The Lebron Effect On Payments

PYMNTS may not have the greatest sports experts in the world, but even we understood the big deal concerning the addition of Lebron James to the L.A. Lakers lineup, and the context of NBA basketball for next season.

But why let one big add overshadow the many significant pickups in our favorite sport — as well as payments and commerce? Last week almost dazzled with big adds. Amazon Go added a new store, Lyft added bikes, Bixby added sports, consumers added more personal debt to their already heaping piles, and the U.S. economy added jobs.

Amazon Go 2.0 Is Go For Launch

If one self-service convenience/grocery story is good, two or more is probably even better. Since the early buzz about Amazon Go 1.0 — the cashier-free, sensor-powered, walk-in and walk-out store — was undeniably good, it wasn’t a huge shock when, earlier this week, it was reported that Amazon Go 2.0 was cleared for launch, and coming soon.

According to reports, store number two will also be in Seattle, about a mile from the first location. Amazon said it is “excited to bring Amazon Go to 920 5th Avenue in Seattle” for those who couldn’t quite travel that last mile. The store will open in Fall 2018.

From concept to its launch in January of 2018, Amazon Go took five years to make it to market with its first location, found on the ground floor of the firm’s new headquarters. Powered by the Amazon Go app on a consumer’s phone, consumers scan their phone upon entering the store, fill their basket with desired goods and saunter out without any kind of layover with a cashier for an additional scan of their phone. Cameras and sensors on shelves, as well as a computer vision system, act in the background to scan the items being purchased and automatically charge them to the shopper’s Amazon account.

Reports said the second Go location will be significantly larger than the original location, approximately 3,000 square feet versus 1,800 square feet. The new store will be in Madison Centre, a 36-story high-rise that opened late last year across from Seattle Central Library.

The newest expansion comes as Amazon keeps raising the bar on the reinvention of grocery shopping. This effort includes the ownership of Whole Foods, lots of new goodies for its Prime Members, and free 2-hour delivery for those who just hate the 37 billion hours every year they spend waiting in line to check out.

The Ridesharing Bike Race Is On

With Uber’s acquisition of JUMP Bikes in April, it seemed clear that the race for control of every mode of transportation between Uber and Lyft was about more than a car.

Last week, Lyft acquired bikesharing firm Motivate for $250 million  Motivate is the parent firm of Ford GoBike and Citi Bike, according to Reuters. As part of the deal, Motivate’s servicing and maintenance operations will remain a stand-alone business, and Motivate will retain its brand name and continue to support its North American bikesharing programs.

News of the deal followed Lyft’s announcement that it had raised $600 million in a new funding, bringing its valuation to $15.1 billion.

“As Lyft grows, we will double down on our values, and invest in the vision that cities should be built around people, not cars,” Lyft wrote in its release on the news. The company noted that the goal of adding bikes was to continue to develop the “best possible experience for all members of the Lyft community.”

And Lyft is growing, not just in terms of the bike fleet it has just added to its lineup. According to its internal numbers, Lyft now controls 35 percent of the national ridesharing market, up from 20 percent 18 months ago. The company also said its market share is over 40 percent in 16 U.S. markets, and it has a majority share in “multiple” markets. This means Lyft is making the most valuable addition of all: customers.

That is something Samsung‘s Bixby is hoping to pull off by getting just a bit sportier.

Bixby Gets Sporty

Bixby, the virtual assistant, launched last year and has struggled to gain its share of voice in a market that includes Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.

Samsung users say that Bixby needs to increase its IQ points. Engadget’s Chris Velazco wrote in March that users say the version of Bixby installed on the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus isn’t much better than what shipped on last year’s Samsung flagships.

And last week, Bixby did, in the sports department with the addition of a new — and by all accounts very comprehensive — service for sports fans. Via partnership with theScore, swiping right on “select” Galaxy devices (including the S9 and S9 Plus ) gives users access to a wide variety of live stats and news. To narrow the field, users can follow their favorite teams and leagues so only the news that they most care about shows up. The new feature goes live sometime next month.

Will this feature give Bixby the bump it wants and needs? It depends. Sports scores are easy to find through a variety of Amazon and Google Skills (Siri notably has some trouble), but this addition does signal — prior to the release of Bixby’s next big upgrade — that Team Samsung AI likely has a few more Bixby tricks up its sleeve in advance of its next release in August.

Consumers Are Adding Debt As The Economy Adds Jobs

Consumers are piling on the debt and outstanding balances for personal loans jumped by about 18 percent to $120 billion in the first quarter, according to Bloomberg. In addition, personal loans are not the only things on the rise: The percentage of loans originated by FinTech firms is growing sky high as well. Though FinTech companies originated less than 1 percent of personal loans in 2010, they originated 36 percent of them in 2017.

Jason Laky, senior vice president and consumer lending business leader of TransUnion, told Bloomberg, “A lot of credit goes to the FinTech lenders for reinvigorating a loan category that’s been around forever. If you think about ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ George Bailey and his bank offered personal loans to the consumers. It’s a core banking product that’s been around since the beginning of banking.”

As American as apple pie and summer baseball, as personal loans may be, it is worth noting that some seeing the rise in personal loans particularly in conjunction with other increases in debt levels  are concerned that 2018 may be the year that Americans get in a bit over their heads. That is, even though Americans seem better equipped to handle debt levels, the economy in the U.S. is growing, tax reform put a few more bucks in consumers’ pockets and wages are increasing.

Whether “more is more” will turn out to be good news or not so good news, we will have to see. What does seem to be the case, this week especially, is that payments and commerce — like professional sports — have no off-season. And every “team” is just an add away from changing the nature of the competition.