There was something of an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” feel to the race for the consumer’s whole paycheck this week, as both Amazon and Walmart were throwing a lot of ideas at a lot of verticals in an attempt to capture an ever-larger share of the customer’s total spend.
The expansions weren’t expected, exactly – but they aren’t all that surprising. Walmart’s move on skincare could have been forecast simply by looking at skincare’s $123 billion in global revenue in 2018, or the $175-$200 billion it is forecast to generate annually by 2027. Likewise, Amazon doubling down in the world of fashion is very much in line with recent releases by the eCommerce giant over the last year.
Similarly, the fact that Walmart is further expanding its digital grocery business isn’t that surprising, nor is Amazon’s investment in its third-party seller marketplace – though how big that investment is, or how exactly that expansion is being pursued, might be a bit unexpected.
Big Move of the Week: the $15 Billion Marketplace Investment
According to reports this week, Amazon is on track to invest upwards of $15 billion this year in new tools to enhance the ability of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to sell goods on the Amazon Marketplace. All in, 150 new tools have been launched since the beginning of the 2019, according to the company.
Among the additions is Sold by Amazon, which helps to manage pricing, and Target Inventory Levels, which helps merchants manage Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) inventory. Also on the list of new additions this year were Amazon Storefronts, Amazon Handmade, Amazon Launchpad, Amazon Business, Fulfillment by Amazon, Amazon Global Selling, Merch by Amazon and Amazon Lending.
As of the last count, third-party sellers make up about 58 percent of all physical gross merchandise sales on the platform. According to Amazon, during Prime Day this year, SMB sales were more than $2 billion.
“Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, and we are committed to empowering them,” said Nicholas Denissen, Amazon’s vice president of small business. “As part of our dedication to supporting independent retailers, we have thousands of employees around the globe who work hard on their behalf, developing tools and services to help them grow their sales in Amazon’s stores. Ultimately, our success depends on their success.”
According to survey data from the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC), the adoption of digital technology – particularly technological tools centered on eCommerce capability – could boost small business job creation and growth to the tune of 360,000 jobs and $140 billion over the next three years. Those likely to see the greatest impacts, according to C_TEC, are small businesses in rural America with annual revenues under $100,000.
Hiccup of the Week: The Order Invoice Slip-Up
There is no such thing as a race run perfectly, and this week, Amazon suffered the rare stumble on the track in terms of its logistical operations when some order invoices got a bit mixed-up in the system.
Amazon customers earlier this week were complaining of receiving email updates and invoices about orders belonging to other people. The flaw was found by a cybersecurity researcher when he received an email with another customer’s order information that also included that person’s name and address.
“I think they legitimately intended to email me a notification that my item was shipping early,” Jake Williams, the founder of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, noted of the email error. “I just think they screwed something up in the system and sent the updates to the wrong people.” Williams had ordered an item that he was told was not available for over a month, but then received an email saying it was on the way, addressed to another customer.
The issue might seem minor, but it is actually a “serious breach of trust” because of how much personal information can be revealed on an Amazon order, according to Williams.
Some customers took to Twitter to express their concern over the misdirected emails. One customer tweeted that Amazon’s customer service told him the issue would be investigated. Another customer tweeted that she spoke to an Amazon supervisor about the issue but was given a “nonchalant” response.
Amazon has not yet offered any direct quote on the incident.
New Idea of the Week: Spotlighting Top Brands
One of the complaints Amazon fields on occasion as the internet’s “everything store” is that it can be difficult to navigate the millions upon millions of items to find the right one. It seems Amazon is aiming to solve that problem – and perhaps give some better-known brands a boost – with the new “Top Brands” label it is piloting on certain items. Brands that have thus far made the “Top Brands” cut include Speedo, New Balance, Under Armour and Fruit of the Loom.
It is not a label a brand can buy, according to Amazon – instead, it will be generated based on its level of popularity with customers. How “popularity” is determined has as of yet not been specified, which has been an issue in the past with other Amazon labels, such as “Best Seller” or “Amazon’s Choice.” Critics have complained that the way Amazon determines those statuses is not transparent, and therefore could be used by the eCommerce giant to boost the sale of its private-label brands.
Given that items labeled “Amazon’s Choice” get an increase in sales, the theory is that the “Top Brand” label could be even more impactful, according to market watchers. The new label could have a “substantial impact on how shoppers decide which products to buy” or how brands compete, noted Marketplace Pulse Chief Executive Officer Juozas Kaziukenas.
Big Play of the Week: Out-of-the-Box Approaches to Digital Grocery
BuzzFeed’s cooking platform, Tasty, is an app-centered space where food enthusiasts can watch thousands of videos on food preparation. This week, care of a partnership with Walmart, Tasty announced a big upgrade: It will now be possible to add the ingredients featured in 4,000 Tasty videos directly to a consumer’s digital Walmart cart for purchase at the closest possible location with all ingredients in stock. From there, the consumer can pick up the order curbside.
Those who want to customize the recipes – either based on dietary restrictions or just their own preferences – can also swap items within the Tasty app.
“More than two-thirds of our audience have made a Tasty recipe and 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store, so we’re excited to build upon our partnership with Walmart and provide a new feature that will solve the pain point of grocery shopping and make it even easier for our audience to cook their favorite Tasty recipes,” said Ben Kaufman, BuzzFeed’s chief marketing officer.
Kaufman noted that in many cases, the critical step that keeps people from cooking themselves, instead of merely watching the videos, is the time and hassle involved in gathering a full ingredients list.
Shoppable recipes is the latest feature in a partnership between Walmart and BuzzFeed that has been ongoing since spring 2018, when the brands released a line of affordable kitchenware together. Walmart has also confirmed that its latest pair-up with Tasty will include plans to launch additional Tasty-branded, licensed products within its celebrations, deli, dry grocery and frozen meats departments in the near future.
New Idea of the Week: Walmart-Branded Beauty
While skincare is an incredibly popular vertical for consumers, it can quickly become a rather expensive shopping habit, with multi-step rituals that can involve hundreds and even thousands of dollars’ worth of products. Walmart, it seems, is hoping to ride that wave of rising retail enthusiasm, with this week’s announcement of its new Earth to Skin product line.
True to historical form, Walmart’s branded offering comes with a far more middle-class-friendly price point, as all items in the line are $10 or less. Despite the relatively inexpensive price, the products are advertised as being made with natural ingredients and without things like phthalates, sulfates, parabens or petrolatum.
All told, the line will contain 28 different products including toners, face cleansers, day creams, serums, eye creams and night creams. They come in four collections: Tea Time, Super Fruits, Honey and Super Greens, each reportedly formulated for different skincare challenges.
The move comes about six months after Amazon unveiled a line of skincare products called Belei. Like Walmart, Amazon’s brand also advertises clean beauty, but Belei products start a much higher price point than Walmart’s (in the $30-$50 range) and offer a smaller range of goods (12 compared to Walmart’s 28).
Then again, Amazon’s products are well-reviewed and considered reasonably priced for their quality – it remains to be seen whether Walmart’s less expensive solution will be as popular with consumers.
But then, “wait and see” is often the answer when one is watching a race for the consumer’s whole paycheck – where the moves, and countermoves, are ever ongoing as both players hope to help consumers feed, groom, dress and equip themselves in every conceivable way.
Which means we very likely haven’t seen the end of “everything-but-the-kitchen sink” weeks” – in fact, it’s more likely that we’ve only seen the very beginning of them.