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Walmart and Tesla are going to try and work things out

By Kirsten Korosec

Walmart came out swinging earlier this week in a lawsuit that accused Tesla of breach of contract and gross negligence over problems with rooftop solar panel systems installed at the retail giant’s stores.

Now, just days later, the lawsuit has been placed on hold while the two companies try to reach an agreement that would keep the solar installations in place and put them back in service, according to a joint statement issued late Thursday night.

“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement read. “Together, we look forward to pursuing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future. Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely.”

Walmart hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. The complaint is still on file with New York state court. But the two parties are going to try to reach an agreement that would avoid a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which is aimed at Tesla’s energy unit that was formerly known as SolarCity, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by the solar panel systems. Walmart asked Tesla to remove the solar panel systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and to pay for damages related to fires that the retailer alleges stem from the panels.

Now, a Walmart spokesperson said it is “actively working towards a resolution” with Tesla.

Neither Tesla or Walmart would explain the details of the negotiations.

The stakes are high for Tesla. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk  announced a new rental offering for solar power in a bid to reboot the flagging renewable energy business.

Tesla’s share of the solar market has declined since its merger with SolarCity in 2016. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar, installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts, respectively.

Tesla’s renewable energy business includes residential and commercial solar and energy storage products. The company also has a utility-scale energy product called Megapack. While Tesla still produces solar panels for residential use, much of its focus has been on developing its solar roof, which is comprised of tiles. It still operates a commercial business, which targets municipalities, schools, affordable housing, enterprise and agriculture and water districts as customers.

The company doesn’t provide a breakdown of its solar installations, making it difficult to determine if the commercial business is flat, falling or on the rise. Language in its latest 10-Q suggests Tesla is putting a renewed effort into its solar business.

Tesla said it’s working on revamping the customer service experience for solar products, according to the 10-Q. The company said while its retrofit solar system deployments have it expects they “will stabilize and grow in the second half of the year.”

Walmart Canada rolls out nationwide grocery delivery through Instacart

By Sarah Perez

Walmart’s relationship with Instacart deepened today with an expansion of their partnership across Canada for grocery delivery. Walmart Canada had previously run a 17-store pilot program with Instacart, starting last September, in both the Greater Toronto area and Winnipeg. With the expansion, Walmart Canada will offer same-day grocery delivery from nearly 200 Walmart stores nationwide.

Canadian Walmart shoppers can now shop online via Instacart’s website or mobile app, select their city and store, then add items to a grocery cart, check out and choose their delivery window. The delivery can arrive in as fast as one hour, or it can be scheduled as much as five days in advance.

The service is currently live in cities and communities throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the retailer says.

Instacart Walmart Canada Check out

Walmart Canada isn’t the only Walmart arm to have a relationship with the same-day delivery service. Last year, Walmart’s Sam’s Club also began working with Instacart to offer same-day delivery from its warehouse stores in parts of the U.S. That partnership expanded last fall, and recently began to power Sam’s Club’s new alcohol delivery service, as well.

Walmart in the U.S. also offers an online grocery service, but has chosen to work with other delivery providers, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie and Postmates, after ending relationships with Uber, Lyft and Deliv. According to reports, Walmart didn’t want to work with Instacart in the U.S. because it only wants to use the provider for last-mile deliveries — and Instacart wanted to list Walmart inventory in its app.

In Canada, however, that arrangement seems to be working out.

With the expansion, Instacart delivery is now available to more than 70% of Canadian households, up from 60% in January of this year. By comparison, Instacart is available in more than 80% of U.S. households.

It’s not the only option for Walmart’s online grocery in Canada, though.

In addition, Walmart Canada offers grocery pickup at 175 stores, expanding to 190 by the end of January 2020. It also offers pickup at nine PenguinPickUp locations in the Toronto area and next-day delivery in the Toronto area through Walmart.ca.

“Canadian families are busy. By introducing more online shopping options at Walmart, we’re helping make life easier and more convenient for them,” said Lee Tappenden, president and CEO of Walmart Canada, in a statement released today. “Expanding our relationship with Instacart provides our customers with even more time-saving ways to shop at Walmart in their community.”

To kick off the deal, the code WMTCOAST2COAST can be used at checkout for $10 off a first-time customer’s order of $35 or more.

India’s Flipkart bets on free video streaming service and Hindi support to win next 200 million internet users

By Manish Singh

India’s e-commerce giant Flipkart said on Tuesday that it is revamping its shopping app to add support for Hindi language, a video streaming service, and an audio-visual assistant, the latest in a series of recent efforts to expand its reach in the country.

The e-commerce firm, which sold majority stake to Walmart for $16 billion last year and leads the local market, told TechCrunch that it has started to rollout the features on its shopping app and will push it to all its existing users in within next 20 days.

Only 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people speak English. Flipkart said it has been working to customize its entire platform for several months to add support for Hindi. As part of the revamp, the company is also introducing an “audio visual guided navigation” feature, also built in Hindi, that is aimed at first time internet users — and existing online users not comfortable with making transactions online — to make it easier for them to navigate the site and place orders.

As part of the accessibility push, Flipkart is also introducing an in-app video streaming feature dubbed ‘Flipkart Videos,’ that will syndicate movies, shows, and other long-form and short form content from a number of production houses and movie studios, the company said.

Its rival Amazon India added support for Hindi last year, though the feature is limited to basic text translation.

The inclusion of video streaming feature comes as Indians’ appetite for consuming media content on the internet has ballooned in the recent years. Hotstar, a Disney-owned video streaming service, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users in the country.

Flipkart said the video streaming feature will enable it to invite a new segment of users to its platform who are online but don’t currently shop on the internet. Even as more than 500 million users are connected to the web in India, only tens of millions of them currently shop there. The streaming feature will be accessible to all users at no charge without any loyalty program, a company spokesperson said, refuting a recent media report that claimed the feature will be limited to loyalty customers.

“In the past 10 years our vision and ethos have been to solve for ‘Real India,’ create India specific tech solutions, here in India. What we are rolling out when it comes to addressing the needs of the next 200 million users in our country, is taking forward those founding principles of access and affordability,” said Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Group CEO of Flipkart, in a statement.

“We strongly believe that the next phase of our growth is rooted in loyalty , democratizing e-commerce and the country will continue seeing more innovations that stem from our deep understanding of Indian consumers, especially middle India.”

Flipkart said it is also attempting to make it easier for users to discover items on its app. So it is introducing a feed called ‘Flipkart Ideas’ that will populate short form videos, animated images, polls and quizzes.

For instance, a user may see a short form video that shows a sportsperson wearing a pair of sneakers, a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a cap. If they tap on the video, they will see the exact items the person in the video is wearing and other similar items. One more tap, and the user would be able to purchase any of those items.

The company said it is working with more than 400 influencers and 30 brands to create content that will appear on the feed.

All of these features, as well as a gaming section that Flipkart introduced last year, will now appear at the bottom of the screen for easier navigation, the company said. More than half a million users in India play mini-games on Flipkart everyday. The company said it will introduce more games to boost engagement levels and offer loyalty points as incentive to customers.

India’s Reliance to buy majority stake in Google-backed Fynd for $42.3M

By Manish Singh

Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries is acquiring 87.6% stake in Fynd, a seven-year-old Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers, for 2.95 billion Indian rupees ($42.33 million), the two said in a brief statement late Saturday.

Fynd, which was founded in 2012, helps offline retailers sell their products to consumers directly through its online store, and also enables them connect with other “demand channels” such as third-party e-commerce platforms Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart.

More than 600 brands including Nike, Raymond, Global Desi, and Being Human, and 9,000 stores are connected through Fynd’s platform, Harsh Shah, co-founder and CEO of Fynd, told TechCrunch in an interview. Many brands use Fynd’s products to also ramp up sales in their own respective e-commerce businesses.

Since Fynd works directly with brands, it offers a wider selection of items and newer inventories to consumers, as well as faster delivery, Shah claimed.

fynd website 1

Fynd’s website

Reliance Industries, which owns the nation’s biggest physical retail chain Reliance Retail, has been a customer of Fynd for more than six years, Shah said. “Reliance runs a few major brands in the country. 25 of our existing brands are owned by them. Our Find Store product has helped their stores plug a lot of sales,” he said.

Fynd, which counts Google as one of its early investors, will continue to operate its existing business and has an option to secure an additional 1 billion India rupees ($14 million) by end of 2021 from Reliance Industries, Shah said. He declined to reveal how much capital his startup had raised prior to this week’s announcement. According to Crunchbase, Fynd has raised about $7.3 million.

“Reliance is taking the majority stake in Fynd, but at the end of the day, for us it is like any other investor coming in. We will still continue to work separately, we have our own independent roadmap, and we have own clients and products that we plan to grow. So things continue as it is,” he said.

Fynd, which takes a small commission on each transaction that occurs online, is already profitable on an operating level and expects to be fully profitable in the coming quarters, Shah said.

It will continue to build and scale its existing products, including OpenAPI that allows merchants to quickly list their products on either their own stores or third-party sites and manage their inventories and sales.

Despite tens of billions of dollars of investment in India’s e-commerce market in recent years by Amazon India and Flipkart, physical retail dominates the sales in the country. But e-commerce businesses in India are growing, too.

The nation’s e-commerce space is estimated to scale to $84 billion by 2021, up from $24 billion in 2017; compared to India’s overall retail market that is estimated to be worth $1.2 trillion by 2021, according to a recent study by Deloitte India and Retail Association of India.

Reliance Industries, run by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani (pictured above), additionally has its own plan to enter the e-commerce business. Earlier this year, Ambani announced that his telecom operator Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail are working on an e-commerce platform.

Reliance Jio, which began its commercial operations in the second half of 2016, recently became the nation’s biggest telecom operator with more than 331 million subscribers at the end of June.

How retailers can survive the Amazon era

By Jonathan Shieber
Simon Wu Contributor
Simon is a Director with Cathay Innovation, an early growth venture capital firm based in San Francisco, Paris, and Shanghai; and previously worked at VMware as a Manager in the Strategy & Corporate Development team.

While Amazon’s 2019 Prime Day was riddled with complications from worker protests to antitrust investigations, the tech giant once again broke records with 175M items sold, surpassing both Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. In just twenty years, Amazon revolutionized the logistics industry by fulfilling orders directly and offering its fulfillment services to third parties selling on the Amazon marketplace.

This year, more than half of US households will be Prime members. As Amazon continuously pushes delivery costs and times down, consumer expectations keep rising higher. But what does this mean for other retailers?

To survive in the post-Amazon era, the way companies have been storing and delivering physical goods to their final destination will need to change profoundly in the next decade.  Below are some of the key challenges facing the logistics landscape and three predictions for what we can expect to see next. 

The challenge 

Beating Amazon is difficult due to its sheer size, breadth and depth of its warehousing and fulfillment infrastructure and cutting-edge automation. Meanwhile, the typical logistics supply chain has become increasingly complex from transportation of physical goods from manufacturing facilities to last mile delivery to consumers. Further, legacy technology struggles to provide actionable insights due to low transparency, inefficient information flow, and limited automation. 

The gap between shipper’s expectations and logistics providers’ capabilities continues to widen as more of the supply chain lands in the hands of 3PLs—increasing capacity and capabilities but decreasing the shipper’s visibility and control on the process.

Now, also take into account other factors such as the industry wide shortage of blue collar workers and the net effect is that innovation in delivery and warehousing operations is becoming a pressing need.

GettyImages 1161005963

TURIN, ITALY – JULY 09: Amazon boxes of Amazon Logistic Center on July 09, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images)

What’s next for logistics?

Shippers will increasingly need to reinvent their logistics value chain and upgrade various functions, from storage to distribution, as well as leverage new partners that bring innovative technologies and expertise.  

The technology startups that are well-positioned to build lean and effective solutions for the entire industry are those that focus on solving specific pain points including improving, visibility across the logistics chain; speed of delivery; and cost effectiveness of storage and fulfillment.

  •  24/7 tracking becomes table stakes

Over the last few years, the “consumerization of IT” wave hit the logistics industry, meaning business professionals expect enterprise software to look and feel like the consumer apps they use every day – simple, fast, and easy-to-use. 

 Most companies’ legacy infrastructure has challenges with easy tracking or visibility into existing inventory. A new wave of venture backed tech-enabled solutions that marries both technology and execution has emerged to address these issues. 

 Take Shipwell (freight), Stord (warehousing), and Shipbob (fulfillment) for example — these solutions can provide end to end digitized offerings with the speed, reliability, and affordability that are vital to shipping operation teams. 

 While there is still no clear next-gen inventory or warehouse management winner in the US, early signs indicate capacity providers are moving in this direction by offering more solutions such as additional workflow and dashboard tools to their service offerings.

  • Same day shipping will be the norm

 Amazon’s recent one-day shipping announcement is a precursor to where the industry is being pushed. According to Invesp, over 65% of retailers surveyed expect to offer same-day delivery within the next two years.

Many are trying to solve for end-to-end fulfillment solutions to e-commerce players, including warehousing, packaging, fulfillment, transportation, and reverse logistics services. Startups like Deliverr, Shipmonk and Darkstore offer competitive or better solutions in terms of cost and speed, usually controlling supply of storage directly and outsourcing or crowdsourcing delivery. 

Others have gone vertical, such as Cathay Innovation portfolio company and delivery app Glovo, who recently launched their version of a darkstore which is the size of a garage with limited inventory inside cities— but with a goal of guaranteeing 15 minute delivery. According to Glovo’s CEO Oscar Pierre, “Dark stores are a major priority for us, and we plan to open further stores in Barcelona, Lisbon, Milan and Tbilisi within the next year. Being able to deliver within 20 minutes has a massive influence on the customer’s decision. When the delivery time is short and the pricing sensitivity is low, that’s what makes people decide between going to their local convenience store or ordering from the app.”

Delivery speed expectation is experiencing its own “Moore’s law” and is an area we see a great amount of opportunity given the conflux of change needed from physical retail meeting digital expectations.

  • The cost-effectiveness of storage and fulfillment will rapidly improve 

Just as Spotify and Netflix have conditioned consumers to around a $10 price point, retailers and last mile delivery players are doing the same with shipping. This limits the ability for shippers to pass the costs onto consumers, thus forcing vendors to look elsewhere to cut costs.

Several startups are emerging to solve the problem that legacy companies are ill-equipped to solve: enabling retailers to compete with Amazon, respond faster to market needs and contain rising costs.

Flexible, on-demand warehousing has become a good option to save costs and expand footprint, AWS-style. Companies like FLEXE and Flowspace are connecting unused warehouse space and fulfillment capacity with clients that have dynamic warehousing and fulfillment needs, creating a more liquid and efficient market while also increasing visibility into their assets. On the trucking side, companies such as Convoy and Ontruck, (my firm’s investment) are also making sure trucks are being better utilized by matching capacity to empty trucks.

As many shippers (even behemoth’s like Walmart) grapple with creating a profitable e-commerce operation, areas including storage, distribution and fulfillment will be key areas to watch in the coming years.

Parting thoughts

Several technological innovations, from IoT sensors and machine learning models to autonomous robots, are transforming the logistics supply chain. Startups not only have the opportunity to survive the post-Amazon era but help the booming e-commerce industry deliver on its innovation potential.

Gatik’s self-driving vans have started shuttling groceries for Walmart

By Kirsten Korosec

Gatik AI, the autonomous vehicle startup that’s aiming for the sweet middle spot in the world of logistics, is officially on the road through a partnership with Walmart .

The company received approval from the Arkansas Highway Commissioner’s office to launch a commercial service with Walmart . Gatik’s autonomous vehicles (with a human safety driver behind the wheel) is now delivering customer online grocery orders from Walmart’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The AVs will aim to travel seven days a week on a two-mile route — the tiniest of slivers of Walmart’s overall business. But the goal here isn’t ubiquity just yet. Instead, Walmart is using this project to capture the kind of data that will help it learn how best to integrate autonomous vehicles into their stores and services.

Gatik uses Ford transit vehicles outfitted with a self-driving system. Co-founder and CEO Gautam Narang has previously told TechCrunch that the company can fulfill a need in the market through a variety of use cases, including partnering with third-party logistics giants like Amazon, FedEx  or even the U.S. Postal Service, auto part distributors, consumer goods, food and beverage distributors as well as medical and pharmaceutical companies.

The company, which emerged from stealth in June, has raised $4.5 million in a seed round led by former CEO and executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors. Other investors include AngelPad, Dynamo Fund, Fontinalis Partners, Trucks Venture Capital and angel investor Lior Ron, who heads Uber Freight.

Gatik isn’t the only AV company working with Walmart. Walmart has partnerships with Waymo and Udelv. Both of these partnerships involve pilot programs in Arizona.

Udelv is testing the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers. Last year, members of Waymo’s early rider program received grocery savings when they shopped from Walmart.com. The riders would then take a Waymo car to their nearby Walmart store for grocery pickup.

Udelv partners with H-E-B on Texas autonomous grocery delivery pilot

By Darrell Etherington

Autonomous delivery company Udelv has signed yet another partner to launch a new pilot of its self-driving goods delivery service: Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B Group. The pilot will provide service to customers in Olmos Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio where the grocery retailer is based.

California-based Udelv will provide H-E-B with one of its Newton second-generation autonomous delivery vehicles, which are already in service in trials in the Bay Area, Arizona and Houston providing deliveries on behalf of some of Udelv’s other clients, which include Walmart among others.

Udelv CEO and founder Daniel Laury explained in an interview that they’re very excited to be partnering with H-E-B, because of the company’s reach in Texas, where it’s the largest grocery chain with approximately 400 stores. This initial phase only covers one car and one store, and during this part of the pilot the vehicle will have a safety driver on board. But the plan includes the option to expand the partnership to cover more vehicles and eventually achieve full driverless operation.

“They’re really at the forefront of technology, in the areas where they need to be,” Laury said. “It’s a very impressive company.”

For its part, H-E-B Group has been in discussion with a number of potential partners for autonomous deliver trials, and according to Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at H-E-B, but it liked Udelv specifically because of their safety record, and because they didn’t just come in with a set plan and a fully formed off-the-shelf offering – they truly partnered with HEB on what the final deployment of the pilot would look like.

Both Tepfenhart and Laury emphasized the importance of customer experience in providing autonomous solutions, and Laury noted that he thinks Udelv’s unique advantage in the increasingly competitive autonomous curbside delivery business is its attention to the robotics of the actual delivery and storage components of its custom vehicle.

“The reason I think we’re we’ve been so successful, is because we focused a lot on the delivery robotics,” Laury explained. “If you think about it, there’s no autonomous delivery business that works if you don’t have the robotics aspect of it figured out also. You can have an autonomous vehicle, but if you don’t have an automated cargo space where merchants can load [their goods] and consumers can unload the vehicle by themselves, you have no business.”

Udelv also thinks that it has an advantage when it comes to its business model, which aims to generate revenue now, in exchange for providing actual value to paying customers, rather than counting on being supported entirely through funding from a wealthy investor or deep-pocketed corporate partners. Laury likens it to Tesla’s approach, where it actually has over 500,000 vehicles on the road helping it build its autonomous technology – but all of those are operated by paying customers who get all the benefits of owing their cars today.

“We want to be the Tesla of autonomous delivery,” Laury said. “If you think about it, Tesla has got 500,000 vehicles on the road […] if you think about this, for of all the the cars in the world that have some level of automated driver assistance (ADAS) or autonomy, I think Tesla’s 90% of them – and they get the customers to pay a ridiculous amount of money for that. Everybody else in the business is getting funding from something else. Waymo is getting funding from search; Cruise is getting funding from GM and SoftBank and others, Nuro is getting funding from SoftBank. So, pretty much everybody else is getting funding from a source that’s a different source from the actual business they’re supposed to be in.”

Laury says that Udelv’s unique strength is in the ability the company has to provide value to partners like HEB today, through its focus on robotics and solving problems like engineering the robotics of the loading and customer pick-up experience, which puts it in a unique place where it can fund its own research through revenue-generating services that can be offered in-market now, rather than ten years from now.

Doctours offers packaged medical tourism for U.S. customers

By Jonathan Shieber

Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.

Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.

The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.

Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.

“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”

Katelyn Headshot 2

Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours

The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica. 

Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik. 

Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient,  the company said.

The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.

Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.

A 23-year-old B2B company has shown how keen India is for tech IPOs

By Manish Singh

Away from the limelight of the press and the frenzy of fundraising, a tech startup in India has achieved a feat that few of its peers have managed: going public.

IndiaMART, the country’s largest online platform for selling products directly to businesses, raised nearly $70 million in a rare tech IPO for India this week.

The milestone for the 23-year-old firm is so uncommon for India’s otherwise burgeoning startup ecosystem that, beyond being over-subscribed 36 times, pent up demand for IndiaMART’s stock saw its share price pop 40% on its first day of trading on National Stock Exchange on Thursday — a momentum that it sustained on Friday.

The stock ended Friday at Rs 1326 ($19.3), compared to its issue price of Rs 973 ($14.2).

IndiaMART is the first business-to-business e-commerce firm to go public in India. Its IPO also marks the first listing for a firm following the May reelection of Narendra Modi as the nation’s Prime Minister and the months-long drought that led to it.

Accounting firm EY said it expects more companies from India to follow suit and file for IPO in the coming months.

“Now that national elections are over and favorable results secured, IPO activity is expected to gain momentum in H2 2019 (second half of the year). Companies that had filed their offer documents with the Indian stock markets regulator during H2 2018 and Q1 2019 may finally come to market in the months ahead,” it said in a statement (PDF).

IndiaMART’s origin

The fireworks of the IPO are just as impressive as IndiaMART’s journey.

The startup was founded in 1996 and for the first 13 years, it focused on exports to customers abroad, but it has since modernized its business following the wave of the internet.

“The thesis was, in 1996, there were no computers or internet in India. The information about India’s market to the West was very limited,” Dinesh Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of IndiaMART, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Until 2008, IndiaMART was fully bootstrapped and profitable with $10 million in revenue, Agarwal said. But things started to dramatically change in that year.

“The Indian rupee became very strong against the dollar, which dwindled the exports business. This is also when the stock market was collapsing in the West, which further hurt the exports demand,” he explained.

GettyImages 519406304

Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of IndiaMart.com, poses for a profile shot on July 29, 2015 in Noida, India.

By this time, millions of people in India were on the internet and, with tens of millions of people owning a feature phone, the conditions of the market had begun to shift towards digital.

“This is when we decided to pursue a completely different path. We started to focus on the domestic market,” Agarwal said.

Over the last 10 years, IndiaMART has become the largest e-commerce platform for businesses with about 60% market share, according to research firm KPMG. It handles 97,000 product categories — ranging from machine parts, medical equipment and textile products to cranes — and has amassed 83 million buyers and 5.5 million suppliers from thousands of towns and cities of India.

According to the most recent data published by the Indian government, there are about 50 to 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India, but only around 10 million of them have any presence on the web. Some 97% of the top 50 companies listed on National Stock Exchange use IndiaMART’s services, Agarwal said.

That’s not to say that the transition to the current day was a straightforward process for the company. IndiaMART tried to capitalize on its early mover advantage with a stream of new services which ultimately didn’t reap the desired rewards.

In 2002, it launched a travel portal for businesses. A year later, it launched a business verification service. It also unveiled a payments platform called ABCPayments. None of these services worked and the firm quickly moved on.

Part of IndiaMART’s success story is its firm leadership and how cautiously it has raised and spent its money, Rajesh Sawhney, a serial angel investor who sits on IndiaMART’s board, told TechCrunch in an interview.

IndiaMART, which employs about 4,000 people, is operationally profitable as of the financial year that ended in March this year. It clocked some $82 million in revenue in the year. It has raised about $32 million to date from Intel Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Quona Capital. (Notably, Agarwal said that he rejected offers from VCs for a very long time.)

The firm makes most of its revenue from subscriptions it sells to sellers. A subscription gives a seller a range of benefits including getting featured on storefronts.

4/4. So many Indian small businesses have so much to thank @DineshAgarwal for. And after the iconic IPO, so many Indian entreprenuers will have so much to thank him for – forever unlocking the Indian public markets to current & future generation of Indian internet companies 🙏🏼

— Kunal Bahl (@1kunalbahl) July 4, 2019

Where the industry stands

There are only a handful of internet companies in India that have gone public in the last decade. Online travel service MakeMyTrip went public in 2010. Software firm Intellect Design Arena and e-commerce store Koovs listed in 2014, then travel portal Yatra and e-commerce firm Infibeam followed two years later.

India has consistently attracted billions of dollars in funding in recent years and produced many unicorns. Those include Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart last year for $16 billion, Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, Swiggy, which has bagged $1.5 billion to date, Zomato, which has raised $750 million, and relatively new entrant Byju’s — but few of them are nearing profitability and most likely do not see an IPO in their immediate future.

In that context, IndiaMART may set a benchmark for others to follow.

“The fact that we have a homegrown digital commerce business, serving both the urban and smaller cities, and having struggled and been around for so long building a very difficult business and finally going public in the local exchange is a phenomenal story,” Ganesh Rengaswamy, a partner at Quona Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview. “It keeps the story of India tech, to the Western world, going.”

Congratulations @DineshAgarwal for an iconic IPO! @IndiaMART has set an example and hope for all Indian Internet companies looking to go public. Cheers! https://t.co/yJumFjfitS

— Vani Kola (@VaniKola) July 4, 2019

Generally, it is agreed that there are too few IPOs in India and the industry can benefit from momentum and encouragement of high profile and successful public listings.

“There is a firm consensus that in India, markets will prefer only the IPOs of companies that are profitable. And investors in India might not value those companies. Both of these issues are being addressed by IndiaMART,” said Sawhney.

“We need 30 to 40 more IPOs. This will also mean that the stock market here has matured and understands the tech stocks and how it is different from other consumer stocks they usually handle. More tech companies going public would also pave the way for many to explore stock exchanges outside of India.

“Indian market is ready for more tech stocks. We just need to get more companies to go out there,” Sawhney added, although he did predict that it will take a few years before the vast majority of leading startups are ready for the public market.

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The Indian government, for its part, this week announced a number of incentives to uplift the “entrepreneurial spirit” in the nation.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would ease foreign direct investment rules for certain sectors — including e-commerce, food delivery, grocery — and improve the digital payments ecosystem. Sitharaman, who is the first woman to hold this position in India, said the government would also launch a TV program to help startups connect with venture capitalists.

The path ahead for IndiaMART

IndiaMART has managed to build a sticky business that compels more than 55% of its customers to come back to the platform and make another transaction within 90 days, Agarwal — its CEO — said. With some 3,500 of its 4,000 employees classified as sales executives, the company is aggressive in its pursuit of new customers. Moving forward, that will remain one of its biggest focuses, according to Agarwal.

“Most of our time still goes into educating MSMEs on how to use the internet. That was a challenge 20 years ago and it remains a challenge today,” he told TechCrunch.

In recent years, IndiaMART has begun to expand its suite of offerings to its business customers in a bid to increase the value they get from its platform and thus increase their reliance on its service.

IndiaMART has built a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so that customers need not rely on spreadsheets or other third-party services.

“We will continue to explore more SaaS offerings and look into solving problems in accounting, invoice management and other areas,” said Agarwal.

The firm also recently started to offer payment facilitation between buyers and sellers through a PayPal -like escrow system.

“This will bridge the trust gap between the entities and improve an MSME’s ability to accept all kinds of payment options including the new age offerings.”

There’s an elephant in the room, however.

A bigger challenge that looms for IndiaMART is the growing interest of Amazon and Walmart in the business-to-business space. Several startups including Udaan — which has raised north of $280 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners — have risen up in recent years and are increasingly expanding their operations. Agarwal did not seem much worried, however, telling TechCrunch that he believes that his prime competition is more focused on B2C and serving niche audiences. Besides he has $100 million in the bank himself.

Indeed, as Quona Capital’s Rengaswamy astutely noted, competition is not new for IndiaMART — the company has survived and thrived more than two decades of it.

“Alibaba came and gave up,” he noted.

An important — and unanswered question — that follows the successful IPO is how IndiaMART’s stock will fare over the coming months. A glance to the U.S. — where hyped companies like Uber, Lyft and others have seen prices taper off — shows clearly that early demand and sustained stock performance are not one and the same.

Nobody knows at this point, and the added complexity at play is that the concept of a tech IPO is so uncommon in India that there is no definitive answer to it… yet. But IndiaMART’s biggest achievement may be that it sets the pathway that many others will follow.

250 retailers will compete against Amazon’s Prime Day, up from 194 last year

By Sarah Perez

Amazon’s Prime Day event, now in its fifth year, is no longer just a big sales day for Amazon — it’s become the official kickoff to back-to-school shopping season and a new sales holiday that extends across the web among rival retailers. And those retailers’ competitive response to Prime Day is bigger than ever this year, according to a new report from RetailMeNot. In 2019, the firm estimates that 250 retailers will take part in Prime Day by offering deals of their own. That’s up from 194 last year, and up from just 7 retailers on Amazon’s first Prime Day in 2015.

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The increased participation may be related in part to the size of Amazon’s sale this year. Prime Day has been stretched out over the years. In 2018, for example, Prime Day became a 36-hour sale and, at the time, the biggest shopping event in Amazon’s history.

But more retailers today are aware that offering an alternative sale will bring in the shoppers, similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales also do.

Walmart, for example, is readying its answer to Prime Day by offering deals over a longer period of time than Amazon’s now 48-hour Prime Day 2019 event. Instead, of two days, the rival retailer is going for four. Walmart says it will offer “thousands” of special deals and Rollbacks starting on July 14 — the day before Prime Day starts. And these will continue until July 17, the day after Prime Day ends.

Walmart hasn’t announced what deals are in the works as of yet, beyond an HP 15.6″ HD Touch Display Laptop for $429 (currently $447), and the Dyson Multifloor Bagless Upright Vacuum for $154.00 (currently $175).

Target, meanwhile, is prepping its own answer to Prime Day with its biggest summer sale, Target Deal Days, which will take place concurrently with Prime Day (July 15-16). The retailer says it also will feature “thousands” of deals both online and in its app, with new deals each day. These deals haven’t yet been announced, either, but will expand across home, apparel, toys, and more, and will include both Target’s own brands and national brands.

While Prime Day brings the traffic and the sales, there’s some hint that the sale itself could be improved.

Based on RetailMeNot’s survey, 64% of shoppers are hoping that Amazon provides better deals on items this year, 58% want a greater selection, and 54% want more time to take advantage of deals. Nearly all also say they hope the overall Prime Day shopping experience this year is improved.

Back-to-school shoppers and parents will be dropping some cash on Prime Day, too, the report additionally found. 64% of parents say they’ll participate in Prime Day 2019 and will shop at 11 retailers, on average. Parents also plan to spend $162 on Prime Day and complete around 35% of their total back-to-school shopping during that time.

 

Walmart now accepts SNAP for online grocery orders at all 2,500+ pickup locations

By Sarah Perez

Walmart has been working to address the needs of low-income shoppers for some time. More recently, it’s been introducing new ways to serve customers on public assistance. In fall 2017, the retailer began a small test allowing customers to pay for online grocery orders using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — more casually known as food stamps. Today, Walmart says SNAP is now accepted for online grocery orders at all of the company’s 2,500-plus pickup locations.

For SNAP customers, the process of placing an online order is as simple as it is for those paying with debit or credit. They put in their zip code on the Walmart Grocery website to select their local store, then shop for groceries online by adding items to their cart. At checkout, they select a pickup time and choose “EBT card” as their payment option.

When they arrive at the store, they’ll park in the customer spaces marked for Grocery Pickup orders and give their EBT benefit card to the store associate who brings their order to the car.

As Walmart and other retailers have explained, online shopping should not be considered a luxury. Low-income shoppers can often save money by going online where there can be better deals available than at local stores. In Walmart’s case, however, online groceries are priced the same as they are in store.

In addition, be able to shop online can be a huge time saver for those working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Walmart says it’s planning to accept the SNAP payment option at over 3,100 Walmart stores by the end of the year.

The SNAP at Pickup program isn’t the only way Walmart is serving low-income customers.

The retailer also announced in April its participation in a USDA pilot program designed to test the acceptance of SNAP payments directly on retailers’ websites for both grocery pickup and delivery. Walmart is one of several retailers who agreed to participate in the pilot, along with Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Safeway, and Wright’s Markets.

Another pilot we recently spotted is focused on bringing down the cost of grocery delivery by offering customers the option to pay an annual subscription fee of $98, instead of per-delivery charges which can add up over time. Though not aimed at the low-income shopper, it is a viable alternative to rival grocery delivery programs from Target (Shipt), Amazon, and Instacart.

Sam’s Club launches alcohol delivery through Instacart

By Sarah Perez

Walmart -owned Sam’s Club is expanding into same-day alcohol delivery, the retailer announced this morning. The delivery service is being powered by Sam’s Club partner Instacart and is currently live in 215 stores across 12 U.S. states, with plans to reach other cities and markets in the months ahead.

At launch, the list of states supporting alcohol delivery includes Florida, California, Missouri, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Ohio, Wyoming, Connecticut, Texas, Kentucky, and Minnesota. Not all clubs in those states will offer the service — only select markets.

Where available, Sam’s Club members will be able to order both from the in-house “Member’s Mark” brand — like Member’s Mark Sangria, Member’s Mark Prosecco and Member’s Mark Moscato D’Asti, for example — as well as from other popular brands, like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, Modelo Especial, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, among others. The deliveries can arrive as fast as one hour.

The move pits Sam’s Club as a rival to other same-day alcohol delivery services, including Target’s Shipt, which delivers alcohol in a number of cities from various retailers (including Target), Amazon’s Prime Now, Drizly, Postmates, plus other Instacart partner retailers which vary by market and regional chains.

Sam’s Club parent Walmart also delivers alcohol in select markets through Walmart Grocery.

To order alcohol, Sam’s Club members will need to order through the Instacart app or website. They’ll also obviously need to be 21 years of age and will need to present their government ID at the time of delivery.

“Sam’s Club is focused on offering quality products, unexpected finds and better customer experiences,” said Racquel Harris, Vice President, Adult Beverage, in a statement. “Now you can select the perfect bottle of wine to complement your dinner or stock up on your favorite beer or spirits for the big game with the convenience of delivery.”

Instacart is proud to collaborate with Sam’s Club to provide wine, beer, and spirits delivery for their valued members. By extending our marketplace categories, we’re making it even easier for customers to shop from Sam’s Club for all their needs – from groceries and household essentials to alcohol,” said Andrew Nodes, Vice President of Retail at Instacart. “We’re proud to have grown our relationship with Sam’s Club to include its clubs across the U.S., helping members across the country get the groceries they need in as fast as an hour.”

 

FedEx lures online sellers with two-day air shipping at ground rates after Amazon contract ends

By Darrell Etherington

International shipping giant FedEx is showing it’s serious about attracting the ecommerce crowd after a high-profile termination of one of its contracts with Amazon to provide delivery using its express air service in the US. FedEx is now offering the same two-day express air shipping direct to some customers for the same price it usually charges for ground service, which is typically much less expensive, the New York Times reports.

FedEx is offering the price cut in order to better compete with rival UPS, the report claims, and to help refactor its product with ecommerce sellers in mind. These include large competitors to Amazon, including Walmart and Walgreens, as well as smaller customers. Note that FedEx will still act as a carrier for Amazon even once its Express contract comes to an end this month, providing last-mile ground shipping.

Meanwhile, Amazon is expanding its own cargo air fleet, with 15 more planes joining its network and a goal of operating a total of 70 planes by 2021. Amazon launched Prime Air in 2016 to help increase its delivery speed to customers, and has been building out the network ever since. The company’s investment in its own delivery and logistics network has helped it provide free two-day, next day and even same day shipping on many items available on the platform to its Prime subscribers.

Cricket World Cup highlights just how big video streaming is in India

By Manish Singh

As hundreds of millions of people turn their attention to the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup tournament, many of them are using an Indian streaming service to follow the ins and outs of the game.

More than 100 million users tuned in to Hotstar, an on-demand streaming service owned by Disney, on June 16, the day India and Pakistan played a league match against each other. That’s the highest engagement the four-year-old service has clocked on its platform to date, it said in a statement today.

Hotstar said about 66% of its viewers came from outside of big metro cities, an equally remarkable feat that illustrates the growing adoption of the streaming service in smaller cities and towns that remain sporadic consumers — if at all — of internet services.

To be sure, these 100 million users are not all paying subscribers. Hotstar offers five-minute streaming of live events to users at no cost. The platform, which competes with Netflix, Prime Video, AltBalaji, Zee5, and YouTube in India, declined to share its paying subscribers base. In April, the company said it had 300 million monthly active users.

Regardless, 100 million daily active users is an impressive feat for any service in India. Especially for streaming services that, thanks to dramatically dwindling mobile data prices in the country in recent years, are increasingly changing user behavior toward intensive data usage online. (For some context, Facebook and WhatsApp are both shy of 300 million monthly active users in India; Google’s YouTube, which is its fastest growing service in the nation, also has fewer than 300 million monthly active users in the country.)

It also helps that the game between India and Pakistan, two neighboring nations with a long history, remains one of the most anticipated events for cricket following countries.

Cricket itself has emerged as the biggest driver of video streaming in India in the last three years. The game is followed by hundreds of millions of users across the globe — if not more. In 2010, Hilary Clinton urged nations to look at cricket as a model for improving relationships with other countries.

“I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team,” she said as U.S. Secretary of State in 2010.

Star India, which operates Hotstar, owns the rights to most cricket tournaments, a bet that has paid off and immensely helped scale its business. This then wouldn’t come as a surprise that both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, that do not offer live streaming of sporting events in India, have produced shows themed around cricket to cash in on the game’s popularity.

Both Amazon and Netflix have fewer than 5 million subscribers in India, according to industry estimates. While Amazon Prime Video, which bundles a range of other services including faster delivery of goods, and Hotstar are priced at Rs 999 ($14.4) for a year-long service, Netflix’s monthly offering starts at Rs 500 ($7.2) — though it has been experimenting with more options.

Even Facebook made an unsuccessful bid to acquire streaming rights to a cricket tournament in India two years ago, months before it began to talk about its Watch ambitions. That cricket tournament was Indian Premier League (IPL), which concluded its 12th edition last month. Hotstar, which also owns the right to stream IPL matches, set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event in the final game of the tournament last month.

Beating its own previous record, Hotstar claimed that more than 18.6 million viewers watched the game simultaneously. Interestingly enough, even as a record 100 million-plus users simultaneously watched the game between India and Pakistan this month, Hotstar said the concurrent views count peaked at 15.6 million.

It remains unclear why Hotstar was not able to break its concurrent record that day. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Hotstar had identified a security flaw in its service that allowed some Safari browser users to access and distribute Hotstar’s content without a paid subscription. To fix it, Hotstar temporarily discontinued support for Safari browser.

Last year, Hotstar and Walmart-owned Flipkart began a collaboration on building an advertising business in India. According to media planners who TechCrunch has spoken to, Hotstar-Flipkart’s digital ad business is already the third largest in India, only behind Google and Facebook. Hotstar is still unprofitable, however.

For Hotstar, the biggest challenge is in retaining customers after the mega cricket season ends next month. Each year, the service struggles to keep customers which results in a massive drop in users count when the cricket season is over, a source familiar with the matter said.

Over the last year, Hotstar has sought to build on its popularity and started to invest in its own original content. Many inside the company have high hopes that people will show up to watch the Indian Jim and Pam in the remake of NBC’s sitcom “The Office.” It premieres on Hotstar later this week and it will be a sign of the future for the streaming company.

Carrefour sale shifts the balance of power in China’s new retail battle

By Jon Russell

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s decision to shutter its local marketplace, Carrefour — another global commerce giant — is switching up its approach to China, and shifting the balance of power between the country’s tech giants.

Carrefour, which is Europe’s largest retailer, sold a majority 80% stake in its China-based business to Chinese retailer Suning, according to an announcement made this weekend. The deal is worth €620 million — that’s RMB 4.8 billion or $705 million — and it is set to close by the end of this year.

Beyond a retail story, the news also has a strong tech angle given the convoluted relationships of the parties that are involved, and it’s a reminder of the power that Chinese tech giants have grown to command.

Ties to Alibaba

Suning has had close links to Alibaba. The e-commerce giant owns a 20% stake in Suning courtesy of a $4.6 billion investment in 2015 and Suning, in turn, invested 14 billion yuan ($2 billion) in Alibaba a deal that kickstarted Alibaba’s ‘new retail’ strategy.

Suning started in 1990 as a home appliance retail store and is now one of China’s largest retailers with an extensive brick-and-mortar reach and an e-commerce share trailing behind Alibaba and JD.com . While it worked closely with Alibaba on merging offline commerce with online a few years back, the pair have gradually distanced themselves from each other in recent times.

Suning last year cashed out and cut its stake in Alibaba from an initial 1.1% to 0.51%. Since the Suning deal, Alibaba has continued to back old-school retail chains that would ramp up its offline operations through mega-deals like the $2.88 billion offer for Sun Art in 2017.

In other words, Alibaba has gone from being an ally to Suning to a potential competitor in the omnichannel commerce space.

The Carrefour deal is tipped to up the arms race as Carrefour China’s retail presence could boost Suning’s offline reach. Carrefour numbers 210 hypermarkets and 24 convenience stores and generated €3.6 billion — RMB 28.5 billion or $4.09 billion — in sales last year. Suning, meanwhile, has over 8,880 stores across 700-plus cities in China.

Alibaba’s Hippofresh store combines online and offline commerce [Image via Alibaba]

Tencent’s attempt

If the sale’s relevance to tech sounds far-fetched, consider that Carrefour China previously had a “strategic partnership” with Tencent, which is, of course, Alibaba’s arch-rival.

Chasing Alibaba’s shadow, Tencent’s retail footprint is most closely associated with its alliance with JD.com — we visited their flagship store last year — but Tencent also ran hybrid stores in partnership with Carrefour in Beijing.

Indeed, the FT reported that Carrefour had tried to sell a minority stake in its China business to Tencent but those talks are now over.

Instead, the Suning deal will give Carrefour “several liquidity windows to sell its remaining 20% stake in Carrefour China,” according to a statement provided to the FT.

That’s the interesting power swing, Carrefour’s allegiance appears to have moved from away Tencent.

It certainly goes against the grain and what you might expect. Tencent and JD.com — its own proxy — have tended to do deals with international retailers.

Walmart sold its China-based business to JD.com as part of its exit from the country in 2016, and Walmart has remained a partner with deals that include leading a $500 million investment in Dada-JD Daojia, an online-to-offline grocery business which is part-owned by JD.com. Other investment-led relationships include an investment in JD.com from Google, which itself has developed partnerships with Tencent.

It is likely too early to know what impact the Carrefour deal will have, but it sure seems significant that the operations will cross a hard line and switch between China’s internet tribes.

Walmart Grocery is now offering a $98 per year ‘Delivery Unlimited’ subscription

By Sarah Perez

Walmart is taking aim at Instacart, Target’s Shipt, and Amazon Prime Now/Whole Foods with a new grocery delivery subscription service called simply, “Delivery Unlimited.” Before, Walmart shoppers could order groceries online and pick them up at their local store for free or they could opt to pay the $9.95 (or sometimes less) per-order delivery fee. Delivery Unlimited is a third option that offers consumers a way to skip the per-order fee in favor of a monthly or annual subscription.

Currently, the retailer is offering a $12.95 per month plan or a $98 per year subscription, both of which include a 15-day trial period.  (See below)

Everything else about the service is the same.

You’ll still shop online or in the Walmart Grocery app, build a basket, and pick a time slot for your order. There aren’t any restrictions on delivery times, either. It’s just another way to pay for your online orders — and one that could potentially save you money if you order groceries online from Walmart more than once per month.

At $98 per year, Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited service is competitively priced.

Shipt today charges $99 annually, and Target just this week announced a way for Shipt shoppers to pay a per-order fee of $9.99 for the first time, with a Shipt integration on Target.com. Instacart, meanwhile, cut its annual fee to $99 in November. Prime Now is the most expensive option at $119 per year. But of course, it includes more than just grocery delivery — Prime is a comprehensive benefits program that includes fast shipping from Amazon.com, access to streaming services, free e-books, and more.

It’s unclear how broadly available Delivery Unlimited is today. The FAQ on Walmart’s website only vaguely answers a question about availability, saying that “there’s a good chance Delivery Unlimited is in your area.” 

Okay!

The service is also mentioned in an Instagram post from March published by the account belonging to a single Walmart store in Utah, which is likely one of the earlier test markets.

We reached out to Walmart for details, but the retailer yet to respond to questions about the Delivery Unlimited service, or clarify how long it’s been around.

The official Walmart Grocery FAQ makes no mention of a subscription option at this time, and there’s been no formal announcement.

Unlike some grocery delivery businesses, Walmart doesn’t operate its own network of delivery professionals or independent contractors. Instead, Walmart partners with delivery providers across the U.S., including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie, Postmates, and DoorDash. It has also tried then ended relationships with Deliv, Uber, and Lyft.

Walmart’s heavy investments in online grocery have boosted its bottom line. Grocery, along with the growth taking place across the home and fashion categories, have helped the retailer grow its e-commerce sales. In the first quarter, e-commerce sale were up 37%, Walmart said, with earnings per share of $1.13 versus $1.02 expected, and revenue of $123.93 billion above the $125.03 billion estimated.

The retailer currently offers grocery pickup at 2,450 locations and delivery at nearly 1,000 locations. It says it’s on track to offer pickup at 3,100 stores and delivery at 1,600 by the end of 2019.

 

 

Walmart’s JV partner Eko teams up with Refinery29 on interactive videos

By Sarah Perez

Last fall, Walmart announced a joint venture with Eko to create interactive storytelling — think Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch — for both entertainment and retail. Since then, Eko has been working with BuzzFeed on a range of interactive videos, as well as on projects for Walmart’s Vudu and others for its own HelloEko.com video site. Today, Eko’s latest partner has been unveiled: millennial-focused digital media company, Refinery29.

According to Variety, which first reported the news, Eko will produce several series based on Refinery29’s content, starting with an interactive scripted project for the site’s “Money Diaries” personal finance column, podcast, and book. The online series saw 7 million uniques in 2018 and is one of Refinery29’s top properties, the report noted.

In the Eko videos, viewers will be able to make choices about how to manage and spend the character’s money. Other Eko-produced Refinery29 shows will include the unscripted travel series 60 Second Cities and another focused on women’s living spaces, Sweet Digs. 

The shows will debut on Refinery29’s website by year-end, and will be promoted across social media. Eko and Refinery29 will share in the advertising and sponsorship revenues the series generate.

Because Eko’s videos allow viewers to make choices, media companies can learn from what viewers click on to better tailor their content to the viewer’s interests. Videos can also become more personalized to the viewer’s individual needs — in BuzzFeed’s case, for example, a recipe video could show how to customize the dish for dietary restrictions. This same set of advantages will be translated to Refinery29’s properties, as well.

Walmart invested $250 million into its joint venture with Eko last fall, with the aim of developing all sorts of interactive content, from toy catalogs to cooking shows, Reuters noted at the time.

In addition to the BuzzFeed and Refinery29 series, Eko is working with Hollywood producers on its other projects, including the Duplass BrothersFine BrothersNora Kirkpatrick, and others, and plans to delve into fashion, beauty, and other scripted content in the future.

 

IBM, KPMG, Merck, Walmart team up for drug supply chain blockchain pilot

By Ron Miller

IBM announced its latest blockchain initiative today. This one is in partnership with KPMG, Merk and Walmart to build a drug supply chain blockchain pilot.

These four companies are coming to together to help come up with a solution to track certain drugs as they move through a supply chain. IBM is acting as the technology partner, KPMG brings a deep understanding of the compliance issues, Merk is of course a drug company and Walmart would be a drug distributor through its pharmacies and care clinics.

The idea is to give each drug package a unique identifier that you can track through the supply chain from manufacturer to pharmacy to consumer. Seems simple enough, but the fact is that companies are loathe to share any data with one another. The blockchain would provide an irrefutable record of each transaction as the drug moved along the supply chain, giving authorities and participants an easy audit trail.

The pilot is part of set of programs being conducted by various stakeholders at the request of the FDA. The end goal is to find solutions to help comply with the U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act. According to the FDA Pilot Program website, “FDA’s DSCSA Pilot Project Program is intended to assist drug supply chain stakeholders, including FDA, in developing the electronic, interoperable system that will identify and trace certain prescription drugs as they are distributed within the United States.”

IBM hopes that this blockchain pilot will show it can build a blockchain platform or network on top of which other companies can build applications. “The network in this case, would have the ability to exchange information about these pharmaceutical shipments in a way that ensures privacy, but that is validated,” Mark Treshock, global blockchain solutions leader for healthcare and life sciences at IBM told TechCrunch.

He believes that this would help bring companies on board that might be concerned about the privacy of their information in a public system like this, something that drug companies in particular worry about. Trying to build an interoperable system is a challenge, but Treshock sees the blockchain as a tidy solution for this issue.

Some people have said that blockchain is a solution looking for a problem, but IBM has been looking at it more practically with several real-world projects in production including one to track leafy greens from field to store with Walmart and a shipping supply chain with Maersk to track shipping containers as they move through the world

Treshock believes the Walmart food blockchain is particularly applicable here and could be used as a template of sorts to build the drug supply blockchain. “It’s very similar, tracking food to tracking drugs, and we are leveraging or adopting the assets that we built for food trust to this problem. We’re taking that platform and adapting it to track pharmaceuticals,” he explained.

Walmart announces it will fully integrate Jet’s teams, but Jet will remain a standalone brand

By Catherine Shu

Three years after acquiring Jet for $3 billion, Walmart announced today that it is now more fully integrating Jet’s teams into Walmart. Jet will continue to operate as a standalone brand, mainly in large cities.

Jet president Simon Belsham will support the transition through early August. After that, Jet will be managed by Kiernan Shanahan, Walmart senior vice president of food, consumables and health and wellness and the lead of Walmart Ecommerce’s Everyday Living category. Jeff Saunders, Jet’s vice president of operations and tech lead, will lead the integration of Jet into the Everyday Living team.

In a blog post announcing the transition, Walmart Ecommerce president and CEO Marc Lore explained that the company decided to fold the rest of Jet’s teams into Walmart because “Across most of the country, we saw we could get a much higher return on our marketing investments with Walmart.com, so we’ve dialed up our marketing spend there. However, in specific large cities where Walmart has few or no stores, Jet has become hyper focused on those urban customers.”

“While this has made Jet smaller from a sales perspective, it has helped us create a smart portfolio approach where our businesses complement each other,” he added.

After Walmart acquired Jet in 2016, it merged a few of its teams, including supply chain. Combining fulfillment centers and mirroring inventory helped Walmart build its delivery logistics , enabling two-day free shipping and free next-day delivery without a membership fee, making it more competitive with Amazon, which charges a fee for its Prime program.

Jet.com relaunched last year to focus on customers in big cities, like New York, with a product assortment tailored to their shopping preferences and three-hour grocery delivery to compete with Amazon Prime Now. Jet also introduced a concierge shopping service called JetBlack last year as a standalone e-commerce business aimed at busy parents living in cities who don’t have a lot of time to shop in brick and mortar stores or browse online. Last week, JetBlack announced that its customers spend an average of $1,500 per month on purchases, on top of the $50 monthly fee they pay for the service.

In his post, Lore wrote “Jet continues to be a very valuable brand to us, and it is playing a specific role in helping Walmart reach urban customers. The focus has largely been on NY so far, and we’re looking at other cities where we might bring together Jet’s expertise and the scale and operating model of Walmart. More to come on that.”

India’s Jumbotail raises $12.7 million to digitize convenience stores with its wholesale marketplace

By Manish Singh

With most small grocery stores in India yet to get online, startups racing to digitize them continue to see promising backing from investors. Jumbotail, an online wholesale marketplace for grocery and food items, today said it has raised $12.7 million to scale its operations.

The Series B financing round for the Bangalore-based startup was led by Heron Rock, with participation from Capria Fund, BNK Ventures and William Jarvis and existing investors Nexus Venture Partners, and Kalaari Capital . The three-and-a-half-year old startup has raised about $24 million to date.

More than 10 million grocery stores, locally known as kiranas, bridge urban cities, towns and villages in India. They control over 95% of the $350 billion food and grocery market in the nation, according to some estimates.

Jumbotail operates a marketplace that connects tens of thousands of these kirana stores with brands and traders. It offers a whole suite of services including supply chain logistics, a mobile app for placing orders, integration with point-and-sales devices, and credit solutions to shop owners that can’t easily get loan from banks.

Ashish Jhina, cofounder and COO of Jumbotail, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup will invest the fresh capital in developing AI solutions to improve its supply chain network, and make it easier for brands to get started on the marketplace.

Jumbotail, which is only operational in Bangalore area for now, offers its mobile app and support in four languages (English, Hindi, Malayalam, and Kannada), something that is crucially important for their business.

“Our fundamental principle is to serve our customers in languages they are comfortable in. Many of these people are not using other apps. They are using smartphones for the first time. This is also their first experience with e-commerce,” he said.

Jhina added that even as Bangalore area is the only place the startup operates in, Jumbotail is on track to clock $100 million in GMV there by year-end. The startup is exploring expansion in other cities and will make moves in that space soon enough, he said, without disclosing the geography.

The startup employs about 140 people and has an additional 400 staff that work in supply chain network. It’s a small team compared to the likes of Amazon India and Walmart -owned Flipkart that are increasingly working with small retailers in the country to grow their wholesale operations. And then there is Reliance Retail, which is expanding its footprint quickly, too.

But Jhina, an alumnus of Stanford, don’t necessarily seem them as a big threat. On the contrary, he believes that since much of the market remains untapped, any player with deep pockets is helping educate the masses about the potential of e-commerce in the nation. In some ways, Jumbotail also competes with the likes of BigBasket, Grofers, Udaan, and ShopX, all of which are comparatively heavily backed.

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