TECHNOLOGY

Walmart launches members-only, text-based personal shopping service

BY Marianne Wilson

Walmart is betting that some consumers—particularly busy parents—are willing to pay a monthly fee for the ability to shop (and receive product recommendations) via text messaging.

The discounter announced the official launch of Jetblack, a members-only personal shopping service that it described as combining “the convenience of eCommerce with the customized attention of a personal assistant.” The service is now available in limited release to customers in Manhattan and part of Brooklyn.

Jetblack is the first business to launch from Walmart’s technology incubator, Store No.8, where it previously operated under wraps as “Code 8.” It is led by Jenny Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway, who joined Walmart last year.

With the launch of Jetblack, Walmart has made its first foray into conversational commerce – or the ability to shop through text messaging, online chat or voice. The service lets members order everything from toiletries and household items, to toys and fashion with a text message. It will then find the right products and deliver them the same or next day for no additional charge.

“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue,” said Fleiss, co-founder and CEO of Jetblack. “We are confident this service will make shopping frictionless, more personalized and delightful.”

Jetblack, which will cost members $50 per month, is targeted at more affluent shoppers, specifically busy urban parents. It includes access to personal shoppers who will offer members curated shopping recommendations (based on the member’s request) sent via text. (Other benefits include free wrapping and easy returns.)

In coming up with product recommenations, Jetblack uses a combination of artificial intelligence practices and expertise from professional buyers across the home, health, parenting, fashion and wellness categories, as well as parents themselves. While some everyday essentials may be sourced from Walmart and Jet.com, other items and specialty products are procured from local brands and specialty shop.

The idea for Jetblack was developed and refined within Store No 8, which was established by Marc Lore last year shortly after he was named president and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce.

“Our e-cmmerce strategy has been focused on three elements: nailing the fundamentals, leveraging our unique strengths to play offense and innovating for the future,” said Lore. “Through Store No 8 and Jetblack, we’re able to build and test technology that can lay the foundation for capabilities we believe will have a profound impact on how customers may shop five years from now. Powered by conversational commerce, the future of retail will bring convenience and high-touch personalization to the forefront for consumers everywhere and I’m so excited to have Jenny lead the charge.”

Jetblack is not yet available to the general public, even in its opening markets. The website invites customers to join the “wait list.”

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TECHNOLOGY

The innovations reshaping the digital shopping experience are…

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

When shopping online, customers want a stress-free experience that enables them to make purchases faster, and more efficiently.

That said, consumers are opting for emerging innovations ranging from voice assistants and augmented reality (AR) to mobile apps, according to the “2018 Online Shopping and Technology Trends Survey” from digital marketing agency Adtaxi.

Of the 66% of respondents that make an online purchase at least once a month, over half (52%) spend as much, or more, of their dollars online than in-store. To streamline these purchases, 10% of customers have used an AR app (e.g. virtually “trying on” clothing or viewing how furniture would look in a home). Across this group, 67% said they would never again shop in-store for clothes if AR made it possible to do so.

Online shoppers are also slowly embracing voice assistants. Currently, 27% of shoppers own a voice-activated smart device, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home; and 24% have used one to make a purchase. While 64% of respondents are concerned about a voice-activated smart device threatening their privacy, 46% of shoppers would not let this concern stop them from purchasing one, the study revealed.

More shoppers are also reaching for their mobile devices when shopping online. In fact, 65% of customers have used a mobile app for online shopping, the most popular reason being that mobile apps are easy to use (51%) and save time (19%). While more shoppers use mobile devices to shop, SMS messaging, or promotional texts, are falling out of favor as 82% of consumers would not consider receiving texts from brands, even if the ad was personally relevant.

However, 63% of customers made an online purchase after seeing a digital ad. Most (60%) of those prompted to make an online purchase saw the ad on social media.

“We now live in an on-demand world, where customers are beginning to favor innovations that make purchases faster, more efficient and pain-free,” said Evan Tennant, national director of e-commerce at Adtaxi. “As this survey indicates, technologies like voice-activated devices and AR have gained traction and are on the fringe of becoming mainstream in the next few years—which we anticipate will cause a shift toward consumers shopping more heavily online.”

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Walmart steps up its commitment to Blockchain

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart’s newest patent filings could bolster how the company leverages Blockchain technology going forward.

The discount giant has filed two patents that could allow the company to expand its commitment to Blockchain technology, and bolster its digital operations. The first, which was published on May 17, highlights a user interface that enables customers to resell merchandise at a new price, according to the application, which was filed in Nov. 16, 2017.

This blockchain ledger would track the items that customers purchase from specific Walmart stores and the customer who buys it. The register will enable customers to register the purchased item, as well as choose a price for a resale, acting as a digital marketplace, according to the filing.

The second, which was published on May 10, focuses on how the technology will better facilitate customer deliveries. Designed for a fleet of self-driving delivery trucks carrying customer orders, the technology would direct autonomous vehicles into “a customer-specific restricted area via an access code,” according to the application, which was filed on Oct. 31, 2017.

While Walmart has no definite plans to use the proposed technology, this is not the company’s first foray with Blockchain. The discount giant is currently testing the use of distributed ledger technology for supply chain management in the fresh food industry. Working with IBM, the company is using Blockchain technology to trace food across its farmer, processor and distributor partners.

“The food system is complex, and each segment does business their own way, mostly on paper or disparate systems,” Frank Yiannas, VP, food safety , Walmart, said in a company video on Youtube.

“This program is a way to enable safety system stakeholders to collaborate one set way, and do quickly and efficiently,” he added. “[The technology] captures information of product and where its been, then links it with other data points, including the Internet of Things, to create a safer, more sustainable food system.”

 

 

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