It was a big week for peeks at what’s to come in the race for the consumer’s whole paycheck as both Walmart and Amazon had big upgrades to announce.
Amazon was particularly busy as it spent much of the week at CES in Las Vegas pushing the power of its expanding connected commerce ecosystem.
But Walmart had some tech upgrades of its own to announce, and the company was the source of some of the week’s more interesting speculation as market watchers began to openly wonder if it could be the buyer that Grubhub may (or may not) be looking for.
Overall, this week indicated that both Walmart and Amazon are looking to up their game in 2020 — and set their collective sites wider when capturing the consumers whole paycheck.
Big Play of the Week: The Incredible Expanding Connected Commerce Ecosystem
There were an awful lot of Amazon announcements to keep up with this week. The biggest news of the week in this regard was that Amazon Pay is headed to the pump via a partnership with Exxon Mobil and Fiserv to make it possible to pay for gas with Alexa.
It was one of a series of expansion announcements for Alexa out of CES in Las Vegas this week. There was also the news that Echo Auto is going global, expanding its partnership with car location-based services firm Telenav to bring a richer range of voice services.
Telenav joins Anker, Garmin and Nextbase among third-party navigation tech companies actively building or planning to build Alexa-enabled devices for the car.
According to Amazon’s chief evangelist of Alexa Auto, Arianne Walker, the question for Alexa’s entrance into most cars is more a matter of if then when — as Amazon is “essentially talking” with all major automakers on partnering in some form, she said.
“It’s really more of a matter of getting things lined up for the cars that are going to be released as opposed to any hesitation,” she said.
And while auto took up a lot of the CES spotlight, there were many reports on Amazon numerical gains in expanding devices connected by Alexa voice assistant. As of the start of the year, there are hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices on the market — more than doubling the 100 million they announced a year ago. In the home alone, Amazon reported 100,000 smart home products from over 9,500 brands.
“It looks like an inflection year,” Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Devices and Services David Limp noted of Alexa’s incredibly rapid expansion. “It’s been a very, very big year in terms of momentum for Alexa-enabled devices out there. We started with just being able to turn a light on and off, now we have over 100,000 devices, and you can connect Alexa to your toaster oven and your ceiling fan.”
So, by the end of the year, will Alexa be buying all of our gas and controlling all of our appliances? Well, all is a big prediction, particularly considering it has competition in the market. But if Amazon has anything to say about it, a lot more transactions in 2020 are going to start not with a dip or a tap, but with the words “Alexa can you…”
Take Two of the Week: Amazon Moves (Back) in on Luxury
Although Amazon often has a reputation for being invincible when it comes to commerce, the company has had more than a few things not quite work out as planned.
In 2012, for example, Amazon attempted to break into the luxury fashion market, but it didn’t quite take off. Consumers still tended to view Amazon as a place to shop for discounts online, not high-end goods, and luxury brands were reluctant to dilute their brand image and list on the site. Amazon promised not to discount items below a certain floor, but it was largely to no avail. The effort died quietly within a year.
But Amazon is taking another bite at the apple. This time around, the model will mimic the concession model found in department and specialty stores. Brands will be given a chance to run a mini-shop inside the Amazon platform in a way that gives brands complete control over the look and feel of their online spaces and which products they sell.
Currently, there are 12 brands participating in the luxury launch, according to Amazon, all of which will get individual roll outs. Participating brands will have access to Amazon’s thorough and storied logistics network, which aids in speedy delivery and provides customer service.
Those rollouts will be part of a reportedly $100 million marketing campaign aimed at introducing the new expansion.
But Amazon wasn’t the only one rolling out new things this week; team Walmart was keeping it competitive on the technological front.
Big Play of the Week: The Grocery Bot
That robots will become an increasingly large part of the retail experience, particularly on the backend, is at this point, well-established conventional wisdom. What exactly that will look like, however, is still an emerging picture.
It’s a picture that got a bit clearer this week with the announcement that Walmart is rolling out a grocery-picking robot called Alphabot that can reportedly pick, pack and deliver orders an estimated 10 times faster than a human employee can. That speed and associated expanded capacity could become critical as demand for digital grocery ordering grows among consumers.
Alphabot, which was developed solely for Walmart by startup Alert Innovation, uses autonomous carts to pick orders for groceries purchased online. An associate is still part of the process, but instead of picking, they check the bags to make sure they are good to go to customers. The tech has already had a secret pilot in New Hampshire and is currently being analyzed for improvements before national launch.
“By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency,” said Brian Roth, senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations for Walmart U.S.
Roth said he believes Alphabot could inherently transform Walmart’s eGrocery enterprise and “free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”
“This is going to be a transformative impact to Walmart’s supply chain,” Roth said. “Alphabot is what we think of as micro-fulfillment — an inventive merger of eCommerce and brick-and-mortar methods.”
The move is one of many improvements Walmart has announced as it seeks to compete more efficiently with Amazon. Late in 2019, it announced it will begin revamping its produce department to serve the 95 percent of customers who report they still prefer to pick up their produce in a store, as opposed to online.
Interesting Rumor of the Week
Earlier in the week, rumors emerged that Grubhub, hit hard by declining share prices, might just be looking to either be acquired or effect a merger to remain competitive in the increasingly crowded food delivery space.
Shortly after those rumors emerged, the speculation machine revved up on who that buyer could be — and Walmart emerged as a popular favorite for a firm that might just be the right savior for Grubhub.
According to reports in The New York Post, Walmart is at the head of a list of possible buyers who are very interested in the purchase.
“I have spoken with executives from each company (especially Walmart) and there is interest in acquiring Grubhub,” former Amazon executive and supply-chain consultant Brittain Ladd told the Post in an email. “I believe the value of Grubhub to Walmart is that they could leverage Grubhub for delivering food and groceries.”
Walmart, however, is not the only grocery player in the mix. Ladd noted that executives at Kroger, Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize (the firm that owns Stop & Shop) have also expressed interest in purchasing Grubhub.
And, of course, this is all complicated by the fact that Grubhub is quite adamant that it is not up for sale.
“We felt it was important to clarify that there is unequivocally no process in place to sell the company, and there are currently no plans to do so,” a representative said in a statement to media.
Could those plans change if Walmart (or some other player) made a big enough offer? And could Grubhub infrastructure be adopted to deliver grocery products instead of prepared meals? We imagine the speculation will carry on until something concrete happens.
But, if the race for the consumer’s whole paycheck carries on as it has, we imagine there will be a lot of concrete happenings out of both Amazon and Walmart left to come — in connected commerce, in grocery, in delivery — and probably quite a few places we haven’t even thought of yet.
But we’ll be sure to keep you up to date.