TECHNOLOGY

Amazon expands Whole Foods Market delivery partnership

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is expanding its grocery delivery service from Whole Foods Market to two new markets.

On Tuesday, the companies launched free, two-hour deliveries of natural and organic products from Whole Foods through Prime Now in Atlanta and San Francisco. The program initially launched last month in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach, with plans for continued expansion across the U.S. throughout 2018.

Through the service, Prime members can order from “thousands of items” across fresh produce, bakery, dairy, meat and seafood, floral, among other everyday staples, all locally sourced items from Whole Foods Market. Select alcohol is also available for delivery to customers in San Francisco.

Prime members receive two-hour delivery for free, or they can pay $7.99 on orders of $35 or more, if they need groceries to arrive within an hour.

Customers can create an orders by visiting the Whole Foods Market selection on the Prime Now app available on Android and iOS devices, or on the Prime Now website.

The expansion coincides with Amazon’s ongoing efforts to integrate the two companies. Last month, the online giant announced that Prime members using their Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card at Whole Foods now earn 5% back on all purchases. This is in addition to the rewards they already receive, including 5% back on all Amazon.com purchases, 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.

Non-Prime members that have the Visa card are entitled to 3% back. They also receive 3% back on all Amazon purchases, 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.

Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in September 2017.

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TECHNOLOGY

TechBytes: Three key takeaways from eTail West

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The best way to connect with digitally-savvy consumers is to offer solutions that help them make purchases seamlessly — and confidently.

But here’s the caveat: The solutions must revolve around customers’ expectations — not retailers’ agendas. This message was driven home at last week’s eTail West conference in Palm Springs, California. The event featured the hottest digital strategies that continue to shape retail, from conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning to personalized mobile strategies and augmented reality, among others.

While offering the most innovative solutions may attract customers, it is not enough to retain them. Instead, retailers need to add technology enablers that meet customers’ expectations — and challenges, a move that not only reduces friction during the shopping experience, but also helps to earn the ongoing trust of consumers.

Here are three take-aways from the conference that will enable retailers to choose the most engaging tools, and drive long-term relationships:

1. Adopt more test and learn strategies. Adding innovative solutions may keep retailers on the bleeding edge, but they are worthless if customers don’t want to use them. Since no company can predict the outcome or value of a solution, retailers need to conduct controlled trials of technology enablers to get a better handle on what customers are willing to use, and what can truly improve the shopping experience.

Sephora can attest to the power of a test and learn strategy. “For technology to be successful, it needs to solve problems,” said Raghu Sagi, chief engineering officer, Sephora. “When we take a new solution to our stores, we always get customer feedback. Then we use these comments to determine if we are solving a pain point. And if it does, then we need to determine if the solution scalable or not.”

2. Leverage machine learning. There is definitely no shortage of data across the retail industry. However, if companies want to stay relevant in the increasingly changing retail landscape, they need to stay abreast of customer trends. The only way to keep up the pace is through predictions uncovered through machine learning.

By tapping into customer behavior and shopping patterns, retailers can better predict how to service their shoppers. Whether they use results to deliver more accurate product recommendations, drive deeper levels of personalization, or even improve inventory management to achieve higher in-stock levels, machine learning could be the catalyst retailers need to make better business decisions and remove friction from the shopping experience.

3. Blend IT teams with other lines of business. The days of keeping lines of business separate from IT are long gone. As business divisions — from marketers and merchandisers to store managers themselves — adopt more IT solutions to drive efficiency, retail companies are seeing the value of breaking down the barriers that once separated these departments.

As a result, companies are beginning to blend IT even tighter within lines of business, a move that brings departments together and speeds up the evolution of customer engagement strategies. By creating a collaborative environment, one that taps the knowledge of all business departments across the organization, retailers are in a better position to test and adopt the innovations that best meet customer expectations, as well as the company’s business goals.

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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Stellar mobile experiences could spur spending

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Customers not only crave better mobile experiences, they are willing to reward brands that deliver them.

Overall, 37% of consumers in the United States would be happy to pay more for a product or service if the mobile shopping experience is better. This number rises to 44% among millennials (aged 18-24), who are twice as likely as older consumers (65+) are to reward brands that give them a “five-star” service, according to “The Mobile Payment Journey,” a report from Worldpay.

According to the study, mobile commerce is set to become the luxury, five star shopping service of the future. Yet, the U.S. is behind the rest of the world in the mobile app revolution, as a third (32%) of consumers still prefer to purchase items via a mobile browser compared to an app – higher than almost every other country surveyed.

This is increasing competition for retailers to grab app space on their consumers’ smartphones. On average, U.S. consumers have on average seven apps downloaded onto their mobile device, compared to a global average of 10.

As consumers become increasingly selective about the apps they choose to download, there is a rising demand for brands to offer a more luxury, personalized shopping service. And the rewards for brands that get the mobile experience right are tremendous, as nearly a third (33%) of respondents said that they spent more than $66 on their last purchase.

The U.S. m-commerce market is booming, set to double in size within five years; but it is also among the most demanding,” said Shane Happach, executive VP, head of global enterprise e-commerce, at Worldpay. “Consumers are reluctant to download new apps, and quick to axe those that don’t prove valuable, meaning it is no longer enough for brands to develop an app for purely functional purposes.”

In addition, security concerns are the top reason for smartphone basket abandonment in the U.S. To mitigate shoppers’ security fears, retailers must provide a mobile payment experience that’s quick, seamless and familiar. “This might mean implementing the latest in biometric technology, such as fingerprint scanning and facial recognition, as an extra layer of security, and prioritizing healthy user ratings on the app store,” Happach said.

According to the study, online merchants that can deliver the right experience have much to gain, as shoppers are making bigger, more valuable purchases via their smartphones, and are even happy to spend more with merchants that deliver a better experience.

“The beauty of technology advancements means that there are more opportunities for virtual assistants and connected devices to make consumers’ lives easier,” Happach added. “Brands that focus on offering consumers a five-star personal shopping service from their pockets, and an increasingly invisible checkout process, will see fewer abandoned baskets, more app downloads, and increased sales of more valuable goods and services.”

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