OPERATIONS

‘Alexa, pay my AmEx bill…’

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

American Express cardholders are now only a voice-command away from browsing their account or paying their bill.

The credit card company is expanding its partnership with Amazon by launching its new Amex skill for Amazon Alexa. The skill brings select experiences of AmericanExpress.com and AmEx’s mobile app to Amazon’s voice service Alexa, within devices like Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.

Consumer and Open cardholders with an American Express ID and password can use the artificial intelligence-based devices to check their account balance, review recent charges, and make a payment, among other options, through voice commands. The service is available to all eligible to cardholders in the United States.

The new service also connects with the Amex Offers ecosystem, enabling cardholders to browse available limited time offers and link offers to their eligible cards. The functionality is called the first financial services skill to integrate promotions.

Here’s how it works: Users activate the functionality in the Alexa app for iOS and Android. Once users tap “Enable Skill,” they log into their American Express online account with their User ID and password. A four-digit PIN protects the user, and is required each time they open the AmEx AI functionality. Card members access their American Express account simply by saying “Alexa, open Amex.”

“We first introduced a partnership with Amazon in 2010 that enabled our card members to use Membership Rewards for purchases on amazon.com,” said Luke Gebb, senior VP, enterprise digital, American Express.

“Today, we’re bringing another element of the card member experience to Amazon with the introduction of the Amex skill for Alexa,” said Gebb. “Our card members are redefining how they engage with our brand across the digital platforms of their choice.”

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Expert Analysis: Target’s new next-day delivery program faces some challenges

BY CSA STAFF

Greg Portell, lead partner in the retail practice of global strategy and management consultant A.T. Kearney, discusses Target’s plan to test next-day delivery of online orders of household essentials. The new service, called Target Restock, is open to shoppers of the chain’s REDcard loyalty program.

What influenced Target’s decision to launch the program?

Retailers no longer have the luxury of trying to force consumers into channels. Artificial walls segmenting how consumers shop have collapsed with technology and competition. For any retailer, it is critical to find the intersection between the products they sell and consumer demand. In the case of Target, it intend to compete on staples.

Failure to answer competitive challenges from Walmart, Amazon and others would cede a huge and only growing part of this market. Conversely, Amazon’s entry into brick-and-mortar is driven by a similar need to meet consumers where they are not a channel defined by retailers.

What challenges does Target face in this regard?

Fortunately, the home-delivery market is still very much in flux. Target shouldn’t have to face entrenched consumer preferences. This plays to their favor.

But the challenges of last-mile distribution are real. Newspapers have struggled to create reliable networks for years despite having large distribution teams. Retailers are now experiencing the difficulty that come with low-margin, high-expectation delivery.

Unlike Amazon, Target is pivoting from an existing infrastructure which both gives them an anchor and a base to operate. Unlike Walmart, Target has spent years trying to leave behind a no-frills brand. As a result, Target has lower margin for error and will need to achieve customer satisfaction quickly. Failure on either front will spill into Target’s mainline business.

It will be critical for Target to keep their pricing segmentations pure. Consumer tolerance for perceived pricing games has disappeared. The penalty for pricing arbitrage between on-line, instore, pick-up and delivery will be steep.

Target will need transparent pricing tiers. There will be increased pressure on Target’s internal P&L structures as the different profit centers compete for revenue while avoiding costs to service.

What is in Target’s favor?

Target is one of the few retailers that can rival Amazon in applying customer data. Their investments in Cartwheel and the REDcard program provides a powerful base to build out the Restock program. Look for them to combine a well-positioned brick & mortar footprint with behavioral data to carve out a defensible value proposition.

Rather than worrying about predictive analytics, the advantage will come from anticipatory analytics where they leverage data to shape consumer preferences rather than react to them. The ability to use the program to influence and potentially circumvent consumer preferences will become a differentiator of these programs. At some point, the benefit of consistency and convenience outweighs the hassle of logging in to make account changes.

What are Target’s biggest logistical challenges?

Scaling a business that keys on the last mile from thousands of distribution points with low margin for error is daunting. Ensuring the right products are staged in the optimal locations to fulfill demand will increase inventory distributed across their network. While increased inventory levels will bring scrutiny, the risks should be manageable in the short term.

But perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing the ecosystem. Target is unlikely to be building this with in-house resources. Beyond the pilot, it wouldn’t make sense at scale. The use of partners over such a vast network creates sizeable problems from employee performance to network scheduling. The bet is too big for Target to leave execution decisions to their partners without strong oversight. They will need to manage behaviors tightly without overstepping co-employment regulations.

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Retailers in big push to uphold debit swipe fee reform

BY Marianne Wilson

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) on Tuesday launched a national ad campaign urging Congress to protect debit swipe fee reform as the House is set to vote on the Financial CHOICE Act. As it stands, the legislation would eliminate hard-fought swipe fee reform that has saved retailers and American consumers billions, according to RILA.

The Republican-crafted act passed the Financial Services Committee on May 4, along party lines. It is now headed to the full House of Representatives.

RILA has launched a series of ads in key Congressional districts across the country. The 60-second ad features some of Wall Street's most egregious actions against American consumers reminding Congress just who they'll be supporting should they choose to repeal debit swipe fee reform.

"We launched these ads to remind Congress that America cannot afford to bailout Wall Street and the big banks once again," said Austen Jensen, VP of government affairs and financial services for RILA. "As it stands this legislation is a poison pill for any bipartisan effort to enact meaningful financial reform. Congress must act to uphold debit swipe fee reform or it will give Wall Street and card companies license to raise costs on America's retailers and our consumers."

For more on debit swipe fee reform, click here.

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