TECHNOLOGY

Amazon’s virtual Christmas tree farm opens for business

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon wants a piece of the fresh Christmas tree market.

The online giant on Thursday started selling live, full-size Christmas trees. Though a partnership with Hallmark, Amazon is selling is the exclusive supplier to Amazon fresh-cut Christmas trees ranging between 6 ft. and 7 ft. The trees, which range in price from $99 to $109, ship free for Amazon customers.

Customers can choose from Balsam Firs, Black Hills Spruce, Black Hills Spruce Sno-Tips, or Fraser Firs. Amazon is also selling 3 ft. to 4 ft. Black Hills Spruce Sno-Tips, Black Hills Spruces and Scotch Pines. The Christmas trees begin shipping Wednesday, Nov. 21, and each shipment is packed with a biodegradable tree removal bag and tree preservative.

Amazon’s Hallmark Christmas assortment also includes fresh holiday wreaths and flowers, including poinsettia plants, cards, ornaments and gift wrap, according to the company.

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TECHNOLOGY

Starbucks expanding in big way in Japan

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Starbucks Corp. is targeting Japan for growth, both physically and digitally.

The coffee giant said Thursday that it will build 100 new stores in Japan each year for the next three years. The new locations will bring the number of Starbucks stores in the country to 1,700.

Starbucks also announced it is teaming up with Uber Eats Japan to launch a food and beverage delivery service in Tokyo. The pilot program will begin on Nov. 9 in six stores, three locations in Tokyo, two in Shinjuku and one in Roppongi, with plans to scale the program within the next two years.

In addition, the company is partnering with Line, Japan’s leading social platform in a deal that will enable the coffee company to innovate across various technologies, including digital payment. The first phase will launch in the first half of 2019, and connect Starbucks to Line’s more than 78 million users across Japan.

In addition, Starbucks Japan will also begin piloting a mobile order and pay program in 2019, enabling customers to order and pay from their mobile device, and pick-up in store, skipping the line. The service will be available through Starbucks’ mobile Starbucks Rewards loyalty program. Since launching the program in September 2017, digital transactions and cashless payments now represent more than 25% of all customer transactions at Starbucks, according to the company.

The new initiatives coincide with Starbucks expansion across its Asia-Pacific markets. For example, the coffee giant now offers delivery service in more than 1,100 stores in 17 Chinese cities, with full-service coverage in Beijing and Shanghai. The program, called Starbucks Delivers, originally launched in 150 stores in Beijing and Shanghai in September.

In May, the coffee giant also announced plans to build 3,000 stores — 600 net new stores annually — during the next five years in Mainland China, which will double the market’s store count from its current 3,300 locations. Starbucks said it expects to more than triple revenue and more than double operating income in China by the end of fiscal year 2022 from fiscal year 2017.

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TECHNOLOGY

Walmart’s Black Friday strategy kicks off early

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart is featuring new digital enhancements and in-store events to encourage holiday customers to start their shopping early.

In addition to launching its Black Friday circular online and on the Walmart app on Nov. 8, the discount giant also made 18 Black Friday deals available for purchase online, while supplies last. Walmart also plans to officially launch its Black Friday deals online at 10 p.m. EST on Nov. 21 — its earliest online kickoff to date.

Then on Nov. 22, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. — two hours before opening its doors on Thanksgiving — Walmart will host a sampling party, called “Light Up Black Friday,” which will give away four million cups of complimentary coffee from Keurig and nearly two million free Christmas cookies from the Walmart Bakery. Walmart’s Black Friday deals will be available in-store following the party, at 6 p.m.

All key departments, like toys, electronics, home and apparel, will be color-coded in the Black Friday event circular, in the app’s store map, on printed maps distributed in stores. Deals will be further highlighted in-store with balloons, signs, and associates wearing colored vests.

Customers can also use their Walmart app to access to digital store maps designed exclusively for Black Friday. The Black Friday Store Map will also include “pins” that direct shoppers to the top eight Black Friday deals.

Walmart associates will also be use mobile devices and Bluetooth printers to check out customers, and provide them with a receipt, on the spot. Mobile-armed associates, who will also be wearing an easy-to-spot bright yellow sash, will be positioned in the busiest areas of the stores.

“With deep availability of … items in our stores and new features like color-coded Black Friday Store Maps in the Walmart app and Check Out With Me, as well as earlier access to the deals online, it’s never been easier for customers to shop – and save – at Walmart on Black Friday,” said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S.

These enhancements augment the discounter’s overall holiday strategy which also features Walmart’s redesigned website. Among the site’s new services include curated and editorial content that will make assortments more discoverable. Content will also be delivered in new ways, including through gift guides, and a “new deals” hub that will be refreshed regularly. Category shopping destinations will also deliver holiday-specific experiences.

Walmart is also making “millions of items” sold on its marketplace eligible for free two-day shipping on orders over $35. The service, which does not require a membership, will launch in mid-November.

This is in addition to the to more than two million items sold online that are also eligible for free shipping when orders surpass $35. No membership fee applies.

Walmart is also expanding its toy assortment by 30% in stores and by 40% online this year, and both offerings include “hundreds of new exclusive toys,” according to the company.

The company’s other holiday initiatives include hosting 19,000 in-store events and demonstrations that enable customers to “test” specific products, and take pictures with Santa, among other attractions. The events, which will be ongoing until Dec. 24, will be complemented by digital content from online influencers.

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