Retail

The Frightful Five: iPhone X Delivers, AmazonFresh Doesn’t

Apple dominated the news this week, with the new iPhone X making headlines (and animoji karaoke taking Twitter by storm — although the actual, intended function of the Face ID technology leaves a bit to be desired). Amazon also had a big news week, with a company veteran taking the helm on its Prime Now, AmazonFresh and Whole Foods strategy and the introduction of its digital cash offering. Here’s what else these giants have been up to this week, along with the rest of the Frightful Five: Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

 

Amazon

Company veteran Steve Kessel has found himself at the helm of Prime Now, AmazonFresh, Whole Foods Market and Amazon’s brick-and-mortar book and convenience stores. As the eCommerce giant aims to make these platforms work together more seamlessly and ease customers into a new way of viewing and shopping with Amazon, it made sense to put a single executive in charge of the whole shebang — but it sounds like quite a job.

Developers can now use the Alexa Skills kit to build Alexa experiences in Japanese, and will soon be able to integrate the voice assistant into products for Japanese shoppers. Upon launch, Alexa debuted with a new Japanese voice, local knowledge and more than 250 skills from Japanese developers.

Amazon Cash, which lets consumers top off Amazon.com balances using cash at certain retail locations, is now available in 8,000 7-Eleven locations out of the convenience store’s 10,900 locations in North America. Amazon Cash launched in April and is also available at CVS, GameStop and several supermarket chains.

AmazonFresh will be phasing out delivery in suburban markets, as the company has found it to be unsustainable in those areas. Service will continue in urban centers, such as L.A., New York and Chicago.

Finally, Amazon is slashing prices just in time for the holidays — and not just on its own products, but on those of third-party merchants selling on its platform. Never fear, though — the merchants are still making the full ticket price, with Amazon paying the difference out of its own coffers. The move is part of the eCommerce giant’s strategy to compete with players like Walmart this holiday season.

 

Apple

The iPhone X release day drummed up more of the lengthy retail lines for which Apple has, by now, become famous — or rather, infamous. Those lines were a favorite tradition of the late Steve Jobs, who said that a long queue shows the product is in demand and writes its own PR for free.

Between the queues and preorders, many Apple fans have found themselves on weeks-long waiting lists to receive the new device. In short, investors can heave a sigh of relief that all those people who didn’t buy the iPhone 8 were, as they had hoped, just waiting for the later, greater model.

Apple Cash peer-to-peer (P2P) payments have launched in beta in the U.S., enabling users to send and receive payments via iMessage. Only customers who are running iOS 11.2 beta 2 can access the feature, which was built in conjunction with Green Dot. Received payments go onto the new Apple Pay Cash virtual card within the user’s on-device eWallet and can be used instantly.

Finally, the Face ID identity verification feature on the new iPhone X proved less than perfect. Users reported that it was slower than Touch ID, would not unlock their phone for them at all or successfully unlocked the phone for them — but also for their twin sibling. However, customers seemed just as happy to discover another use for Face ID: the creation of animoji karaoke. Yeah, it’s a thing.

 

Facebook

Users of the social media giant’s Messenger app can send each other texts, photos, videos, emoji and GIFs — why not money? No good reason, the company decided. After successfully rolling out a P2P capability for U.S. customers in 2015, Facebook is expanding the service to the U.K. and France.

Payments are deposited into the payee’s bank account instantaneously using the ubiquitous national debit rails. The capability opens up more opportunities for businesses to leverage the social platform not only to connect with customers, but to transact without leaving the walled garden.

France and the U.K. have similar debit rails and transaction capabilities to the U.S., making them a logical next step for the service’s expansion. Plus, comparable services in those countries are not cheap or free as competitive services are in the U.S., giving Facebook’s free service a competitive edge there.

 

Google

A fake WhatsApp mobile application infiltrated Google’s app store last week and made its way onto more than 1 million devices. Fake apps on the Google Play store are, unfortunately, not news, but this one was downloaded more than any other copycat app, drawing fresh attention to the problem.

Google has deployed patented technology to improve detection of rogue apps, but fake developers are getting around it through creative use of characters in developer names and app titles — for instance, using blank spaces, Unicode characters or a smaller letter than in the legitimate version.

 

Microsoft

Although it may not be as shiny as Apple and Google, Microsoft has been on an upward trajectory this year, with stocks climbing steadily — and with a big breakout in late October after the company beat Wall Street expectations for first-quarter earnings. There’s still room for the stock to continue outperforming in 2017.

One contributor to the growth may be Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, completed for $26 billion last year. Microsoft announced this week that Office 365 subscribers will now have direct LinkedIn integration while building a resume in Word. This is just one of many promised ties between the professional social platform and Microsoft’s Office suite of applications.

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