While retail executives are mostly background players, this week they’ve been oddly front and center. And two execs, in particular, made the rounds on social media and 24-hour cable news.
Both probably wish they hadn’t.
Taco Bell Corporate Manager Benjamin Golden started the week off strong when a YouTube video of him (in what appears to be an intoxicated state) assaulting an Uber driver went viral. Golden has since been fired, arrested and is facing a civil suit from the driver.
Then, on Tuesday (Nov. 3), Walmart’s former CEO, Bill Simon, had an arguably even more spectacular YouTube video of him posted. But this one saw him parachuting from his personal aircraft onto a highway in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Simon apparently had engine trouble shortly after takeoff and pulled the specially designed “ballistic parachute” when it became clear he would not be able to make it to an airfield.
And with that kind of Bond movie action just casually floating around in retail, really who can get excited about the data? We can and, actually, so can you. It’s been an interesting week.
Apple sent out some hardcore mixed messages, Amazon found a new way to make bookstore owners sad (among many, many other things) and India’s eCommerce scene became even more competitive somehow.
So, ready to get the quick fix?
Apple Watch — Conflicting Confirmations
Since its release, just how well the Apple wearable has done has been the subject of rather spirited speculation.
Some reports have crowned it as the next iPhone (or, more modestly, iPad) level blockbuster out of Cupertino. Others have fixated on its potentially sagging sales figures and analysts' lackluster estimates and called it an early flop.
And through that, Apple has remained mostly quiet.
In the firm’s Q3 earnings call with investors, CEO Tim Cook attempted to quiet investor fears about Apple’s silence on the watch and released no numbers on the grounds of not wanting to give competitors insight.
The Q4 call was a bit more upbeat, with Cook more enthusiastically touting watch sales and noting again that the product had vastly outstripped expectations for the company's newly launched category. But as for hard figures, nope, still bupkis.
But competitors and everyone else got a little taste of insight immediately after the Q4 earnings, care of a 10-Q filing with the SEC. In that, Apple Watch sales were reported to represent over 100 percent of the growth in Apple’s catch-all “Other Products” category (home to Beats, Apple TV and iPod). Last quarter saw the value of the “Other Products” category increased from $8.379 billion to $10.067 billion year over year, meaning the Apple Watch at minimum brought in ~$1.7 billion.
It’s hard to know exactly how many watches that breaks down to, since they are offered at a range of price points. The least expensive model is the Sport; it has also been confirmed by Apple as the most popular model. If that $1.7 billion figure was divided among Apple Watch Sports, that would imply that about 5 million units had been sold. Current estimates put those sales around 3 million units sold.
That news would at least imply the Apple Watch is doing as well — or even slightly better — than forecasted. But that wasn’t the only news about the Apple Watch this week. Shortly after the SEC filing started circulating, something genuinely weird happened: Apple discounted something.
For customers in the San Francisco Bay or Boston areas purchasing a new iPhone model in an Apple store, a discount is now available on the Apple Watch Sport model — $50 to be exact.
Now, a discount alone is not interesting, except when it comes from Apple, since Apple so rarely discounts anything. So rarely, in fact, that even a discount this limited has everyone wondering about the health of the watch, since it appears Apple might be experimenting with lowering its price point to bring a boost to a product the company wants to ignite.
Speaking of trying to get stuff to ignite…
Amazon’s Somehow More Open For Business Than Usual
This week is unique in the calendar annually insofar as there is literally extra time in it due to the Daylight Saving Time clock change. And, in some ways, you have to respect that the good people at Amazon have been absolutely serious about getting their money’s worth on that extra hour.
Amazon got some big attention this week by entering a space it first began wholly and thoroughly disrupting 20 years ago — physical book retail. So far, it is only in one location in University Village in Seattle and adopting a wait-and-see attitude about if its take on the physical bookstore can further disrupt the space.
In other news, Amazon has also decided that the thrill of Black Friday can not be contained in a whole day, and so it's created a Black Friday shop to run onsite for the entirety of the holiday season. The promotion is exclusively targeted towards Prime members and will feature 30-minute “Prime Early Access” to 30,000 “lightning deals” available in the “Black Friday Deals store.” The company also announced a 30 percent discount for Prime members on jewelry products from brands such as Kenneth Cole, Nine West and Anne Klein, among others.
Amazon also pushed an expansion of its payments platform. Though “Pay with Amazon” was first announced in 2013, it is now going to be made available on mobile apps. Pay with Amazon allows customers to use their payments data on file with the eCommerce giant to make purchases on other websites.
The move plays to the strengths of recent PayPal ex-pat Patrick Gauthier who changed teams to become Amazon’s vice president of external payments. Gauthier’s focus is to build for the eCommerce firm a payments business that extends into the wide world of Web- and app-based commerce at large — in short, one that directly competes with his old bosses.
It’s worth noting that research that PYMNTS conducted in August of 2,000 consumers, presented by Gauthier at the PYMNTS R2 conference, showed that Amazon was regarded by consumers as the brand that they would most trust to introduce a new mobile payments platform.
The new mobile Pay with Amazon feature requires shoppers to leave the site on which they’re making a purchase in order to confirm their payment details on Amazon’s mobile site, though some think that this will be a temporary feature.
And finally this week, speaking of temporary, it wasn’t all about expansion over at the Amazon empire. Amazon also announced the shutdown of its credit card reader, Amazon Register, a $10 POS device that plugged into a smartphone or a tablet. The service was aimed at small businesses and mom-and-pop stores competing with the likes of Square and PayPal.
Amazon also bid adieu to Amazon Local — its daily deals business — and Amazon Destinations — its nascent travel business. The eCommerce firm didn’t have much to note on those closures other than to say what a wonderful learning experience it all had been.
India Just Got More Competitive
And all that learning might be highly useful to Amazon soon, especially in India, a market where it is strongly trying to get a toehold.
A challenge, as India has recently become eCommerce's most recent hot zone — made hotter this week by Paytm's announced intention to drop $764 million into an aggressive expansion plan over the next three years to capture the crown as India’s largest eCommerce player.
Paytm is fresh off a September funding round that saw it snap up $680 million from Chinese eCommerce mega-player Alibaba and its affiliate, Ant Financial. After the funds were raised, Paytm clocked in with a $2.5 billion valuation,
“We believe that we’ll be able to bring half a billion Indians into the mainstream of the economy. Alibaba have done it in China, and with their help, we can do it here,” Founder Vijay Sharma said.
“We are talking about a couple more years of 100 percent or more year-on-year growth, but once this has settled down and become more predictable, we would like to go public,” he added.
Paytm now steps into a competition in earnest as one of India’s eCommerce Big Four alongside hometown heroes Flipkart and Snapdeal, as well as U.S.-based entrant to the market Amazon.
Paytm, at present, is about the same size as Amazon in India but smaller than its two locally based rivals.
Paytm is not a pure eCommerce play, instead taking a page from the Alibaba strategy book and focusing on a heterogeneous model that focuses on sales, payments and consumer services (banking, insurance, etc). It is also a single investor player, having only ever raised funds from Alibaba — whereas Snapdeal and Flipkart have both raised capital widely around the world.
The Moral Of The Story
So, what did we learn this week? We can count on Apple to be cryptic, Amazon to be complicated and Indian eCommerce to be crazy.
And, of course, be nice to your Uber driver and never fly without a parachute.