Retail

Frightful Five: The Early Bird Gets The Cheap Bird

Will consumers trust Facebook to verify their identity at real-world points of sale? Can apartment hunters trust its Marketplace more than Craigslist? Does Amazon Protect threaten traditional insurers, and will the eCommerce giant’s merchant marketplace gain traction Down Under? As always, the Frightful Five have been busy this week, with many hot irons in the fire. Here’s what the industry giants have been up to, just in case you missed it.

Amazon

Alexa has come to the great white north: The Echo Dot and Echo Plus went on sale in Canada on Wednesday (Nov. 15). While many Maple Leaf State residents are already using Alexa-powered devices purchased from the U.S., the products are now readily available from a domestic source.

Across the pond, Amazon may be beefing up its insurance offerings in Europe. Amazon Protect extends additional protections beyond manufacturer’s warranties on items like smartphones that are purchased through Amazon. However, recent job listings suggest that more coverages may soon become available – and, at the very least, that rough sailing is ahead for traditional insurers in the market.

Meanwhile, the eCommerce giant plans to introduce its marketplace offerings to the Land Down Under – quite likely in time for holiday shopping, according to analysts, though no official date has been announced. Thousands of third-party sellers have registered to sell their goods on the Australian marketplace. Amazon is converting a Melbourne warehouse into a fulfillment center.

Speaking of the holidays, Amazon has cut more prices at Whole Foods just in time for Thanksgiving. Discount organic turkeys and birds raised without antibiotics will be available for $3.49 and $2.49 per pound, respectively, while supplies last – and even less for Prime members. To download the coupon, customers can visit Amazon.com/turkey.

Finally, a couple of partnerships for the eCommerce giant: Ally Bank has launched a new voice banking service powered by Alexa, and Allrecipes has integrated AmazonFresh within some of the site’s top recipes, so customers can have that one missing ingredient delivered to their door on the same day rather than visiting the store themselves.

Apple

To improve imaging capabilities on the iPhone, Apple has acquired InVisage Technologies, a startup that develops solutions for space-constrained devices like smartphones. The company’s core product, QuantumFilm, blends material science and software to improve the quality of images captured in less-than-optimal lighting scenarios. The technology can also be used in IoT (Internet of Things) applications, so it’s possible that Apple could be mulling its usage for authentication purposes and other use cases.

The animoji karaoke craze jumped the shark as users started overlaying the animated emoji characters on top of film actors, including a chicken version of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Similar to the new iPhone X’s $999 price tag, the whole thing may seem like a bit much, but clearly not to the thousands of users uploading these part-cute, part-creepy videos to YouTube and social media.

Facebook

No longer is Facebook’s Marketplace feature useful only for finding a secondhand couch to furnish users’ apartments – now, users can actually find the apartment itself, listed with pricing, square footage and even 360-degree views of the unit. The social media giant teamed up with Apartment List and Zumper to bring hundreds of thousands of real estate listings to the platform. That’s on top of the recent expansion that increased the number of used cars for sale on the marketplace.

Facebook filed a patent application that may suggest the social media giant plans to power real-world retail payments through facial recognition technology.

Patent inventor Stephen Moore Davis said that, for all the payment method options in place at retail points of sale, none of them have a secure or convenient method for verifying shoppers’ identities. Whereas NFC (near-field communication) payments require clunky PINs, passwords or biometrics to transact, the inventor said that facial recognition would be faster, easier and more secure.

Finally, Facebook made it easier for people to share Stories across different apps by merging Messenger Day and Facebook Stories, a clone of Snapchat Stories. Now, the same Story will appear in both places and will not be re-shown once users have encountered it in one or the other.

The camera functions will, however, remain separate, with Messenger’s continuing to focus on adding captions and text while the Facebook camera focuses on augmented reality and filters.

Google

The Google Assistant has new features for app developers to help users find, interact and re-engage with the apps they create. New push notifications, daily updates and additional language support are part of the package, and a new API allows for speaker-to-phone transfer that powers experiences such as ordering food from their speaker and then receiving the receipt on their phone.

Meanwhile, Google’s main search function now serves up more information to users seeking details about restaurants and local businesses. On top of showing the days and times a business has historically been crowded, search results now include real-time data on how busy they are at the time of search.

That gives customers power over their own wait times at local businesses by enabling them to form accurate expectations, and thus experience greater satisfaction rather than surprise and annoyance.

Microsoft

It took 17 years, but Microsoft has finally patched one of the biggest security flaws in its system: a weak bit of code that has been present in the Office equation editor – a function that lets users insert complex mathematical expressions into documents – since 2000. Security researchers say the vulnerability opens up machines for hackers to launch malicious code.

According to Forbes, Microsoft managed to avoid patching the issue by releasing the Protected View security feature in 2010 to limit the functionality of unknown documents. However, it would be easy for attackers to circumvent this by simply hacking the user first. A full patch was long overdue – and now, finally, there is one.

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: HOW WE SHOP – SEPTEMBER 2020 

The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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