After a few rather action-packed weeks in the race to win the consumer’s whole paycheck, this week was notably slower-paced. Table-setting for the always frenetic back end of the year seemed to be on the agenda at both Amazon and Walmart this week, with steps forward on advancing services for consumers.
Which is not to say there weren’t a few turns in the path. Amazon finds itself going to court to defend its marketplace practices against the accusations of illegal poaching by a very irate eBay. And Walmart very quietly made a rather unexpected step into a very new arena — cryptocurrency.
Big Play of the Week: Amazon As Personal Stylist On Retainer
Once Amazon began work in earnest on capturing the consumer paycheck through selling apparel, it was probably only a matter of time before it started taking an active role in styling the outfits. And this week the nation’s largest eCommerce player rolled out a new Prime Wardrobe feature to essentially fill that need: Personal Shopper. According to reports, the new service offers recommendations for clothes as well as accessories that personal shoppers curate.
The goal of the service is to streamline the consumer shopping journey — and winnow thousands of possible clothing options and brands into a curated list of likely favorite based on the shopper’s previous habits. To get the system started, shoppers fill out a personal style inventory about favored fits, styles and color palettes to give the stylist and the artificial intelligence (AI) working on the back end some data to begin with.
Once that handful of curated choices has been pulled and shown to the customer, they get to pick what they want to try, and what they will take a pass on.
The add-on service comes with a cost of $4.99 per month. Amazon private-label brands will be among recommended options, but they will not be alone; brands like Calvin Klein, 7 for All Mankind and Levi will also be available. The service is currently only available for women’s fashion, but Amazon has reported it expects to be able to expand into menswear shortly.
Sign-Off of the Week: Goodbye Dash Button
The Amazon Dash button is officially no more. Well, almost — as of the 31st of August Amazon will officially be pulling the plug.
The news doesn’t exactly come as a shock, as Amazon officially halted sales of Dash buttons in February, but did say at the time that it would continue to support product reorders if consumer demand proved adequate.
It didn’t — according to Amazon, usage “has significantly slowed.”
To replace the existing piece of order tech, Amazon has said it will create virtual dash buttons for customer losing their physical ones, and will continue to offer the Dash Wand designed to make it easy for consumers to reorder frequently-used products like pet food and coffee.
The Dash button was first introduced by Amazon in 2015 as a way to make ordering items customers purchased frequently literally push-button easy. Big name brands like Listerine, Tylenol and Doritos all connected to Dash buttons, and at the height of their popularity brought in about 6,000 orders each day. But in the era of Alexa, Dash button popularity has started to wane — particularly since Amazon first introduced in-skill purchasing in 2018.
As of today there are over 80,000 Alexa apps, though using voice assistants as commerce assistants has been slower to catch on than general use for things like listening to music. Only about a third of voice-speaker users have ever purchased something using voice.
Amazon’s final good-bye to the Dash button comes as the eCommerce firm is moving toward greater focus on the Alexa ecosystem in general — and Alexa-assisted commerce in specific.
Scuffle of the Week: Amazon and eBay Head to Court
Amazon and eBay, rivals in online commerce for the last 20 years or so, will now be heading to court to face off. eBay has filed a lawsuit alleging that Amazon is improperly using eBay’s internal messaging system to steal its sellers.
This is not the first time the two firms have squared off over this issue — eBay has filed before and the first round of these charges are now in arbitration. The newest round of legal charges filed earlier this week (July 31) claim that Amazon managers told subordinates to use eBay’s private messaging service, which is meant for sellers and buyers to communicate, to try and recruit sellers from the platform. According to the lawsuit, that action is a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and represent an intentional effort by Amazon that was “coordinated, targeted and designed to inflict harm on eBay.”
The previous case had only noted that only a few Amazon employees had reached out; the involvement of managers in this case appears to be new.
Both firm's marketplaces are vital to their bottom lines — over 50 percent of Amazon’s total sales come care of marketplace sellers instead of its core eCommerce platform. An attack on how it recruits those sellers could be a problem for Amazon’s overall strategy to own the consumer's paycheck.
Big Move of the Week: Automation Efforts Roll Forward
Grocery delivery is coming for Walmart customers in Arkansas in a way few customers have ever seen before. A new Walmart pilot with Gatik will see self-driving cars that only have a human safety driver along for the ride, delivering groceries to people’s homes.
The pilot is made possible by the state’s new autonomous vehicle law which made it possible for the Arkansas Highway Commissioner to give Gatika license to launch a commercial service with Walmart.
“With the help of Gatik, we’re making sure we stay on the cutting edge of grocery pickup by testing an autonomous vehicle to move customer orders on a two-mile route in Bentonville between two of our stores,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S., said in a news release.
As part of the pilot, Gatik will run its modified Ford Transit Connect vans 10 times per day during daylight, seven days a week.
“We aim to learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles into our online grocery ecosystem, operation process changes and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology,” Ward said.
Walmart is Gatik’s first major partnership in thie areas, though the two-year old Palo Alto based firm has said it will soon have additional commercial partnerships to discuss. This also isn’t Walmart’s first automated delivery rodeo — earlier this year, Walmart announced a partnership to test grocery delivery via autonomous vehicle in Surprise, Ariz., with California autonomous vehicle startup company Udelv.
But Walmart wasn’t just looking for innovations in places it has already explored this week — it also had one very unexpected left turn to throw in just as the week was going to bed.
Surprise Play of the Week: Is Walmart Looking To Build Its Own Libra?
Of all the things we ever expected to be writing about Walmart and its efforts to capture more of the consumer's paycheck, the phrase “cryptocurrency innovation” didn’t make the shortlist.
But according to an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filed this week, it sure seems like Walmart is considering building a stablecoin all its own, that bears a passing resemblance to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project.
Apart from favoring a cryptocurrency that has a value pegged to the dollars, the application said the proposed Walmart coin could help provide finance for those with limited access to banking services.
“Using a digital currency, low-income households that find banking expensive, may have an alternative way to handle wealth at an institution that can supply the majority of their day-to-day financial and product needs,” Walmart states.
The biggest obvious difference between “Walmart Coin” and Facebook’s Libra is the ability of the coin holder to earn interest, whereas with Libra interest earned on the Libra reserve fund would go to the members of the Libra Association.
The Walmart cryptocurrency initiative is also more clearly commerce-focused, as the patent application states that among things possible are storing purchasing histories on blockchain and then applying related savings on them to future purchases.
The filing also rather provocatively points out that ultimately it could remove the need for credit cards, and instead use mobile tech as a “pre-approved biometric (e.g., fingerprint or eye pattern) credit.”
“A person is the ‘credit card’ to their own digital value bank,” the firm says in the application.
The token could also be used to restrict what product categories can be bought and by whom, making it impossible for minors to buy cigarettes, alcohol or R-rated movies, for example.
This is not Walmarts first entry into using blockchain tech — the retailer already uses it as part of its fresh produce and pharmaceutical supply chain. But this is its first application of the technology to its consumer-facing business — and it is clearly designed as a rather ambitious, sticky and ecosystem-building one.
That is, of course, if the patent goes anywhere — many of them never come to anything. And given the tempest Facebook kicked up with Libra, it is plausible that Walmart might just bide its time on this project and see how that works out.
But then, again, in a fast-moving race like the one Walmart is having with Amazon, time is never on their side. Because the race is moving forward, and expanding onto ever new ground.
Which means there might just be a few more surprises, and pieces of really out-of-the-box thinking, featured on this tracker in the coming weeks and months — and things moving into market a whole lot faster than one would have ever thought possible.