Google and Wal-Mart team up to combat Amazon in retail supply chain shake-up

Google has teamed up with Wal-Mart in its biggest even retail partnership to challenge Amazon in the online shopping marketplace and combat the proliferation of its Alexa-powered Echo device as a means of facilitating voice shopping.

The move is expected to have a significant impact on the retail supply chain within the United States as well offering customers a whole new way of purchasing goods.

As Forbes analyst Kevin O’Marah puts it: “It signals an acceleration in the shift from store-based retail supply chains to a hyper-personalised, smart consumer supply chain.

“The dynamics of this new supply chain will be brutal for consumer brands accustomed to shelf-centric demand.”

The new partnership marks the first time that world’s largest retailer is offering products outwith its own website in the US. It announced this week that it’s going to offer a huge array of items through Google’s online shopping platform, Google Express, and eventually through its virtual assistant, Google Home.

Wal-Mart is hoping that it can integrate its large network of stores with its digital business thanks to the new partnership.

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Latest moves of Amazon and Walmart confirm the death of the middle class as we know it

Amazon, whose Prime service claims more than 70% of upper-income households in the US — those earning more than $112,000 a year — is suddenly going after customers on government assistance who earn less than $15,444 a year for a one-person household.

The retailer on Tuesday announced it would slash the cost of its monthly Prime membership nearly in half, to $5.99 a month, for customers who have an electronic benefit transfer card, which is used for government assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

“It’s a shot over the bow at Walmart,” said Doug Stephens, a retail-industry consultant. In other words, the strategy is a direct grab for Walmart’s core customers. Nearly $1 out of every $5 in SNAP benefits was spent at Walmart last year, according to Morningstar.

At the same time, Walmart is going after Amazon’s core customers with its $3 billion acquisition earlier this year of Jet.com, which attracts a younger and higher-income group of shoppers than Walmart. The retailer has also recently been snatching up trendy online retailers like ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Shoebuy, and it’s reportedly considering a bid for the high-end menswear brand Bonobos.

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Amazon’s and Walmart’s latest moves confirm the death of the middle class as we know it

Amazon and Walmart are battling for shoppers at the highest and lowest ends of the income spectrum, leaving the middle class in the dust.

Amazon, whose Prime service claims more than 70% of upper-income households in the US — those earning more than $112,000 a year — is suddenly going after customers on government assistance who earn less than $15,444 a year for a one-person household.

The retailer on Tuesday announced it would slash the cost of its monthly Prime membership nearly in half, to $5.99 a month, for customers who have an electronic benefit transfer card, which is used for government assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

“It’s a shot over the bow at Walmart,” said Doug Stephens, a retail-industry consultant. In other words, the strategy is a direct grab for Walmart’s core customers. Nearly $1 out of every $5 in SNAP benefits was spent at Walmart last year, according to Morningstar.

At the same time, Walmart is going after Amazon’s core customers with its $3 billion acquisition earlier this year of Jet.com, which attracts a younger and higher-income group of shoppers than Walmart. The retailer has also recently been snatching up trendy online retailers like ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Shoebuy, and it’s reportedly considering a bid for the high-end menswear brand Bonobos.

Read more at Amazon’s and Walmart’s latest moves confirm the death of the middle class as we know it

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Walmart and Target are refusing to surrender to Amazon

While many public companies focus their attention on embellishing their quarterly results, Amazon has always taken the long view.

The online retailer leader has invested heavily in infrastructure including a nationwide network of warehouses, robots which help ship orders, and even predictive technology that helps the company know what a customer plans to buy before he or she orders it.

Amazon even has a pioneering deal with the United States Postal Service which allows for Sunday delivery in some markets.

All of this has not come cheap, and it has hurt Amazon’s short-term profitability in some quarters, but it has helped the company build a strong competitive advantage over its chief rivals Wal-Mart and Target.

Those two physical retailers are struggling to change their supply chains to meet the needs of individual digital customers rather than stores. That’s a radical switch that requires major changes to how both brick-and-mortar chains operate.

But if either Wal-Mart or Target can hope to compete with Amazon, they have to recreate the digital leader’s ability to ship millions of products in a two-day window efficiently. Both companies seem to at least understand the problem and are taking steps to catch up.

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A farm-level view on supply chain water risk

Managing any kind of risk starts with good information, but collecting and managing water use data up the supply chain can be a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

Agricultural supply chains are highly complex. Willoughby, for example, sells to four shippers who wash and bag his greens before moving them quickly up the supply chain to retailers such as Walmart and food service companies that supply restaurants, colleges and other institutions all over the country.

At the end of this supply chain, Willoughby’s greens are sold as branded bag lettuces, comingled with other growers’ greens. That means his farm level water use data is averaged in with many other growers’ data.

“The longer the supply chain, the weaker the connection between the farmer’s management information and the ultimate consumer,” said Daniel Mountjoy of Sustainable Conservation, which led a recent tour of Willoughby’s fields.

Inexact water use data is more of a problem in fragmented supply chains such as Willoughby’s, where each link acts independently and contracts are subject to change.

“My shipper may say I need five acres of red lettuce on May 30,” Willoughby explained, “but when May 30 comes around, they’ll say, ‘Actually I only need half of what you grew.’”

That’s because his shippers are at the mercy of restaurants and grocery store chains’ forecasting models.

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