TECHNOLOGY

Walmart takes on Amazon with crowdsourced delivery pilot

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart has a new online delivery team — but they aren’t employees and they don’t work for a major delivery company.

The discount giant announced Wednesday that it is testing a crowd-sourced delivery platform service, called Spark Delivery, to get online grocery orders to customers faster. Walmart is piloting the program through a partnership with Bringg, a delivery logistics technology platform. The service is currently being piloted in Nashville and New Orleans, and will debut in “a few more metro areas” this year, according to Walmart.

Spark Delivery utilizes independent drivers who partner with Delivery Drivers, a nationwide firm that specializes in last-mile contractor management, to complete deliveries. The drivers use the Spark platform to sign up for slots that work best for their schedule, as well as access order details and navigation assistance, among other details. The program takes a direct swipe at a similar program at Amazon, called Amazon Flex, that hires individual drivers to deliver packages.

“We’re always looking for the best ways to serve them, so we’re exploring a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to the customer’s front door – some in-house, some third-party,” said Tom Ward, VP, digital operations, Walmart U.S.

Spark Delivery, which can distribute orders to customers the same day, has a $9.95 fee for orders with a $30 minimum. Customers can get their first order over $50 delivered for free using a dedicated promotion code. (Walmart’s internal team of personal shoppers still pick and pack customers’ orders.)

Drivers are paid by the delivery. However, since Spark Delivery is a third party program, salaries are processed by Delivery Drivers. In addition to compensation, DDI manages recruiting, screening and background checks, and accounting, among other services for drivers.

Spark Delivery is not Walmart’s first delivery partnership, however. In April, the discounter teamed up with on-demand delivery service Postmates to streamline its grocery deliveries. Uber and Deliv have also been helping Walmart test deliveries in select markets, including Dallas, Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Tampa and San Jose.

All shipping programs coincide with Walmart’s goal to provide online grocery delivery to 100 metro areas covering 40% of U.S. households. Currently, the service is available in nearly 50 markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami and Seattle.

In addition to the delivery services, Walmart also offers its Online Grocery Pickup program that allows customers to pick up their grocery orders at local stores without getting out of their cars. The service, which is supported by more than 25,000 personal shoppers (up from 18,000 earlier this year), is now available in 1,800 stores. A total of 2,100 are expected to be open by the end of the year, according to the company.

“We’re saving customers time by leveraging new technology, and connecting all the parts of our business into a single seamless shopping experience: great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery, and apps and websites that are simple to use,” Greg Foran, president and CEO, Walmart U.S. “Using our size and scale, we’re bringing the best of Walmart to customers across the country.”

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TECHNOLOGY

J.Crew takes the plunge

BY Marianne Wilson

J.Crew Group is shifting strategy and setting up shop on Amazon.

The retailer has opened a dedicated storefront featuring a curated selection of its less expensive J.Crew Mercantile brand on Amazon. In the past, J.Crew has resisted selling its products on the online site.

“J.Crew’s mission to engage our customers wherever they want to shop makes Amazon the right partner for J.Crew Mercantile,” said Aaron Rose, chief of emerging business, J.Crew. “Their broad-reaching shopping destination supported by our shared interest in service and convenience will introduce the initial collection of colorful everyday basics and fashion to a new audience.”

The Mercantile offering is available with free shipping options. Prime members have access to free two-day shipping.

“We are thrilled to partner with J.Crew, an iconic brand our customers love, to offer Mercantile and thereby make it even easier to access great styles and premium selection,” said Michelle Rothman, VP of Amazon Fashion. “We are focused on continually enhancing our assortment and innovating the shopping experience to enable fashion discovery and inspiration on Amazon, and we are excited about the opportunities we see ahead for customers and brands alike.”

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Amazon on West Coast hiring spree

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is looking to bolster the IT team in one of its expanding technology hubs.

Coinciding with the expansion of its San Diego Tech Hub, the online giant plans to open a new 85,000-sq.-ft. office in University Town Center in San Diego, California. The new facility will create more than 300 new high tech jobs in software development, machine learning, cloud computing, and digital entertainment. The new facility is expected to more than double its tech workforce in the area, according to Amazon.

The teams in San Diego are tasked with developing software systems that power AmazonFresh, Prime Now, Amazon Web Services (AWS), supply chain tech, and prevent fraud and abuse on Amazon. San Diego-based engineers and scientists recently played a key role in the launch of Whole Foods Market pickup and delivery via Prime Now, Alexa features for grocery shopping, and data-driven and machine learning innovations to further protect Amazon customers.

Additionally, the Amazon Game Studios team located in San Diego is in the process of creating a new game world that will harness AWS’s cloud computing services and Twitch to connect players worldwide.

Amazon’s San Diego Tech Hub is one of 17 tech labs outside of Seattle that employs over 17,500 people across North America. All associates are tasked with inventing and building new products and services for Amazon customers.

Together with its customer fulfillment facilities, Amazon has created more than 39,000 jobs in California. Since 2011, the company has invested over $19 billion in the state, including infrastructure and compensation to its employees, according to Amazon.

Amazon recently announced it was recruiting new talent for two other tech hubs in North America. In May, the online retailer said that it would create 2,000 new technology jobs focused on machine learning, speech science, cloud computing, and robotics engineering, coinciding with the expansion of its Boston Tech Hub.

In addition, Amazon also planned to fill 3,000 jobs focused on e-commerce technology, cloud computing, and machine learning at it expands its Vancouver Tech Hub in Canada.

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