Amazon Prime Day’s top device deals include discounted Echo speakers and Fire TV’s

Amazon’s list of Prime Day deals has finally dropped. The retailer’s Black Friday-style sale for its Prime members is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, as other retailers now take part with their own competitive sales. But some of the best deals to be found on Prime Day are those on Amazon’s own devices. This year, Amazon is pushing its Echo speaker and Fire TV Stick devices in particular, with sale prices that are 50% off or higher from the regular list prices.

According to an analysis of this year’s deals by Offers.com, the three biggest device deals this year are the $49.99 Echo Smart Speaker 2nd Generation (50% off its regular price of $99.99); the $14.99 Fire TV Stick (63% off its regular price); and the $24.99 Fire TV Stick 4K (50% off its regular price).

These prices don’t officially go live until Prime Day’s now two-day sale begins on Monday, July 15 at 12 AM PT.

However, the devices may not be selling for their “list” price today — Amazon has discounted some items ahead of Prime Day to encourage early shopping. And some will go on sale ahead of Prime Day on Saturday, July 13 — but only if you ask Alexa “what are my deals?” to gain early access.

Compared with Prime Day 2018, 70% of this year’s deals are better and three are tied, with an average price decrease of 14.5%, according to Offers.com’s report. And compared with Black Friday 2018, 72% of the deals are better, and three are tied, with an average price decrease of 17%.

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Above: Prime Day deals comparison via Offers.com

What’s interesting is that last year’s Prime Day and Black Friday/Cyber Monday bestseller, the standard Echo Dot, isn’t included on the Prime Day 2019 device deals list. Instead, Amazon is listing discounts for its Echo, Echo Show, Echo Plus, Echo Input, Echo Dot Kids Edition, and even Facebook’s Portal (which has Alexa built-in), along with its Alexa-powered Fire TV devices.

That being said, the Echo Dot was marked down ahead of Prime Day to its lowest-ever price of $24.99 — half off its list price of $49.99.

Other Amazon’s device deals span Kindle tablets and e-readers, Ring and Blink home security products, as well as smart home products from ecobee, eero, and Amazon itself.

More broadly, Amazon says it will offer over a million deals during the sales event, with a special focus this year on “celeb deals” from Jaden Smith, Marshmello, Zac Brown, and others, including the exclusive launch of Lady Gaga’s HAUS Laboratories beauty collection.

The full list of Amazon’s device deals is below.

Fire TV

  • Save $25 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, $14.99
  • Save $25 on Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote, $24.99
  • Save $50 on Fire TV Cube, $69.99
  • Save $100 on Fire TV Recast, now starting at $129.99
  • Get a $45 Sling TV Credit, which can be applied to $15 off your first three months when you buy a Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Cube, or Fire TV Recast
  • Get 50% off for three months when you subscribe to SHOWTIME or STARZ on Prime Video channels or in-app
  • Get 50% off for three months when you subscribe to CBS All Access on Prime Video channels
  • Get SEGA Classics for $4.99

Echo & Alexa

  • Save $50 on Echo, $49.99
  • Save $70 on Echo Show $159.99
  • Save $40 on Echo Plus, $109.99
  • Save $20 on Echo Input, $14.99
  • Save $120 on Portal from Facebook with Alexa Built-in, $79

Fire tablets

  • Save $20 on the all-new Fire 7 tablet, $29.99, or get two for $49.98—a $50 savings
  • Save $30 on the Fire HD 8 tablet, $49.99, or get two for $79.98—an $80 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 10 tablet, $99.99, or get two for $179.98—a $120 savings

Kids Devices

  • Save $40 on the all-new Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet, $59.99, or get two for $99.98—a $100 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition tablet, $79.99, or get two for $139.98—a $120 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition tablet, $149.99, or get two for $279.98—a $120 savings
  • Save $25 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, $44.99

Kindle

  • Save up to $80 on Kindle Oasis (9th generation), plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, starting at $174.99
  • Save up to $50 on Kindle Paperwhite, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, starting at $84.99
  • Save $30 on the all-new Kindle, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, $59.99

Home Security

  • Save $30 on Ring Video Doorbell, $69.99
  • Save $80 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, $169
  • Save $130 on a Ring Alarm 14-Piece Kit, $199
  • Save $60 on Ring Spotlight Cam, $139
  • Save $55 Ring Stick Up Cam, $124.99
  • Save $60 on a Blink Indoor Cam 2-Cam System, $79.99
  • Save $80 on the all-new Blink XT2 2-Cam System, $99.99

Smart Home

  • Save up to $200 on eero WiFi systems
  • Save $100 on an eero Router, just $99
  • Get an Amazon Smart Plug and Echo for $54.98
  • Save $50 on the all-new ecobee Smart Thermostat with Alexa Built-in, $199

Amazon’s Prime Day 2019 non-device deals, meanwhile, can be found here.

 

Walmart-owned Sam’s Club launches same-day pickup across the U.S.

Walmart’s grocery pickup business has been scaling quickly in recent years, and is now on track to reach 3,100 U.S. stores by year-end. Now, Walmart’s Sam’s Club business is making its own move to satisfy consumers’ demand for online ordering with same-day pickup. The retailer this week announced that same-day Club Pickup is now available at its nearly 600 U.S. locations.

The company began testing pickup at select locations starting last summer.

To order from Sam’s Club, members can either go online to SamsClub.com or use the Sam’s Club app to shop for items, check out, and pay. The orders will be ready for pick up within four hours — and often quicker, the retailer notes. The members will receive a text or email when their order is ready.

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However, unlike Walmart, Target, or Amazon-owned Whole Foods order pickup programs, Sam’s Club has put a cap on order size. To qualify for same-day pickup, orders can’t exceed more than 15 items, the company says. To some extent, this limit makes sense, as many Sam’s Club shoppers use the warehouse club to shop in bulk to restock a large household — or even their small business — with various essentials. There may not be enough staff and time for Sam’s Club personnel to pull and prep more sizable orders for same-day pickup.

That said, knowing there’s a limit on how much you can order could dampen consumers’ use of the same-day pickup option — or have them turning to rivals instead.

Sam’s Club says members can order a range of items through the new service, including groceries, paper goods, electronics, and even alcohol. Produce and meat have so far been the most frequently ordered items.

Pickup is offered after 10 AM Monday through Friday, and after 9 AM on Saturday. Sam’s Club Plus members, who also have the option of shopping early, now will also have access to early pickup hours, too. These members can opt to schedule pickups between 7 AM and 10 AM, Monday through Friday.

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Like parent company Walmart, some Sam’s Club location will offer a drive-up pickup area where employees will bring the order out to the car and load it.

Same-day grocery pickup has been one of the many ways U.S. retailers have been challenging Amazon. By leveraging their existing brick-and-mortar footprint and proximity to shoppers’ homes, businesses like Walmart, Target, and even local grocers (often in partnership with Instacart), have been making it easier for shoppers to order online for same-day pickup.

Sam’s Club, too, has an Instacart deal in place. The partnership, focused on same-day grocery delivery, was first announced in February 2018 and significantly expanded to over half of Sam’s Club locations in October. Last month, the Instacart partnership expanded again to include alcohol delivery at 215 stores across nearly a dozen U.S. states.

The company also last year announced free shipping by way of its Plus membership, as an alternative to Amazon Prime.

 

 

The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.

Cars-as-a-Service

In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.

Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.

Don’t buy, lease

My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.

Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.

Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.

Amazon expands Transparency anti-counterfeit codes to Europe, India and Canada

Amazon is no stranger to the nefarious forces of e-commerce: fake reviews, counterfeit goods and scams have all reared their heads on its marketplace in one place or another, with some even accusing it of turning a blind eye to them since, technically, Amazon profits from any transactions, not just the legit ones. The company has been working to fight that image, though, and today it announced its latest development in that mission: it announced that Transparency — a program to serialize products sold on its platform with a T-shaped QR-style code to identify when an item is counterfeit — is expanding to Europe, India and Canada. (More detail on how it actually works below.)

“Counterfeiting is an industry-wide concern – both online and offline. We find the most effective solutions to prevent counterfeit are based on partnerships that combine Amazon’s technology innovation with the sophisticated knowledge and capabilities of brands,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Amazon Customer Trust and Partner Support, in a statement. “We created Transparency to provide brands with a simple, scalable solution that empowers brands and Amazon to authenticate products within the supply chain, stopping counterfeit before it reaches a customer.”

The growth of Transparency has been quite slow so far: it has taken more than two years for Amazon to offer the service outside of the US market, where it launched first with Amazon’s own products in March 2017 and then expanded to third-party items. Even today, while Transparency is launching to sellers in more markets, the app for consumers to scan the items themselves is still only available in the US, according to Amazon’s FAQ.

In that time, take-up has been okay but not massive. Amazon says that some 4,000 brands have enrolled in the program, covering 300 million unique codes, leading to Amazon halting more than 250,000 counterfeit sales (these would have been fake versions of legit items and brands enrolled in the Transparency program).

There is some evidence that all this works. Amazon says that 2019, for products fully on-boarded into the Transparency service, there have been zero reports of counterfeit from brands or customers who purchased these products on Amazon.

But how wide ranging that is, though, compared to the bigger problem, is not quite clear. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison — Amazon doesn’t disclose collectively how many brands are sold on its platform, although Amazon itself accounts for 450 brands itself — there are some 2.5 million sellers on its platform globally, and my guess is that 4,000 is just a small fraction of Amazon’s branded universe.

Recent developments have put an increased focus on what role Amazon has been playing to keep in check rampant activity around counterfeiting and other illegal activity.

The NYT published a damning expose in June that highlighted how one medical publisher found rampant counterfeiting of one of its books, a guide for doctors prescribing medications to help them determine dosages of drugs, an alarming situation considering the subject matter. Regulators like the FCC have also taken action to ask Amazon (among others like eBay) to make a better effort to remove the sale of products in specific categories, such as fake pay-TV boxes.

Coupled with other kinds of dodgy activity on the platform like fake reviews, Amazon has been making more moves of late to get a grip and create more channels for brands and sellers to help themselves, from product launches and expansions, to taking legal measures to go after bad actors.

Transparency is part of former category, and it sits alongside one of the company’s other recent, big initiatives called Project Zero, an AI-based continuous monitoring of products and activities launched four months ago to proactively identify counterfeit sellers and items on the platform.

Screenshot 2019 07 10 at 11.47.45Transparency works by way of a unique code — which looks a bit like a “T” — printed on each manufactured unit. When a customer orders the product, Amazon scans the code to verify that the product it’s shipping is legit. Customers can also scan the code after receiving the item to verify authenticity. Other details that are encoded in the T are manufacturing date, manufacturing place, and other product information like ingredients.

This system also throws some light on some of the strange workings of e-commerce, supply chains, and how marketplaces operate.

On Amazon, an item you buy that might be branded — say, a North Face jacket — may not actually be sold by North Face itself, but a reseller. And those resellers may just as likely never even touch the item: they are working off stock that is distributed from another place altogether, or perhaps manufactured and sent in bulk to Amazon or another fulfilment provider that sends the item when the order is made. All of these tradeoffs within the supply chain create an environment where counterfeit goods might creep in.

Amazon’s system, by working directly with brands and not sellers, is trying to provide an over-arching level of monitoring and control into the mix, and it notes in its announcement that its Transparency codes are trackable “regardless of where customers purchased their units.”

Ironically for a service called “Transparency”, Amazon doesn’t seem to list the price for sellers to use this service, but four months ago, when Amazon launched Project Zero, we reported that the serialization service are charged between $0.01 and $0.05 per unit, based on volume. It’s a price that especially smaller brands, which are even less immune to copycats than well-capitalized big brands, are willing to pay:

“Amazon’s proactive approach and investment in tools like Transparency have allowed us to grow consumer confidence in our products and prevent inauthentic product from ending up in the hands of our customers,” said Matt Petersen, Chief Executive Officer at Neato Robotics, a maker of smart robotic vacuum cleaners, in a statement.

“Blocking counterfeits from the source has always been a tough task for us – it’s something all brand owners face through nearly all channels around the world,” said Bill Mei, Chief Executive Officer at Cowin, a manufacturer of noise cancelling audio devices, in his own statement. “After we joined Transparency, our counterfeit problem just disappeared for products protected by the program.”

Amazon rolls out early Prime Day deals on devices including Fire TV Recast, services and more

In addition to expanding Prime Day to a two-day long sale event, taking place on July 15-16, Amazon today announced it’s kicking things off with early Prime Day sales across a range of devices and services. The pre-sale includes discounts on the Fire TV Recast, Ring Video Doorbell, and Echo Dot — the latter a perennial best seller during past Prime Day events and holiday sales. The retailer is also discounting services like Amazon Music, Prime Video, Kindle Unlimited, Audible and more.

The Fire TV Recast is the leading deal today. At $100 off, the now $129.99 Fire TV device is at its lowest price to date. The Recast offers everything you’d get with Fire TV plus the ability to hook up to an antenna to watch and record live TV. It’s a good deal for cord cutters who prefer to watch over-the-air TV for free, without paying for a TiVo subscription or a streaming TV service, like Hulu’s, YouTube TV, Sling TV or others.

In addition, Amazon says on July 8, the bundle with the Ring doorbell and Echo Dot will drop to $169.

Device deals often help to power Amazon Prime Day, as the retailer is known for slashing prices on its own hardware to cost or even lower. But already, Amazon’s top-seller the Echo Dot is listed at $24.99 — so how much lower can it go, unless Amazon just starts throwing a free Dot in with every Prime Day order?

Echo and Echo Plus are also already affordable at $69.99 and $149.99, respectively, as are the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K, at $39.99 and $49.99.

Meanwhile, the other early Prime Day deals those that seem designed to entice shoppers while they’re already on the site — but they’re not all necessarily outrageous enough to actually bring in traffic by themselves. And others were already underway ahead of today.

For example, Amazon in late June started giving away 4 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for $0.99, as well as 3 months of Kindle Unlimited for free, and a year of Audible for $119.50 (or $4.95/month for 3 months), with an Echo Dot thrown in.

These deals were again touted today, along with others.

The remaining deals include:

  • Prime Video: 50% off select movie rentals
  • Twitch Prime: an exclusive Legend and weapon skins for Apex Legends, and content from multiple EA Sports titles. (announced on Friday)
  • Amazon Fashion: save up to 30% on Tommy Hilfiger select clothing and shoes; up to 70% savings on Seafolly Australia Swimwear; up to 50% savings on athletic shoes from Reebok, Puma, and others; up to 30% savings on kid’s and baby styles from Gerber, The Children’s Place, and more
  • Amazon Brands: up to 50% off women’s activewear from Amazon Essentials, Core 10 and Starter, up to 40% on men’s shirts from Goodthreads, Buttoned Down and Amazon Essentials, up to 30% on women’s styles from Daily Ritual, up to 20% off furniture and décor from Rivet, Stone & Beam, and Ravenna Home, up to 20% off AmazonBasics, and up to 30% off everyday essentials from Solimo, Presto!, and Happy Belly, among others.
  • Prime Now: Save up to 40% on Amazon’s two-hour delivery service. Plus, new Prime Now customers can receive $15 off their order of $35 or more. (The same deal is available for AmazonFresh)
  • Prime Book Box: 30% off the first box ($13.99)
  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: If approved, members receive an $80 gift card that is added directly to their Amazon.com Gift Card balance
  • Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star: $10 Amazon.com Gift Card on a purchase of $50 or more throughout the store (beginning July 6)
  • Amazon Pay: gift card with purchase (offers vary)
  • Amazon Handmade products: Save up to 30%
  • Whole Foods Market: From July 3 – July 16, get a $10 Prime Day credit when you spend at least $10 in store

250 retailers will compete against Amazon’s Prime Day, up from 194 last year

Amazon’s Prime Day event, now in its fifth year, is no longer just a big sales day for Amazon — it’s become the official kickoff to back-to-school shopping season and a new sales holiday that extends across the web among rival retailers. And those retailers’ competitive response to Prime Day is bigger than ever this year, according to a new report from RetailMeNot. In 2019, the firm estimates that 250 retailers will take part in Prime Day by offering deals of their own. That’s up from 194 last year, and up from just 7 retailers on Amazon’s first Prime Day in 2015.

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The increased participation may be related in part to the size of Amazon’s sale this year. Prime Day has been stretched out over the years. In 2018, for example, Prime Day became a 36-hour sale and, at the time, the biggest shopping event in Amazon’s history.

But more retailers today are aware that offering an alternative sale will bring in the shoppers, similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales also do.

Walmart, for example, is readying its answer to Prime Day by offering deals over a longer period of time than Amazon’s now 48-hour Prime Day 2019 event. Instead, of two days, the rival retailer is going for four. Walmart says it will offer “thousands” of special deals and Rollbacks starting on July 14 — the day before Prime Day starts. And these will continue until July 17, the day after Prime Day ends.

Walmart hasn’t announced what deals are in the works as of yet, beyond an HP 15.6″ HD Touch Display Laptop for $429 (currently $447), and the Dyson Multifloor Bagless Upright Vacuum for $154.00 (currently $175).

Target, meanwhile, is prepping its own answer to Prime Day with its biggest summer sale, Target Deal Days, which will take place concurrently with Prime Day (July 15-16). The retailer says it also will feature “thousands” of deals both online and in its app, with new deals each day. These deals haven’t yet been announced, either, but will expand across home, apparel, toys, and more, and will include both Target’s own brands and national brands.

While Prime Day brings the traffic and the sales, there’s some hint that the sale itself could be improved.

Based on RetailMeNot’s survey, 64% of shoppers are hoping that Amazon provides better deals on items this year, 58% want a greater selection, and 54% want more time to take advantage of deals. Nearly all also say they hope the overall Prime Day shopping experience this year is improved.

Back-to-school shoppers and parents will be dropping some cash on Prime Day, too, the report additionally found. 64% of parents say they’ll participate in Prime Day 2019 and will shop at 11 retailers, on average. Parents also plan to spend $162 on Prime Day and complete around 35% of their total back-to-school shopping during that time.

 

Walmart now accepts SNAP for online grocery orders at all 2,500+ pickup locations

Walmart has been working to address the needs of low-income shoppers for some time. More recently, it’s been introducing new ways to serve customers on public assistance. In fall 2017, the retailer began a small test allowing customers to pay for online grocery orders using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — more casually known as food stamps. Today, Walmart says SNAP is now accepted for online grocery orders at all of the company’s 2,500-plus pickup locations.

For SNAP customers, the process of placing an online order is as simple as it is for those paying with debit or credit. They put in their zip code on the Walmart Grocery website to select their local store, then shop for groceries online by adding items to their cart. At checkout, they select a pickup time and choose “EBT card” as their payment option.

When they arrive at the store, they’ll park in the customer spaces marked for Grocery Pickup orders and give their EBT benefit card to the store associate who brings their order to the car.

As Walmart and other retailers have explained, online shopping should not be considered a luxury. Low-income shoppers can often save money by going online where there can be better deals available than at local stores. In Walmart’s case, however, online groceries are priced the same as they are in store.

In addition, be able to shop online can be a huge time saver for those working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Walmart says it’s planning to accept the SNAP payment option at over 3,100 Walmart stores by the end of the year.

The SNAP at Pickup program isn’t the only way Walmart is serving low-income customers.

The retailer also announced in April its participation in a USDA pilot program designed to test the acceptance of SNAP payments directly on retailers’ websites for both grocery pickup and delivery. Walmart is one of several retailers who agreed to participate in the pilot, along with Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Safeway, and Wright’s Markets.

Another pilot we recently spotted is focused on bringing down the cost of grocery delivery by offering customers the option to pay an annual subscription fee of $98, instead of per-delivery charges which can add up over time. Though not aimed at the low-income shopper, it is a viable alternative to rival grocery delivery programs from Target (Shipt), Amazon, and Instacart.

Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are flocking to WeChat

Not long ago, people in China would need to visit a posh, stylish mall for luxury shopping. That’s rapidly changing as high-end brands race to embrace digital channels, which aren’t just the obvious options of ecommerce platforms or brand-owned sites. In China, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are now connecting and selling to millions of customers through WeChat .

Many know WeChat as China’s largest messaging app, and perhaps how it has over time morphed into an all-in-one ecosystem that lets one chat, run errands, hire services, and shop for an infinite list of things. Now the flurry of different products people find on WeChat may include a $10,000-plus purse.

The trend, according to Pablo Mauron, partner and managing director for China at Digital Luxury Group, a luxury marketing agency, reflects WeChat’s huge potential as an app tailored to transactions and services.

“I think WeChat is finally becoming what it’s supposed to be for luxury brands, which is not just a social media app,” Mauron told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “One [function] could be for customers to buy the product. Another could be for brands to build a loyalty program. Customers can pre-order a product or set up an appointment with the [offline] store.”

Indeed, according to a new report from market research firm Gartner L2, 60% of the fashion luxury brands it surveyed have at least one WeChat store, surging from just 36% in 2018.

Like Facebook, WeChat allows businesses to set up their online shops. The Chinese app now boasts more than 1 billion monthly users, but these people aren’t readily exploitable as customers. WeChat, unlike Alibaba, isn’t a marketplace and does not have a central search engine that indexes all the merchants selling over its platform.

A WeChat store is thus more comparable to a site store — it exists in the online universe but requires a lot of marketing before consumers stumble upon it. People may discover Wechat stores by scanning a QR code at a brick-and-mortar outlet, clicking on an ad embedded in an online article or through a slew of other creative ways that merchants devise.

Loyalty building

Despite the challenges in driving traffic, WeChat stores hold great appeal to brands for they offer a large toolbox for boosting customer loyalty, observed Mauron.

Shoppers can, for instance, talk to shop assistants over WeChat or check their membership status with just a few taps on the screen. It’s the social prowess of WeChat that separates it from entrenched ecommerce candidates like Alibaba and JD.com, which focus more on transactions. In a way, WeChat is not directly taking on Alibaba but playing a complementary role by providing customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.

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Screenshot of Louis Vuitton’s WeChat mini app for customers in China

A lot of these service-oriented features are powered by so-called “mini programs,” which are essentially stripped-down versions of native apps that run within a super app such as WeChat. As the Gartner L2 report points out, the rise in WeChat store adoption is linked to the increased use of mini programs by luxury brands.

A total of 69% the luxury brands in the sample group have at least one mini program. The adoption rate among fashion-focused luxury brands grew from 40% in 2018 to 70% in 2019, while the watch and jewelry category climbed from 36% to 62% over the same time period.

“WeChat is becoming the most appealing option for brands that want to think about CRM, ecommerce strategies or simply other value-added services without having to rely on external partners,” Mauron suggested, referring to Alibaba, JD and others that are traditionally the more popular choices for digital sales.

From social to shopping

While WeChat imposes certain rules on sellers, it’s built a reputation for being more laissez-faire compared to conventional ecommerce companies. For one, WeChat doesn’t (yet) take commissions from ecommerce transactions as online marketplaces normally do. As Mauron noted, “Tencent’s business model is not so much about making money out of the mini program transactions.”

On the other hand, WeChat’s e-wallet WeChat Pay benefits from processing transactions happening inside the chat app where Alibaba’s Alipay isn’t available.

That’s a crucial development because WeChat Pay has been for the most part associated with micropayments, thanks to a series of early campaigns that encouraged people to send cash-filled digital packets to each other, a tradition deep-rooted in a culture of exchanging cash during holidays.

Alipay, by contrast, is more extensively used for online shopping given its ties to Alibaba.

With the rise of mini app-enabled ecommerce, however, people are starting to use WeChat Pay for big-item purchases too.

“This allows WeChat to take market share in online payments. That’s the other big battle, which is between Alipay and WeChat Pay,” said Mauron.

As of January, Alipay had at least 1 billion monthly active users through its own app and mobile wallet partners around the world. WeChat doesn’t break out the user number for its e-wallet but said daily transaction volume passed 1 billion in 2018.

Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FindItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site had a modern, clean look-and-feel that made it a more pleasurable way to browse Amazon’s products. Products photos appeared on white backgrounds while the clutter of a traditional product detail page was removed.

We understand from people familiar with the products that Interesting Finds is not shutting down as Spark has. But the new #FoundItOnAmazon site will take inspiration from what worked with Interesting Finds and Spark to turn it into a new shopping discovery tool.

Interesting Finds covers a wide range of categories, but #FoundItOnAmazon will focus more directly on fashion and home décor. Similar to Interesting Finds, you can heart to favorites items and revisit them later.

The #FoundItOnAmazon site is very new and isn’t currently appearing for all Amazon customers at this time. If you have it, the amazon.com/spark URL will take you there.

Though Amazon won’t talk about why its Instagram experiment is ending, it’s not too hard to make some guesses. Beyond its lack of originality and transactional nature, Instagram itself has grown into a far more formidable competitor since Spark first launched.

Last fall, Instagram fully embraced its shoppable nature with the introduction of shopping features across its app that let people more easily discover products from Instagram photos. It also added a new shopping channel and in March, Instagram launched its own in-app checkout option to turn product inspiration into actual conversions. It was certainly a big move into Amazon territory. And while that led to headlines about Instagram as the future of shopping, it’s not going to upset Amazon’s overall dominance any time soon.

In addition to the shifting competitive landscape, Spark’s primary stakeholder, Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew departed at the beginning of 2019 for Twilio. While at Amazon, Chew was heavily invested in Spark’s success and product managers would even tie their own efforts to Spark in order to win his favor, sources said.

For example, Amazon’s notifications section had been changed to include updates from Spark. And Spark used to sit a swipe away from the main navigation menu on mobile.

Following Spark’s closure, Amazon’s navigation has once again been simplified. It’s now a clutter-free hamburger menu. Meanwhile, Amazon’s notifications section no longer includes Spark updates — only alerts about orders, shipments, and personalized recommendations.

In addition, it’s likely that Spark wasn’t well adopted. Just 10,000 Amazon customers used it during its first 24 hours, we heard. With Chew’s departure, Spark lost its driving force. No one needed to curry favor by paying it attention, which may have also helped contribute to its shuttering.

6/14/19, 10:20 PM ET: Updated with further context after publication.

Over 100 Goodwill stores are bringing their inventory to OfferUp

Goodwill and mobile marketplace app OfferUp have announced a new partnership focused on bringing Goodwill’s secondhand inventory to the millions of OfferUp shoppers, for both local pickup and delivery. The deal sees over 100 Goodwill stores listing their inventory in OfferUp in New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, South Florida, Greater Detroit, San Antonio, and Central and Southern Indiana.

The move brings Goodwill’s pre-owned inventory to a modern mobile e-commerce platform, allowing staff to track sales, and view the real-time flow of products, payments, and data in one interface.

However, it’s not the first time Goodwill has gone online. The organization today runs its own e-commerce site, ShopGoodwill.com, and many of its local stores have a presence on eBay.

Via OfferUp, mobile users will now be able to browse their Goodwill’s local inventory in the app alongside other sellers’ content. New items will be uploaded regularly, and listed under the regional Goodwill handles so customers know they’re buying from Goodwill as opposed to an individual seller. These handles will feature a “Verified Business” badge, as well, and the profiles will include helpful information like the store hours, address, and an “about us” section.

The partnership is powered by OfferUp’s new API, currently in beta testing, and Upright Labs’ Lister software, which handles the inventory uploads to OfferUp.

Goodwill will be responsible for managing its listings, including the product images, shipping, order management, financial reporting, and auditing. It’s largely using OfferUp as another sales channel, instead of relying largely on foot traffic to its brick-and-mortar locations.

Like any other OfferUp user, Goodwill doesn’t have a financial relationship with the mobile marketplace.

If a customer buys a Goodwill item, they can go to their local store and pay with cash with no fee. However, if they choose to have the item shipped, OfferUp charges a 9.9% fee to cover shipping and handling across the 48 contiguous U.S. states. This is the same fee any other seller would pay on OfferUp.

The individual Goodwill stores can choose whether or not to offer shipping, the company also says. Some may opt to ship smaller items, like tech, games, or jewelry, but only allow for local pickup if it’s a larger item, like furniture.

The two organizations had already been testing the system ahead of today’s formal announcement about availability. Though early, several Goodwill locations are reporting positive outcomes.

“We started to list furniture and other items from our stores on OfferUp in January, and the early results have been great. The majority of the items we post on OfferUp sell within 72 hours, and some have sold in as quickly as 10 minutes after being listed on the app,” said Jay Lytle, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana. “The exposure of our high-quality donations to so many new customers, coupled with the feedback and engagement we’ve experienced on OfferUp, has been tremendous for us,” he added.

“Potential shoppers were unaware of the great inventory that our local stores have for sale,” said Goodwill South Florida CEO David Landsberg, in a related statement. “OfferUp allows us to showcase large, pickup only inventory and increase foot traffic to stores. This also translates into new donors, and helps us fulfill our mission of training and employing people with disabilities and other barriers to work here in South Florida.”

OfferUp says it forged the deals with the individual stores in the supported regions, not at a national level, because Goodwill stores operate independently and because employee bandwidth and resources vary by store.

“Every store is looking to increase foot traffic, along with sales, and the leaders we’ve worked with manage multiple stores in heavily-trafficked markets,” an OfferUp spokesperson explains. “With the OfferUp API and Upright Lab’s Listing Tool, employees can take a picture using a mobile device and instantly upload to OfferUp, so it’s improved the flow of receiving and selling their items,” they added.