Data Dive

Data Dive, Signing On/Signing Off Edition: Amazon, Alipay, Payless And MoviePass

Data Dive

The world of payments and commerce isn’t moving at a snail’s pace these days. And last week’s events managed to qualify it for “thrill-a-minute” status between the lofty and ambitious projects started, stopped and debated that made the headlines.

The problem with all the fireworks is that with all the giddy mayhem, some less explosive starting’s and stoppings may have slipped quietly under the radar.

Or at least they tried. As always, we caught them …

Amazon’s Foray Into Video Shopping

It has long been speculated that Amazon was going to make a move in the video/TV shopping space (think QVC) — with rumors running rampant last year that the eCommerce giant was on the verge of purchasing Evine Live, a smallish cable home shopping network.

That deal never materialized — but Amazon’s ambitions toward video home shopping were apparently real, as last week it launched a new video streaming service called Amazon Live, according to reports.

Amazon Live will feel familiar to anyone who has ever watched QVC or the Home Shopping Network — hosts talk up and demonstrate various Amazon products while details about items run under the video. There are a variety of streams — so customers can decide which ones fit them the best — including fashion streams, home goods streams and electronics streams. This is not quite Amazon’s first foray into this area: about two years ago it attempted a program called Style Code Live, which focused wholly on beauty and style, but it was not a success.

Amazon is hoping that the wider focus combined with its own in-house talent and content from brands developed in the Amazon Live Creator will find a wider and more engaged audience than its last attempt.

“Creating a live stream is easy. First, download the Amazon Live Creator iOS mobile app. Once you have installed the app, you can stream your video content on Amazon.com on desktop, mobile, and Amazon’s mobile app. You can stream directly from your phone camera or through an encoder using a professional camera. Follow these steps and livestream today,” the company said in its official explanation of the product.

The move puts Amazon in more direct competition with QVC and its parent brand, Qurate Retail Group, which in addition to QVC owns HSN, Zulily and five other brands. The timing of this release highlights the new head-to-head nature of the face-0ff. QVC this week announced the launch of its  new iOS app called Q Anytime — an outgrowth of QVC’s flagship app with an ever-changing, customizable feed of shoppable videos.

A customer can tap on a video to buy the featured product or get more details.

Let the video commerce wars commence.

Alipay Online In the U.S. With Walgreens

Adding the latest U.S. retail feather in cap of Ant Financial-owned Alipay, it seems thousands of U.S. Walgreens will be able to take the China-based payment method going forward.

“Walgreens is focused on making shopping more convenient for our customers. This collaboration has particular significance for our customer population from China, who now have a new way to experience Walgreens,” Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations, said in a press release. “Not only can they buy our products via our dedicated store on Alibaba’s T-Mall Global marketplace, but they will now also be able to shop in the U.S. using Alipay as they would in China. We look forward to the ongoing evolution of our partnership with Alibaba Group.”

As of today, about 3,000 U.S. Walgreens accept Alipay — mostly clustered in major metros like San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The new agreement will see that number soar to 7,000 — all of Walgreen’s U.S. locations — making this the largest U.S. drugstore chain to use Alipay.

“This is a key strategic partnership for achieving awareness in the U.S., as Walgreens is one of the country’s largest drugstore chains. Alipay’s offline, in-store payment service is offered in more than 40 countries and regions, so we are excited to partner with a company that has been trusted across America since 1901, and is constantly evolving to provide more Chinese consumers a seamless and familiar way to pay,” said Yulei Wang, general manager, Alipay North America.

The move comes as part of a broader digital push Walgreens has been undertaking to remain competitive in the increasingly complex retail landscape. A month ago the drug store chain announced it was bringing handheld tablets and mobile computers from Zebra Technologies Corporation into its stores across the U.S.

Walgreens chief information officer and senior vice president Steve Turner said of the announcement, “Every customer has a unique need when shopping, so each experience needs to be personalized for it to be successful.”

Because, as our final point of the week demonstrates – success is easy to wish for, harder to achieve…

Signing Off — Payless and MoviePass

In a retail world that seems full of exits, it can be easy to miss a firm or two slipping away. But this week two fairly well-known names seem to heading for their final curtain calls, and as such deserve mention.

Payless Shoes, after a long and valiant battle back from bankruptcy a year ago, seems to be throwing in the towel officially. The retailer has disclosed its plans to close all of its approximately 2,300 stores as part of this latest bankruptcy.

And this time, it seems, there will be no turnaround — as the liquidation sales are already underway at Payless locations. Payless had been trying unsuccessfully to find a buyer. After no such deal could be made, the Kansas-based firm  decided to initiate preparations to liquidate.

But Payless is not alone this week in turning out some lights.

Helios & Matheson Analytics, the parent company of MoviePass, was delisted from the Nasdaq on Tuesday (Feb. 12).

The firm, despite that, remains positive about its prospects, noting through a spokesperson that the delisting has “no effect on the day-to-day business operations of HMNY or its subsidiaries, including MoviePass and MoviePass Films.” The company has since gone on to begin trading over the counter.

The news follows an announcement last fall that the firm would create a new subsidiary called MoviePass Entertainment Holdings Inc. that would take ownership of MoviePass and other film-related assets held by Helios and Matheson.

“For many years, HMNY has been focused on data analytics, and in that capacity, we own assets like Zone Technologies, which provides a safety and navigation app for iOS and Android users and a global security concierge service,” said Ted Farnsworth, chairman and chief executive officer of HMNY, at the time. “Since we acquired control ofMoviePass in December 2017, HMNY largely has become synonymous with MoviePass in the public’s eye, leading us to believe that our shareholders and the market perception of HMNY might benefit from separating our movie-related assets from the rest of our company.”

The new company would hold the shares of MoviePass common stock, the movie theater subscription service, membership interests of MoviePass Films and HMNY’s movie production company.

What will happen with MoviePass is a mystery for another week.

But the lesson for this week is keep paying attention — you never know when something new will pop on, or something old with drift off.

See you next Monday.

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