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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.


Amazon is acquiring a 49% stake in India’s Future Coupons

By Manish Singh

Amazon, which has invested over $6 billion in India’s growing internet market, just invested a little more as it moves to expand its presence in the country’s brick and mortar space that drives much of the sales in the nation. The U.S. e-commerce giant is acquiring a 49% stake in Future Coupons, a group entity owned by India’s second largest retail chain Future Retail, the latter said in a regulatory filing Thursday evening (local time).

An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch the investment would “enhance Amazon’s existing portfolio of investments in the payments landscape in India.” The spokesperson added, “Amazon has agreed to invest in Future Coupons Limited, which is engaged in developing innovative value-added payment products and solutions such as corporate gift cards, loyalty cards, and reward cards primarily for corporate and institutional customers.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Pursuant to these agreements, Amazon has agreed to make an equity investment in Future Coupons Limited for acquiring a 49% stake comprising both, voting and non-voting shares. As part of the agreement, Amazon has been granted a call option,” Future Retail said in a filing (PDF) to the local stock exchange.

As part of the agreement, Amazon has the option to “acquire all or part of the promoters’ shareholding in Future Retail Limited” between the third and tenth year in “certain circumstances, subject to applicable law.” Future Coupons owned about 7.3% stake in Future Retail as of early this year, according to past regulatory filings.

“The Promoters have also agreed to certain share transfer restrictions on their shares in the Company for same tenure, including restrictions to not transfer shares to specified persons, a right of first offer in favor of Amazon, all of which are subject to mutually agreed exceptions (such as liquidity allowances and affiliate transfers). The transaction contemplated above is subject to obtaining applicable regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions,” Future Retail added.

Amazon has been reportedly looking to acquire as much as 10% stake in Future Retail, which operates over 2,000 stores, including “Big Bazaar” retail stores, across 400 cities in India. Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Future Retail was seeking a valuation of about $281 million for selling stakes in the firm.

Future Retail runs a wide swath of retail brands in India, covering a range of things from grocery, perishables, electronics to fashion apparels. On Thursday, Amazon India announced it was launching Amazon Fresh in parts of Bangalore. Amazon Fresh is currently offering 5,000 kinds of items including fresh fruits, vegetables, meat as well as some items from home and personal product categories.

According to earlier media reports, the company is also in talks to acquire more than 25% stake in Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in the country. Brick and mortar stores continue to drive much of the sales in the country. Amazon also owns stake in Indian supermarket chain More, and department store chain Shopper’s Stop.

“One thing to keep in mind is that e-commerce is a very, very small portion of total retail consumption in India, probably less than 3%,” said Amit Agarwal, manager of Amazon India, in an interview this week.

Earlier this week, Amazon opened an office in Hyderabad to house over 15,000 employees, thereby making it the company’s biggest campus globally.

India has become the latest battleground for American giants Amazon and Walmart. Amazon India competes with Flipkart, which currently leads the e-commerce market in the nation. Last year, Walmart acquired a majority stake in Flipkart for $16 billion. Like Amazon, Flipkart has also made it no secret that it wants to expand into grocery and other categories.

Both Amazon India and Flipkart took a hit earlier this year in India after New Delhi government enforced some regulatory changes to the way e-commerce conduct business in the country. The changes were largely structured to help local companies.

Amazon India’s Agarwal urged the government to relax the regulatory pushes. “There is so much opportunity to just let e-commerce thrive versus trying to define every single guard rail under which it should operate. I feel e-commerce can actually accelerate India’s economy in a big way, if it’s just allowed to thrive,” he told Reuters.

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.

Standard Cognition lands $35M at $535M valuation to battle Amazon Go

By Kate Clark

EQT Ventures, Initialized Capital, CRV and Y Combinator have fueled Standard Cognition with another $35 million to help retailers battle Amazon. The deal values the San Francisco-based autonomous checkout startup, founded in 2017, at $535 million.

Standard Cognition implants its AI-powered computer vision platform, which enables the autonomous checkout process, in brick-and-mortar stores. To date, the company has installed its hardware in five stores in the U.S. and Japan, with plans to expand globally using the new investment. Standard Cognition co-founder and chief operating officer Michael Suswal tells TechCrunch the company is counting on support from European VC firm EQT Ventures, which led the deal, to launch its technology in Europe.

Here’s a breakdown of the Standard Cognition autonomous checkout experience: A customer walks into one of Standard Cognition’s partners’ stores and one of 27 overhead cameras (more or less depending on the size of the store) will identify you by shape and movement, not facial recognition. The customer then opens the company’s iOS or Android app and a special light pattern flashes, allowing the cameras to tie you to your account and payment method. Finally, grab whatever items you need and leave the store. No checkout is required for Standard Cognition to bill you. It even works without an app: Shop like normal and then walk up to a kiosk screen, the cameras identify what items you have chosen and you can pay with cash or credit card.

News of Standard Cognition’s Series B comes shortly after Amazon confirmed plans to open three additional Amazon Go stores, the e-commerce giant’s cashierless convenience stores. Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in Seattle in 2016, though Standard Cognition, which operates only one branded brick-and-mortar store of its own, was first to plant roots in San Francisco. Standard Cognition, however, has no plans to open any more of its own stores because “running stores takes a lot of effort,” said Suswal. Instead, the company plans to bring its cashierless experience to other retail chains with the fresh funds.

Standard Cognition announces its Series B financing just eight months after closing a $40 million Series A. Suswal, justifying the lightning-fast growth, said 2019 has been Standard’s “year of deployment,” next year will be “the year of repeatability” and 2021 will be “the year of scale.” The company has raised a total of $86 million in venture capital funding.

“Traditional brick and mortar retailers are caught in a perfect storm,” EQT partner Alastair Mitchell said in a statement. “From the encroachment of behemoths like Amazon into every inch of the market to changing consumer attitudes, as busy people demand an ever more efficient shopping experience, margins are being squeezed like never before. The talented and driven Standard Cognition team have worked quickly to build a product that allows physical retailers, of all sizes, to tackle these challenges.”

Location-based virtual reality goes to the mall as The Void plans a rollout in 25 more locations

By Jonathan Shieber

The Void, a developer of immersive virtual reality entertainment centers, is partnering with the multinational, multihyphenate mall developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield to build 25 new locations around the world.

Location-based virtual reality has become the default gateway into the consumer market for virtual reality headsets, given that adoption of the consumer wearable device hasn’t been all that robust.

Utah-based The Void has some big intellectual property behind its immersive experiences, including ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire’ from Lucasfilm; Walt Disney Animation’s ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’; and ‘Ghostbusters: Dimension.’

Through the partnership with Westfield in the U.S., the company intends to launch pop-ups at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York,  the Westfield San Francisco Centre, Westfield Santa Anita on the outskirts of Pasadena and Westfield UTC in San Diego. The Void notes that all of those locations will become permanent going forward.

The companies also intend to take the show on the road with openings planned for Paris, London, Amsterdam, Chicago, Copenhagen, Oberhausen, San Jose, Calif., Stockholm and Vienna.

This partnership between the two companies reflects some harsh realities for both businesses. For virtual reality it’s the limited home adoption of headset entertainment, and for shopping malls, it’s the rise of e-commerce and the conversion of these public spaces from shopping destinations to broader entertainment hubs.

It’s a fact that Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chief executive Christophe Cuvillier acknowledged in a statement about the partnership. “Over the past years, our industry has evolved dramatically. In a connected world, shopping is not enough anymore,” Cuvillier said in a statement. “Today, our customers expect to be entertained and brought together to share memorable, engaging sensory experiences.”

The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

By Matt Burns

Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.


In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.

Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.

Don’t buy, lease

My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.

Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.

Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.

Amazon expands Transparency anti-counterfeit codes to Europe, India and Canada

By Ingrid Lunden

Amazon is no stranger to the nefarious forces of e-commerce: fake reviews, counterfeit goods and scams have all reared their heads on its marketplace in one place or another, with some even accusing it of turning a blind eye to them since, technically, Amazon profits from any transactions, not just the legit ones. The company has been working to fight that image, though, and today it announced its latest development in that mission: it announced that Transparency — a program to serialize products sold on its platform with a T-shaped QR-style code to identify when an item is counterfeit — is expanding to Europe, India and Canada. (More detail on how it actually works below.)

“Counterfeiting is an industry-wide concern – both online and offline. We find the most effective solutions to prevent counterfeit are based on partnerships that combine Amazon’s technology innovation with the sophisticated knowledge and capabilities of brands,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Amazon Customer Trust and Partner Support, in a statement. “We created Transparency to provide brands with a simple, scalable solution that empowers brands and Amazon to authenticate products within the supply chain, stopping counterfeit before it reaches a customer.”

The growth of Transparency has been quite slow so far: it has taken more than two years for Amazon to offer the service outside of the US market, where it launched first with Amazon’s own products in March 2017 and then expanded to third-party items. Even today, while Transparency is launching to sellers in more markets, the app for consumers to scan the items themselves is still only available in the US, according to Amazon’s FAQ.

In that time, take-up has been okay but not massive. Amazon says that some 4,000 brands have enrolled in the program, covering 300 million unique codes, leading to Amazon halting more than 250,000 counterfeit sales (these would have been fake versions of legit items and brands enrolled in the Transparency program).

There is some evidence that all this works. Amazon says that 2019, for products fully on-boarded into the Transparency service, there have been zero reports of counterfeit from brands or customers who purchased these products on Amazon.

But how wide ranging that is, though, compared to the bigger problem, is not quite clear. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison — Amazon doesn’t disclose collectively how many brands are sold on its platform, although Amazon itself accounts for 450 brands itself — there are some 2.5 million sellers on its platform globally, and my guess is that 4,000 is just a small fraction of Amazon’s branded universe.

Recent developments have put an increased focus on what role Amazon has been playing to keep in check rampant activity around counterfeiting and other illegal activity.

The NYT published a damning expose in June that highlighted how one medical publisher found rampant counterfeiting of one of its books, a guide for doctors prescribing medications to help them determine dosages of drugs, an alarming situation considering the subject matter. Regulators like the FCC have also taken action to ask Amazon (among others like eBay) to make a better effort to remove the sale of products in specific categories, such as fake pay-TV boxes.

Coupled with other kinds of dodgy activity on the platform like fake reviews, Amazon has been making more moves of late to get a grip and create more channels for brands and sellers to help themselves, from product launches and expansions, to taking legal measures to go after bad actors.

Transparency is part of former category, and it sits alongside one of the company’s other recent, big initiatives called Project Zero, an AI-based continuous monitoring of products and activities launched four months ago to proactively identify counterfeit sellers and items on the platform.

Screenshot 2019 07 10 at 11.47.45Transparency works by way of a unique code — which looks a bit like a “T” — printed on each manufactured unit. When a customer orders the product, Amazon scans the code to verify that the product it’s shipping is legit. Customers can also scan the code after receiving the item to verify authenticity. Other details that are encoded in the T are manufacturing date, manufacturing place, and other product information like ingredients.

This system also throws some light on some of the strange workings of e-commerce, supply chains, and how marketplaces operate.

On Amazon, an item you buy that might be branded — say, a North Face jacket — may not actually be sold by North Face itself, but a reseller. And those resellers may just as likely never even touch the item: they are working off stock that is distributed from another place altogether, or perhaps manufactured and sent in bulk to Amazon or another fulfilment provider that sends the item when the order is made. All of these tradeoffs within the supply chain create an environment where counterfeit goods might creep in.

Amazon’s system, by working directly with brands and not sellers, is trying to provide an over-arching level of monitoring and control into the mix, and it notes in its announcement that its Transparency codes are trackable “regardless of where customers purchased their units.”

Ironically for a service called “Transparency”, Amazon doesn’t seem to list the price for sellers to use this service, but four months ago, when Amazon launched Project Zero, we reported that the serialization service are charged between $0.01 and $0.05 per unit, based on volume. It’s a price that especially smaller brands, which are even less immune to copycats than well-capitalized big brands, are willing to pay:

“Amazon’s proactive approach and investment in tools like Transparency have allowed us to grow consumer confidence in our products and prevent inauthentic product from ending up in the hands of our customers,” said Matt Petersen, Chief Executive Officer at Neato Robotics, a maker of smart robotic vacuum cleaners, in a statement.

“Blocking counterfeits from the source has always been a tough task for us – it’s something all brand owners face through nearly all channels around the world,” said Bill Mei, Chief Executive Officer at Cowin, a manufacturer of noise cancelling audio devices, in his own statement. “After we joined Transparency, our counterfeit problem just disappeared for products protected by the program.”

Twitch will join Amazon Prime Day with giveaways, events and QVC-style live show

By Sarah Perez

Amazon -owned game streaming site Twitch will be participating in Amazon Prime Day this year, with giveaways of free content from Apex Legends and EA Sports games, live-streamed events, and even a live-streamed shopping show.

The latter was reported this morning by AdWeek, which accidentally detailed the streaming site’s plans for a 2-day live shopping show on its Twitch Presents channel. Twitch officially shared the news at 10 AM PT.

Twitch’s plan is to loop in some of the gaming site’s favorite streamers to Amazon’s big shopping holiday.

The show, titled “Twitch Sells Out,” will feature a curated selection of Prime Day deals with a focus on those of interest to the gaming community. The event takes place on Prime Day at 10 AM PT for 12 hours, then again on July 16 at the same 10 AM – 10 PM PT time frame.

Dozens of yet-to-be-named favorite Twitch streamers will be involved showcasing deals on things like games, gaming peripherals, electronics, and even kitchenware. They’ll also show off some unseen demos and play games in between pitching the deals. Viewers will be able to buy and pre-order items from the stream itself.

Top Twitch creators (Partners and Affiliates) will also be able to co-stream with Twitch Presents during Prime Day, via the Blacksmith Extension which offers product links.

It’s worth noting Amazon has tried to make QVC-style video shopping work several times in the past.

Years ago, it briefly ran a fashion-and-beauty focused show called “Style Code Live,” that was canceled in spring 2017. It also ran live video during past Prime Day events right on to show off some of its brand advertisers’ best deals.

And most recently, Amazon launched a dedicated section on its site, Amazon Live, which features a live-streamed video shows brands build using a new app, Amazon Live Creator.

Given its push for more live video, it only makes sense that Twitch would get involved with Prime Day in this way, too.

Beyond Twitch’s plans for live video, the streaming site is also offering a number of giveaways and hosting live events.

ea sports

Twitch Prime, which comes with an Amazon Prime subscription, will offer members an exclusive character and weapon skins for Apex Legends, along with free content in multiple EA Sports titles. Members will have to link their Twitch Prime account to their EA Account to gain access to the in-game offers, Twitch says.

In addition, Twitch will host two events ahead of Prime Day. On July 13, Las Vegas and London will host Twitch Prime Crown Cup tournaments, featuring Apex Legends and EA Sports games. In London, Olympic gold medalist runner Sir Mo Farah, footballer Thierry Henry, and five-time X Games gold medalist street skateboarder Leticia Bufoni compete against each other in an unnamed EA Sports game.

Meanwhile, the Vegas event will feature music producer Murda Beatz, global platinum-selling DJ Dillon Francis, and others, the company says.

The 8-hour event will be live-streamed on Twitch Prime’s channel starting at 10 AM PDT.

Twitch Prime is a gaming perk with Amazon’s $119/year Prime membership. This year, it’s given away more than $2,000 in free games and content, the company says, including two dozen free games.

Unrelated to Prime Day, Twitch also announced this week the launch of subscriber-only streams for its top creators, Twitch Partners and Twitch Affiliates.

Update: 6/28/19, 10 AM PT – Updated with official details on live show from Twitch

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.

Screen Shot 2019 06 27 at 10.46.07 AM

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.

Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

By Sarah Perez

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FindItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site had a modern, clean look-and-feel that made it a more pleasurable way to browse Amazon’s products. Products photos appeared on white backgrounds while the clutter of a traditional product detail page was removed.

We understand from people familiar with the products that Interesting Finds is not shutting down as Spark has. But the new #FoundItOnAmazon site will take inspiration from what worked with Interesting Finds and Spark to turn it into a new shopping discovery tool.

Interesting Finds covers a wide range of categories, but #FoundItOnAmazon will focus more directly on fashion and home décor. Similar to Interesting Finds, you can heart to favorites items and revisit them later.

The #FoundItOnAmazon site is very new and isn’t currently appearing for all Amazon customers at this time. If you have it, the URL will take you there.

Though Amazon won’t talk about why its Instagram experiment is ending, it’s not too hard to make some guesses. Beyond its lack of originality and transactional nature, Instagram itself has grown into a far more formidable competitor since Spark first launched.

Last fall, Instagram fully embraced its shoppable nature with the introduction of shopping features across its app that let people more easily discover products from Instagram photos. It also added a new shopping channel and in March, Instagram launched its own in-app checkout option to turn product inspiration into actual conversions. It was certainly a big move into Amazon territory. And while that led to headlines about Instagram as the future of shopping, it’s not going to upset Amazon’s overall dominance any time soon.

In addition to the shifting competitive landscape, Spark’s primary stakeholder, Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew departed at the beginning of 2019 for Twilio. While at Amazon, Chew was heavily invested in Spark’s success and product managers would even tie their own efforts to Spark in order to win his favor, sources said.

For example, Amazon’s notifications section had been changed to include updates from Spark. And Spark used to sit a swipe away from the main navigation menu on mobile.

Following Spark’s closure, Amazon’s navigation has once again been simplified. It’s now a clutter-free hamburger menu. Meanwhile, Amazon’s notifications section no longer includes Spark updates — only alerts about orders, shipments, and personalized recommendations.

In addition, it’s likely that Spark wasn’t well adopted. Just 10,000 Amazon customers used it during its first 24 hours, we heard. With Chew’s departure, Spark lost its driving force. No one needed to curry favor by paying it attention, which may have also helped contribute to its shuttering.

6/14/19, 10:20 PM ET: Updated with further context after publication.

Over 100 Goodwill stores are bringing their inventory to OfferUp

By Sarah Perez

Goodwill and mobile marketplace app OfferUp have announced a new partnership focused on bringing Goodwill’s secondhand inventory to the millions of OfferUp shoppers, for both local pickup and delivery. The deal sees more than 100 Goodwill stores listing their inventory in OfferUp in New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, South Florida, Greater Detroit, San Antonio and Central and Southern Indiana.

The move brings Goodwill’s pre-owned inventory to a modern mobile e-commerce platform, allowing staff to track sales and view the real-time flow of products, payments and data in one interface.

However, it’s not the first time Goodwill has gone online. The organization today runs its own e-commerce site,, and many of its local stores have a presence on eBay.

Via OfferUp, mobile users will now be able to browse their Goodwill’s local inventory in the app alongside other sellers’ content. New items will be uploaded regularly, and listed under the regional Goodwill handles so customers know they’re buying from Goodwill as opposed to an individual seller. These handles will feature a “Verified Business” badge, as well, and the profiles will include helpful information like the store hours, address and an “about us” section.

The partnership is powered by OfferUp’s new API, currently in beta testing, and Upright Labs’ Lister software, which handles the inventory uploads to OfferUp.

Goodwill will be responsible for managing its listings, including the product images, shipping, order management, financial reporting and auditing. It’s largely using OfferUp as another sales channel, instead of relying largely on foot traffic to its brick-and-mortar locations.

Like any other OfferUp user, Goodwill doesn’t have a financial relationship with the mobile marketplace.

If a customer buys a Goodwill item, they can go to their local store and pay with cash with no fee. However, if they choose to have the item shipped, OfferUp charges a 9.9% fee to cover shipping and handling across the 48 contiguous U.S. states. This is the same fee any other seller would pay on OfferUp.

The individual Goodwill stores can choose whether or not to offer shipping, the company also says. Some may opt to ship smaller items, like tech, games or jewelry, but only allow for local pickup if it’s a larger item, like furniture.

The two organizations had already been testing the system ahead of today’s formal announcement about availability. Though early, several Goodwill locations are reporting positive outcomes.

“We started to list furniture and other items from our stores on OfferUp in January, and the early results have been great. The majority of the items we post on OfferUp sell within 72 hours, and some have sold in as quickly as 10 minutes after being listed on the app,” said Jay Lytle, vice president and chief information officer, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana. “The exposure of our high-quality donations to so many new customers, coupled with the feedback and engagement we’ve experienced on OfferUp, has been tremendous for us,” he added.

“Potential shoppers were unaware of the great inventory that our local stores have for sale,” said Goodwill South Florida CEO David Landsberg, in a related statement. “OfferUp allows us to showcase large, pickup only inventory and increase foot traffic to stores. This also translates into new donors, and helps us fulfill our mission of training and employing people with disabilities and other barriers to work here in South Florida.”

OfferUp says it forged the deals with the individual stores in the supported regions, not at a national level, because Goodwill stores operate independently and because employee bandwidth and resources vary by store.

“Every store is looking to increase foot traffic, along with sales, and the leaders we’ve worked with manage multiple stores in heavily trafficked markets,” an OfferUp spokesperson explains. “With the OfferUp API and Upright Lab’s Listing Tool, employees can take a picture using a mobile device and instantly upload to OfferUp, so it’s improved the flow of receiving and selling their items,” they added.

Sam’s Club is upgrading tire shopping with a time-saving app

By Sarah Perez

Alongside today’s news that Walmart will soon introduce in-home grocery delivery in select markets, the company today announced another new effort similarly aimed at saving customers’ time. But this time, the focus was on Sam’s Club members, and specifically addressed the long process involved with buying car tires. To address that challenge, the company is rolling out a new “Sam’s Garage” app across the U.S. in July that will turn what used to take half an hour into a five-minute process, the company claims.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon recounted a fun anecdote about his tire-buying experience at a Sam’s Club, which prompted the creation of the new app.

“A few months ago, I ran over a nail and ruined a tire, so I went to Sam’s Club for help. It was a Saturday, and we were busy. At one point, I’m third in line with two members behind me. Our associates are working hard, but the process is time-consuming,” McMillon said. “As we’re all waiting there in the Bentonville club, I can tell that one of the members has recognized me. He doesn’t say anything – but he doesn’t have to. His facial expression says it all: ‘How does it feel to wait in line, dude? Surely you can do something about this,’ ” he recalled.

He later suggested to Sam’s Club CEO John Furner to re-evaluate the tire buying experience, and the new Sam’s Garage app is the result.

Typically, tire buying can be a longer process, and one that can even involve archaic systems like paper catalogs. The same was true at Sam’s Club, which McMillon said relied on “multiple systems, paper catalogs and a large desk” to service its tire buying customers.

Nine months after the CEO waited in line, there’s a new app for tire shopping aimed at helping Sam’s Club members. The app, Sam’s Garage, will run on mobile tablets and can do things like scan the customer’s membership card to pull up their associated vehicles. It then helps the Sam’s Club associate filter possible tire options based on their conversation with the customer about their tire needs.

For example, there are buttons to tap for things like “responsiveness,” “winter traction,” “wet road handling,” “offroad,” “ride comfort” and more.

As they continue, more filters appear, allowing the associate to narrow down the tire options based on other factors like in-store availability, special offers, brand, load index, speed rating, mileage warranty and many more options. They can even do side-by-side comparisons of different factors.

They can then tap a button to get an estimate, email estimates or place an order.

“This is what it looks like to be a digital company. Sam’s Garage will be rolled out nationwide in July. From concept to design to rollout in fewer than nine months from that Saturday when I was buying tires,” McMillon said.

DHL brings Africa eShop to 20 countries in a competitive nod to Jumia

By Jake Bright

DHL is expanding its DHL Africa eShop business to 9 additional markets, upping the presence of the global shipping company’s e-commerce platform to 20 African countries.

DHL went live with the digital retail app in April, bringing more than 200 U.S. and U.K. sellers — from Neiman Marcus to Carters — online to African consumers.

Africa eShop operates using startup’s white label fulfillment service, Link Commerce. Payment methods include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

DHL’s move to offer Africa eShop to 20 of the continent’s 54 countries comes a month after Africa’s most visible (and well funded) e-tailer, Jumia, went public. Jumia—which operates consumer retail and online service verticals in 14 African countries—raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO.

There’s a competitive e-commerce scenario brewing between the two platforms. DHL Africa e-Shop touts itself as “Africa’s Largest Online Shopping Platform.” Jumia said “We believe that our platform is the largest e-commerce marketplace in Africa,” in its SEC S1 filing.

It’ll take a little more time to shake out the stats behind each company’s branding claims.

DHL didn’t respond directly to the question of Africa eShop’s new market moves and competition with Jumia. “DHL’s growth expansion has always been centered around satisfying our customer’s wants…Africa e-Shop will be no different,” DHL spokesperson Megan Roper told TechCrunch.

DHL’s app takes advantage of the shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps through its DHL Express courier service.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, brings experience collaborating with a number of big-name retailers, including Macy’s and Best Buy. MFA’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for big-name retailers to sell goods in Africa.

E-commerce ventures have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent.

Africa’s e-commerce startup landscape has already seen some ups and downs. Jumia’s recent IPO filing on the NYSE is a first for any startup operating in Africa. Despite continuing losses, Jumia’s post-IPO results earned the confidence of Wall Street analysts.


DHL’s Africa e-Shop expansion also demonstrates momentum for digital sales on the continent.

On the flip side, the distressed acquisition of Nigerian e-commerce hopeful, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors. And in late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down.

As for the big global names, Alibaba has talked about Africa expansion, but for the moment has not entered in full.

Amazon offers limited e-commerce sales on the continent, but more notably, has started offering AWS services in Africa.

To watch is how DHL’s Africa eShop expansion factors into the continent’s online-sales market, particularly vis-a-vis Jumia.

On a B2C level, Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e. the cost of delivery) given it’s connected to one of the world’s logistics masters.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services. MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan acknowledged Jumia as a competitor to his company’s logistics offering, but said, “I’m not building Link Commerce to go after Jumia…I’m building Link Commerce to become the powerhouse e-commerce platform to help emerging markets gain access to U.S. and UK products.” On a call with TechCrunch, Folayan also confirmed Link Commerce would open up to vendors from Asia in the next 12 months.

On its recent earnings call, Jumia CEO Sacha Poignonnec flagged carving out the “Jumia logistics services as a standalone entity” as a future company priority.

These developments could put DHL’s Africa eShop, MallforAfrica, and Jumia on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa. They certainly add another layer of competition to online retail and fulfillment services on the continent.

For the moment, the DHL Africa eShop expansion creates additional choice on overlapping product categories with Jumia, such as phones, tablets, fashion, health, beauty, and gaming.

Africa eShop will also offer African consumers more price competition in the operating countries it shares with Jumia—currently 10: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Cameroon, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Senegal, and Ghana.