Target and Google have announced a nationwide launch of their partnership to offer voice shopping from Target through Google Home (and eventually the Google Assistant on smartphones too). This follows on from Google’s earlier announcement with Walmart, and these partnerships feel very much like a new front in the escalating war between Google and Amazon. This also opens up potential new revenue streams for Google around voice, a medium far harder to monetize through advertising than its traditional businesses, and which Amazon is certainly going to leverage for e-commerce sales. On the other hand, an indirect relationship will make this a little more complex than a single-company solution – customers will have to train the Google Assistant to know which retailer to use for which items if they have several integrations set up. And of course for now shopping is still a minority use case for voice speakers, well down the list of actions people use regularly, though that may change over time.
Walmart is buying New York same-day delivery specialist Parcel, which currently performs that function for a variety of smaller e-commerce companies and will continue to do so alongside becoming Walmart’s in-house vehicle for doing so. This acquisition echoes that made a while back by Target, when it bought Grand Junction, another company specializing in delivery in New York City. New York continues to be something of a unique market – I’m visiting this week, and have seen ads for almost nothing but delivery services on the subway trains I’ve been on, while the products being delivered range from groceries to food from restaurants to other essentials. The population and residential density in NYC is unmatched in pretty much any other locale in the US, and so it lends itself uniquely well to good economics for rapid delivery. None of this feels particularly scalable across the US, but as Amazon has long demonstrated, that’s not to say it doesn’t make for a multi-tiered approach to delivery in various places across the country, with ever faster deliveries in the biggest and most densely populated urban areas.
Microsoft Confirms Plans for First UK Store (Sep 21, 2017)
Microsoft’s retail presence is about to add another country: the UK. Microsoft confirmed plans for its first UK store after some reporting over the last couple of days about an imminent lease for property in London’s Oxford Circus area, after years of rumors and apparent attempts and failures to secure appropriate space. Microsoft has just under 90 full stores worldwide and ten or so additional kiosk-type stores in the US, with all but one of its stores in North America (most in the US, with a few in Canada and one in Puerto Rico), with just one in Australia. Apple, by contrast, has just under 500 stores globally, including over 270 in the US and 38 in the UK, which was for a very long time its second largest retail presence, eclipsed by China only in the past year or so. But Microsoft’s retail presence has in general never been nearly as successful as Apple’s, in part because it’s never had enough of its own hardware to show off there, and has to rely instead on a mishmash of first and third party gear, with store employees often poorly informed about the details of individual products. The key driver behind the stores, though, has been wanting to pull all of the products based on Microsoft’s platforms together in one place in a more compelling way than big box retailers, which tend to do a terrible job ranging and displaying premium Windows laptops in particular. Just launching a new store in a new country is therefore not really what Microsoft’s retail strategy needs – instead, it needs a rethink of its entire purpose and role in Microsoft’s broader strategy.
A company that owns technology for producing ready to eat meals that don’t require refrigeration says it’s been talking to Amazon about it, and that Amazon is looking into providing the food as part of its groceries offering. Because the food produced using the technology can stay on an unrefrigerated shelf for up to a year, it’d be a great fit for the more standard UPS-based delivery Amazon uses for non perishable items and wouldn’t require the much greater density of delivery infrastructure Amazon’s fresh grocery service does, and could therefore be offered much more widely. It’s a bit surprising to hear an Amazon partner (or potential partner) talk this openly about its relationship given Amazon’s general secrecy, which may yet scupper the deal. And the technology is still awaiting FDA approval, so there’s nothing imminent anyway. But it’s yet another sign that Amazon is really serious about making a bigger push in groceries, and that that push isn’t going to be restricted to just the Whole Foods footprint it’s in the process of acquiring.