Now is the time for Walmart to strike at Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime has been an enormous influence on e-commerce, but this online juggernaut is beginning to show cracks. Now is the time for arch-rival Walmart to swoop in with a Prime-like offering that strikes at the weaknesses Amazon has introduced into its formidable loyalty program: price, a lack of focus, and competing subscription services.

Here’s the problem. Amazon has invested in its Prime program continuously, adding feature after feature in an obvious bid to make the service appear as valuable as possible. But while these additions are superfluous to many a user’s needs, everyone pays for them whether they’re used or not.

That’s part of the strategy, of course — if you know your customer won’t stop paying for a subscription, you can use that to squeeze the life out of other subscriptions they might pay for, and redirect that money to yourself. Prime Video and Music, for example, are clearly meant to take the place of Netflix or HBO and Spotify or Apple Music. Why pay for two? And if you have to choose, well, it’s easier to quit HBO than Prime.

This only goes so far, though. For years users have been subject to these pressures, watching the price of Prime rise all the while, and meanwhile other services are getting better and better. Streaming services and exclusive content have multiplied, and Prime users are frequently left out in the cold.

Photo storage? Isn’t that free everywhere? Twitch Prime? Is that really useful for millions of working families? Prime Originals? Not exactly raking in the Emmys. But still… it’s Prime. It’s necessary.

The only one who can realistically break this deadlock is Walmart. Not by providing the same thing as Amazon, but by providing something simpler and more focused, taking over the workhorse duties of Prime (shipping, sales, some basic media of opportunity) at a much lower price, granting the customer freedom to pursue their own choice in subscriptions while not meaningfully affecting their online retail experience.

What would this Walmart offering consist of? They already offer free shipping on a lot of items, free store pickup, and so on. You don’t need to use your imagination here. What would make this better? Free 2-day shipping on all items with no minimum amount; grocery and secure package delivery; a set of basic TV and music streams or even just a partnership with a couple existing products; and lastly some in-store benefits like members-only promotions and perhaps even early access on Black Friday. (Plus extra perks at sub-chains like Sam’s Club.)

Leveraging Walmart’s brick and mortar presence is important, but it’s hard to say what they have the leeway to try there, as it’s likely a delicate balance. But it’s a major advantage to have regular visitors to major retail locations, whereas Amazon has to either home-deliver or install lockers.

There are already indications this is happening — a pilot with a smart-lock company for home delivery, a rumored streaming service, cashierless(ish) checkout (even easier with an account), revamping of existing grocery delivery partnerships, emphasis on cloning or promoting existing services that match or exceed Amazon’s… it looks a lot like a shift to an end-to-end loyalty service.

There are rumors of a Microsoft-powered standalone smart device, but that might conflict with existing voice-ordering partnership with Google. Still, voice assistants are hot and Walmart needs an answer to Alexa if it wants to compete directly with Amazon in the living room. A possible acquisition of Shopify could conceivably broaden the company’s reach considerably as well.

How much would it cost? I’d say if they go about $50 per year they’re asking for trouble. It’s one of those magic numbers not just on its own, but in relation to Amazon’s $120 per year. $60 would be merely half price — $50, why that’s positively generous!

And the considerable savings opens up a bit of cash for secondary subscriptions like Netflix, which ends up, ironically, causing consumers to lock themselves into Walmart just as they were with Amazon, since once again they can’t switch easily! But they will almost certainly be getting more for their money.

Naturally $50 won’t pay for all that stuff on Walmart’s side — but building brand loyalty on the scale of years, while sucking a customer from a competitor… that’s worth spending a little cash for.

Timing-wise they’d want to announce this well ahead of the holidays — at least three months. First three months free if you sign up now and all that. It’ll be a big cash outlay but you don’t unseat a titan like Amazon on a shoestring budget. You do what it takes to put items in carts and go from there.

Walmart won’t risk its business on this, but it makes sense to do it now and do it with vigor. Walmart doesn’t get by on word of mouth — it needs a full court press ahead of Amazon’s busiest period, in which it can unequivocally say “This is the better option for you. Switch now and you’ll never look back.”

The real question is: what will they call it? MartLand? WalSmart? Or perhaps… Wal Street?

A bigger Amazon Prime Day 2018 arrives July 16 with more deals, devices and longer hours

Amazon’s Prime Day, the company’s annual sales event that’s now its biggest, will be held this year on July 16, starting at 12 PM PT/3 PM ET, the retailer announced today. One big change this time around is the event’s length — last year, Prime Day ran 30 hours, but this year’s event will run for 36 hours. In addition to being the longest Prime Day to date, the event will also expand to new markets this year, says Amazon.

Australia, Singapore, Netherlands and Luxembourg will join the other countries hosting Prime Day this year, which includes the U.S., U.K., Spain, Mexico, Japan, India, Italy, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium and Austria.

As in previous years, Amazon is touting deals across product categories, like TVs, smart home, kitchen, grocery, toys, fashion, furniture, appliances, back-to-school supplies and everyday essentials.

Of course, Amazon will again mark down its own devices for Prime Day, and it’s teasing some of its deals in advance. The retailer says it will offer “double the deals” on Amazon devices, including the lowest prices to date on Echo, Fire TV and Fire tablets.

The expanded number of deals comes from Amazon now owning more hardware brands. For example, it acquired the smart doorbell maker Ring earlier this year, and the smart camera and doorbell startup Blink back in December. Today, it’s selling a suite of home security products that includes these brands and others, like its own Echo Dot and Amazon Cloud Cam.

These could be the “home security devices” that will be newly on sale this year during Prime Day, alongside the Echo Show.

Also new this year is Amazon bringing Prime Day to Whole Foods.

Prime members shopping in-store can take an additional 10 percent off hundreds of sales items and will receive other deep discounts on popular products, Amazon says. Plus Prime Rewards Visa card members will receive double the rewards — 10 percent back — July 14 through 17 when shopping Whole Foods.

In addition to the usual slate of deals, some brands are unveiling new products, new content or special edition products for Prime Day 2018.

This list includes the new Delta Trinsic Touch2O, the first Alexa-enabled kitchen faucet; Coleman RoadTrip LXE portable propane grill; Fingerlings Light Up Unicorn Mackenzie; an Audible Original production, Hi Bob!, which has Bob Newhart sitting down with guests Sarah Silverman, Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmel, Judd Apatow and Conan O’Brien; an exclusive version of the Moto G6 64 GB, and more.

Amazon is kicking off the Prime Day deals starting immediately, however.

The following items are already on sale:

  • Echo Show – save $100 (normally $229)
  • Amazon brands – 25 percent off furniture and décor from Rivet and Stone & Beam, up to 20 percent off AmazonBasics items and 30 percent off everyday essentials from Presto!, Mama Bear and Solimo, and others
  • Prime Video, DVD, and Blu-ray – save up to 50 percent on select movies and TV shows
  • Amazon Music – four months of on-demand music for $0.99
  • Twitch Prime – hundreds of hours of free gameplay and chance to win a free PC game every day through July 18, and more
  • Kindle Unlimited and eBooks – three months of Kindle Unlimited for $0.99; $10 Prime Day credit for buying your first Kindle book
  • Audible – first three months for $4.95/month (65 percent off)

During Prime Day, Amazon is adding 50 percent more Spotlight Deals, and will feature deals across the following: Watch a Deal (deal notifications from the Amazon app); Prime Day Sneak Peek (sneak peek at deals in the app from July 9-15); deals by Popular Interests (deals organized by 40 of the most shopped interests); Alexa Shopping (ask Alexa for deals); Amazon Prime Credit Cards (5 percent back on Prime Day purchases).

To encourage Alexa shopping this year, Amazon is offering customers a chance to win a sweepstakes where a grand prize winner will get an Alexa-enabled 2019 Lexus ES, a complete Alexa smart home package and more. This is a big step up from the Alexa shopping perks from last year, which included $10 for first-time Alexa voice shoppers.

Prime Day began as a way to drive more consumers to subscribe to Amazon’s annual Prime membership program, which now has more than 100 million paid members. However, because of the numerous deals available, it’s also become a sales event that outpaces Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other sales holidays for Amazon. Prime Day 2017, for example, was the biggest sales day in history for Amazon, up 60 percent from the year before.

With Amazon doubling down on the event this time around, with even more device deals, Whole Foods deals, market expansions and longer hours, it will likely break records again.

‘The Expanse’ finds a new home on Amazon Prime

After an outcry among fans following Syfy’s discontinuation of the series on its network, The Expanse will be getting a fourth season on Amazon Prime after an announcement from Jeff Bezos.

Bezos revealed the news at the International Space Development Conference where members of the show’s cast were amongst those in the audience.

The show based on the book series by James S.A. Corey is currently in its third season on the Syfy network. The critically-acclaimed political conspiracy series set in a colonized solar system of the future has been heralded as one of the network’s best but it couldn’t find high ratings on Syfy, leaving Alcon Entertainment to begin shopping the show around to different networks earlier this month to find a home for the fourth season.

Amazon will certainly bring a wider audience to the show, and with Amazon still trailing Netflix in terms of original content, bringing over a big fanbase is beneficial to the company’s video streaming platform as well.

Airbnb poaches Amazon’s Prime boss

 Airbnb is bringing on Greg Greeley, Amazon’s current VP of Prime & Delivery Experience, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a blog post today. His first day at Airbnb will be March 18. At Airbnb, Greeley will be responsible for leading the home-sharing startup’s Homes unit. The Homes unit entails Airbnb’s standard offering as well as its recently-launched Plus offering, which… Read More

Amazon’s Prime Rewards Visa cardholders now get 5% back at Whole Foods if they pay for Prime

 Amazon has already rolled out price cuts for Whole Foods shoppers as a result of its acquisition of the grocery chain. It has also rolled up its Treasure Truck deals service to Whole Foods locations, and began delivering Whole Foods groceries through Prime. Now, it’s offering Prime members 5 percent back at Whole Foods when they shop using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card, too. The… Read More