an additional 650 locations, bringing the total up to 1,000. The move has resulted in layoffs of around 50% at the Carnegie Mellon spin-off, per the WSJ report. It’s a huge hit at a time when such technologies should be thriving.

Bossa Nova co-founder Sarjoun Skaff didn’t confirm nor deny the WSJ report, instead issuing a no comment. He did, however, weigh in on the COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on the company, seeming to confirm that some layoffs had indeed occurred. 

“I cannot comment on Walmart, however the pandemic has forced us to streamline our operations and focus on our core technologies,” Skaff said. “We have made stunning advances in AI and robotics. Our retail AI is the industry’s best and works as well on robots as with fixed cameras, and our hardware, autonomy and operations excelled in more than 500 of the world’s most challenging stores. With the board’s full support, we continue deploying this technology with our partners in retail and in other fields.”

The tumult at Bossa Nova has stretched beyond layoffs. Skaff, who was CTO took over the CEO spot in October when Stuart Pann left the position after less than nine months. Bossa Nova’s deal with Walmart was a major break for the startup, which began life in 2005 as a robotic toymaker before pivoting into something more serious. The startup’s relationship with Walmart dates back to 2017, when the chain ordered 50 robots.  Walmart’s massive order earlier was a major endorsement of Bossa Nova’s technology.

Such a change of heart would no doubt have a profound effect on the company.

Walmart apparently just wasn’t getting enough out of the deal. Bossa Nova’s robots had made their way into around 500 stores by the time the deal ended — around half of the initial proposed number. As COVID-19 has pushed more orders online, Walmart began exploring ways to use human workers to perform inventory while grabbing product for online fulfillment. Walmart’s operations as well as those at other major retailers will continue to evolve as brick-and-mortar locations reopen and customers shows signs of interest to return to the in-person shopping experience. The volatility of the pandemic still doesn’t lessen the sting or impact that Walmart’s abrupt reversal will have on Bossa Nova and its hopes for a rebound.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s robotic experiments aren’t over. The company’s Sam’s Club subsidiary recently announced it would bring Tennant’s floor scrubbing robots to all of its 599 stores. Interestingly, the company is also exploring ways for these machines to double up and perform in-store inventory checks; it’s not clear if these will be used only in Sam’s Club locations or extend to Walmart stores as well.

#bossa-nova-robotics, #robotics, #walmart

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Walmart’s PhonePe zips past Google Pay in India as UPI tops 2B monthly transactions

UPI, a four-year-old payments infrastructure built by India’s largest banks, surpassed 2 billion transactions last month, exactly a year after hitting the 1 billion monthly transactions milestone.

Driving the transactions for UPI — which has become the most popular digital payments method in India thanks to its open architecture that allows interoperability among all participating payments apps — are Walmart’s PhonePe, Google Pay, Paytm, and Amazon Pay.

But for the first time in more than a year, Google Pay did not drive the most volume of UPI transactions. PhonePe recorded 835 million UPI transactions in October, it said, while Google Pay hit about 820 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Paytm recorded about 245 million transactions, while Amazon Pay settled with about 125 million, the people said.

In a statement, PhonePe confirmed that it assumed the “market leading position” with about 40% of all UPI transactions last month. Google and Paytm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TechCrunch could not determine how many unique monthly transacting users these payments firms have amassed in the country. In May, Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users, ahead of 60 million of PhonePe and 30 million of Paytm.

Unlike Google Pay, both Paytm and PhonePe also operate a wallet service. The wallet service is not powered by UPI. PhonePe said overall it processed 925 million transactions last month and had over 100 million monthly active users.

PhonePe has recently seen a surge in its transactions as more offline shops open and merchants and consumers opt for a digital alternative to complete transactions. The app has also added a range of financing services, including 600,000 insurance policies, it said.

“We are on a mission to make digital payments a way of life for every Indian citizen, and our next target is to cross 500 million registered users by Dec 2022. In line with our brand ethos of ‘Karte Ja. Badhte Ja,’ (Hindi for keep working and growing) we continue to launch new and innovative products for every strata of Indian society, as well as enable digital payment acceptance across every merchant in every village and town in India,” said Sameer Nigam, chief executive and founder of PhonePe, in a statement.

India’s mobile payments market is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023, according to Credit Suisse. More players are expected to join the race. WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, started testing UPI payments on its app in 2018. It remains stuck in a regulatory maze, however, which has prevented it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to most of its users in the country.

#amazon-pay, #apps, #asia, #flipkart, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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Walmart’s new test stores will experiment with AR, mobile, revamped checkout and more

Walmart over the years has been working to turn its physical retail stores into online fulfillment centers, and now, with its latest set of test stores announced today, the retailer will try out ideas to make that transition more seamless. Walmart says it will deploy personnel to four test stores across the U.S., where they’ll prototype and iterate on new technology and tools that will serve the needs of Walmart’s in-store shoppers and online shoppers alike, including changes involving augmented reality, handheld mobile devices, new apps, in-store signage, omni-assortment, and revamped checkout stations.

The idea is to turn these four test locations into rapid prototyping environments, where teams can test solutions in real-time, make changes, scale what works and scrap what doesn’t. Some of the changes being put into place will be visible to the customer, while others will be more behind-the-scenes.

At launch, Walmart has identified four areas where it’s looking to test new ideas across assortment, inventory, picking and checkout process.

In one store, it will test moving the majority of the in-store apparel assortment online — meaning the same exact items can be found both in the store and online. This isn’t always the case today, as not everything stocked in the stores are also on the Walmart website, and vice versa. This test will focus on determining what has to take place to make all the eligible items in a store “omni-available,” Walmart says, a reference to its desire to be a true “omni-channel” retailer.

Image Credits: Walmart

A second test will involve a new app that aims to speed up the time it takes to get items from the back room to the sales floor, using augmented reality (AR). In this test, instead of scanning the barcode on boxes that are ready to go, the app will use AR technology to highlight those boxes. The hope is that this will help to move the product to shelves, and in front of customers, faster than before.

Image Credits:

Another experiment uses a combination of handheld devices and in-store signage to help associates better navigate to the right locations when picking items for online orders. In early tests, Walmart says the percentage of time it takes associates to find the items has already gone up by 20% in some of the categories that tend to be more difficult to find.

The fourth test will expand and build on an experimental checkout experience Walmart previously announced in June. In this store, Walmart does away with individual checkout lanes, and transitions cashiers into the role of “hosts” in a new area of the store that resembles a self-checkout destination. Here, customers can opt to check out themselves or have a “host” offer full-service checkout. In either case, store staff are around to help with any issues that arise.

Image Credits: Walmart

The expectation is that checkout lanes will move more quickly than the old style of individual checkout lanes. With the latter layout, a surge of new customers coming to the registers could cause bottlenecks if there weren’t enough lanes staffed. In the long run, the new layout could free up cashiers to help with other tasks in store as a checkout station may not need as many “hosts” on hand to run things.

The four stores may test other technology and digital solutions in the future, as well, but Walmart didn’t expand on its roadmap plans. Two of the stores in Northwest Arkansas, including a Bentonville location, are up and running. Two more are planned to be up and running soon.

Each store will have four new employees staffed to aid with the prototypes — a product manager, a technologist, a business owner, and a designer.

“We’re moving quickly to use our physical retail stores to not only serve in-store shoppers, but to flex to meet the needs of online shoppers, too, in ways that only Walmart can,” said John Crecelius, Walmart U.S. SVP of Associate Product and Next Generation Stores, in a statement. “That’s where our new test stores come in. Their purpose is to find solutions that continue to help our stores operate as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry,” he added. 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fulfillment, #mobile-devices, #omnichannel, #online-shopping, #point-of-sale, #retail, #retailers, #shopping, #walmart

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Review: Walmart’s Core i5 Ice Lake laptop, back in stock at $500

A cow looks at us from the screen of a laptop.

Enlarge / It looks like the cow is judging me—but that’s OK, I’m about to judge the cow right back. (credit: Jim Salter)

The Ice Lake-powered GWTN156-1BL we’re reviewing today is one of an entire line of inexpensively manufactured, Gateway-branded laptops available exclusively at Walmart. We intended to review it last month, alongside its $350, Ryzen-powered little sibling the GWTN141-2—but it sold out so quickly we weren’t able to get our hands on one until Walmart refreshed its stock last week.

Although we’re really only looking at the $500 Ice Lake version today, we’ll include the specs for the $350 Ryzen-powered alternative as a refresher, since we expect a lot of people may hesitate between the two. Ultimately, both machines are at least reasonable purchases—but we think the cheaper GWTN141-2 is more compelling, despite being a wimpier machine overall.

At $350, there aren’t many laptop options available, and the GWTN141-2—despite its warts—comes out thoroughly on top. But at the GWTN156-1BL’s $500, the market opens up considerably. Major manufacturers such as Lenovo, ASUS, and Acer all offer pretty reasonable designs for $550 or less. The refurbished market, on the other hand, still isn’t very competitive—the best deals at under $600 tend to feature sixth-generation i5 CPUs which look paltry next to the Gateway’s low-end Ice Lake.

Read 28 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#budget-laptop, #cheap-laptop, #gateway, #ice-lake, #laptop, #tech, #uncategorized, #walmart

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Reliance says its $3.4 billion deal with Future Group ‘fully enforceable under Indian law’ despite Amazon winning an arbitration order

Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, said on Sunday evening that its proposed deal to acquire Future Group’s assets for $3.4 billion — against which Amazon has filed a legal proceeding — is fully enforceable under the Indian law and it intends to complete the deal “without any delay.”

Mukesh Ambani’s firm issued the statement after Amazon won an emergency order from a Singapore arbitration panel to temporarily halt the proposed sale between the two Indian retail giants.

The American e-commerce group, which indirectly bought a 3.58% stake in Future Group’s Future Retail business last year, reached out to a Singapore arbitration panel over the multi-billion dollar proposed deal.

Amazon’s deal with Future Retail had given the American e-commerce giant the first right to refusal on purchase of more stakes in Future Retail, the Indian firm had said at the time. Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, and Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, are locked in an intense battle to shape how hundreds of millions of Indians would shop in the future.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company was “grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought. We remain committed to an expeditious conclusion of the arbitration process.”

At the moment, it is unclear whether today’s injunction is enforceable in India. Indeed, in a statement, a Reliance Industry spokesperson said that Reliance Retail’s transaction for acquisition of assets and business of Future Retail were conducted under “proper legal advice” and the “rights and obligations are fully enforceable under Indian law.”

Reliance Retail “intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” the spokesperson added.

The legal proceeding in Singapore has come as a surprise to many in the industry, as Amazon is said to be preparing to acquire a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail, according to earlier reports by ET Now and Bloomberg.

With e-commerce commanding only between 3 -7% of all retail sales in India — and Reliance Retail launching its own e-commerce business to fight Amazon and Flipkart — Amazon’s reported future deal with Reliance Retail is already been seen by many industry analysts as crucial for the American e-commerce firm’s future in India. Amazon, which kickstarted its journey in India seven years ago, has invested more than $6.5 billion in its local business in the country.

Founded in 2006, Reliance Retail serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.

The retail chain, run by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, has raised about $5.14 billion by selling about an 8.5% stake in its business to Silver Lake, Singapore’s GIC, General Atlantic and others in the past two months.

Ambani’s other venture, Jio Platforms, this year raised over $20 billion from more than a dozen marquee investors, including Google and Facebook.

 

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #future-group, #india, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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Sam’s Club will deploy autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in all of its U.S. locations

The past six months have seen a fairly aggressive acceleration in the option of robotics and automation as companies look for ways to augment (and, likely, replace in some instances) human workers. The appeal is certainly clear during massive pandemic-fueled shut downs.

Sam’s Club has been on the robotic floor cleaning chain for a bit longer, having already deployed Tennant’s T7AMR scrubbers in a number of locations. But this week the Walmart -owned bulk retailer announced that its adding another 372 this year, bringing the technology to all of its 599 U.S. stores.

The robot can be piloted manually, but the addition of Brain Corp’s service allows for autonomous operation. That’s certainly a welcome feature, given the cavernous size of these sorts of warehouse stores. Perhaps even more interesting here, though, is that the software can do double duty, using the mopping robots to examine shelving inventory at the same time.

Sam’s Club parent company Walmart is already using robotics to perform inventory in its own stores. In January, the company announced that it would be adding Bossa Nova robots to an additional 650 locations, bringing the total up to 1,000 in the U.S. The Tennant/Brain Corp. system is still in the pilot stage, though there’s a lot to be said for a robot that can efficiently perform both tasks in during non-peak hours. Like store cleaning, inventory is a pretty massive undertaking at stores of this scale.

#brain-corp, #robotics, #sams-club, #walmart

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Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali

More than seven years after Amazon began its e-commerce operations in India, and two years after its shopping service added support for Hindi, the most popular language in the country, the American giant is embracing more local languages to court hundreds of millions of new users.

Amazon announced on Tuesday its website and apps now support Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu in a move that it said would help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in the country.

Localization is one of the most crucial — and popular — steps for companies to expand their potential reach in India. Netflix added support for Hindi last month, and Amazon’s Alexa started conversing in the Indian language last year. (Amazon’s on-demand video streaming service, Prime Video, also supports Hindi, in addition to Tamil and Telugu.)

The company said the usage of Hindi, which it rolled out on its website and apps in India in 2018, has grown by three times in the past five months, and “hundreds of thousands” of Amazon customers have switched to Hindi shopping experience.

Amazon’s further language push comes months after its chief rival in India, Walmart -owned Flipkart, added support for Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, three languages that are spoken by roughly 200 million people in India.

Like Flipkart, Amazon worked with expert linguists to develop an accurate and comprehensible experience in each of the languages, the American e-commerce firm said.

But simple translation is not enough to make inroads with users in India. YouTube and YouTube Music, for instance, understand when Bollywood fans in India search for music by the name of the movie character or actor who played the part instead of the actual musician or song title — a phenomenon unique among Indian users.

Amazon appears to have incorporated similar learnings into its shopping experience. The company said for translations it preferred using commonly used terms from daily life over perfectly translated words.

Kishore Thota, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing at Amazon India, termed the availability of Amazon India shopping experience in four new languages a “major milestone.”

The move comes weeks ahead of Diwali, the biggest festival in India that sees hundreds of millions of Indians spend lavishly. “We are super excited to do this ahead of the upcoming festive season,” said Thota.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #walmart

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Daily Crunch: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

Companies send out conflicting messages about the TikTok deal, Microsoft acquires a gaming giant and the WeChat ban is temporarily blocked. This is your Daily Crunch for September 21, 2020.

The big story: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

This keeps getting more confusing. Apparently TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has reached a deal with Walmart and Oracle that will allow the Chinese social media app to continue operating in the United States, and the deal has been approved by Donald Trump. But it’s hard to tell exactly what this agreement entails.

ByteDance said it would retain 80% control of TikTok, while selling 20% of the company to Walmart and Oracle as “commercial partner” and “trusted technology partner,” respectively. However, Oracle released a seemingly conflicting statement, claiming that Americans will have majority ownership and “ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

So what’s going on here? We’re trying to figure it out.

The tech giants

Microsoft set to acquire Bethesda parent ZeniMax for $7.5B — ZeniMax owns some of the biggest publishers in gaming, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by US district court — More news about the Trump administration’s efforts to ban some high-profile Chinese apps: A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat.

Nikola’s chairman steps down, stock crashes following allegations of fraud — This comes in the wake of a report from a noted short-seller accusing the electric truck company of fraud.

Startups, funding and venture capital

With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn — Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million — Mobile Premier League operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments.

A meeting room of one’s own: Three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs — We talked to Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson, Renegade Partners’ Renata Quintini and Plexo Capital’s Lo Toney.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Edtech investors are panning for gold — At Disrupt, investors told us how they separate the gold from the dust.

Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing — China continues to be the dominant global force, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking elsewhere.

The Peloton effect — Alex Wilhelm examines the latest VC activity in connected fitness.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Ireland’s data watchdog slammed for letting adtech carry on ‘biggest breach of all time’ — The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is putting more pressure on the country’s data watchdog to take enforcement action.

Pandemic accelerated cord cutting, making 2020 the worst-ever year for pay TV — According to new research from eMarketer, the cable, satellite and telecom TV industry is on track to lose the most subscribers ever.

Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology — I interviewed the director of the new Quibi series.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#apps, #bytedance, #daily-crunch, #mobile, #oracle, #social, #tiktok, #walmart

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Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by U.S. district court

A few days ago, the U.S. Commerce Department published a series of rules that aimed to block the downloading of TikTok and WeChat by American users, following an executive order signed by President Trump back in August. TikTok got a last minute reprieve yesterday following its signing of an investment and cloud services deal with Oracle and Walmart, which delayed the implementation of its download ban at least for a week. However, WeChat was effectively going to be shut down today, with a ban on downloads and a ban on any services that powered the service.

Now, there is a new wrinkle in the battle over the future of the social app, which is widely used in Chinese-speaking communities and is owned by China-based Tencent. A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban, following a lawsuit of WeChat users arguing that the ban undermined the free speech rights of American citizens. That court case, U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, will be allowed to proceed.

In her short opinion published yesterday, United States magistrate judge Laurel Beeler, argued that the government’s case showed weaknesses on First Amendment grounds, its authority to act within existing legislation to allow the government to control industry, and its overall vagueness compared to the damage a ban would likely have on the Chinese-speaking community in the United States.

From her opinion:

Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national- security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security.

Given the likelihood of a lawsuit proceeding and the immediate damage a ban would have if implemented, the judge initiated a nationwide injunction against implementation of the Commerce Department’s order to ban the app.

Commerce will have a chance to respond to this development, and whether it chooses to edit its order, pursue other avenues through the courts, or just rescind the order entirely, we will see in the coming days.

#apps, #government, #oracle, #policy, #tencent-holdings, #tiktok, #walmart, #wechat

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Trump approves Oracle, TikTok deal “in concept”

It's official... kind of.

Enlarge / It’s official… kind of. (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has reportedly granted his personal approval of Oracle’s proposal to invest in TikTok, moving the entire saga one step closer to an end.

The president told reporters this afternoon he approved the deal “in concept,” according to Bloomberg News.

“I have given the deal my blessing,” Trump said. “I approved the deal in concept.”

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#deals, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #oracle, #policy, #politics, #tiktok, #walmart

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TikTok rumors beg the question: Did Trump solve anything?

Over the past 24 hours, rumors picked up by Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and CNBC have put some boundaries on what a possible deal between Oracle and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance will look like.

In its current incarnation floating around the DC press corps, it appears that TikTok’s data on American users will be stored in Oracle’s cloud, with Oracle acting as a “trusted technology partner.” Oracle will have some sort of real-time source code verification duty, in which it will audit TikTok’s codebase to ensure that there aren’t “backdoors” that allow China to siphon data into its national security apparatus. ByteDance will create a new organization for its U.S. operations, which will have a board of directors approved by the U.S. government and will have a license agreement to access TikTok’s algorithms. One member of that board (at least) will come from the American national security community.

There remains a pretty yawning gap in these rumors over what the ownership of this new entity looks like, and precisely who is going to own what. Oracle is presumed to take a fairly large stake, with CNBC reporting this morning that it will get a 20% stake. Walmart apparently has broken away from its deal partner Microsoft, and is still pursuing some sort of deal engagement with the company, now with Oracle as its champion.

While President Trump has repeatedly said that a deal had to be reached by September 15, his executive order gave the parties until September 20 to hash out an agreement. Therefore, we expect a final deal to be approved — or denied outright — in the next two to three days.

Obviously, all terms are still under negotiation, and for all we know, McDonalds will end up buying the company (it’s been that kind of year).

Given what we know so far though, how did the Trump administration do in furthering its goals? The administration has repeatedly said that it wants to protect American users, particularly the young users who love TikTok, from the prying eyes of China. It also wanted to ensure that any protections would last into the future and couldn’t be changed retrospectively by, say, a more aggressive future policy implemented by China. And Trump has also said that the U.S. government should be paid for allowing the company to essentially continue to exist in the U.S. at all.

The latter point is the easiest one — U.S. government lawyers have said outright that the country can’t accept a payment for allowing a deal through, a point that Trump now appears to agree with.

So let’s head over to national security and privacy. Hosting American data on American soil helps with some jurisdictional issues of course. So-called data sovereignty laws have been popular in the European Union, China, India, Brazil and elsewhere as a means of ensuring that citizen data comports with the laws of those citizens’ countries. If the EU wants better privacy protections than America for instance, then it actually needs to “own” its own data to put its policies into place.

However, what has not been made clear is how “TikTok US” (or whatever the entity is called) will be able to take advantage of its parent company’s algorithms without actually handing American data over for processing.

The kinds of algorithms that run TikTok’s feed — like other social media feeds or Google’s search results — require real-time tuning of millions if not billions of parameters benchmarked against the quality of the user experience. For instance, users who linger on a particular video for longer than others, interact with it in specific ways, and share it are all data points that get fed into the “algorithm” to optimize exactly what each user sees in their own feeds.

This is an extraordinarily hard problem, and one that the word “algorithm” barely begins to describe. TikTok has to ingest billions of data points in real time from its app, needs to evaluate mullions of uploaded videos in real time, and needs to curate a custom stream of videos in real time for hundreds of millions of active users. That’s not an algorithm so much as a massively scaled computing system.

In the current deal framework, it sounds like “TikTok US” will supposedly “license” the underlying systems that power TikTok Global’s feeds. Yet, there has so far been zero clarity on how those algorithmic systems can tune their parameters without peering into U.S. data, or even how you can bifurcate such a system into a global half and a U.S.-only half.

One answer might be that the U.S.will just have an entirely independent algorithmic system that is tuned to the tastes of U.S. users and doesn’t take input from other global sources. That might work, although it’s an open question whether the smaller scale of TikTok US’ data will allow it to create as compelling a feed as today.

The larger issue is the pace of change in these systems. Updates to these algorithmic systems happen around the clock as engineers, product managers, data scientists and others determine ever more optimal and novel ways to improve the user experience. TikTok’s engineering team is expected to stay in China, meaning that any entity licensing those systems would have to absorb that constant avalanche of new code changes and integrate it into the U.S. codebase. Worse, those changes would have to be continuously evaluated by Oracle for backdoors — an incredibly hard engineering problem that remains by and large unsolved even if certain services offer a modicum of protection here.

Finally, building this infrastructure is not going to be easy. We haven’t heard much on how long TikTok would have to transition its systems, but it is hard to imagine that the company could rebuild its infrastructure on Oracle, add in real-time source code verification, completely separate its core machine learning algorithms into independent systems, and do all that while continuing to adapt its product to changing consumer whims in anything less than three years. One doesn’t just rebuild the code from scratch of a system used by hundreds of millions of people.

In all honesty, the rapid iterations required of a social media service will wither and die in the deal framework offered here. Which means that TikTok’s U.S. engineering efforts look all but doomed if this deal is approved.

Then there is this deal term of potentially adding an all U.S. government-approved board, with at least one director coming with a national security background. That experience isn’t unheard of in tech companies these days: Amazon just last week added former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander to its board, presumably due to the company’s expanding cloud services sales to the government.

Given that so many of the concerns expressed by the administration were around citizen privacy though, how exactly does this board structure protect privacy whatsoever? The company will essentially replace presumed Chinese surveillance with presumed American surveillance, and that’s a Pyrrhic victory in the end. We’ve heard next to nothing in these rumors about how the company can better protect user data in a more transparent fashion.

So the net-net right now is that the U.S. government isn’t going to get paid its tithe/bribe, the company’s engineering velocity is going to crater from bureaucracy, and its user data won’t have any more protections than what pretty much already exists with other social networks.

Maybe in the end, killing TikTok was the goal all along. Certainly some analysts in the DC national security community would like to see that happen. But at least from the seat over here, what a colossal failure of imagination and opportunity.

#bytedance, #china, #government, #ma, #oracle, #policy, #tiktok, #walmart

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We found out who makes Walmart’s new Gateway laptops, and it’s bad news

Fun colors—but we're waiting to see what the innards look like.

Enlarge / Fun colors—but we’re waiting to see what the innards look like. (credit: Gateway)

Back in 2007, Taiwan-based PC manufacturer Acer bought the once-iconic Gateway brand in order to stick a thumb in the eye of rival OEM Lenovo and increase its US market presence. In the 13 years since, the Gateway brand has languished largely unused, while Acer built up its own name in the United States directly. The cow is officially back now, though, with a new line of mostly-budget, Walmart-exclusive Gateway laptops.

The new line ranges from $180 to $1,000, and several models look interesting—but when we looked closer, we found a familiar and not particularly attractive name behind the brand. Gateway is also making two models of Android tablet—an 8″ GWAT8-1 which doesn’t appear to be available retail yet, and a 10″ model available at Walmart for $67. Trying to find more detail on the GWAT8-1 led us to a surprising discovery—it’s actually made (or imported) by EVOO.

In June of this year, we reviewed and absolutely despised a $140 EVOO laptop—powered by an AMD A4-9120e CPU, just like the cheapest model of Gateway laptop in the table above. The new GWTN116-1BL has twice the RAM and storage compared to the effectively uncooled, drastically underclocked, and absolutely blecherous EVOO EV-C-116-5—but when we went sleuthing, we discovered shipping records indicating that it, too, is an EVOO system.

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#budget-laptop, #budget-laptops, #evoo, #gateway, #laptop, #laptops, #tech, #uncategorized, #walmart

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Walmart expands drone delivery tests to Arkansas with new Zipline partnership

Walmart now has two tests for drone delivery running in the US.

Early Monday morning the company announced a new drone delivery program with Zipline, a startup that made its name delivering medical supplies across Africa.

The partnership with Zipline comes on the heels of another newly announced drone partnership with Flytrex, which started delivering packages to Walmart customers in North Carolina last week.

Zipline’s work with Walmart in Arkansas compliments a pilot delivery program that the company began in North Carolina earlier this year. Working with Novant Health, Zipline has been delivering medical equipment and personal protective gear via drone to regions of North Carolina since May.

The drone operation with Walmart will deliver health and wellness products initially, with the potential to expand to general merchandise.

A movement into the delivery of general goods would be something of a pivot for Zipline, which has touted its ability to handle medical supplies and equipment since the launch of its services across Africa in 2016.

 

Trial deliveries for the new service will begin in Northwest Arkansas and cover a 50-mile radius, according to a statement from Walmart.

Walmart’s forays into drone delivery come as its largest competitor, Amazon, also picks up activity in the drone aviation industry.

In late August, Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet received approval from the FAA to begin trialing commercial deliveries. It’s similar to the certification that logistics companies like UPS received to test their own drone delivery networks.

Rather than operate its own drone fleet, Walmart seems content to partner with existing companies working in the space — for now.

#africa, #amazon, #arkansas, #articles, #delivery-drone, #emerging-technologies, #federal-aviation-administration, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #partner, #prime-air, #retailers, #tc, #united-states, #unmanned-aerial-vehicles, #ups, #walmart, #zipline

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Walmart+ takes aim at Amazon Prime, launches September 15

If you've ever wanted full bags of groceries to semi-magically appear on your doorstep, Walmart has a proposition for you.

Enlarge / If you’ve ever wanted full bags of groceries to semi-magically appear on your doorstep, Walmart has a proposition for you. (credit: Walmart)

Although it’s arriving several months later than expected, Walmart’s answer to Amazon Prime is finally scheduled to launch in two weeks, on September 15. Like Prime, Walmart+ offers unlimited free delivery, with some products available same-day in many markets.

Walmart+ looks cheaper than Amazon Prime at first blush—the annual prices for the services are $119 and $98, respectively—but the difference may be less relevant to each company’s bottom line than it looks. Both services also offer a monthly plan, and there’s effectively no cost difference there. When paid monthly, Prime and Plus are only four cents apart, at $12.99 and $12.95 per month, respectively.

Although Amazon is the incumbent in any online shopping competition, Walmart does have some advantages. Where Amazon needed to build massive distribution centers from the ground up, Walmart only needed to leverage small-scale deliveries from the distribution centers and stores it already has. Walmart can also offer some products that Amazon generally can’t—you’ll be able to shop online for local, fresh groceries with Walmart+, as well as get membership-based discounts on gasoline at many of Walmart’s brick-and-mortar locations.

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#amazon, #covid, #gaming-culture, #online-shopping, #quarantine, #uncategorized, #walmart

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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

0

Walmart-exclusive TrillerTok will run on Azure, or Oracle, or something

If you can’t keep up with the latest rumor mill on TikTok’s impending doom acquisition, my suggestion is simple: don’t. Or instead, enjoy it for what it is: one of the most absurd bakeoff deals in investment banking history.

Walmart and its always low prices are in the fray. Oracle is looking to find synergies to make enterprise resource planning software more enticing to Gen Z workers. Triller — who the hell are they again? — is supposedly teaming up with an asset management firm (and a planet near the Hoth system) called Centricus according to Bloomberg (to which TikTok responded nah). Twitter is in — maybe? — with key corporate strategic advice from Beyoncé on the social network’s debt underwriting strategy.

SoftBank is apparently looking, and also just happened to announce yesterday its intention to sell off $14 billion of its core Japanese mobile services business to net cash quickly. (The upshot is that at least TikTok lost most of its value before SoftBank’s investment!)

Everything here is absurd. TikTok is absurd. The videos of people doing what they are doing on TikTok are absurd. TikTok’s growth is absurd. A president setting a deadline on the sale of a company is absurd. This process is absurd. Selling a company as large as TikTok in 45 days is absurd. Walmart is absurd (and also a mirage, since they are still banned from New York City lest someone gets discounted soap in a pandemic).

I warned a few weeks ago to “beware bankers” peddling TikTok rumors. And that’s still the right answer, in the sense that of course we are going to get to the furthest reaches of the M&A universe as bankers try to salvage TikTok’s final sale price (“We’re approaching the Centricus system, sir!”). But that approach is so much more boring than just assuming that every rumor is true and trying to imagine Wall Street advisors trundling through this morass of bids.

My advice here is simple: let’s all take our analyst hats off for a week and put on our clown costumes, since — and it’s key you don’t work at TikTok for this or have money at stake in the company — this story is actually enjoyable.

COVID-19 is serious, the U.S. presidential election is weeks away, social justice in our cities is critically important. Just in the past few hours, T’Challa passed away, Hurricane Laura ripped up the Gulf Coast, and the longest continuously-serving Japanese prime minister of the post-war era (yes, I know, that’s a lot of qualifiers) just resigned due to health issues. It can get weighty on the front pages of the newspapers these days.

So it’s just nice to know that you can flip to the business pages and get some farce.

Maybe this whole story will eventually turn into the next great business book à la Barbarians at the Gate. But at least the barbarians then knew how to destroy a company with the proper levels of debt leverage. Here, you’ve got the pre-smoldered detritus of a business being bid on by the company that brought us The Greeter.

Whatever this saga brings next (hint: Microsoft buying the company), I’ll just say this: the warmth and cheeriness that TikTok provided millions of teenagers though short videos of awakward dance routines is the same mirth that it provides acerbic financial analysts with a caustic eye on the markets. In what has been a miserable year for all of us, for that small twinkle of amusement, I’m thankful.

#finance, #ma, #microsoft, #oracle, #tiktok, #twitter, #walmart

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Daily Crunch: TikTok’s CEO resigns

Turmoil continues at TikTok, Salesforce lays off 1,000 people and Warby Parker is now valued at $3 billion. This is your Daily Crunch for August 27, 2020.

The big story: TikTok’s CEO resigns

Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive who joined TikTok as CEO just over 100 days ago, announced yesterday that he’s resigning. While Mayer was likely brought on to reassure U.S. legislators about the app’s Chinese owners, it seems he wasn’t expecting this level of conflict, with President Donald Trump signing an executive order that would ban TikTok in the U.S. unless it’s sold to another company.

“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. “We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well.”

As for which company might acquire TikTok, Walmart has confirmed that it’s interested in teaming up with Microsoft to acquire the popular video app.

The tech giants

Salesforce confirms it’s laying off around 1,000 people in spite of monster quarter — Salesforce says it’s “reallocating resources to position the company for continued growth.”

Google Assistant app now uses your searches to make personalized recommendations — Those recommendations could include podcasts, restaurants, recipes and more.

Facebook isn’t happy about Apple’s upcoming ad tracking restrictions — The company says Audience Network revenue could decline by more than 50%.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Warby Parker, valued at $3 billion, raises $245 million in funding — The eyewear startup has launched a telehealth service for New York customers, allowing them to extend an existing glasses or contacts prescription.

Instacart faces lawsuit from DC attorney general over ‘deceptive’ service fees — The suit alleges that Instacart misled customers into thinking the 10% service fee was a tip for the delivery person.

Narrative raises $8.5 million as it launches a new data marketplace — The goal is to make buying data as easy as buying something on Amazon.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Alexa von Tobel: Eliminating risk is the key to building a startup during an economic downturn — Von Tobel says that one of the most important exercises in forming LearnVest was writing out a business plan.

To reach scale, Juni Learning is building a full-stack edtech experience — The startup’s path to $10 million in annual recurring revenue is inspired by Peloton, not Kumon.

What can growth marketers learn from lean product development? — Andrea Fryrear argues that marketers should begin creating minimum viable campaigns.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

A faster, easier, cheaper way of going public — The latest episode of Equity discusses direct listings and SPACs.

Here’s how you can get a second shot at Startup Battlefield — Your second chance comes in the form of two Wild Card entries for the upcoming Battlefield at Disrupt.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #mobile, #policy, #social, #tiktok, #walmart

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Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

#amazon, #asset-manager, #canada, #canada-pension-plan, #china, #e-commerce, #economy, #europe, #fabric, #finance, #germany, #head, #healthcare, #india, #manufacturing, #mexico, #online-entertainment, #poland, #retail, #southeast-asia, #tc, #telecommuting, #telemedicine, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #urban-infrastructure, #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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Amazon launches online pharmacy in India

Amazon has launched an online pharmacy in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, as the e-commerce group looks to spread its tentacles in more categories in one of its key overseas markets.

The company said on Friday its new service, called Amazon Pharmacy, has started accepting orders for both over-the-counter and prescription-based medicines in Bangalore. (In India, antibiotics and several other drugs can often be purchased from pharmacies without prescriptions.)

Amazon Pharmacy is also selling traditional herbal medicines and some health devices such as glucose meters, nebulisers, and handheld massagers.

“This is particularly relevant in present times as it will help customers meet their essential needs while staying safe at home,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

Online sales of medicine in India, for which New Delhi currently does not have clear regulations, presents yet another major opportunity for Amazon that has invested more than $6.5 million to date into its India operations and where it competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart.

For Amazon, pharmacy is not a new idea. The company, which has hired several health experts in recent years, acquired online pharmacy startup PillPack for nearly $1 billion in 2018.

Scores of startups such as 1mg, Netmeds, Medlife, and PharmEasy currently sell medicines in India online and deliver to most parts of the country. 1mg, which has raised more than $170 million, today delivers orders in more than a 1,000 cities in the country, for instance.

These startups, as with any e-commerce player, offer enticing discounts to customers on each order to increase their market share. On that front, Amazon says it is also offering up to 20% discount on all orders.

In recent months, Amazon has expanded into a handful of new categories in India. It launched its food delivery service in parts of Bangalore in May and received approval to sell and deliver alcohol in the state of West Bengal a month later.

Last month, the company started to sell auto-insurance in India and said it planned to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight and cabs in the future.

Its expansion into more categories comes as Flipkart is also entering new spaces including hyperlocal delivery that it piloted in Bangalore late last month.

Both the firms are now facing an emerging challenger: India’s richest man. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in India, began testing e-commerce venture JioMart late last year.

The service, which is now operational in over 200 cities and towns across India, reported selling over 400,000 orders a day last month, surpassing daily peak figures of grocery delivery startups BigBasket and Grofers.

Local media has reported that Amazon is eyeing a multi-billion dollar stake in Reliance Retail. Ambani’s other venture, telecoms giant Jio Platforms, has raised about $20 billion from Facebook, Google, and 11 other high-profile investors in recent months. Ambani said last month that the company had concluded fundraise for Jio Platforms and is looking forward to “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #jiomart, #mukesh-ambani, #online-pharmacy, #pharmacy, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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With technology to perfect product pitches in digital marketplaces Pattern raises $52 million

Pattern, a Lehi, Utah-based reseller that offers large and small brands a way to optimize their sales on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Google Shopping, has raised $52 million in growth funding, the company said.

The money, from Ainge Advisory and KSV Global, will be used to expand the company’s business worldwide.

Founded in 2013, the e-commerce reseller uses analytics to lock down market specific keywords in advertising and has managed to reach a run-rate that should see it hit $500 million in annual revenue by the end of 2020, according to Pattern co-founder and chief investment officer, Melanie Alder.

Brands like Nestle, Pandora, Panasonic, Zebra and Skechers sell their goods to Pattern in an effort to juice sales on digital marketplaces.

“Pattern represents our brands in the US, across Europe, and in select markets in Asia, selling for us on global marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, Tmall, and JD as well as building and managing three of our direct-to-consumer sites,” said Kyle Bliffert, CEO and president of Atrium Innovations, a Nestle Health Science company, in a statement. “The global e-commerce growth we have experienced by leveraging Pattern’s expertise is extraordinary.”

Pattern places bets on where a product is likely to receive the most attention using specific keywords, according to the company’s chief executive, Dave Wright. The company buys products from its brand partners and then sells them widely across marketplaces in the US, Europe and Asia. These markets represent $2.7 trillion in total sales and Wright expects it to reach $7 trillion by 2024.

As Wright noted, a majority of searchers for sales begin on Amazon . The company just opened its eighteenth location in Germany. Pattern has grown sales for brands from $3 million to $26 million and the company makes money off of the margin on the sales of products. With the new funding, the company intends to expand into other geographies like Japan and India.

Wright says his company addresses one of the fundamental problems with advertising technology — the proliferation of tools hasn’t meant better optimization for most brands, because they’re teams aren’t equipped to specialize.

While there may be hundreds of different advertising and marketing folks working at a company, each company may have hundreds of brands that it sells and the dedicated teams to specific brands may only have one or two  people on staff.

“Data makes all the difference,” said co-founder and CEO Dave Wright. “I’ve spent the bulk of my career in data science and data management, and our ability to detect and act on ‘patterns’ on ecommerce platforms has allowed the brands we represent to be incredibly successful.”

#amazon, #asia, #brand, #data-management, #e-commerce, #ebay, #europe, #germany, #google, #india, #japan, #nestle, #panasonic, #retailers, #tc, #tmall, #united-states, #utah, #walmart, #zebra

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LA’s consumer goods rental service, Joymode, sells to the NYC retail investment firm, XRC Labs

After raising $15 million in financing from one of technology’s most successful global investment firms, the Los Angeles-based consumer goods rental company Joymode is selling itself to an early-stage retail investment firm out of New York, XRC Labs.

Joymode’s founder Joe Fernandez will continue on as an advisor to Joymode as the company moves to pivot its business to focus on retail partnerships.

The relationship with XRC Labs’ Pano Anthos began after a small pilot integration between Joymode and Walmart launched in late 2019. “[It] became obvious that we should go all in on retail partnerships,” according to Fernandez. And as the company cast about for partners to pursue the strategy, Anthos and his firm, XRC, kept being mentioned, Fernandez said.

The precise terms of the deal with XRC Labs were undisclosed, but Joymode will become a wholly owned business of XRC and could potentially return to market to raise additional funds from additional investors, according to Fernandez.

“We could never crack growth at the scale we needed,” said Fernandez of the company’s initial business. “From day one, my belief was Joymode was going to be huge or dead. We grew, but given the cost structure of our business it put a lot of pressure on the business to grow exponentially fast. Everyone loved the idea but the actual growth was slower than we needed it to be.”

Though Joymode wasn’t a success, Fernandez said he can’t fault his investors or his team. “We got to iterate through every possible idea we had. Literally every idea we had was exhausted… We failed and that’s a bummer, but we got a fair shot,” he said.

What remains of the company is an inventory management system on the back end and a service that will allow any retailer to get involved in the rental business going forward.

“Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

“I believe that the inventory management system we made was incredible and it will be a standard for retailers doing rentals going forward,” he said. 

 As the company turned to retailers, the rental option became a way to generate revenue through additional products. “All the accessories that made the event even better,” said Fernandez. “Add-ons, try before you buy, experiential things that are just much more complete in a retail environment.”

At Joymode, the problem was that the company was owning the inventory, which created a high fixed cost. “We never felt confident with the growth in LA to justify the expense of opening in another city,” Fernandez said. “If we had cracked user acquisition in LA we would have rolled it out in a bunch of places.”

Ultimately, Joymode members saved $50 million by using Joymode to rent products rather than buying them. In all, the company acquired 2,000 unique products — from beach and camping equipment to video games, virtual reality headsets to cooking appliances. On a given weekend, roughly 30,000 products would ship from the company’s warehouse to locations across Southern California.

At XRC Labs, a firm launched in 2015 to support the consumer goods and brand space, Joymode will complement an accelerator that raises between $6 million and $9 million every two years and manages a growth fund that could reach $50 million in assets under management.

For Anthos, the best corollary to Joymode’s business could be the rental business at Home Depot. “Home Depot’s rental business is over $1 billion per year,” Anthos said. “There’s going to be this enormous component of our society and for them renting will be not just a more sustainable but reasonable option. They’re going to want to rent because they don’t want to own it.”

Joymode was backed by TenOneTen, Wonder, Struck Ventures, Homebrew and Naspers (now Prosus).

#advisor, #exit, #home-depot, #investment-banking, #joe-fernandez, #joymode, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #ma, #naspers, #new-york, #retail, #retailers, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality, #walmart, #xrc-labs

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Walmart launches its own voice assistant, ‘Ask Sam,’ initially for employee use

Walmart is expanding its use of voice technology. The company announced today its taking its employee assistance voice technology dubbed “Ask Sam” and making it available to associates at over 5,000 Walmart stores nationwide. The tool allows Walmart employees to look up prices, access store maps, find products, view sales information, check email and more. In recent months, Ask Sam has also been used to access COVID-19 information, including the latest guidelines, guidance and safety videos.

Ask Sam was initially developed for use in Walmart-owned Sam’s Club stores, where it rolled out across the U.S. in 2019. Because of its use of voice tech, Ask Sam can speed up the time it takes to get to information versus typing a query on the small screen. This allows employees to better engage with customers instead of spending time on their device looking for information.

In the COVID-19 era, the tool offers another perk — it’s easier to use a voice app when you’re wearing gloves.

In addition to common functions like price lookups and product locators, Ask Sam can also help employees with printing, email or viewing staff birthdays or other events. An included Emergency Alert feature allows managers to quickly and efficiently alert all employees of emergency situations, whether that’s a lockdown order requiring them to remain in the store or an in-store emergency that requires everyone to leave the store.

The voice assistance technology was built using machine learning techniques, which means it gets smarter and more accurate over time, as it’s used. In addition, a team manually reviews the questions being asked to help find other patterns and trends the tech may have missed, like top searched items.

This is not the retailer’s first experiment in using voice technology. In addition to the Ask Sam product’s earlier launch within Sam’s Club stores, Walmart itself also partnered with Google last year on voice-ordering across Google Assistant-powered platforms, in a bid to counter Amazon’s advances with Alexa in the home. Three years ago, Walmart had worked with Google on voice-based shopping on Google Home devices before Google Express shut down.

Walmart has not said whether it would create a version of Ask Sam technology that would aim to serve retail customers. But given that the product is now capable of answering questions that customers want to know too — like where to find an item or how much it costs — it makes sense that the retailer would expand the offering in the future.

 

#tc, #voice, #walmart

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India’s Flipkart gives hyperlocal delivery service another try

Flipkart on Tuesday launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category.

The e-commerce group, owned by Walmart, said Flipkart Quick leverages the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories, and stationary items within 90 minutes to customers.

When a customer places an order, the items are sourced from local neighborhood stores, warehouses and retail chains. Flipkart Quick — initially operational in Whitefield, Panathur, HSR Layout, BTM Layout, Banashankari, KR Puram and Indiranagar among other suburbs of Bangalore — allows customers to book a convenient two-hour slot between 6am to midnight for delivery.

The company, which is working with a range of partnered firms, is levying a delivery charge starting 29 Indian rupees (39 cents) on servicing these orders, it said.

The launch of Quick stands to provide Flipkart an opportunity to reach a new set of users, especially those who otherwise see no reason to buy online, and also become a headache for some existing startups such as Dunzo that already operate in a similar space. It also marks Flipkart’s foray into servicing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and milk orders.

“This is a great model for India as households of all sizes are already used to their neighbourhood Kirana stores. In fact, Indian families are so comfortable with what we call the ‘hyperlocal context’, that there is a tendency to develop deep, familial ties with vendors, shopkeepers and service providers – now with the convenience of e-commerce,” said Sandeep Karwa, a VP at Flipkart, in a statement.

“While we start with our dark store (no-walkin) model, wherein we enable sellers to store inventory close to the consumer; this model has the potential of encouraging local entrepreneurship and enabling new business strategies and partnerships. Today, with Flipkart Quick – our Hyperlocal capability, we have the potential to bring together the whole network of neighbourhood Kirana stores onto our platform with just a click,” he added.

This isn’t the first time Flipkart has explored the hyperlocal delivery category. In late 2015, Flipkart launched Nearby to deliver perishables, grocery, wellbeing, and household items within 60 minutes. But the company abruptly discontinued Nearby reportedly because of poor demand and thin margin.

Flipkart did not reference Nearby today, but talked about the efforts it has made to build Quick and the opportunities it sees in the market. A Flipkart spokeswoman told TechCrunch that the company plans to expand Quick hyperlocal delivery service outside of Bangalore in a few months.

Flipkart said for Quick, it is also moving away from the traditional model of using zip code system to identify delivery location and instead using a latitude and longitude approach. This model enables the company to “not only narrow down the location” but also be “more precise” and deliver more efficiently.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #walmart

0

Walmart Marketplace seller additions surge following Shopify deal, up 3x from January

Walmart’s recent partnership with Shopify to expand its online marketplace appears to already be paying off.  The retailer in June announced it was opening its marketplace to Shopify’s small business sellers with the goal of onboarding 1,200 new sellers by the end of 2020. Following the Shopify announcement, the marketplace added 3,000 more sellers in June and is expected to exceed 3,600 in July, according to a new report from research firm Marketplace Pulse. That’s triple how many sellers it was adding at the beginning of 2020, the firm’s numbers indicate.

The e-commerce intelligence firm, which works directly with retailers and marketplaces and produces industry analysis, looked into Walmart Marketplace’s accelerated growth following the Shopify deal. It found that within the first six weeks after the June 15th partnership announcement, Walmart’s Marketplace added over 5,000 new sellers.

In comparison, Walmart’s Marketplace added only 1,296 new sellers in January 2020. That figure grew to 2,290 in April, then 3,296 by June. With July’s estimates included, the marketplace will have topped 15,000 new sellers in 2020 by this month’s end. To date, the marketplace has surpassed 50,000 sellers — which is double in size from June 2019.

Walmart’s marketplace growth is much slower than Amazon’s, the firm notes. But this is, in part, due to its process around adding sellers. Its marketplace requires sellers go through an approval process, which is something it does in an attempt to avoid counterfeiters and other issues. Amazon, meanwhile, adds thousands of sellers daily.

Of course, not all this recent growth can be attributable to Shopify. The pandemic has sent a surge of customers to shop online and sellers are arriving to meet that demand. But Marketplace Pulse believes Walmart has already surpassed its goal of 1,200 new Shopify sellers by year-end.

These newly added Shopify stores aren’t distinguished from other sellers on the website, so there’s not an automated way to count their numbers. But the firm says manually checked dozens of new additions to confirm their Shopify affiliation and believes the accelerated marketplace growth is closely tied to the new e-commerce deal.

Of course, seller growth is not the only metric used to judge a marketplace’s success. Walmart’s catalog size has actually decreased despite all the new additions, the report noted. Since the start of 2020, the total number of products has shrunk by nearly 15 million, from around 50 million down to 36 million, the firm said. This was related to a few large sellers delisting their catalogs of mostly products in the Home and Books categories, though. Walmart disputes this figure, saying it still has 75 million, not ~35 million, which is stable year-over-year.

The report also added that what matters most is not the size or the number of sellers, but rather the sellers’ performance. On that front, the firm recently found that Walmart’s marketplace, though smaller, was outperforming both Amazon and eBay, driven by the significant increase in Walmart.com shoppers during the pandemic. That increased traffic was also aided by Walmart’s merging of its Grocery app into its main app, a transition that is still underway. Around a month after the merge began, the Walmart app on May 13th became the number one shopping app on iPhone.

 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #shopify, #walmart

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Amazon reportedly in talks to buy a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Retail

Amazon may join its global rivals Google and Facebook in backing one of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s ventures.

The American e-commerce giant is in preliminary talks to acquire a 9.9% stake in Reliance Retail, local TV news channel ET Now reported Thursday afternoon, citing unnamed sources.

Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, is the largest retail chain in India. It serves over 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.

Reliance Industries, which is the most valuable firm in India and runs Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, declined to comment on the report. Amazon also declined to comment.

The reported talks between Amazon and Reliance Retail comes days after Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said several firms had expressed interest in backing the retail chain. Ambani’s other venture, Reliance Jio Platforms, has secured over $20 billion by selling 33% stake to more than a dozen investors including Facebook, Google, Silver Lake, and General Atlantic since April this year.

During Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting earlier this month, Ambani said the company will “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

Reliance Industries’ new venture JioMart is increasingly becoming a new challenger to Amazon, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in its India business, and Walmart’s Flipkart in recent months.

Morgan Stanley, which served as the financial advisor to Reliance Industries for Jio Platforms’ deals, recently valued Reliance Retail at about $29 billion.

Both Amazon and Reliance Retail, according to local media reports, have also been locked in a battle to acquire majority stake in Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain.

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #funding, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

0

Amazon now sells auto insurance in India

Amazon’s India business said on Thursday it has begun offering auto insurance to cover two and four-wheeler in the country, marking American giant’s first foray into this financial services category globally.

The e-commerce giant said it had inked a deal with Mumbai-headquartered Acko General Insurance to offer customers car and motor-bike insurance. Amazon is also an investor in Acko.

Mahendra Nerurkar, chief executive and director of Amazon Pay in India, said on Wednesday evening at a fintech conference that the company was planning to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight, and cabs.

The auto insurance is available to customers through Amazon Pay on e-commerce giant’s website and app. The company said buying insurance will take less than two minutes and requires no paperwork.

“This coupled with services like hassle-free claims with zero paperwork, one-hour pick-up, 3-day assured claim servicing and 1 year repair warranty – in select cities, as well as an option for instant cash settlements for low value claims, making it beneficial for customers,” it added.

Customers who have subscribed to Amazon Prime, the company’s loyalty program that costs about $13 a year in India, will be able to access additional benefits and discounts, Amazon said without identifying those benefits.

India’s insurance market is the latest financial services sector that has attracted the attention of local and international tech giants. Paytm, India’s most valued startup, and its chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma, acquired insurance firm Raheja QBE for a sum of $76 million earlier this month.

In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses.

According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017. An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. Of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017, ICRA estimated.

“Our vision is to make Amazon Pay the most, trusted, convenient and rewarding way to pay for our customers. Delighted by this experience, there has been a growing demand for more services. In line with this need, we are excited to laun