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Welcome to Near Future. In this weekly feature, The Current spotlights innovations powering the next wave of commerce.
If new pilots from tech companies and retailers prove to scale, items will be delivered by robots, we’ll pay with a smile and collect coupons with voice controls.
Here’s a look at the latest emerging technologies being tested this week:
Uber’s autonomous delivery
Serve's robot is in LA. (Handout photo)
Uber Eats is working to become the go-to delivery platform for local commerce. A pair of pilots launched by the company in Los Angeles this week indicate that it doesn’t intend for its nearby delivery won’t be human-powered.
In one pilot, Uber is working with Motional on autonomous food deliveries in Santa Monica. Motional, which is joint venture of the AV company Aptiv and Hyundai Motors, makes electric vehicles, outfitted its IONIQ 5 vehicles specifically for commercial delivery for the first time. It comes after testing that included learning every touchpoint between a customer and restaurant.
Here’s how it works, per a news release:
Participating merchants will receive a notification when the AV arrives, meet the vehicle at the designated pick-up location, and place the order in a specially-designed compartment in the backseat. Upon arrival at the drop-off location, the customer will receive an alert, securely unlock the vehicle door via the Uber Eats app, and collect their order from the backseat.
Uber is also testing delivery with Serve Robotics, a sidewalk delivery company. According to TechCrunch, the pilot will complete shorter trips in West Hollywood. Serve Robotics was originally the robotics division of Postmates, then spun out of Uber.
These being pilots, the companies will be seeking feedback, and looking to learn. They’re also looking to lay the groundwork for future work together.
In a third partnership for Uber that extends its work in the grocery area, Grocery Outlet will offer on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery at 72 stores on the West Coast. Uber launched grocery delivery in 2020, expanding into the same terrain as Instacart and other rapid delivery services. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in April that the company is looking to work with grocers to set up the service in a "capital light way."
"We are excited about the long-term potential of our eCommerce initiative at Grocery Outlet and this new partnership with Uber," said RJ Sheedy, President of Grocery Outlet, in a statement. "We think it's important to make our great-value products available across another platform and to a greater audience, introducing Grocery Outlet to customers who may not have shopped with us before."
Amazon’s voice assist
A new feature that debuted on Amazon’s Alexa is combining coupons with voice tech.
Alexa Shopping List Savings allows users to add grocery items that receive a rebate to a shopping list. Once shopping is complete, users can scan receipts from stores where they purchased the item. Alexa then rewards cashback in the form of a digital gift card based on the purchases made.
In other Alexa news, Amazon added a feature that notifies Prime members when an item in their cart, wish list or save for later list are going live. It sends the alert up to 24 hours in advance of the deal, and users can either opt to have Alexa make the purchase, or send a second notification once it is live.
It's two more steps toward enabling voice-assisted shopping.
Mastercard's biometric payments
Making payments easier will be in focus as the internet comes to the store, and this week brought a new advance that truly seems to be from the future.
Mastercard is rolling a system that applies the technology behind facial recognition and fingerprint-unlock on a mobile phone to in-store checkout.
The Mastercard’s Biometric Checkout Program allows shoppers to pay for an item by simply smiling or waving their hand over a reader. Users must enroll to access the benefits of the program. For merchants, Mastercard touts benefits including faster checkout times, as well as the ability to integrate with loyalty programs, and personalization. It is working with EC, Payface, Aurus, PaybyFace, PopID and Fujitsu Limited on the effort.
The technology is currently being piloted in Brazil, with upcoming test runs being planned in the Middle East and Asia. With a launch this week, Mastercard said it is rolling out a set of standards that banks, tech companies and merchants adhere to.
Mastercard cited a study from Idemia that showed 74% of consumers have a positive attitude toward biometrics.
(Image via Veeve)
Not to be outdone, a grocery-focused pilot wants to forego the line altogether.
Self-checkout is coming straight to the grocery cart at Albertsons. Veeve, a startup that was founded by ex-Amazon engineers, is rolling out AI-powered carts that use computer vision to ID products when they are placed in a cart, and can also weigh produce.
Items are displayed on a touchscreen that keeps a running total of customers’ items. In turn, the screen can integrate with loyalty programs, and ad networks. According to Veeve’s website, it can also give turn-by-turn directions to an item in the store.
It’s all part of creating a personalized shopping experience, and one is that is connected across different digital and offline channels.
“This deployment is an important and inevitable next step in connecting the consumer’s ecommerce activity with a totally new, digitally driven in-store shopping experience,” said Shariq Siddiqui, Veeve’s cofounder and CEO, in a statement. “Working with Albertsons Cos., we are building a link between multiple consumer channels and the brands they trust while keeping customer loyalty central to the experience.”
Given these advances, it's not hard to picture a future where the shopping cart is filled both physically and digitally.
Trending in Operations
Stripe will be used to process more Amazon payments, and become a bigger user of AWS.
There’s a bigger chance that a payment to Amazon will be processed using Stripe as a result of a new agreement.
The news: Amazon and Stripe are expanding a long-standing partnership. This will grow the use of Stripe’s payments procession technology for Amazon products and services. The companies called it a “new chapter” for a relationship that began more than a decade ago, and a partnership that started when Amazon used Stripe to support shopping holiday purchases on Prime Day and Black Friday in 2017.
What’s Stripe? While Amazon is well-known in ecommerce, Stripe is also an important player, even if its name doesn’t show up on purchases. The company’s software and APIs help businesses process payments in a variety of different ways, including individual purchases at online and offline retailers, subscriptions and marketplaces. It also provides a host of tools around payments, from invoices to financing. It's one of the companies at the infrastructure layer of modern commerce, with technology used in purchases from many brands and retailers.
What’s in the agreement? The companies will grow their work together in the following ways:
Stripe will become the strategic payments partner for Amazon in the U.S., Europe and Canada. The fintech company will process “a significant portion" of the payments for purchases made on Amazon Prime, Audible, Kindle, Amazon Pay, Buy With Prime and more.
“Stripe has been a trusted partner, helping accelerate our business at every turn,” said Max Bardon, VP of payments at Amazon. “In particular, we value Stripe’s reliability. Even during peak days like Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, Stripe delivers industry-leading uptime. We appreciate Stripe’s relentless commitment to putting users first.”
Amazon Web Services, which is Amazon’s cloud division, will get more use from Stripe. This will allow the company to access AWS tools such as Graviton for data processing, and Nitro enclaves for data security.
“We couldn’t run without AWS—and we wouldn’t want to,” said David Singleton, chief technology officer of Stripe. “AWS is our customers’ first choice. The platform gives Stripe enormous developer leverage, which we then deploy in service of our users.”
What it means for ecommerce
Giants work together: The partnership brings together two of the tech companies that virtually run the internet economy. It signals the importance of payments infrastructure at a time when an expanding number of options for consumers and increasing competition among ecommerce marketplaces is making the transactional environment more complex.
Both had layoffs: The companies are also both among the wave of tech firms to recently make layoffs. Amazon started a round of job cuts that will eventually affect 18,000 roles last week. In December, Stripe laid off 14% of its workforce, or 1,100 employees. Both companies referenced overhiring during the pandemic as compared to economic realities that followed reopening and the economic pullback. Is partnership one way of doing more with fewer people?
AWS boost: Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud leader, and a profit juggernaut for Amazon. Expanding work with a well-known technology company such as Stripe allows it to demonstrate how it partners and even grows with leading internet companies. This partnership also ties together AWS with Amazon’s commerce business. While the companies are under one roof, the connection is rarely as obvious as it is here.