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Welcome to Near Future. In this weekly feature, The Current spotlights innovations powering the next wave of commerce.
With Stores are becoming part of ecommerce, while video is getting more shoppable.
It’s all part of the evolution of ecommerce taking place through betas, pilots and tests being conducted by brands and retailers.
Here are a few forward-looking initiatives that caught our eye this week:
Walmart is making brick-and-mortar stores a key piece of its ecommerce strategy.
It might sound like a paradox, but details the retailer released this week about a store in Toronto help the strategy make sense.
Walmart said space inside a Walmart store just outside Toronto in Scarborough, Ontario, was recently repurposed with technology designed for order fulfillment. Working side-by-side with automated technology and proprietary Walmart systems, about 200 associates will support fulfillment of grocery orders and pickup from the store.
This allows the associates to pick items for online grocery orders six times faster than they would on a regular sales floor. One of the advantages is tighter inventory control, Walmart said. This results in fewer substitutions, and automated processes. The system also uses data to manage the freshness of items that will be selected.
Though they are being installed at a single store, the introduction of these systems will help with scale. According to Walmart, it can now fill 1,200 grocery orders a day at the site. Further, more than 70% of downtown Toronto customers could have online grocery deliveries fulfilled through the store. The company said it will also be able to reach customers in underserved areas from the store, as well.
"We've embraced technology to help us increase capacity for orders, providing our customers with more available timeslots and expanded access to delivery," said Walmart Canada Chief Ecommerce Officer Laurent Duray, in a statement. "Our associates and our stores are the key to the journey we're on to keep making the online shopping experience better and faster for our customers."
Outfitting stores with fulfillment technology is part of a C$3.5 billion investment that Walmart is making in infrastructure and shopper experience for ecommerce. In the US, it has a network of 4,700 stores which can be put to work as part of the ecommerce strategy. Walmart Chief Ecommerce Officer Tom Ward told CNBC recently that 75% of the company’s stores currently fulfill ecommerce orders, and it is making upgrades in those stores, as well.
The renovation of a segment of the Toronto store to reach a wide area fits into a less-is-more strategy that is beginning to emerge as Walmart rolls out details of its ecommerce upgrades. Earlier this month, the company announced the upcoming construction of four new fulfillment centers that will enable it to reach 75% of the US population via same-day or two-day delivery.
For Walmart, stores, regional distribution centers and larger fulfillment centers are all working together toward ecommerce.
A shoppable streaming ad. (Courtesy photo)
Walmart is also one half of a partnership that’s bringing ecommerce to streaming TV.
In a blend of entertainment and commerce, the retailer is partnering with Roku to make TV ads on the streaming service shoppable.
Here’s how it works:
- When viewers see an item, they press OK on their Roku remote.
- Then, they're navigated to a checkout experience, with pay details populated from the Roku payments service Roku Pay.
- To place the order, they tap OK again on the checkout page. An email is then sent, providing details on shipping and support.
Roku previously teased such a service at this year’s Newfronts advertising event. With the partnership, Walmart is the exclusive retailer making products available on Roku. Walmart will handle all fulfillment of these items. Roku is putting its advertising technology, called OneView, to work with this partnership for targeting and measurement.
Walmart and Roku say that the experience seeks to go beyond QR codes. Instead of scanning a code that brings a checkout page up on a mobile phone, the buying experience remains on the TV screen.
“We’re working to connect with customers where they are already spending time, shortening the distance from discovery and inspiration to purchase,” William White, chief marketing officer at Walmart, said in a statement. “No one has cracked the code around video shoppability. By working with Roku, we’re the first to market retailer to bring customers a new shoppable experience and seamless checkout on the largest screen in their homes – their TV.”
It comes as commerce is increasingly being embedded into digital spaces where people gather. Long a home of advertising for brands, a host of social media platforms are now adding in-app shopping and brand storefronts. TV, of course, is no stranger to advertising. Instead of using a remote to change the channel when an ad comes on, this feature holds the promise of clicking "buy" on an ad, instead.
Following this initial pilot, the companies said they are planning to introduce “deeper commerce experiences that meet customers where they are.”
Livestreaming for the collectors
eBay Live is starting with trading cards. (Courtesy photo)
Looking to translate success in China to the North American market, ecommerce marketplaces are continuing to integrate live shopping capabilities into their experiences. It's another way ecommerce and entertainment are blending.
The latest example comes from eBay, which is launching a new platform for live shopping that’s dedicated to trading cards and collectibles.
The eBay Live app, which is currently in beta, allows shoppers to interact directly with hosts through chat and reaction buttons. Meanwhile, it has functionality to make it possible to purchase items shown on a livestream.
The first event to take place on the platform will offer a curated selection of trading cards from top eBay seller Bleecker Trading, and will be hosted by trading card enthusiast DJ Skee. It is set to begin at 3 p.m. EST on June 22.
Meta's digital clothes
Designer duds in the metaverse. (Courtesy of Meta)
Just before the week was out, Meta announced a new way to shop for designer brands to style your digital likeness. Here's the announcement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
The Avatars Store will be rolling out in the next week Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger so you can buy digital clothes to style your avatar. Digital goods will be an important way to express yourself in the metaverse and a big driver of the creative economy. I'm excited to add more brands and bring this to VR soon too.
Zuckerberg shared that designers that looks from designers Balenciaga, Prada, and Thom Browne will be available. It's one sign of how the metaverse will offer a whole new way to shop. Just like shoppers outfit themselves and buy goods IRL, the groundwork for digital buying is being laid now.
Trending in Retail Channels
Microservices architecture allows the company to give retailers ownership over omnichannel software.
With the growth of digital commerce, providing consumer choice is at the center of all of a retailer’s operations.
In recent years, that became especially evident in the area of fulfillment.
Ecommerce made the process of moving an order into place for delivery a crucial function, as the ability to source products close to demand quickly was an imperative.
“Retailers are looking to own more of their fulfillment destiny because consumer expectations have increased,” Chap Achen, VP of product strategy and operations at Nextuple, told The Current on the floor of the NRF Big Show 2023. “Fulfillment is now a competitive weapon.”
As digital operations increasingly blend with the physical store, a host of new fulfillment options are coming online. They can have an item delivered from the store on the same day, or they pick it up. Even a wider offering such as in-store pickup has a host of different choices inside of it. Consumers can pick up an item at a counter, or a locker. They can stop by anytime, or schedule a pickup on Saturday.
While this optionality helps retailers meet customers where they are, it also adds complexity to the systems that run them, and requires operational adjustments to put them in place.
It means the software that powers fulfillment operations must also meet retailers where they are, Achen said. Many retailers have specific setups and processes. They may have a store located in a mall with a nearby distribution center, or a series of small storefronts. At the same time, retailers need to have flexibility with the software that they use so they can provide options to consumers.
For Nextuple, the vehicle to provide this is microservices, which describes a software architecture in which the parts of an application work independently, but are also built to work together. The company harnesses microservices to offer an ownership-centered approach to deploying its software through a product called Nextuple Fulfillment Studio.
“Today, there are only two ways to buy software: [software as a service] or custom building,” Achen said. “You can do it yourself or with a partner. We are a third option. We will help you accelerate your time to market because we've already developed 80% of your requirements, and then we'll give you that as source code.”
The software is composable. Retailers own the source code, and they can iterate. Along the way, they have the ability to swap out components of the software for pieces that enable them to better respond to the needs of customers, if they choose.
It shows how composable commerce is spreading throughout retail operations. A first wave of development applied the approach to the “front-end” of commerce, such as operating an ecommerce store and marketing. With fulfillment software such as Nextuple coming online, there are signs it is being applied to backend operations, as well.
In all, Nextuple offers 14 microservices as part of the Studio, including engines for same-day delivery, storage, inventory management and sourcing.
At the NRF Big Show, Nextuple announced that it is live with five national omnichannel retailers. Together, they have $50 billion in annual revenue and 7000 store locations.
The company is aiming to serve a group of retailers that are widely known, but still looking to hone operations for omnichannel retail. When it comes to fulfillment technology, the retail landscape has distinct tiers.
The largest players have built their own fulfillment tech to power logistics networks that reach across the country.
Name brand retailers with a national presence also want to offer competitive fulfillment, but haven’t made the move to acquire platforms or developed their own software in-house. Typically, they would seek out a software provider that offers a set platform on a subscription model. But the particular needs of commerce require software that powers physical operations with digital tools. That requires a different type of solution, Nextuple believes.
“We want to level the playing field,” Achen said. “We're helping the mid-tier [retailer] compete with Target, Amazon and Walmart.”