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Walmart To Test Autonomous Grocery Delivery

Walmart is taking its battle with Amazon to the streets of New York

The contest between Walmart and Amazon for control of America’s refrigerator and cupboard is escalating.

Walmart announced today (Oct. 3) that it had purchased Parcel, an delivery service that specializes in toting groceries and packages to the apartments of New Yorkers. Parcel will continue to deliver for its existing customers, but it will become the so-called last-mile courier for Walmart.com and Jet.com, the e-commerce company Walmart bought last year. Jet has been testing same-day delivery in New York, and Parcel will become the (literal) vehicle for that service’s expansion.

With the acquisition of Parcel, Walmart is poised to take on AmazonFresh, its same-day grocery service, and Amazon Prime Now, which delivers general merchandise, in the US’s biggest market.

Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods in June signaled its intention to become a player in the $626 billion US grocery market dominated by Walmart. Likewise, Walmart’s purchase of Parcel, along with its acquisitions of Jet and smaller e-commerce companies like Bonobos and ShoeBuy, shows it plans on taking on Amazon’s primacy in online shopping.

The move also means Walmart has finally found a home in New York, where it’s been blocked in its efforts to open stores for years. Its latest efforts in Brooklyn were stymied by grocery unions and local politicians, and mayor Bill De Blasio is an outspoken opponent. The Arkansas-based chain, which has nearly 5,000 US stores, has been similarly denied in Boston, Seattle and San Francisco.

So far, Walmart has expanded its e-commerce offerings into those traditional left-leaning cities without much of a fight. As its delivery services grow, it can probably count on getting one from Amazon.


Walmart is taking its battle with Amazon to the streets of New York

Google and Walmart Partner With Eye on Amazon

Google and Walmart are testing the notion that an enemy’s enemy is a friend.

The two companies said Google would start offering Walmart products to people who shop on Google Express, the company’s online shopping mall. It’s the first time the world’s biggest retailer has made its products available online in the United States outside of its own website.

The partnership, announced on Wednesday, is a testament to the mutual threat facing both companies from Amazon.com. Amazon’s dominance in online shopping is challenging brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart, while more people are starting web searches for products they might buy on Amazon instead of Google.

But working together does not ensure that they will be any more successful. For most consumers, Amazon remains the primary option for online shopping. No other retailer can match the size of Amazon’s inventory, the efficiency with which it moves shoppers from browsing to buying, or its many home delivery options.

The two companies said the partnership was less about how online shopping is done today, but where it is going in the future. They said that they foresaw Walmart customers reordering items they purchased in the past by speaking to Google Home, the company’s voice-controlled speakerand an answer to Amazon’s Echo. Walmart customers can also shop using the Google Assistant, the artificially intelligent software assistant found in smartphones running Google’s Android software.

Walmart customers can link their accounts to Google, allowing the technology giant to learn their past shopping behavior to better predict what they want in the future. Google said that because more than 20 percent of searches conducted on smartphones these days are done by voice, it expects voice-based shopping to be not far behind.

“We are trying to help customers shop in ways that they may have never imagined,” said Marc Lore, who is leading Walmart’s efforts to bolster its e-commerce business. He came to Walmart last year after the retailer bought the company he founded, Jet.com.

Google is a laggard in e-commerce. Since starting a shopping service in 2013, it has struggled to gather significant momentum. Initially, it offered free same-day delivery before scrapping it. It also tried delivery of groceries before abandoning that, too.

If Amazon is a department store with just about everything inside, then Google Express is a shopping mall populated by different retailers. There are more than 50 retailers on Google Express, including Target and Costco. Inside Google Express, a search for “toothpaste” will bring back options from about a dozen different retailers.

Google said it planned to offer free delivery — as long as shoppers met store purchase minimums — on products purchased on Google Express. Google had charged customers a $95 a year membership for free delivery. Amazon runs a similar program called Amazon Prime, offering free delivery for members who pay $99 a year.

The partnership with Google represents one of several steps that Walmart has taken over the past year to strengthen its online business.


Wal-Mart takes a cue from Amazon and applies for its own drone-deploying blimp patent

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is taking on Amazon in what appears to be a copycat move — by applying for a drone-deploying blimp patent.

You may recall about a year ago Amazon filed a patent for a flying warehouse that will send drones to your door. Now Walmart wants in on Amazon’s idea.

The patent application, first noted in Bloomberg, shows the Walmart blimp would float about 500 to 1,000 feet in the air and contain multiple launching bays from which both human controlled and autonomous drones could fly out to make deliveries.

A moveable warehouse blimp could help Walmart cut costs by eliminating the need for both land and “last-mile” shipping often handled by third-party logistics companies.

This floating warehouse move is just the latest in a series between the two companies as they duke it out for shoppers’ dollars. Amazon is fast becoming a dominant competitor to Walmart, offering fast shipping and cheaper products, all without you having to set foot outside your door. But Walmart is still the largest retailer in the world and has a physical advantage over the “Everything Store” with brick-and-mortar locations throughout the U.S.


Not one to miss out on opportunity, Amazon has started to build its own physical locations in an effort to pull in more shoppers. It already agreed to pay Whole Foods $13.7 billion to acquire all of its upscale retail locations and is further expanding local grocery delivery through AmazonFresh.

But Walmart isn’t one to step back from a challenge and likely has other plans to take on Amazon’s delivery business plans.

Walmart is already testing drive-through pickup using automated machinery. Possessing a flying warehouse stocked with essential items could help give the retailer a needed edge over Amazon by offering super-fast shipping on top of the physical locations, automated pickup and wide selection.


Wal-Mart takes a cue from Amazon and applies for its own drone-deploying blimp patent

Merge Cube augmented reality toy debuts at Walmart

Merge is announcing that the Merge Cube is debuting exclusively this week at Walmart stores across the U.S.

The Merge Cube is a holographic toy that allows users to physically hold and interact with 3D objects using augmented reality (AR) technology. The Merge Cube costs only $15, and it is compatible with iOS and Android devices. It features dozens of games and experiences built for it.

The launch of the Merge Cube in Walmart stores follows the earlier launch of the company’s Merge VR/AR Goggles, which are $60 devices that are available in 5,000 stores worldwide. While the goggles are aimed at those ages 10 and up, the Merge Cube is targeted at kids. The Merge Cube will expand into other major retailers soon.

“We’re excited to bring the Merge Cube to Walmart stores and physically put this technology into people’s hands. With this first-of-its-kind product, people can experience the wonder and amazement of interacting with holographic, 3D content in a natural and intuitive way,” said Merge founder Franklin Lyons, in a statement​. “Our Merge Cube and Goggles allow users to interact with more than just a screen — now, they can build worlds, explore the human brain, visit foreign lands, and more through the power of VR/AR.”

Also launching today is Merge Miniverse, a portal for virtual and augmented worlds. Merge makes both physical products and apps, and it also curates a library of family-friendly experiences like 360-degree videos, virtual and augmented reality apps, and games.


The Merge Miniverse allows AR and VR explorers to choose from hundreds of apps and experiences to use with the Merge VR/AR Goggles and Merge Cube, as well as with other AR/VR devices.

Some of the Merge Cube apps currently available on the Miniverse (with more coming soon) include:

  • Th!ngs:​ ​A collection of holographic minigames where users can hatch and play with their very own Octopet, battle alien forces, and hold a campfire in the palm of their hands.
  • Mr. Body:​ ​A hands-on holographic anatomy lesson that gives a close-up view of the vital organs and their functions.
  • Galactic Explorer​: ​An educational game that lets users hold and interact with the solar system. They can watch as planets orbit the Sun, explore the texture and color of each planet’s surface, and discover interesting facts while navigating the universe.
  • Dig!​: ​A world-building game that lets users build and mine to create holographic 3D worlds they can hold in the palm of their hand, save their creations, share with friends, and download and build off others’ pre-built worlds.

Merge is inviting developers from around the world to join them in shaping the future of play. In June, the company announced its Merge AR/VR Developer Fund, a $1 million fund to support the developer community building apps for Merge products.



Walmart apologizes after offering weaving net in ‘n—-r brown’

Walmart is apologizing after selling a product in the color “n—-r brown.”

A weaving net for hair extensions offered on the big box store’s site was removed by Monday afternoon after Twitter users noticed the slur.

“Hey @Walmart what are you doing,” Kwani Lunis asked about the listing for a Jagazi Natural’s Full Cap Weaving Net.

The n-word was featured both in the headline for the product as well as a description about it that praised its “characteristic and chic design.”

“We are very sorry and appalled that this third party seller listed their item with this description on our online marketplace,” Walmart said in a statement Monday.

“It is a clear violation of our policy and has been removed, and we are investigating the seller to determine how this could have happened.”


But beyond offering a product tainted with racism, Walmart also was offering the weaving net through a fake vendor, according to the owner of Jagazi Naturals.


Chizo Onuh, a 39-year-old based in London, told the Daily News that she had just got back from dropping her kids off at school when she began receiving emails blaming her for the n-word weaving net. 

“Considering the fact that I’m a black woman from Nigeria, what really pains me is that I get these emails from other black people who are in pain because of that word,” she said.

Onuh told the News that there is “nothing I can do about it” and that her brand,a nonsense name she made up herself, has previously been copied by others on eCommerce platforms such as Amazon and wish.com to sell similar products.

She said that she does not believe her product had ever been used with a racial slur before.



Walmart Is Testing a Giant Grocery Vending Machine

Not to be outdone by Amazon, Walmart is now piloting a pick-up grocery service.

The retail giant has started testing the new service with a self-serving kiosk stationed in the parking lot of its Warr Acres, Okla., store. Customers order groceries online and, after entering a special five-digit code, can pick them up at the kiosk, Business Insider reported.


While there is no extra cost to using the service, customers must purchase at least $30 worth of groceries to use the new option. More than 30,000 products are available for purchase through the self-service option, and freezers and fridges are used in the kiosk.

The new option from Walmart comes just after Amazon launched a self-serving grocery pick-up service in Seattle, called AmazonFresh Pickup. Like Walmart’s service, customers can order their groceries online then travel to a store for pickup. Amazon’s service differs from Walmart’s in that the groceries will be brought to the car (a license plate scanner identifies the vehicle).

In an effort to bolster its presence online, Walmart also recently launched a home delivery service that uses its in-store employees to deliver items to customers while on their commute home. That service, however, doesn’t include the delivery of perishable groceries.

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Amazon is going after Walmart with a 45-percent discount on Prime for lower-income shoppers

Amazon already owns the high-income shopper segment in the U.S. Now it’s making a bid to court those who have less income at their disposal.


On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it is offering a 45 percent discount on Prime memberships — $5.99 a month instead of $10.99 month — to U.S. residents receiving government assistance.

Shoppers with an Electronic Benefits Transfer card — used for benefits like the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program — are eligible to sign up four years in a row for this promotion.

The move comes a little over a year after Amazon first introduced the $10.99 monthly payment option for Prime, which was previously only available for an annual fee of $99.


The monthly option comes with the same perks like free two-day shipping on tens of millions of items and access to to a large selection of online movies and TV shows for no extra charge.

 Mark Oldenburg

The monthly payment option was seen as a way to attract lower-income customers — the type of shopper who might otherwise prefer, say, Walmart — who could not cough up $99 at one time. Since then, Prime membership growth has been the strongest among households making less than $50,000 annually, a R.W. Baird study found.

The offer follows an announcement Amazon made earlier this year that it would start accepting food stamps for its grocery items beginning this summer. Amazon’s grocery service costs an additional monthly fee on top of the Prime membership. It’s unclear if lower-income customers taking advantage of Amazon’s new Prime offer would also get a discount on the grocery delivery fee.



Amazon Prime is the most crucial piece of the Amazon shopping machine, since those customers spend more and buy more frequently than non-Prime members do. CEO Jeff Bezos has said he wants to add so much value to Prime that it becomes irresponsible to not use it.

Amazon’s discount offering is just the latest salvo in a renewed rivalry between Walmart and Amazon since Walmart last year acquired Jet.com, started by former Amazon employee Marc Lore.

The two sides are currently engaged in a price war in packaged goods that is terrifying some of America’s biggest grocery brands. Amazon has also recently taken Walmart’s lead more often than in recent years. Amazon followed Walmart’s 500-store expansion of a grocery pick-up model with two Amazon locations of its own and has also lowered its free-shipping threshold to $25 in what looks like a way to combat Walmart’s free, speedy delivery offering.



5 tips for getting fiction or nonfiction books into Costco, Walmart, Target

A quick trip down the aisles of your local Costco might leave you wondering how—or if—you could ever get your book onto the store’s shelves.

Most of the books I saw at my local Costco in Grafton, Wisc., yesterday have “New York Times Best Seller” on the top of the cover.

That makes sense. Competition for shelf space is fierce, and those big chains only want titles that they’re convinced will sell.

A quick peek inside the covers showed that most of the books were published by one of the big publishing houses or their imprints.

But what about Anatomy of Muscle Building by Craig Ramsay? The beautiful artwork on the cover caught my eye. The oversized paperback was published by Firefly, a small press out of Ontario, Canada. The book had only six reviews on Amazon.

How do books like that one compete with those in the Big Leagues?

On the Publishing at Sea cruise in January, New Shelves book distributor Amy Collins, one of my co-hosts, did four presentations on book distribution. I was fascinated when I heard her say that, with persistence and hard work, indie authors can get their books into the giant chains as well as into supermarkets and airport bookstores.

Here are five of the dozens of tips from Amy.

1. Local authors can get special attention.

I live in Wisconsin. At my local Costco, an endcap in the books section prominently displays books by two Wisconsin celebrities—Gov. Scott Walker and former Green Bay Packer Donald Driver.

You might find those books in Costco stores in New York or California. But I bet you won’t find Food Lovers’ Guide to Wisconsin: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings by Martin Hintz and Pam Percy. 

The book has only one review on Amazon—just one! But this isn’t Amazon. It’s Costco. And foodies in these parts would snap up a book like that because it’s about local restaurants and food festivals.

So while your book might not make it into all the Costcos nationwide, it might make it into the stores near you, especially if the fiction or nonfiction title pertains to your area.

2. The cover of your book must be perfect.

If you enlisted your cousin Sue to design your cover, chances are pretty good you won’t make it into any of the big stores.

Why? Because Sue most likely knows nothing about book distribution. She doesn’t know what makes a winning cover. Even if she had to guess, she’d probably be wrong because the elements of a perfect cover this year for a particular genre might be very different than what they were last year.

In other words, your cover needs to look very much like the covers of all the other books in its genre. If the cover passes the first test, it then must pass two more tests before the buyer opens the book to see what’s inside!

3. You can convince a store to carry your book even if it carries similar titles.

When I was at Costco yesterday, I saw two books on gluten-free food.

Why two books and not one? Because the best-seller Grain Drain by David Perlmutter delves into the dangers of eating wheat. The other title was a gluten-free cookbook. Two very different types of books on the same topic. 

4. You must agree to a deep discount on your book.

If you want play in the Big Leagues, you have to be willing to pay. Major chains expect you to discount the book at least 55 percent. 

There are ways around this problem, however, such as getting the book printed very inexpensively overseas. 

If you work the numbers, you’ll quickly see that selling 200 books at your regular retail price won’t make you nearly as much money as selling 30,000 copies at a deep discount.

5. Don’t ask a big store to carry your book until you’ve done your homework.

Go to the store. Walk the aisles. Make note of the kinds of books they’re selling. Talk to the person responsible for deciding which books the store sells.

Pay attention to the price on the stickers. How does your price compare? Is the retail price of your book correct? On the webinar, Amy explains the sweet spot for pricing and why the price of your book has absolutely nothing to do with how much money you want to make on it.

The Big Payoff

If you’ve done everything Amy recommend, and you’ve successfully gotten your book into one of the big chains, you have more opportunities.

Costco, for example, might let you do a book signing, even on the weekend. Many authors hate book signings because they don’t sell many books. 

But have you been to a Costco on a Saturday? The place is a madhouse! And that could mean more invitations to speak when a member of a local book club sees you signing books. 

Your title in Costco, Walmart or Target—or even a big supermarket chain—gives you bragging rights when approaching other specialty retailers like airport bookstores. You now have a track record. And a darn impressive one.



Walmart kills its Amazon Prime-style shipping service

After launching it less than a year ago, Walmart is scrapping ShippingPass, a subscription program meant to compete with Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Instead, it will offer free two-day shipping without a membership, provided you order goods worth up to $35, down from $50. By contrast, ShippingPass members got free shipping on all items with a $50 membership — half the price of Amazon Prime, but without major perks like same-day shipping and music and video streaming.

It’s probably fair to say that the program didn’t take off the way Walmart wanted, but the company spun it a different way. “In this day and age, two-day shipping is really just table stakes — people shouldn’t have to pay for it and certainly not a membership,” said eCommerce President Marc Lore, in a mild dig against his online arch-rival.

However, people are certainly willing to pay for it with Amazon, as the online retail giant now has some 50 million US subscribers, 90 percent of whom renew each year. And while the streaming, lending library and same-day shipping are nice perks, most folks say they do it because of the free two-day shipping, according to Kantar.

In this day and age, two-day shipping is really just table stakes — people shouldn’t have to pay for it and certainly not a membership.

Walmart’s $500 billion in sales still dwarfs the Amazon’s $110 billion figure, but Amazon customers tend to be loyal once then sign up to Prime and spend twice as much as non-members. Amazon also has 40 million products eligible for Prime shipping, 20 times what Walmart offers. Lore says, however, that “there won’t be too many products that you’ll want that won’t be available [with] two day shipping.”

Walmart was reportedly planning to offer a Prime-like service with the streaming service it purchased in 2010, Vudu, along with other perks. At this point, it’s not clear if such a program is still in the works, unless it’s using the free two-day shipping as a stopgap while it re-tools its own membership program. The company declined to say how many folks signed up for ShippingPass, but it will provide full refunds for all members, according to CNBC.



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