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Target’s same-day pickup and delivery services growing at double the rate of 2018

By Sarah Perez

Target’s investment in same-day pickup and delivery options is paying off. The company, which today offers same-day in-store pickup, drive-up and same-day delivery through its acquisition of Shipt, said this week that these services combined have more than doubled their sales in the last year. In addition, they accounted for more than a third of Target’s digital sales, up from about 20% last year.

“These options offer speed, convenience and reliability and as a result, they are quickly becoming the preferred fulfillment choices for our guests,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell, speaking to investors about Target’s Q2 earnings. “And most importantly, because these options leverage our store infrastructure, technology, and teams, same-day fulfillment delivers outstanding financial performance as well,” he added. 

What’s notable about the same-day sales is that they’re bringing in guests to Target who had never before placed digital orders with the retailer.

Roughly 1 in 5 customers placing a same-day order in the second quarter were placing an order with Target for the first time.

And once Target customers become familiar with the process, they seem to return in short order. During Q2, more than three-quarters of the same-day orders were placed by guests who had used same-day fulfillment in the past three months.

Target’s ability to grow its same-day sales in this fashion was the result of investment in infrastructure, technology and even its brick-and-mortar stores themselves.

Glenview Order Pickup Entrance Exterior

On the technology front, Target says its pickup and delivery services benefited from increased order-picking efficiency. Instead of using a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system, new algorithms are being used to prioritize the sequence of order picking that helps direct store employees on which work to do first, as well as the best box size for packing orders.

The technology also helps to optimize the path for order picking to minimize the number of steps between the sales floor and back room.

Target claims that since the beginning of last year, these improvements have led to an over 30% increase in order picking for drive-up and pickup services. Its ship-from-store capability also improved over 30% during that time.

Meanwhile, the retailer’s $7+ billion remodeling project announced in 2017 was focused on more than just updating the stores’ look-and-feel and merchandising displays. The new-format stores also include changes designed to cater to online shoppers who come inside the store for their order pickups by adding more space for things like Order Pickup.

Outside, space is added for Drive Up customers who shop online then later drive to the store for curbside service.

This summer, Target passed its 500th store remodel, and says it’s on-track to remodel 1,000 stores by the end of 2020. It also plans to open more small-format stores — about a third of the size of a traditional Target, or on average, 40,000 sq ft — in big cities, suburbs and college campuses.

Target says it plans on opening 30 more small-format stores per year, as it did last year and the year prior. It said on Friday it had opened its 100th small-format store.

Richmond Drive Up

All the changes to make Target’s stores more of a home for order fulfillment has helped the retailer reduce costs, as well, the company pointed out this week on its Q2 earnings.

Target says as it’s shifted away from upstream distribution centers for order fulfillment to its stores, costs went down by more than 40%. And costs related to same-day services went down by 90%. Target today has 1,855 U.S. stores, which is how it’s able to make this store-centric strategy work.

Many traditional big-box retailers are struggling under the weight of competition from Amazon — Macy’s, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney all released disappointing earnings this week, for example.

Target’s earnings, however, beat every estimate this week, sending shares to a record high.

The company reported $18.42 billion in revenue, above the $18.34 billion expected. Profits were up 17%, to $938 million ($1.82 a share) compared with $799 million ($1.49 a share) a year ago.

Second-quarter comparable sales grew 3.4%, with same-day fulfillment accounts for nearly 1.5 percentage points of that. Over the past two years, comparable sales have grown 10%, Target said.

 

Ikea doubles down on smart home tech with new business unit

By Darrell Etherington

Ikea’s smart home investments to date have been smart but scattered – now the Swedish home goods brand says it’s going to amp up its smart home bets with a brand new dedicated business unit.

The company’s smart home endeavors began in 2012, and focused on wireless charging and smart lighting. It’s iterated in both areas since, developing self-installed integrated wireless chargers for its furniture, as well as light/charger combos, and finally with a new partnership with Sonos that produced the Symfonisk line of wireless smart speakers.

Ikea also has its own ambitions in terms of being the hub for future smart home products, not only from a hardware perspective, but also via its Home smart app, which it rebranded from being more strictly focused on its Tradfri line of connected bulbs in June. During the Symfonisk launch, Ikea told me it has broader ambitions for the Home smart app as a central hub for connected home control for its customers.

“At IKEA we want to continue to offer products for a better life at home for the many people going forward. In order to do so we need to explore products and solutions beyond conventional home furnishing,” said Björn Block, Head of the new IKEA Home smart Business Unit at IKEA of Sweden, in a press release from the company.

Ikea also characterized this as its biggest new focus area in terms of the overall business and brand since it introduced its Children’s Ikea line.

The partnership between Sonos and Ikea that produced the Symfonisk line is a long-term one, and both companies told me to expect more products to come out of that team-up in future. But it sounds like Ikea intends to explore how smart home tech might touch all aspects of its business, so it’s fair to anticipate more partnerships and product categories to follow as a result of this new investment focus, too.

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.

Southern California athletic brand, Vuori, raises $45 million from Norwest Venture Partners

By Jonathan Shieber

The four-year-old, Southern California athletic brand Vuori has picked up a $45 million growth equity investment from the investment firm Norwest Venture Partners.

The company, which says it’s profitable, will now join a stable of consumer startup brands that includes Birdies, Casper Sleep, Grove Collaborative, Jolyn, Kendra Scott, Madison Reed and Topo Athletic.

Founded by Joe Kudla, Vuori began as an athletic wear company focused on selling shorts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and t-shirts to men in a more muted palette than other options.

Focused on retailers like REI, Nordstrom, Equinox and Core Power Yoga, the company’s clothes retail from anywhere between $32 for shirts and hats and $188 for its most expensive jacket. 

“As devoted customers, it was apparent to us that Vuori had built versatile products with tremendous energy and soul,” said Jon Kossow, managing partner at Norwest. “This is exactly the type of positive brand experience we search for in our consumer investments, and we look forward to supporting Joe and the team as they continue to bring new products to market and delight their customers.”

FedEx ends ground-delivery contract with Amazon

By Darrell Etherington

FedEx is ending a partnership with Amazon to supply the e-commerce company with ground delivery shipping after its current contract ends this month, the company confirmed to Bloomberg. This is the second contract with Amazon that FedEx has allowed to end without renewal, following a similar decision in June that covered only Express air shipments.

The new contract termination is more significant than the earlier one, in that it means FedEx will not be providing any last-mile delivery service for Amazon, the largest online retailer, in addition to its less sizeable Express air freight. FedEx previously said that Amazon actually makes up less than 1.3% of the shipper’s total revenue, as measured over the year that ended on December 31, 2018.

Amazon is expanding its own shipping capabilities considerably, adding more aircraft to its fleet, and deploying ground-based wheeled delivery robots for last-mile package transportation. The e-commerce giant also recently began its own Delivery Service Partner program to fund and support delivery startup businesses that can help address its need for logistics. It has increasingly relied on its own contracted last-mile delivery services in recent years, and also allocates more of this business to both UPS and USPS than to FedEx, even outside its other offerings.

FedEx did explicitly point out that its Express contract ending had no impact on other aspects of its relationship with Amazon at the time, noting that its international and “other” business units (including ground) weren’t affected. The company also says it’s looking to capitalize on the demand for e-commerce outside of Amazon, and building its network intentionally to “serve thousands of retailers in the e-commerce space.”

Ikea’s Sonos Symfonisk speakers are available starting today

By Darrell Etherington

The somewhat zany mash-up of Ikea and Sonos ended up providing great results, in the form of the Symfonisk line of wireless speakers, including the $99 Symfonisk shelf speakers and the $179 Symfonisk table lamp speaker. The speakers are both on sale today, starting at retail stores first, with online availability to follow later.

In case you missed it, our review found that these connected speakers, which work with all of Sonos’ other offerings, are a great value for people new to the Sonos system, or for anyone looking to build out their existing audio setup. The shelf speakers make great, affordable rears for surroundsound setups, and offer audio that isn’t quite up to par with the Sonos One, but that definitely won’t disappoint, especially if you pick up two and pair them for stereo sound.

The Symfonisk lamp is on par with the Sonos One when it comes to sound, and can offer smart lighting, too, when paired with Ikea’s Tradfri connected light bulbs. It’s a good-looking lamp in its own right, two, with a fabric cover and both light and dark finishes, depending on your decor preferences.

Sonos and Ikea’s Symfonisk wireless speakers are a symphony of sound and design

By Darrell Etherington

Sonos and Ikea’s Symfonisk collaboration took a lot of people by surprise when it was announced earlier this year, but the match up is less unlikely than it might appear at first glance. Ikea’s entire mission has been delivering practical, quality design concepts at price points that are more broadly accessible – and that’s exactly what it’s done with its collaboration with Sonos, albeit with sound instead of furniture. The new $99 Symfonisk WiFi bookshelf speaker, and the new $179 Symfonisk table lamp with WiFi speaker both deliver the excellent performance and sound quality that’s expected from the Sonos brand, in beguilingly practical everyday designs created by Ikea.

Symfonisk bookshelf speaker

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 10The descriptor “bookshelf speaker” in this case means more than it usually does – Ikea has designed these to either blend seamlessly in with hour actual book collection on existing shelf units, or to actually act as shelves themselves, using a simple add-on accessory kit that includes a flush wall mount and a rubber matt to protect its top surface while holding your gear (up to 6.6 lbs). They can also rail-mount on Ikea’s kitchen rail products for convenient kitchen installation, or they have rubberized pads on both the bottom and side surfaces for either horizontal or vertical surface mounting. Each speaker has two channels for cables to exit both vertically and horizontally for flush mounting, and there’s an Ethernet port on each and a cable in the box for hardwired connections to your home network.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 12At $99, they’re the new most affordable way to get into the Sonos system, undercutting the Play:1 by $50. Leaving aside their utility as free-floating shelves (with a decent 12″ x 6″ surface area, likely suitable for bedside tables for many), they’re a perfect introduction to the Sonos ecosystem for anyone who’s felt that Sonos hardware is too expensive. And they’re almost tailor-made to act as rear speakers in a Sonos surround sound home theater configuration. I paired mine with my existing Sonos Beam sounder and Sonos Sub, and they delivered to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Symfonisk bookshelves and the Play:1 operating in that capacity.

That said, you do notice a difference between the Symfonisk bookshelf and the Play:1, or the Sonos One, when it comes to sound quality when they’re used on their own as individual or stereo-paired speakers. The bookshelf speakers contain entirely new internal speaker designs, since the form factor is nothing like any existing Sonos hardware on the market, and that means you end up with a different sound profile vs. the more squat, rotund Sonos One and Play:1.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 7To my ears, the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker sounds slightly worse when compared to the Sonos One and Play:1. This is not that surprising – those Sonos speakers are more expensive, for one, and they really out punch their weight class when it comes to overall sound quality. And even if the Symfonisk shelves are not quite up to par, they’re still excellent sounding wireless speakers for their price – without a doubt I would opt to pick these up in place of Play:1s for parts of my house where I don’t need the built-in Alexa or Google Assistant of the Sonos One, but want high-fidelity sound. In stereo pair configuration, the difference is even less noticeable.

The Symonisk shelf speaker design seems mostly focused on practicality, but it’s a good looking speaker (available in both black, as tested, and white). The rectangular box look is a bit harder to integrate as flexibly with your decor when compared to the Sonos One, in my opinion, but on the other hand there are some settings where the Symfonisk shelf fits far more seamlessly, like when wall mounted behind a couch to act as rears, or when acting as bookend on an existing bookshelf. The fabric speaker grill is removable, and you can expect Sonos to look at aesthetic updates to potentially change the look in future, too.

Because these are wireless speakers, there’s another aspect of performance that’s important: connectivity. Symfonisk’s speakers (both these and the table lamp, which I’ll talk more about later on) worked flawlessly during my multiple days of testing in this regard, with zero drop-outs that I noticed when it came to music playback, and flawless integration with my existing Sonos network of speakers. I’m also likely one of Sonos’ outlier customers in terms of the number of speakers I’m using – I have 14 active currently, including the Symfonisk speakers, all operating fully wireless and without the included Ethernet connection, and wireless playback has been rock solid during tests of this new Ikea line.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 8Set up is also a breeze, whether you’re new to Sonos or an existing user, and is handled via the Sonos app (Ikea will also eventually add it to its own smart home control software, the company tells me, and you’ll be able to control it from both). Once added to your app, you can also use them via Alexa or Google Assistant if you have those linked to your Sonos system, and they show up as AirPlay 2 speaker for iOS and macOS users, too.

Symfonisk table lamp speaker

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 4Like the bookshelf speaker, the Symfonisk table lamp is incredibly easy to setup and manage using the Sonos app, and works with Alexa/Google Assistant and AirPlay 2. It was also outstanding in terms of performance with wireless connection and working with other speakers, and you can use Sonos’ TruePlay sound tuning feature to ensure that it provides the right sound profile for your space with a quick adjustment process using your phone’s microphone (this also works with the shelf speakers, by the way, and I recommend it for any Sonos equipment).

The table lamp really impresses in two ways, including sound quality and – this might seem obvious – by virtue of it also being a great lamp as well as a speaker. The base of the lamp is where the speaker resides, and it’s wrapped in a removable fabric cover that looks great from afar and up close. The shade is a single piece of handcrafted opaque glass, which provides a very pleasant glow when lit from within, and which uses a bayonet mount to lock into place.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 13This mount and shade choice are not just about looks – Sonos and Ikea evaluated different options and found that this was easily the best when it came to minimizing reverb and rattle for a lamp that’s also capable of outputting a lot of high-volume sound. The choice appears to have been the good one – in testing, I never noticed anything that suggested there was anything rattling or shaking around as a result of even loud music being played through the Symfonisk lamp speaker.

As mentioned, the looks benefit from this design decision, too. This table lamp at first struck me as maybe a bit too modern in photos, but in situ it looks great and is easily now a favorite item among my overall home decor. I do have a few small complaints, like that the large dial on the side is actually a simple on/off switch, rather than a dimmer or a volume knob like I assumed it would be. The controls are on the front of the saucer-like base instead, which is a clever way to make the lamp look less like a gadget and more like furniture.

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 14The light itself supports bulbs with E12-style threaded connectors and a max of 7 watts of energy consumption, which are more commonly seen in chandeliers. Ikea sent over one of its Tradfri smart bulbs, with wireless connectivity and adjustable white spectrum temperature control. It’s the perfect complement to the lamp, and I was even able to quickly connect it to my existing Philips Hue hub for control without an Ikea smart bridge. With a smart bulb, the Symfonisk speaker lamp offers voice-control for both the lightning and the speaker component.

Where the Symfonisk shelf speaker differs from its Sonos brethren a bit in sound profile, the Symfonisk lamp speaker is surprisingly similar to the Play:1 ($149) and Sonos One ($199) and sits right in between both at $179. The internals are largely leveraged from those devices, according to Sonos, which makes sense given its industrial design is also basically a somewhat squat cylinder. Regardless of how, the result is terrific – it’s a lamp that’s actually a fantastic speaker, and you can definitely pull a trick at parties of asking guests to try to figure out the source of your high-quality, room filling sound if you pick one or more of these up. As rears, they blend away seamlessly with the decor, solving the age-old problem of having to choose between quality surround sound and having a living room that doesn’t look like a Hi-Fi audio shop.

The Symfonisk lamp is big, however – it’s about two inches taller than a Sonos One without the shade, and wider both in terms of the base and the saucer-like bottom. The look, while appealing to me, also isn’t necessarily for everyone (though there are black and white versions depending on your preference) so that might be another reason to opt for other offerings in the Sonos line vs. this one. But this particular light/Sonos speaker combo is unique in the market, and definitely a strong value proposition.

Bottom line

Ikea Sonos Symfonisk 3With the Symfonisk line, Ikea and Sonos have really pulled off something fairly amazing – creating practical, smart decor that’s also great audio equipment. It’s a blending of two worlds that results in very few compromises, and stands as a true example of what’s possible when two companies with a focus on human-centric design get together and really focus on establishing a partnership that’s much deeper than two names on a label.

Sonos and Ikea’s team-up isn’t just a limited collection, either – it’s a long-term partnership, so you can expect more from both down the road. For now, however, the Symfonisk bookshelf and Symfonisk table lamp speakers go on sale starting August 1 at Ikea.com and Ikea’s stores, and are very good options if you’re in the market for a smart speaker.

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.

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.

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.

Thousands of medical injury claim records exposed by ad agency

By Zack Whittaker

An internet advertising company specializing in helping law firms sign up potential clients has exposed close to 150,000 records from a database that was left unsecured.

The database contained submissions as part of a lead-generation effort by X Social Media, a Florida-based ad firm that largely uses Facebook to advertise various campaigns for its law firm customers. Law firms pay the ad company to set up individual websites that aim to sign up victims from specific categories of harm and injuries — from medical implants, malpractice, sexual abuse and more — who submit their information in the hope of receiving legal relief.

But the database was left unprotected and without a password, allowing anyone to look inside.

Security researchers Noam Rotem and Ran Locar found the database and reported it to the company, which pulled the database offline. The researchers also shared their discovery exclusively with TechCrunch and posted their findings on vpnMentor.

The database contained names, addresses, phone numbers, the date and time of a person’s submission and the circumstances and explanation of their accident, injury or illness. Often this included personal health information, sensitive medical information, details of procedures or the consumption of certain medications or specifics of traumatic events.

Several records seen by TechCrunch include records from campaigns targeting combat veterans who were injured on duty. Other campaigns sought to sign up those who suffered illnesses from pesticides or medications.

Other campaigns included soliciting claims for sexual abuse. We found several names, postal and email addresses and phone numbers of victims, many of which also described their sexual abuse as part of filling out the website form.

One of the records in the database

The researchers said the exposed data could be “easily traced” back to the individuals who filled out the website forms.

The exposed database also contained a list of more than 300 law firms who paid X Social Media to set up the lead-generation operation. It also contained records of how much each law firm paid the ad company — in some cases amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. The database also contained the bank routing and account numbers of the ad company, which law firms used to pay the company for its services.

In reporting this story, we found a second, smaller database. In an effort to get the database secured, we provided the IP address to Jacob Malherbe, founder of X Social Media, in an email. Within an hour, the database had been pulled offline.

Despite this, Malherbe denied that the company stored medical data, described the findings as “inaccurate” and asked we “direct all other emails to our company lawyers.”

When presented with several files containing the data, Malherbe responded:

After being notified by TechCrunch about a security problems in MongoDB the X Social Media developer team immediately shut down the vulnerability create [sic] by a MongoDB database and did a night long log file review and we only found the two IP addresses, associated with TechCrunch accessing our database. Our log files show that nobody else accesses the database while in transit. We will continue to investigating this incident and work closely with state and Federal agencies as more information becomes available.

When asked, Malherbe declined to provide the logs to verify his claims. The company also wouldn’t say how long the database was exposed.

This is the latest exposed database found by the researchers in recent months.

The researchers have previously found data leaking on Fortune 500 firm Tech Data, exposed user records and private messages of Jewish dating app JCrush and leaking data from Canadian cell network Freedom Mobile and online retailer Gearbest.

Read more:

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