FloorFound is bringing online return and resale to direct to consumer furniture businesses

Over the next five years consumers will return an estimated 40 million to 50 million pieces of furniture that more than likely will end up in landfills, creating tons of unnecessary waste, according to Chris Richter, the founder of a new Austin-based furniture startup, FloorFound.

To reduce that waste, and give retailers another option for their used goods, Richter has launched FloorFound. The company is designed to manage furniture returns and resale for online merchants. So far, companies like Floyd Home, Inside Weather, Outer and Feather (the furniture rental company) are using FloorFound’s services.

“We have a very large pipeline and we’ve been operating since April first,” said Richter. “We can pick up in any major metro locally and inspect it locally. We have a platform layer where we can run inspections against those items.”

As consumers look to reduce their environmental footprint, an easy place to start is by buying used items, Richter said, and he expects that most brands will start to incorporate used and new products in their virtual and real showrooms. “Every brand will commingle new items with resale items,” he said. “We are trying to put retailers in the resale business with their own return inventory.” To prove his point, Richter pointed to companies like REI and The Gap, which have partnered with ThredUp to sell used clothes.

To complement its returns business and give online sellers a way to work more seamlessly with local vendors, the company has logistics partnerships with providers including Pilot Freight Services, Metropolitan Warehouse and Delivery and J.B. Hunt Transport.

Working with co-founder Ryan Matthews, the former director of technology for the Austin-based high-end retailer Kendra Scott, Richter has set up a business that can tap into both the demand for better customer service for the return of large items and the growing call for greater sustainability in the furniture industry.

It was an attractive enough proposition to attract a pre-seed investment from Schematic Ventures, a venture fund focused exclusively on technological innovations for supply chain management.

“The broken experience of oversized e-commerce has kept a multi-billion-dollar category offline. It’s not a simple problem: oversized items require coordination of a hyper-fragmented micro carrier network, complex physical processing, and then re-injection into an e-commerce channel that aligns with the brand,” said Julian Counihan, a general partner at Schematic Ventures. “UPS and FedEx just aren’t going to cut it. FloorFound is tackling this challenge with a team tailor-made for the task: Chris Richter, Ryan Matthews and Shannon Hardt have backgrounds spanning supply chain, delivery, e-commerce and enterprise software. FloorFound will be the final push that moves the remaining offline categories, online.” 

Hong Kong and New York-based Easyship joins Shopify Plus’ tech partner program

Easyship, a logistics startup that allows e-commerce sellers to add multiple carriers to their stores, announced it has joined the Shopify Plus Technology Partner Program. Easyship is headquartered in Hong Kong and New York. Co-founder Tommaso Tamburnotti told TechCrunch it is the only shipping app in Asia for Shopify Plus, the e-commerce platform’s solution for large companies and high-volume shippers.

Founded in 2015 by Tamburnotti and Augustin Ceyrac, both veterans of Southeast Asia e-commerce giant Lazada, and former banker Paul Lugagne Delpon, Easyship’s platform is includes more than 250 shipping options from carriers including UPS, FedEx and DHL, pre-negotiated discounted rates and the automation of tasks like taxes and duty charges. So far, Easyship says it has served more than 100,000 clients.

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), volumes of international postal packages dispatched have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for things like electrical machinery, pharmaceutical products, mechanical appliances and accessories. At the same time, customs and movement restrictions, as well as a drop in air traffic, have created new challenges for cross-border sellers.

Tamburnotti told TechCrunch that COVID “has been a big shock to the logistics industry,” starting with manufacturers shutting down in China, which resulted in delays for many e-commerce consumer brands.

After factories in China reopened, however, Tamburnotti said there was a surge in production, and about an 80% increase in e-commerce orders worldwide. But the drop in the number of commercial passenger flights, which typically also carry small parcels, resulted longer delivery wait times, and additional courier fees.

In addition to its headquarters in Hong Kong and New York, Easyship also has offices in Singapore, London and Australia, and Tamburnotti said “being a truly global company helps us provide shipping solutions to our clients that need to reach their clients worldwide.”

 

These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization

Podcast advertising growth is inhibited by three major factors:

  • Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data.
  • Current methods of conversion tracking.
  • Idea of a “playbook” for podcast performance marketing.

Because of these limiting factors, it’s currently more of an art than a science to piece disparate data from multiple sources, firms, agencies and advertisers, into a somewhat conclusive argument to brands as to why they should invest in podcast advertising.

1. Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data

There were several resources that released updates based on what they saw in terms of consumption when COVID-19 hit. Hosting platforms, publishers and third-party tracking platforms all put out their best guesses as to what was happening. Advertisers’ own podcast listening habits had been upended due to lockdowns; they wanted to know how broader changes in listening habits were affecting their campaigns. Were downloads going up, down or staying the same? What was happening with sports podcasts, without sports?


Read part 1 of this article, Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap, on TechCrunch.


At Right Side Up, we receive and analyze all of the available research from major publishers (Stitcher, aCast), to major platforms (Megaphone) and third-party research firms (Podtrac, IAB, Edison Research). However, no single entity encompasses the entire space or provides the kind of interactive, off-the-shelf customizable SaaS product we’d prefer, and that digitally native marketers expect. Plus, there isn’t anything published in real-time; most sources publish once or twice annually.

So what did we do? We reached out to trusted publishers and partners to gather data around shifting consumption due to COVID-19 ourselves, and determined that, though there was a drop in downloads in the short term, it was neither as precipitous nor as enduring as some had feared. This was confirmed by some early reports available, but how were we to evidence our own piecewise sample with another? Moreover, how could you invest 6-7 figures of marketing dollars if you didn’t have the firsthand intelligence we gathered and our subject matter experts on deck to make constant adjustments to your approach?

We were able to piece together trends we’re seeing that point to increased download activity in recent months that surpass February/March heights. We’ve determined that the industry is back on track for growth with a less steep, but still growing, listenership trajectory. But even though more recent reports have been published, a longitudinal, objective resource has not yet emerged to show a majority of the industry’s journey through one of the most disruptive media environments in recent history.

There is a need for a new or existing entity to create cohesive data points; a third party that collects and reports listening across all major hosts and distribution points, or “podcatchers,” as they’re colloquially called. As a small example: Wouldn’t it be nice to objectively track seasonal listening of news/talk programming and schedule media planning and flighting around that? Or to know what the demographics of that audience look like compared to other verticals?

What percentage increase in efficiency and/or volume would you gain from your marketing efforts in the channel? Would that delta be profitable against paying a nominal or ongoing licensing or research fee for most brands?

These challenges aren’t just affecting advertisers. David Cohn, VP of Sales at Megaphone, agrees that “full transparency from the listening platforms would make our jobs easier, along with everyone else’s in the industry. We’d love to know how much of an episode is listened to, whether an ad is skipped, etc. Along the same lines, having a central source for [audience] measurement would be ideal — similar to what Nielsen has been for TV.” This would also enable us to understand cross-show ad frequency, another black box for advertisers and the industry at large.

Millennial Media’s Paul Palmieri launches Tradeswell, a startup promising to fix e-commerce margins

A new startup called Tradeswell said it’s using artificial intelligence to help direct-to-consumer and e-commerce brands build healthier businesses.

The company is led by Paul Palmieri, who previously took mobile advertising company Millennial Media public and then sold it to TechCrunch’s corporate parent AOL (now Verizon Media). Afterwards, Palmieri founded Grit Capital Partners, but he told me he decided to join Tradeswell as a co-founder and CEO because he was so excited about the vision.

Palmieri said that just as Millennial helped independent app developers get smarter about advertising, Tradeswell gives upstart e-commerce companies the data they need to compete with “the big platform behemoths.”

It’s no secret that a number of direct-to-consumer companies have struggled to make a profit due to challenging unit economics. Palmieri suggested that one reason for this is the fragmentation of their tools and data.

“If you’re selling something like Campbell’s Soup, you want to figure out, how is your tomato soup business and your chicken soup business?” Palmieri said. “Today, brands are saying, ‘How’s my Amazon business? How’s my Shopify business? How’s my Shopify business on Instagram?’ ”

So rather than relying on those platforms for data, Palmieri suggested brands want an independent platform that they trust to bring everything together, “where it’s a combination of a Bloomberg terminal plus a trading platform.”

Tradeswell’s AI focuses in six key areas of an e-commerce business: marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials. Palmieri suggested that in some cases (like ad-buying), Tradeswell will replace existing software, while in other cases it will integrate.

“Think of us as a neural AI layer, where [a brand] might have different platform relationships, which are the fingers, and we’re the AI brain,” he said. “We’re giving brands insights and forecasts: If you make this change, we anticipate XYZ will happen.”

In some cases, like the aforementioned advertising, Tradeswell can also support full automation, so that merchants don’t have to worry about “setting up and tearing down hundreds of campaigns.”

The key, Palmieri said, is that the platform has access to the business’ full financials, so it can optimize for net margins, rather than simply driving the most impressions or clicks or sales.

While Tradeswell is only coming out of stealth mode today, it’s already been working with more than 100 brands. For example, Steve Tracy of Red Monkey Foods and San Francisco Salt Company said in a statement that the startup’s “unique, comprehensive, algorithmic approach has helped us grow sales, identify commercialization opportunities and forecast far more accurately.”

Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels

Instagram this morning announced the global expansion of its Instagram Shopping service across IGTV. The product, which lets you watch a video then check out with a few taps, offers creators and influencers a way to more directly monetize their user base on Instagram, while also giving brands a way to sell merchandise to their followers. Instagram said it would also soon begin testing shopping within its newer feature and TikTok rival, Reels.

Image Credits: Instagram

Shopping has become a larger part of the Instagram experience over the past few years.

Instagram’s Explore section in 2018 gained a personalized Shopping channel filled with the things Instagram believed you’d want the most. It also expanded Shopping tags to Stories. Last year, it launched Checkout, a way to transact within the app when you saw something you wanted to buy. And just this summer, Instagram redesigned its dedicated Shop section, now powered by Facebook Pay.

Today, Instagram users can view products and make purchases across IGTV, Instagram Live and Stories.

On IGTV, users can either complete the purchase via the in-app checkout or they can visit the seller’s website to buy. However, the expectation is that many shoppers will choose to pay for their items without leaving the app, for convenience’s sake. This allows Instagram to collect selling fees on those purchases. At scale, this can produce a new revenue stream for the company — particularly now as consumers shop online more than ever, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s acceleration of e-commerce.

In the future, Instagram says its shoppable IGTV videos will be made discoverable on Instagram Shop, as well.

Given its intention to make shopping a core part of the Instagram platform, it’s not surprising that the company intends to make Reels shoppable, too.

“Digital creators and brands help bring emerging culture to Instagram, and people come to Instagram to get inspired by them. By bringing shopping to IGTV and Reels, we’re making it easy to shop directly from videos. And in turn, helping sellers share their story, reach customers, and make a living,” said Instagram COO Justin Osofsky, in a statement.

Instagram isn’t alone in seeing the potential for shopping inspired by short-form video content. Walmart’s decision to try to acquire a stake in TikTok is tied to the growing “social commerce” trend which mixes together social media and online shopping to create a flurry of demand for new products — like a modern-day QVC aimed at Gen Z and broadcast across smartphones’ small screens.

By comparison, TikTok so far has only dabbled with social commerce. It has run select ad tests, like a partnership with Levi’s during the early days of the pandemic to create influencer-created ads that appeared in users’ feeds and directed users to Levi’s website. It has also experimented with allowing users to add links to e-commerce sites to TikTok profiles and other features.

Instagram didn’t say when Reels would gain shopping features, beyond “later this year.”

 

Online garden shop Bloomscape raises $15M Series B, acquires plant care app Vera

If you thought to invest in more plants or started growing a small garden during 2020’s coronavirus lockdowns, you weren’t alone. According to Bloomscape, a company that ships live plants straight from greenhouses to customers’ homes, a number of people become interested in plants this year, increasing demand for its already growing service. Today, Bloomscape announced it’s expanding its business with the addition of $15 million in Series B funding as well as the acquisition of plant care app Vera.

The new round of financing was led by General Catalyst, and included participation from Annox Capital’s Bob Mylod; former Chairman of Booking Holdings and Home Depot board member Jeff Boyd; former Seventh Generation and Burt’s Bees CEO John Replogle; along with existing investors Revolution Ventures and Ludlow Ventures.

Joel Cutler, co-founder and Managing Director of General Catalyst and Bob Mylod, Managing Partner at Annox Capital Management will join Bloomscape’s Board of Directors as part of the round. To date, Bloomscape has raised $24 million.

Image Credits: Bloomscape, screenshot via TechCrunch

Bloomscape was founded by Michigan designer and entrepreneur Justin Mast and launched in 2018 with the goal of reinventing how plants move about the country and arrive on customers’ doorsteps.

Today, there are other businesses that ship live plants, including home improvement stores and large e-commerce retailers like Amazon. But what makes Bloomscape different are the steps it has made to ensure a better delivery process and its logistics operations behind-the-scenes.

The company has filed a patent on parts of its plant packaging technology, where plants and pots are held securely at the right temperature. It also uses a proprietary soil mix that has a bonding agent that holds the soil together better during shipping and better protects the roots, explains Boomscape CEO Justin Mast.

In addition, because plants are shipped directly to the customer from the greenhouse, they’re healthier upon arrival than those spend, on average, 4 weeks traveling from a greenhouse to a big box store before being sent to a customer’s home.

The company is also now working to refine its regional fulfillment strategy to include localized centers and systems that will shorten transit times even further.

Image Credits: Bloomscape

Mast stresses that Bloomscape’s success to date wasn’t dependent on any one factor, but rather has been a combination of people, processes and systems.

“Key people on our product and supply chain team have decades of experience in shipping plants around the country through couriers and best in class fulfillment processes,” says Mast. “And now internally we have gathered a massive amount of information about which plants ship well during varying conditions. We are now systematizing this information so we can really optimize our product mixes to really ensure healthy plants, more successful plant parents, and ultimately a much better customer experience,” he notes.

Even before the pandemic, Bloomscape was seeing steadily rising growth. Though the company doesn’t share its specific metrics, Mast would say that his business has grown by 4x since last year and it has more than doubled its staff.

Millennials are Bloomscape’s fast-growing segment, including those outside urban centers in the south and mid-Atlantic regions. Many are also new or recent single-family homeowners, as well.

When COVID-19 hit and lockdowns were in force, Bloomscape had to quickly adapt to not just growing consumer demand but also a remote work lifestyle among employees.

“During a time of immeasurable difficulty for so many people, we are very fortunate that the business was not negatively affected by the pandemic. During the first few months of COVID, along with the rest of the world, we saw a lot of things change,” Mast says. “A lot of people found comfort and became interested in plants. We are incredibly grateful that our plants offer that little bit of solace and joy via nature into the home. We were thrilled to be able to bring something so meaningful to people during that time,” he adds.

The accelerated shift to e-commerce prompted by the pandemic will likely continue to benefit Bloomscape even when the health crisis passes. Plus, as Mast points out, once people dip their toe in with plants, they often don’t stop at one.

As a part of the funding news, Bloomscape also acquired plant care app Vera for an undisclosed sum. The deal was for the tech only, not the team who built the app itself, we’re told.

Image Credits: Bloomscape

Vera today provides customers with plant care tips, content, troubleshooting help, watering reminders and more. Bloomscape plans to leverage the app to better connect with customers and integrate its own plant care content and resources, like its existing Talk to Plant Mom plant care assistance service.

In addition to its expansion of plant care offering with Vera, Bloomscape plans to use the new capital to grow its team, refine its regional fulfillment strategy, and launch new products. One such product is its Edible Garden Shop, where customers can buy small tomato, lavender, sweet pepper, hot pepper, kale mix, mint and chamomile plants.

Next year, the company will move into outdoor plants, the company says.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a team that understands a consumer vertical better than Bloomscape does with home gardening,” said Joel Cutler, co-founder and managing director, General Catalyst, in a statement about his firm’s investment. “The team has found not just excellence in the complicated logistics of cultivating and shipping live plants nationwide, but also a strong resonance with today’s consumer who’s looking to green up their living spaces,” he said.

 

Amazon launches a virtual tours and experience platform, Amazon Explore

Amazon today is launching a new service called Amazon Explore that allows customers to book live, virtual experiences led by local experts. The experiences may be focused on creativity, learning DIY skills, taking virtual tours of far-off places or cultural landmarks or, in some cases, shopping local boutiques from around the world.

For example, you could book a virtual wine tasting experience in Argentina, learn how to make smoked fish tacos in Mexico, take a virtual tour of Kyoto’s Nanzenji Temple, tour a 500-year-old mansion in Peru, learn about coffee creation in Costa Rica, learn how to make sushi from a home kitchen in Tokyo and more.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Though the tours and experiences offer the ability to virtually travel the globe, the ability to sign up for an Amazon Explore session is currently offered on an invite-only basis for customers in the U.S. only.

The virtual experiences themselves will be guided by local experts who are trained and supported by Amazon, the company says. While there are other ways to virtually tour the world — like watching YouTube videos or perhaps taking guided tours via Google Earth — the Amazon Explore experience is different because it’s a one-on-one session between the host and the viewer, enabled by one-way video and two-way audio for real-time communication. This is meant to give the viewer more of the feeling of really “being there,” compared with experiences where you more passively watch the video on the screen.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

The sessions themselves range 30 to 60 minutes in length and can be canceled or rescheduled with up to 24 hours’ notice. When it’s time to begin your tour, you’ll just sign into your Amazon account online, then click in to Your Session page from the “Your Orders” section to get started.

The sessions will require you have a laptop or desktop, as they’re not mobile-friendly at this time. You’ll also need to have a Chrome, Edge or Safari web browser, functional microphone (the built-in one is fine) and a set of headphones or speakers, as well as an internet connection of 5 mbps or higher.

During the session, you can ask questions or further direct the experience by asking the host to spend more time on one aspect of the experience or skipping another. You can also use the camera icon at the bottom of the live stream to take photos.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Some, but not all, experiences are also shopping-enabled. In these cases, customers are able to visit local stores and markets, browse items and ask questions of the shop owner as if they were there in person. They can then choose to make a purchase and receive the items they bought as if they had been shopping on Amazon.com directly. When they make a purchase, the payments are handled within Amazon’s secure payment system using the payment method associated with the customer’s account. It then will reimburse the host for the item purchased, accordingly.

In these shopping-enabled experiences, Amazon is somewhat tapping into the live-stream shopping trend, but instead of having an influencer talk about and demo a product — as is often the case on Amazon Live, for example — you can actually ask the shop owner questions or have them zoom into the product or turn it over and around for a better look.

Image Credits: Amazon, screenshot via TechCrunch

Though Amazon has built live-streaming tools for its Live platform, the company says the Amazon Explore experience uses unique technology.

Amazon says the new platform enables more opportunities for small business owners looking to generate additional income, including shop owners, local guides, chefs, stylists, artists and artisans, for example. Many of these businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, of course, which may prompt their participation.

Pricing for the sessions is variable. At launch, there’s a virtual styling session being offered for just $10, for example. Meanwhile, a virtual tour of NYC’s Central Park is going for $150. Amazon says the hosts set their own prices and hours, without having to abide by any set minimum or maximum price. However, the company declined to detail any revenue-sharing agreements.

At launch, many of the experiences on the site offered are being offered by local tour operators, though any business that has a tour idea is invited to apply. Others who could host experiences include historians, artists, musicians, master craftsmen, chefs, personal shoppers or anyone with a skill or adventure to share, says Amazon.

There are currently 86 total experiences available across 16 countries, with the plan to grow the selection in time.

The feature is now being offered in public beta to users in the U.S. on an invite-only basis.

Amazon launches a $4.99-per-month ‘personal shopper’ service for men’s fashion

Amazon is introducing a personal shopping service for men’s fashion. The service, now available to Prime members, is an expansion of the existing Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, a $4.99 per month Stitch Fix rival, originally aimed at women. With Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, an Amazon stylist selects an assortment of fashion items that match a customer’s style and fit preferences. These are are then shipped to the customer on a monthly basis for home try-on. Whatever the customer doesn’t want to keep can be returned using the resealable package and the prepaid shipping label provided.

At launch, the new men’s personal shopping service will include brands like Scotch & Soda, Original Penguin, Adidas, Lacoste, Carhartt, Levi’s, Amazon Essentials, Goodthreads, and more — a mix of both Amazon’s own in-house brands and others. In total, Amazon says Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe will offer hundred of thousands of men’s styles across more than a thousand different brands.

The service itself is similar in many ways to Stitch Fix, as it also starts customers with a style quiz to personalize their monthly fashion selections. Also like competitive fashion subscription services, customers can reach out to their stylist with specific requests  — like if they need a professional outfit for job interview, for example, or some other occasion where they may want something outside their usual interests.

But unlike Stitch Fix, which charges a $20 “stylist fee” which is later credited towards any items you choose to keep, Amazon’s personal shopping service is a flat $4.99 per month. Another difference is that the Personal Shopper service will alert you ahead of your shipment to review their picks. You then choose the up to 8 items you want to receive, instead of waiting for the surprise of opening your box.

Image Credits: Amazon

Before today, Amazon had offered men’s fashion in its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe product selection. But that service simply allows Amazon Prime members to request certain fashion items for home try-on, instead of paying for them upfront then returning what doesn’t work. To date, Prime Wardrobe’s biggest drawback has been that many of the fashion items found on Amazon aren’t eligible for home try-on, particularly many of those from the most in-demand brands.

However, Amazon claims it doesn’t stuff Prime Wardrobe with only its own brands. The company says less than 1% of its total selection of brands within Prime Wardrobe are Amazon-owned. (Of course, that percentage may be higher in the boxes customers receive from their personal shopper, at times.)

Amazon also says millions of customers have used the home try-on option provided by Prime Wardrobe and   “hundreds of thousands” of customers have created fashion profiles within Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe since its 2019 launch.

However, only “tens of thousands” of customers today use the Personal Shopper service on a monthly basis.

That means Prime Wardrobe is no real threat to Stitch Fix at this time, if making a comparison purely based on number of paying customers.

StitchFix has had longer to perfect its model and refine its insights which has allowed it to grow its active client base to 3.5 million. That figure is up 9% year-over-year, as of the company’s latest earnings reported earlier this month. More recently, Stitch Fix benefited from the pandemic — after it got through its initial backlogged orders — as customers sought to change their style from businesswear to activewear.

Men’s activewear had been particularly in demand, which is perhaps a trend Amazon had also seen ahead of the launch of its new service.

While home try-on via Prime Wardrobe is available today in the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria and Japan, the Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe subscription is currently available in the U.S. only. It’s also only available on mobile devices.

 

Here’s everything Amazon announced at its latest hardware event

From new Ring flying indoor drone cameras to an adorable new kids version of one of its most popular Amazon home products, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle retailer unveiled a slew of new hardware goodies just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Echo updates

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon kicked off its latest hardware showcase by unveiling a new version of the company’s Echo devices, which now include spherical speakers (with a version for kids featuring cute animal graphics). Amazon also unveiled an updated, more personalized Echo capabilities and a new tracking feature for its Show 10 that mirrors Facebook’s Portal in its ability to follow users as they move around a room.

Ring’s new things

Ring also had plenty to pitch at the Amazon hardware show. The security camera company is updating its line with the Always Home Cam, a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which users can determine themselves.

It also rolled out new hardware for the automotive market with three different devices focused on car owners. A Ring Car Alarm that will retail for $59.99; and the Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm provides basic features that work with the Ring app, sending alerts to trigger a series of potential responses. The alarm also integrates with other Ring devices or Amazon Alexa hardware and connects using Amazon’s low-bandwidth Sidewalk wireless network protocol.

Meanwhile, the Car Cam allows users to check in on their car via video as long as users are in range of a wifi network, or opt-in to the additional LTE companion plan Ring is selling. The cam also includes an Emergency Crash Assist feature that alerts first responders, and a recording feature that turns on if a user says “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”. Finally, the car connect is an API that manufacturers, starting with Tesla, can use to provide Ring customers with mobile alerts for events detected around vehicles or watch footage recorded with onboard cameras.

Ring also added new opt-in end-to-end video encryption for those users who want it.

New ways to Fire TV

Image Credits: Amazon

The company’s TV platform got several updates. The biggest is probably the addition of the new, lower cost Fire TV Stick Lite at $29.99. For $39.99, meanwhile, you can pick up the new Fire TV Stick, which features a process that’s 50% faster. The platform is also adding Video Calling — a nice addition in the era of working from home — along with a new, improved layout.

Amazon goes ga-ga for gaming

Last, but certainly not least, Amazon announced its new game-streaming platform, Luna.

The long-awaited gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is launching an early access version at a price of $5.99 per-month, the company said. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading games and can play across PC, Mac, and iOS (via the web).

Initially, the company will have more than 50 titles in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s control. There’s a partnership with Ubisoft in the works, but access to those games may require a separate subscription.

 

Here’s everything Amazon announced at its latest hardware event

From new Ring flying indoor drone cameras to an adorable new kids version of one of its most popular Amazon home products, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle retailer unveiled a slew of new hardware goodies just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Echo updates

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon kicked off its latest hardware showcase by unveiling a new version of the company’s Echo devices, which now include spherical speakers (with a version for kids featuring cute animal graphics). Amazon also unveiled an updated, more personalized Echo capabilities and a new tracking feature for its Show 10 that mirrors Facebook’s Portal in its ability to follow users as they move around a room.

Ring’s new things

Ring also had plenty to pitch at the Amazon hardware show. The security camera company is updating its line with the Always Home Cam, a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which users can determine themselves.

It also rolled out new hardware for the automotive market with three different devices focused on car owners. A Ring Car Alarm that will retail for $59.99; and the Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm provides basic features that work with the Ring app, sending alerts to trigger a series of potential responses. The alarm also integrates with other Ring devices or Amazon Alexa hardware and connects using Amazon’s low-bandwidth Sidewalk wireless network protocol.

Meanwhile, the Car Cam allows users to check in on their car via video as long as users are in range of a wifi network, or opt-in to the additional LTE companion plan Ring is selling. The cam also includes an Emergency Crash Assist feature that alerts first responders, and a recording feature that turns on if a user says “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”. Finally, the car connect is an API that manufacturers, starting with Tesla, can use to provide Ring customers with mobile alerts for events detected around vehicles or watch footage recorded with onboard cameras.

Ring also added new opt-in end-to-end video encryption for those users who want it.

New ways to Fire TV

Image Credits: Amazon

The company’s TV platform got several updates. The biggest is probably the addition of the new, lower cost Fire TV Stick Lite at $29.99. For $39.99, meanwhile, you can pick up the new Fire TV Stick, which features a process that’s 50% faster. The platform is also adding Video Calling — a nice addition in the era of working from home — along with a new, improved layout.

Amazon goes ga-ga for gaming

Last, but certainly not least, Amazon announced its new game-streaming platform, Luna.

The long-awaited gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is launching an early access version at a price of $5.99 per-month, the company said. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading games and can play across PC, Mac, and iOS (via the web).

Initially, the company will have more than 50 titles in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s control. There’s a partnership with Ubisoft in the works, but access to those games may require a separate subscription.