TECHNOLOGY

Report: Amazon to launch delivery service that would compete with UPS, FedEx

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon’s newest delivery service could take a bite out of UPS’ and FedEx’s business in a big way.

The online giant is planning to launch a package-delivery service for businesses, according to CNBC, which cited the Wall Street Journal for breaking the story. Called Shipping with Amazon, or SWA, the service will pick up packages from its third-party sellers who sell via its website and deliver them to customers and put Amazon in direct competition with FedEx and UPS. Some experts speculated that the service could be extended over time to other businesses.

Amazon will launch its new delivery service in Los Angeles during the next few weeks, rolling it out to other cities around the United States during the course of the year, the report said.

“This makes sense as there are many urban locations where Amazon’s order volume is so great it justifies taking fulfillment in-house,” commented Neil Sanders, managing director, GlobalData Retail. “It is unlikely that Amazon will make a move on trying to service the American hinterland. Order densities and volumes, along with long travel times between deliveries, in many parts of the country do not justify such an investment.” (Click here for more.)

Despite the direct competition, UPS said it is still a partner of Amazon. “UPS continues to support Amazon and many other customers and we don’t make comments about their business strategies or decisions regarding their utilization of UPS services,” a UPS spokesman told CNBC.

The shipping service would be Amazon’s latest move to expand its logistics and delivery operations. Recently, it established its “Amazon Logistics” operation, a cross-border service currently available to sellers listing on the Amazon platform. The retailer also continues to develop its air freight solutions and services, and plans “to quickly introduce it to a large number of our sellers,” according to the Amazon Logistics website.

In 2017, Amazon announced it would build an air cargo hub in Kentucky, which will be home base for its leased air fleet of 40 Boeing cargo jets — a program it calls Prime Air.

Meanwhile, Amazon kicked off 2017 by dipping its toe into the freight forwarder waters — a move that allows the e-retailer to control shipments between manufacturers and distribution points.

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Walmart updates app with in-store features

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart is making it easier for customers to plan their in-store shopping trips.

The discount giant is updating its mobile app with new services designed to streamline the in-store shopping experience. All upgrades will be featured through a feature called Store Assistant, which will be activated when customers walk in the door.

The new services include list-building capabilities that enable customers create shopping lists, and real-time access to stock availability — as well as product location — at a customer’s local store. It also calculates the cost of the shopping list.

The app also features “Store Maps,” a service the serves up maps unique to each of the chain’s 4,700 stores, as well as the aisle and shelf location of specific merchandise. The feature is already available for a handful of stores, and will be rolled out chainwide. It also highlights specific store departments, as well as operating hours and phone numbers.

The additions augment other features added last year, such as a prescription refill tool and the ability to wire money. In November, Walmart also added Mobile Express Returns, which enables online customers to begin the returns process in their app before even heading to their local store.

“We’re building a shopping tool unlike any other in retail – and one that makes virtually every element of the store shopping experience faster and more convenient,” said Daniel Eckert, senior VP, Walmart services and digital acceleration. “We’re excited about the Walmart app updates we’re launching this week, but we’re even more excited about what’s to come.”

For example, the app will give customers the ability to “drop pins” on a store map — a move that will help them more easily locate specific items on their shopping lists. It will also enable customers to book services — like an oil change — in advance. Walmart is also exploring the integration of artificial intelligence, which will enable the company to automatically create lists for its customers, according to the company blog.

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Study: Toys were big play for Amazon in 2017

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Toy sales may be stagnated in the United States, yet Amazon’s marketshare continues to grow.

The online giant pulled in an estimated $4.5 billion in U.S. toys sales during 2017. This represents an increase of 12% over 2016, according to One Click Retail’s “Toys On Amazon: 2017 Review” report.

The nation’s largest toy store retailer, Toys “R” Us, declared bankruptcy in 2017 as Amazon’s market share kept growing. The online giant is now responsible for roughly one out of every six dollars spent on toys in America, according to data.

The most disruptive toy categories of 2017 — and those that will likely be trending for 2018 — include:

Robotics. In 2017, the robotic toys category grew by 32%. Although it is a relatively small category with only $50 million in estimated sales, last year’s two bestselling toys were both intelligent robots for kids: Cozmo by Anki and Lego Mindstorms EV3.

Active Play. The fastest-growing toy category of 2017 was outdoor & sports toys with 46% growth. This is the countertrend to touchscreen technologies that tend to dominate the toy industry, and suggests that parents are making an effort to encourage more physical activity, according to the study.

However, toy sales during January on Amazon.com uncovered a surprising trend: the return of traditional toys. The latest craze is a new take on a traditional doll, L.O.L Surprise! (big version), which ranks as the top toy for January 2018. This helped drive 23% growth in dolls/girls toys in 2017.

In 2017, infant/preschool climbed from No. 3 to become Amazon’s largest toy category with $650 million in estimated sales. As Amazon’s core demographic, millennials, are now having children, the Infant/Preschool category is expected to grow substantially in 2018, according to One Click Retail.

“Of the top five toys on Amazon this January, four are strictly non-digital, and none involve robotics or touchscreen technologies.” said Nathan Rigby, VP at One Click Retail. “Whether this signals a major shift in the toys market or is just a temporary lull in the dominance of robotics and screens is yet to be determined.”

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