Walmart Boosting E-Commerce Potential

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Walmart’s determination to well-serve its stores’  and customers’ needs in the e-commerce area was boosted a few days ago when the company announced it is adding 2,000 technologists to its existing staff of 6,000 in that area by year’s end.

‘Technologists’ are the Walmart employees who work on the technology powering Walmart stores and the company’s e-commerce businesses, a VentureBeat report noted on June 20.

The new-hire technologists will join Walmart Labs’ offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, CA; Bentonville, AR, where Walmart is headquartered; Reston, VA; and Bangalore, India. This role includes data scientists, engineers, and product managers, And NowUKnow explained.

Walmart Labs CTO Jeremy King spoke exclusively with VentureBeat about the division’s hiring plans for the coming year, citing the company’s growing online grocery effort in particular as the reason for Walmart Labs’ expansion. Walmart currently offers customers the ability to order groceries online and pick them up in-store in more than 1,500 of its stores. That count is due to expand to about 2,100 stores by the end of the year, VentureBeat noted.

“Oftentimes we have 50 to 100 items in an order, and we don’t send one picker out to the floor to pick one order and send it back — we’re really optimizing the pickup, and they’re picking somewhere between 5 and 15 orders at a time,” King told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “They’re actually [dealing with] fascinating machine learning problems.”

Walmart’s most formidable competitor in the online grocery pickup space — also known as “click and collect” — is and likely will remain Amazon. That company introduced free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to Amazon Prime members in certain cities in February. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in mid-2017.

And while it doesn’t yet offer a click-and-collect option, job listings for pickers in certain cities indicate that it may soon do so.

Danny Silverman, the chief marketing officer at e-commerce analytics firm Clavis, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the algorithms data scientists at Walmart and Amazon develop to make grocery pickups more efficient will be critical in determining which one gains a better foothold in the space — most click-and-collect services are “are unprofitable to neutral for the retailer, and it’s more about the long-term value of the customer than making money on the [individual] sale.”

“A lot of retailers don’t have real-time inventory management, so it’s very difficult for them to take an online order and then fulfill it successfully — so a big piece of customer satisfaction and winning is going to be on how much they manage their inventory and deliver on [the order],” Silverman added.

Attracting talent to Middle America and the coasts

King also spoke with VentureBeat about the different hiring challenges and advantages Walmart Labs faces with its different offices. Walmart created the Walmart Labs division in 2005, following its acquisition of SiliconValley-based social media analytics company Kosmix, reportedly for more than $300 million.

In Silicon Valley, King acknowledged that tech workers don’t always readily think of Walmart as a technology company. That’s part of the reason why the technology arm is branded as “Walmart Labs.” King said that Walmart Labs often pitches workers on Walmart’s scale.

“Around 140 million people [in the U.S.] walk into a [Walmart] store each week, and getting access to play with that kind of data is intriguing to most people [in the field],” King told VentureBeat.

In Bentonville — where many members of the tech team work on merchandising, supply chain, and point of sale challenges — Walmart Labs faces less challenges from other tech companies for talent. But outside talent is less familiar with what Bentonville — a city of just 48,000 people — is like. The Walmart Family Foundation in recent years has invested in a number of projects to improve cultural and outdoors offerings in Bentonville, such as spending $74 million in developing mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. Walmart is also the sponsor of the Bentonville Film Festival, launched in 2015.

One Family Moved from Philadelphia to Pentonville

Linda Lomelino, currently a senior researcher with Walmart Labs, told VentureBeat that she visited Bentonville twice — once for an on-site interview, and once with her husband and two children — before accepting the job with Walmart Labs and relocating to the area from Philadelphia.

“My husband and I did a lot of research about restaurants and schools and museums and cultural events — and any sort of surrounding experiences that we could have as a family. We also did a lot of research into the demographic profile of Bentonville,” Lomelino told VentureBeat. As of 2017, the city of Bentonville was about 75 percent white, 10.2 percent Asian, 9.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 2.7 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

King said that Walmart has also tried to create more opportunities for the tech community in Bentonville, hosting Tech Tuesday meet-ups at its office and working with engineering groups and other tech organizations for students at the nearby University of Arkansas.

“I think you’ll see more to come — J.B. Hunt (a major trucking company) and the other [companies] around there are all trying to attract technical talent to the area,” King said.

 

 

 

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A Little-Plus About Lidl

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A year ago, Germany-based grocer Lidl ‘invaded’ the United States. The company (whose name is pronounced leedl) originally set its initial US goal at 100 stores. That was scaled back, early this year, to 50. There presently are Lidl stores in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with more stores pending in New York’s Staten Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia.

The up-coming stores are likely to be closer to the company’s 15,000-20,000 sq ft (1393-1858 sqm) European model, for a few reasons:

(1) The US stores, judging from the one I’ve visited (several times), are seriously trying to do too much, as almost-full-service supermarkets, than they can deliver;

(2) they dedicate 12-25% of their floor space to nonfood items that might, might, generate high enough profits to justify the company’s investment in them… but they might not; and

(3) while in-store bakeries certainly are a potential draw, Lidl’s scratch versions – as opposed to bakeries doing bake-off of frozen or otherwise- ‘almost-finished’ products, involve serious up-front and ongoing investments. And using only Europe-inspired recipes may not be as good an idea as Lidl executives imagined, because European and American tastes differ.

A company website notes that, “At Lidl, our bread and baked goods are authentic European quality and they are always oven fresh because we bake several times a day. Take a deep breath – that smell is our croissants oven-baked on site! We melt the right amount of butter, dash the perfect amount of salt, and layer each luxurious taste to be the perfect flakey bite. The baked goods are made using the original recipes and baking processes that we perfected across Europe.”

Something Lidl may never (so far) have been recognized for is the quality of its shopping carts. Beyond the now-standard area for small, delicate items, their cars feature handles that are heavier than the types usually found at US supermarkets, and Lidl’s handles have shaped, plastic grips for the user’s hands. While the carts feel sturdy, they are easy to maneuver, and seem to be constructed so as to not face the fate of so many carts: jammed or broken wheels.

The care and attention that went into designing those carts wasn’t exercised when the entry into US market was planned.

While generally some 35% larger than their European counterparts, Lidl’s US stores’ shopping areas don’t employ space efficiently. Aisles are too wide, compared to most US supermarkets; the first-in-view produce section features multiple displays of some items and, in mid-June, had no available peaches – a serious summertime favorite across the US. (Meanwhile, a roadside stand a few miles up the road from the Danville VA Lidl was offering “South Carolina Peaches”); Non-food bins, which feature ‘specials’ on Thursdays and Sundays, were empty on Saturday – a huge waste of space and, no doubt, many missed opportunities to sell something – anything.

Americans like prepared foods. Lidl doesn’t, one must assume, like to sell prepared foods, at least not in assortments Americans are used to. Oddly, one of the widest ranges of packaged foods comprises sauces destined, as per package directions, to be used to turn plain pieces of chicken into Indian-Indian – as opposed to Native American “Indians” – dishes. It would amaze me if there’s an even middling demand for Indian food in Danville, population 42,000  or so, where there’s nothing vaguely resembling an Indian restaurant or Asian food market within 40 minutes (in Greensboro, NC, of all places!).

This Lidl offers frozen Indian entrees, as well. A generous assessment assumes they must sell, because the display is always well-stocked. (Alternatively, these long-shelf-life items, prepared in Canada, may not be selling well at all – but let’s  give the benefit of the doubt and assume stock is turning over nicely!)

 

Given the amount of space dedicated to them, Lidl clearly loves to sell cookies, packaged crackers and similar snack foods: The company’s Danville store has oodles of them.

The bring-your-own–bags – or buy Lidl’s for a few cents each – system seems to be widely accepted by shoppers. (I keep a bag full of Lidl bags in the trunk of my car so when I’m in Danville, I’m prepared. On my most recent visit, a departing customer tossed me a few Lidl bags he didn’t need, so I added them to my ‘bag stash’.)

I live an hour’s drive from that store, so I visit only when I’m in Danville for another reason. So I can’t report on day-to-day traffic there. Press reports have said the company hasn’t been converting fans of other local supermarkets – of which there are not a wide assortment in Danville – to Lidl regulars.

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My visit earlier this month was either the ideal time for encountering little in-store traffic… or a portend of problems to come: There were very few shoppers, at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon. But the good news is, for Lidl, many of the few were loading carts with well over $100 in merchandise. That’s four to five times what a press report a few months ago said the average Lidl ‘buy’ was.

I like Lidl. It employs some clever time- and cost-savers such as price-labeling your own bakery and produce items. (Walmart’s self-checkouts require one to try to figure out how some produce items are listed in the system – corn, peppers, and chilies can be problematic  — or enter the PLU code. The latter often are as hard to locate as the product-look-up system is to navigate. Not so at Lidl.

A few months ago, writing in Forbes, noted retail analyst Walter Loeb  wondered why, rather than spreading stores from New Jersey to Georgia, Lidl hasn’t focused on a more condensed area and positioned stores closer together. The current scatter-shop positioning, he noted, makes it hard for any store to have more than a very local impact.

Well, the company recently appointed a new head of the US operation, a 15-year veteran of Lidl, and he’ll no doubt put that experience to good use getting Lidl USA back on the track envisioned by envisioned by Klaus Gehrig, director of the Schwarz-Group, which owns Lidl.

On average, competitors have lowered prices more than 9% in markets where Lidl sets up shop. That suggests US consumers have every reason to hope Schwarz-Group becomes more profitable thanks to Lidl USA.

 

We’re In ‘World Meat-Free Week’

 

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People enjoying vegetarian/vegan entrees from around the world: Steamed sourdough dumplings filled with buckwheat groats. Fermented beetroot & wild herbs, with sweet & sour chili sauce. Carrot, savoy cabbage & chickpea coconut milk curry. Basmati rice pilav with cashew nuts. Photo: Greenpeace

Meat-eaters of the world: This isn’t your week.  It’s World Meat-Free Week!

The exclusion (or limiting) of meat from one’s diet is, in fact, a growing trend in the US, the UK, and, undoubtedly, elsewhere.

The reasons, as a recent article in The Guardian put it, “are obvious – meat-eating is cruel, environmentally ruinous (accounting for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions) and often unhealthy, too – recent studies have found raw meat samples contain increasing amounts of plasticsantibiotics, and even fecal matter.”

All this, The Guardian said, “explains why Quorn is on course to become a billion-dollar business within a decade, and why this is World Meat-Free Week. (And June 11 was World Meat Free Day. Did you know, or participate?)

‘Fake Meat’ Is a Divisive Topic

Many meat-lovers – or carnivores, as my wife calls herself – look down their noses (but not to their mouths, or their health) when the topic of ‘fake meat’ arises. As USA Today put it recently, “It’s a divisive topic, and one that frequently pits vegans against carnivores – pretty needless given it’s just a way of increasing options for the dinner table. It’s not just for vegetarians but anyone wishing to reduce their meat intake given the colossal environmental crisis we find ourselves in.”

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Tesco’s meatless ‘steak’.  (Photo supplied)

How does the public feel about meat alternatives? The website PlantBasedNews.org recently noted that when Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain introduced vegan steaks recently, 40,000 were sold “within days.” Demand for the plant-based product has been “extremely high,” the website noted. Tesco is the world’s first supermarket company beyond Holland to sell this product from Vivera.

And Sainsbury’s, another British supermarket chain, announced earlier this month that it is introducing a range of faux meat items to be presented alongside the real thing in meat cabinets.

The “lookalike” burgers and minced meat making their UK debut in Sainsbury’s on June 27 are made by the Danish manufacturer Naturli’ Foods – a leading developer of plant-based foods since 1988. That company says it has struggled to keep up with demand since their January launch in Denmark.

Line Has “Underlying Meatiness”

The Naturli products are not designed to taste like beef, but have an underlying “meatiness” thanks to the umami flavor of almonds, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms. The burgers contain beets, which helps recreate the color of raw, medium and well-done meat as it cooks, as well as adding a realistic meat “juice” when bitten into.

“Our goal is to contribute to restore the balance between nature and man,” CEO Henrik Lundtold The Guardian. “We’ve developed this product assuming that many people want to eat plants instead of animals, but are afraid of compromising on flavor and maybe even missing out on their favorite dishes such as lasagna or burger patties.”

The range goes on sale after a major study claimed that avoiding meat and dairy products impact on the environment is unforgivably high.

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

Cut Meat/Dairy Consumption, Reduce Farmland Use 83%

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

A 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization noted that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.
Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report, said, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes (metric tons, each amounting to 2,205 pounds, or 1,000 kg) in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
A new report, reported on in The Guardian on May 30, 2018, declares that the global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector. It provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40 percent to global agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries livestock are also a source of renewable energy and an essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops.
But such rapid growth exacts a steep environmental price, according to the FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow –Environmental Issues and Options. “The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
Livestock, this latest report says, now use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

Given all that, the idea of plant-based ‘fake’ meat doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, does it?

US-based Beyond Meat has been incredibly successful with its line of plant-based meat alternatives. Its Beyond Burgers, Beyond  Sausage, Beyond Chicken Strips and other products are increasingly making inroads into both supermarkets and the likes of TGI Fridays. Helping their advance are such slogans as it “looks, cooks and satisfies like beef” (on the Beyond Burger) and “looks, sizzles and satisfies like pork” (on its Beyond Sausage trio of Brat Original, Hot Italian and Sweet Italian).

Watch this – meat case – space: This is, no doubt, the beginning of a revolution in that department.

 

McDonald’s Debuts New Chicago HQ

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McDonald’s has called a Chicago suburb home for 40 years. No more: The company recently moved its HQ into the city – in The West Loop location once home to Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios. CNBC said the area is “an up-and-coming neighborhood known for its trendy restaurants. It is here that Easterbrook foresees the company cultivating top talent and tapping into emerging food crazes.”

Craig’s Chicago Business reported that the company is leasing about 80% of the 600,000 sq ft (27,871 sq m) available in the newly-built, block-square building in what’s called the Fulton Market area of the city center. The $250 million (£187m) headquarters was officially opened on June 4.

In addition to office space, the facility also includes a floor dedicated to the company’s Hamburger University, a training ground for mid-managers, higher-ups and franchise owners in the company. More than 80,000 of them have graduated from HU, as the ‘campus’ is called.  (In Oakbrook, IL, the company’s former headquarters, HU occupied 130,000 sq ft (12,077 sq m). It occupies the entire 2nd floor in the new nine-story HQ building, which stands some 125 ft (38m) at its highest point.)

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Steve Easterbrook, CEO of McDonald’s, told CNBC that while the old HQ had “been a wonderful facility for us, it was a little detached from everyday life.” The new HQ definitely isn’t.

Its ground floor includes a restaurant open to the public. It shows off all the latest innovations in McDonald’s around the world, including menu selections (which often differ significantly in other countries from US offerings).

Truly, this is a photo story, so here are a few more from McDonald’s of their new HQ.

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Meet-up spaces

 

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The employee cafeteria, with stadium seating.
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“Work  neighborhoods”

 

 

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Roof-top work space, with views over Chicago.

Filling In Where Food Retailers Drop Out

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Growing plants at Watson, Inc., for WHEAT — West Haven (CT) Emergency Assistance Taskforce

 

While hardly a new phenomenon, community gardens currently are thriving across the US – and in several instances, they are doing what supermarkets are failing to do: Provide fresh food choices to people in ‘food deserts’ – areas where fresh produce is hard to come by.

I remember years ago – more than four decades ago, in fact  — some ambitious soul was growing sweet corn (maize) on a patch of barely-soil in between two pairs of subway tracks in Harlem, New York City. The tracks at that point are elevated, probably 40 feet (12 m) above Broadway. Despite the poor soil quality, the corn was thriving.

Similarly ambitious entities – some simply private citizens, others organized in one or another fashion – are providing food servings and sometimes space for community members to grow food for themselves and their families. In the town of Orange, Watson, Inc., which is primarily in the business of producing nutritional enrichment and similar products for food processors, four years ago opened what it calls its fellowship garden, where food is grown for food banks.

Feeding Food Banks

The company provides 4,800 plants each year, and those not used are donated to the food bank for use in its gardens.

More recently, having space to spare, the company created a garden where children with autism spectrum issues can grow pumpkins, melons and other items.

Christina Cole, 47, a graphic designer at Watson told The Guardian: “The plot for Milestones Behavioural Services gives kids with autism and developmental disabilities the chance to not only have fun and be outside, but also learn life skills and take home what they grow and learn to cook with their families.”

This year, they’re adding a corn maze to that garden, she noted.

The Connecticut Food Bank told The  Guardian that one in eight  citizens struggle with hunger.

Using Urban Gardens’ Output

In Louisville, KY, a non-profit restaurant called The Table is run by volunteers who use food grown in urban gardens in the Portland neighborhood. Founded by Pastor Larry Stoess and his wife, Kathie, along with John Howard, a volunteer, the restaurant was featured in AARP The Magazine’s April/May edition.

In 2016, the State Fair of Texas introduced Big Tex Urban Farms, a revolutionary, mobile agriculture system in the heart of Fair Park.

As a testing ground for the project, the Fair used an 80-by-80-foot area normally used to house the Gateway Pavilion during the State Fair season. Employees from various departments worked with a Fair Park TX-area company to develop 100 raised planting beds created out of products normally used for packaging and shipping.

By the end of 2016, the project proved itself to be a successful experiment by investing financial and human capital into immediate Fair Park neighborhoods and companies. It connects like-minded agriculture entities and provides fresh, organic produce to organizations focused on hunger and healthy lifestyle programs.

This year, the project expects to grow more than 5,900 pounds of fresh produce, 77,882 total servings, 11,230 heads of lettuce, and, oddly, 303 eggs.

Considering the dynamics of Fair Park’s numerous events and National Historic Landmark designation, developing a mobile solution for the farm was imperative to the program’s success. Through a partnership with General Packaging Corporation, the urban farm’s 40-by-48-inch beds were designed and manufactured by a Fair Park-area company. Each bed, created with a shipping-pallet base, is easily constructed by one person, optimized for storage, and moved by forklift.

Thousands of Servings Produced

Throughout the growing season, all produce (more than 6,000 fruits and vegetables) was donated to Fair Park-area organizations including the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute in the Mill City neighborhood, Cornerstone Baptist Church, and Austin Street Shelter.

As of 2017, Big Tex Urban Farms has grown to 520 boxes, a 15×30-foot deep water culture bed capable of producing more than 20,000 greens a year, and various community locations throughout South Dallas.

One recipient, Glenda Cunningham, of the Baylor Scott and White health and wellness center, praised the project’s work. “The community looks forward to the Big Tex urban farm delivery each week. The food is fresh, free and beautiful,” she told The Guardian.

 

Carrot Steak, Anyone?

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Carrots, Restaurant Hospitality said on June 1, are getting “a reboot” – as both a center-of-plate dish and in an assortment of ways as ‘sides’. The push to find new, markedly different ways to employ the brightest-colored of root vegetables comes, the magazine noted, as such other oft-neglected or underutilized vegetables as cauliflower and celery find their way into professional kitchens from one side of the US to the other – and elsewhere, as well.

Regarding carrots, the magazine went on, “Anyone who thinks carrots don’t belong in the center of the plate hasn’t seen the dramatic Carrot Steak at Detroit’s Lady of the House, one of the new breed of casual restaurants reviving that city’s dining scene. Beautifully simple, the “steak” is sauced with both Hollandaise and pesto.”

In New York City, the author went on, Dirt Candy restaurant “has won raves for its creative, vegetable-based cuisine. The Carrot Slider there features a double dose of carrots since it’s served on a carrot bun.”

The Dirt Candy folks are something else: Another of their offerings is …

POPCORN BEETS

Why have fries when you can have these instead? Salt-roasted beets fried in a corn-meal batter and served with our Thai green curry sauce that tastes like Thailand’s version of ranch dressing, it’s snack food elevated to the level of a street drug: totally addictive.”

Other carroty formulations were cited in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio, restaurants.

The article went on to note that, because many college students are vegetarians or vegans, vegetable-based cuisines, often creatively featuring carrots, are increasingly popular at campus dining facilities. And bartenders, too, are getting into the carrots-as-an-ingredient game.

Possibly anticipating a jump from professional kitchens to household, Walmart – at least my local one – just substantially increased the amount of produce space devoted to carrots.

As Bugs Bunny was wont to say, “What’s up, Doc?”

 

Walmart, Amazon Go Head-to-Head on Delivery Services

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Walmart has been working hard, in recent months, to outpace and outdo Amazon as much as the latter has been disrupting many competitors in moving products  — including edible ones – to consumer’ doorsteps.

More and more, Walmart commercials and print ads tout its ‘no membership’ plan for no- or low-cost delivery service to consumers’ doors. The company also is growing its car-side delivery service – where a phoned- or emailed-in order is ready to be picked up at a designated store-side place. A  phone call from one’s car at that place to the store’s delivery department gets the order heading out the door.

Somewhat surprisingly, the delivery folks reportedly don’t mind performing their duties even in ‘off’ weather, according to a couple of them at a Lynchburg VA Walmart. Perhaps they are, justifiably, incentivized by tips.

Both of those services work remarkably well. The to-your-door service works better, perhaps, than Walmart imagined. But then, this is a smart company, and it may have realized a clever opportunity for customers living closest to Neighborhood Markets, the company’s scaled-down store model focused on food and little else: With the company’s entire product catalog available, much beyond what the Neighborhood Markets offer can be home-delivered, at no cost to the consumer. How? By delivering from the nearest full-service Walmart!

That is speculation on our part, but conceptually, it makes sense as a solution to a potentially serious challenge to Walmart.

This program also enables stores to cut inventory (in, say, pet supplies) and still offer a ‘full range’ of, products via the delivery option. In practice, this means that, for example, my local Walmart has been able – possibly coincidentally, possibly because of delivery issues – to leave shelves without some popular cat litters while still offering them through home delivery.

On another front – new patents – Walmart scored some seriously interesting ones recently. And Now U Know, the produce industry newsletter, reported on May 31 that recently approved patents included one for a navigation device for shopping cards, a wearable, tracking device designed to improve    employee productivity (think shelf stockers). And instore inventory trackers that can track when stock needs to be reordered – or shelves need to be restocked. A bit more esoteric is a patent that could  provide instore drone assistance for price verification and in-store navigation.

One or several of these concepts could be implemented in a store near you in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Amazon is boosting membership fees for Prime service – which most users value most for its free delivery feature. The company also recently expanded Prime to Whole Foods customers in select areas. More recently still, according to International Business Times, the company expanded Prime offerings to twelve states beyond the original test area around Ft. Lauderdale FL. A company news release said the expansion affects 121 Whole Foods stores in Colorado, Idaho, Arkansas, Louisiana, northern Nevada, northern California, Texas, Utah, and Kansas – as well as the Missouri side of Kansas City.

The company says Prime discounts also are now in place at Whole Foods’ Market 365 stores around the country. That Whole Foods sub-brand was launched in 2015, IBT noted.