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Iannone, who was most recently COO of Walmart e-commerce, will start the top job at eBay on April 27. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Iannone’s appointment follows the September 2019 outster of then-CEO Devin Wenig, who clashed repeatedly with activist investors Elliott Management and Starboard Value. They wanted eBay to do more to catch up with Amazon in e-commerce, and the firm is increasingly doing what the activists—who have appointed six board members between them—want. EBay has already sold StubHub for US$4.05 billion and is looking at offers for its classified ads business. Jesse Cohn, an Elliot partner and eBay board member, called Iannone’s appointment a “huge positive” for the firm.

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The subscription-delivery service, which could launch as soon as next month, will build on Walmart’s existing grocery-delivery service and could include discounts on prescription drugs and fuel, as well as the ability to check out of stores without waiting in line. (Recode)

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Talking point: Walmart is trying to catch up to Amazon by building on its existing strength in grocery delivery and offering services Amazon Prime does not. Amazon accounts for about 40 per cent of online retail sales in the U.S., with Walmart a distant second, at five per cent. In November 2019, Walmart announced a grocery-delivery membership service; it currently has about 20 per cent market share in the US$800-billion grocery-delivery sector. Drugs and fuel are focuses for Walmart because Amazon doesn’t own gas stations or physical pharmacies. Walmart has tried but failed to catch up to Amazon in the delivery space before, having shut down its ShippingPass program in 2017. This time around, chief customer officer Janey Whiteside is leading the program; she’s become a power player since joining the firm from American Express in 2018.

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The shelf-scanning robots are already in 350 stores, scanning shelves and notifying humans when items are out of stock. The new robots, which should be in stores by summer, are thinner and can scan fresh produce. (Bloomberg, TechCrunch)

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Talking point: Walmart is increasingly relying on robots to drive down labour costs and increase efficiency as part of its battle with Amazon. These shelf-scanners do a job twice a day that used to take up to two weeks. Today’s news will put the devices in about a fifth of Walmart’s U.S. stores. Walmart’s automation push includes robots that process grocery delivery orders, unveiled last week. The firm also has robots that clean floors, pickup towers that can dispense online orders in less than a minute and automated unloaders that scan and sort items as they come off trucks. By at least one metric, all this is helping Walmart keep ahead of Amazon in the grocery space: a survey last month from The Retail Feedback Group found 37 per cent of online shoppers chose Walmart for online groceries, compared to 29 per cent for Amazon.

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The company will widen its grocery aisles, making fruit and vegetable bins more visible, put organic food in one place and include new signage, all to help give the aisles an “open market feel.” It has dubbed the revamp “Produce 2.0,” and will roll it out across some 3,000 stores and 800 Supercentres. (The Logic, Bloomberg)

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Talking point: This is the latest sign of escalating brick-and-mortar competition between Amazon and Walmart in the grocery business. Groceries represent an estimated US$655-billion U.S. market that is increasingly going digital. Research firm eMarketer estimates that U.S. food and beverage e-commerce sales will grow 18.2 percent to nearly US$20 billion this year, making it “the fastest-growing product category online.” Shoppers buying fruits and vegetables have also been found to spend 55 per cent more on their trips, according to data tracker Nielsen. That’s becoming more important to Walmart amid Amazon’s increasing expansion into perishable food, having recently eliminated its additional fee for fresh-grocery delivery for its Prime members. Walmart has also launched its own unlimited grocery-delivery service for a US$98 annual fee, undercutting Amazon, while expanding its own “click-and-collect” pickup services.

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The Free & Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI), a non-profit, has criticized the e-commerce giant over its working conditions, data-safety practices and receipt of government subsidies in tweets and videos as well as op-eds in large newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Houston Chronicle. FFMI declined to reveal its funders. Simon, which has 200 malls in the U.S., declined to comment. Oracle confirmed that it had supported FFMI financially. Walmart said it does not, but sources said it funds the group through an intermediary. (Wall Street Journal)

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Talking point: Astroturfing—lobbying efforts designed to look like grassroots advocacy, but driven by large companies with vested interests—typically focuses on influencing major policy decisions that affect a sector as a whole. Such campaigns normally do not target a single company, making FFMI’s effort a sign of what a threat Amazon has become to its competitors in different sectors. The group has achieved some of its aims. FFMI’s backers reportedly want policymakers to target the tech company with antitrust actions, and in Oracle’s case, to stop it from winning a US$10-billion defence contract. Several U.S. regulators have since launched investigations into the company’s anti-competitive practices, and the government has put the procurement on hold.

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Horacio Barbeito, who has been president and CEO of Walmart Argentina and Chile since 2015, will take over in October. He will replace Lee Tappenden, a 23-year Walmart veteran who had been CEO of Walmart Canada since 2016. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The executive shuffle comes on the heels of Walmart having lowered its projections for international sales growth earlier in August from five per cent to between three and four per cent, largely to account for sluggish Canadian business. Languid consumer spending has been a trend in Canada for more than a year, including a 0.3 per cent drop in January and flattening sales through the first half of 2019. Walmart is also increasingly competing with Amazon in the digital space—the company recently introduced an annual membership, as well as a same-day delivery model for groceries. Amazon expanded same-day delivery for Prime members to 13 new cities across Canada earlier in 2019, bringing the total number of cities and towns with the service to 32. Barbeito’s professional experience at Walmart has all been in Latin America—in his 25-year career with Walmart, he rose through various leadership roles, including in the supply chain and merchandising divisions. Barbeito has said that diversity and inclusion—especially women’s economic empowerment—are important values of his.

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Amazon said it does not plan on installing more Tesla products. Tesla called the fire an “isolated event” and said 11 other Amazon sites with SolarCity panels are operating normally. The statement comes on the heels of Walmart’s Tuesday lawsuit against Tesla, which alleges that SolarCity panels caused fires in at least seven retail stores, causing substantial damage to merchandise. On Thursday, Walmart and Tesla released a joint statement saying they are in talks to resolve their issues. (Bloomberg, Gizmodo)

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Talking point: This is the latest publicity blow to SolarCity, which has been a controversial Tesla acquisition from the start. When Tesla CEO Elon Musk acquired it in 2016, SolarCity was struggling with mounting debt, as well as problems on the consumer side, including accusations of shoddy installation. SolarCity customers have filed at least 671 complaints against the company with the Better Business Bureau, and 118 complaints with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. SolarCity used to sell and install solar panels it imported from China, but when demand started to outpace supply, the company started manufacturing solar panels in 2014, under Musk’s leadership. With the retail giants’ accusations, it seems the company’s alleged quality control issues may have extended into its manufacturing business. SolarCity was founded by Musk’s first cousin, and Musk was chairman of its board. Tesla shareholders launched a class-action lawsuit against Musk over the acquisition in 2018, arguing that Musk’s role as a controlling stockholder in SolarCity gave him undue influence in the deal. That lawsuit is ongoing.

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Shoppers across Canada—excluding Quebec and the territories—can now order groceries on Walmart’s site and have them delivered that day in “as fast as an hour” by Instacart couriers. The partnership expands on the companies’ pilots, through which they’ve delivered groceries in the Greater Toronto Area and Winnipeg since September 2018. The service costs $7.99 per delivery, or $99 for a yearly Instacart Express membership. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The annual membership and same-day delivery model places Walmart in more direct competition with Amazon’s Prime service. Amazon has funnelled substantial resources into its own same-day delivery service—more than US$800 million in its latest quarter—and membership numbers have consistently grown. Walmart is wading into an increasingly competitive space, however. Loblaw launched grocery delivery with Instacart in 2017. And, Uber reiterated in its earnings call last week that it wants to expand in the grocery-delivery space after launching a pilot in Australia earlier this year. It also said in January it plans to prioritize grocery delivery at its new engineering hub in Toronto. Smaller players are also eyeing grocery delivery: last month, Inabuggy, a Toronto-based grocery-delivery startup, announced a new partnership with specialty grocer Starsky Fine Foods, its 44th retail client in the country.

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The retail giant acquired both companies in 2017, but the two brands are not profitable, according to multiple sources. Walmart has decided to keep Bonobos, the made-to-measure menswear label, but will sell ModCloth this year. It will also hold on to women’s line Eloquii, which is also not profitable. Walmart is projecting its U.S. e-commerce operations to lose more than US$1 billion this year on revenues of US$21 billion, according to sources. Walmart declined to comment. (Recode)

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Talking point: Walmart has spent big to compete with Amazon online. It bought the three fashion brands for around US$450 million combined. It also spent US$3.3 billion to acquire Jet.com, a membership-based e-commerce site, and US$16 billion on a majority stake in Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce marketplace. But while Walmart’s online market share has grown—from 2.6 per cent in 2016 to 4.7 per cent in 2019, according to research firm eMarketer—Amazon’s has expanded faster, from 32 per cent to 38 per cent. And, the fashion brands in particular face increasing competition from independent players. For example, Vancouver-based Indochino added chinos in September 2018, putting it into direct competition with Bonobos in more categories.

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The app lets customers scan items as they shop, bag their own items, then scan the app on exiting the store, at which point their credit card is automatically charged. Walmart plans to roll out the app to three other stores. (Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: Walmart has struggled to get customers to use its app in the past. In 2018, the company dropped a pilot program running in 20 Canadian stores, following customer complaints about the difficulties of weighing their own produce and the effectiveness of the scanner gun. The Toronto pilot is meant to address those concerns. For example, customers are now charged per produce item, not by weight. Loblaw is currently running a pilot in eight Toronto stores with a similar scanning process, although shoppers do need to weigh their own produce. Getting the small details right on this kind of app is tricky. In the U.S., Walmart abandoned a scan app in 2018 after customers complained that it was draining their phones’ batteries. Walmart and Loblaw’s interest comes as Amazon is considering opening 3,000 cashierless grocery stores across the U.S. by the end of 2021.