• Prime members now have access to curbside pickup at Whole Foods. To utilize the service, Prime members can shop Whole Foods on the Prime Now app or site and retrieve their order as early as an hour later, or in 30 minutes for the price of $4.99. Not only does the new benefit further integrate Whole Foods and Amazon—it also adds additional import to a Prime subscription and brings the Prime membership offline.
  • Only a fraction of Alexa-enabled device owners use the Echo to shop regularly—100,000 out of 50 million owners, according to a new report, which found music, weather and timers as top uses. Still, Alexa is getting smarter. “Answer Update,” a new optional feature for Echo devices, will let owners know when Alexa learns the answer to a question that previously stumped her.
  • Walmart is playing good cop to Amazon’s bad cop, facilitating easier ecommerce returns and placating sellers. Customers making a return to a third-party sellers can print shipping labels directly from Walmart.com; vendors will imminently have access to discount shipping rates through Walmart’s “Returns Shipping Service”—they also are allowed to determine returns windows and shipping fees independently. Meanwhile, though Amazon has smoothed the returns process for buyers and guarantees fulfillment by Amazon for many SKUs, it has also sidelined shoppers for making too many returns, and extracts the cost of returns from vendors. As Walmart expands its online offerings, its treatment of both buyers and sellers will likely divert more vendors away from Amazon.
  • Amazon wants to rev up high-traffic sports content, positioning itself to partner with additional professional leagues. Sports remains a popular streaming category as more fans watch games on their smartphones—to capture more consumer interest, Amazon is testing out mobile notifications for live events. All this comes in addition to the company’s purchase of streaming rights to NFL, Premier League soccer and the Association of Tennis Professionals games—it also streams NBA minor league games on Twitch.
  • As the company continues to expand its advertising business, Amazon is experimenting with “Video in Search”—video ads that appear in mobile search results. Constrained to 90 seconds or less and including audio, the ads are meant to lure consumers to a product page or to an Amazon Store. As consumers are expected to increase shopping via mobile devices, “Video in Search” seems to be a way for Amazon to cushion its ad revenue, since the smaller the screen, the smaller the ad inventory.