“Ecommerce Briefs” is my occasional series on news and developments that impact online merchants. In this installment, I’ll focus on Google’s new foray into ecommerce, Walmart’s expansion of fulfillment centers and its invitation to UK merchants to join its US marketplace, and the advancement of drone deliveries.
According to a Bloomberg article last month, Google is attempting to revive its effort to become an ecommerce player and compete with Amazon. Over the past 10 years, Google has tried unsuccessfully to use its platform for shopping. In 2013 Google launched a marketplace, Shopping Express, that did not gain traction, although it included partnerships with big box stores such as Target and Walgreens.
The project allegedly failed because consumers did not click on the intended shopping tab and instead relied on their habit of going to the search, ending up at Amazon more often. Also, Google had a poor delivery infrastructure.
In Europe, authorities consider Shopping Express a monopoly because it was within the search engine, forcing it to shut down in 2015. In 2019 Express was shut down in the US as well.
Bloomberg reports that the new marketplace will not require merchants to pay to participate. Instead, Google will encourage sellers to buy more ads.
Other planned features unveiled at last month’s Google I/O 2022 conference includes the ability for shoppers to move with one click from merchant listings on Google search to merchant checkout pages and for visitors to use photos to search for nearby retail products.
In short, Google plans to meld its search function with merchant sales, which is what initially got it in trouble in Europe. With the US Congress looking into tech companies’ practices, this plan may also catch the attention of federal regulators.
Walmart Solicits UK Sellers
UK sellers who want to reach American consumers can now use Walmart Fulfillment Services. Utilizing Walmart’s US supply chain infrastructure will allow 2-day delivery from the UK to most US locations.
In a statement earlier this month, Walmart said it would extend access to its marketplace platform tools to UK sellers, helping them speed up operations, identify growth opportunities, and manage promotions and customer feedback.
By joining Walmart’s US Marketplace, UK merchants will gain access to Walmart’s 120 million US customers. Sellers must apply to join. According to Walmart, those approved “…will be offered the services of a dedicated onboarding team, as well as access to powerful tools and services to help them rapidly scale up across the Atlantic, including the opportunity to get their goods to US customers within two days.”
Walmart Fulfillment Centers
This month Walmart announced it would add four “next-generation” fulfillment centers to its 31 existing centers over the next three years. The first will open this summer in Joliet, Illinois.
The new centers will utilize robotics and machine learning to accelerate fulfillment speed. In a press release, the company stated that “…these four next-generation centers alone could provide 75% of the US population with next- or 2-day shipping on millions of items, including Marketplace items shipped by Walmart Fulfillment Services.”
Also, by using its 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the US population, Walmart could offer same-day delivery to 80% of Americans. Walmart expects to employ more than 4,000 workers in the four new centers.
Walmart has partnered with Austrian company Knapp, a warehouse technology provider, to develop an automated, high-density storage system and streamline what is now a twelve-step manual process into just five, including automated picking systems. This partnership will align Walmart with Amazon’s highly automated fulfillment centers.
Amazon recently announced it would begin Prime Air drone deliveries later this year in Lockeford, California, about 40 miles south of Sacramento.
In a blog post, Amazon said, “Once onboarded, customers in Lockeford will see Prime Air-eligible items on Amazon. They will place an order as they normally would and receive an estimated arrival time with a status tracker for their order. For these deliveries, the drone will fly to the designated delivery location, descend to the customer’s backyard, and hover at a safe height. It will then safely release the package and rise back up to altitude.”
Walmart has an operational drone delivery program available to more than 4 million US households, making it possible for those customers to receive deliveries in 30 minutes or less.