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The newest shopping channel: automobiles?

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The annual consumer electronics trade show (CES) is considered a launch pad for new innovations and technology. One concept garnering attention at this year’s show: in-vehicle digital shopping.

Honda and Visa presented the first proof-of-concept demonstration of in-vehicle payments at this year’s show, held in Las Vegas, Jan. 5-8.

Supported by smartphone integrations, the partners have created an infrastructure that allows drivers to digitally pay for parking and fuel from the comfort of their front seat.

As drivers approach an Internet of Things (IoT)-based fueling station or smart meter, the purchase amount is displayed in the dashboard, and drivers confirm payment with the touch of a button. Demonstrations were conducted with fuel pumps from Gilbarco Veeder-Root and smart parking meters from IPS Group.

"Payments have evolved from physical plastic cards to a digital, mobile wallet, and Honda sees this as an opportunity to bring this technology to pay for services from the comfort of one's own car," said John Moon, de-veloper relations lead at Honda Developer Studio.

Honda is currently in discussion with a number of other companies, exploring various innovative car-based payment processes and transactions, the company said.

Meanwhile, Ford used CES to announce that Amazon’s Alexa service will be integrated into cars with its Ford Sync 3 “infotainment” service — giving drivers the ability to control their car and smart home devices. The concept, which was implied at last year’s event, is now a reality as Sync3 is currently available inside 15 million cars, and will be live in 43 million vehicles by 2020, according to Ford.

Owners of Alexa-enabled devices, like Echo or Dot, will be able to turn the car on, lock or unlock doors, check fuel levels, and control IoT-enabled devices, such as home lights or a garage door. Alexa will also be able to tell an electric vehicle driver the exact location of their vehicle and the range of its existing battery, according to VentureBeat.

Alexa also enables users to use voice commands to order merchandise from retailers or place orders to Amazon Restaurants. While it remains unknown of Sync3 will support this functionality, futurists are alluding to the capability.

“Voice is the future and this is particularly true in cars,” Steve Rabuchin, VP of Amazon Alexa, said in a statement at CES. “The ability to use your voice to control your smart home, access entertainment, manage to-do lists and more makes for an extraordinary driving experience.”

Additional information about the Ford cars will be available through Alexa-enabled devices later this month. A larger rollout of Alexa-enabled skills is scheduled for mid-2017, VentureBeat said, adding that drivers of the Ford Focus Electric, Fusion Energi, and C-Max Energi will be first to gain access to the service.

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Grocer bullish on expansion in 2017

BY Marianne Wilson

Sprouts Family Market is expanding its footprint.

The Phoenix-based grocer plans to open 35 stores in 2017, with 11 of the locations opening in the second quarter of the year.

The 11 stores opening in the second quarter include three in California, two in Georgia, two in Florida locations, two in Texas locations and two in Colorado, the Phoenix Business Journal reported.

“As Sprouts continues to grow, we’re deeply invested in enhancing our operations and developing our team members so they can deliver the best experience possible for our guests,” stated Dan Sanders, chief operations officer, Sprouts Family Market. “Sprouts team members are inspired by the company’s growth and our ‘healthy living for less’ approach to grocery shopping, and we offer tremendous opportunities for career progression, especially in the Southeast."

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Amazon opening more bookstores

BY Marianne Wilson

New Yorkers will have a new way to browse Amazon’s best-selling book titles — in a physical store.

Later this year, the retail giant will open a bookstore at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan. Also on the slate for 2017 is a location in Chicago, and the Boston suburb of Dedham, Mass. Stores are also planned for Lynnfield, Mass., and Paramus, N.J.

Amazon’s first physical bookstore opened in Seattle in 2015, followed by two additional locations, in Portland, Ore., and San Diego. The format looks like a traditional bookstore, but uses online data to determine which titles to stock.

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