Monthly Archives: September 2015

Walmart Doubles Down On Online Grocery Shopping With Curbside Pickup

Walmart today is announcing an expansion of its online grocery shopping service with launches in eight additional markets, as well as plans for a continued rollout to several more regions in the months ahead. The news comes at a time when a number of startups and larger companies, including Amazon, are vying to become consumers’ preferred online grocery delivery service.

Meanwhile, Walmart has largely been pursuing a different strategy with prior tests of online grocery shopping combined with a local pickup option at a small handful of stores around the U.S.

Walmart believes that its competitive advantage in the online grocery shopping space comes from the retailer’s sizable brick-and-mortar footprint here in the U.S. where seventy percent of the population lives within 5 miles of a Walmart store.

In addition, by choosing to focus on local pickup instead of delivery, there’s a cost savings for consumers. That’s because some delivery services generate revenue by either marking up the price of items being delivered, or they charge a delivery fee, and they tend to require a yearly subscription fee, as well.

For example, Amazon has been testing AmazonFresh grocery delivery in Seattle, New York (Brooklyn), Philadelphia, plus Northern and Southern California. But Amazon’s service will have a $299 annual fee, though the deadline to subscribe has been pushed back repeatedly (which may indicate pricing could be a concern). At the same time, Amazon has muddied the waters by expanding its grocery delivery options though its one-hour delivery service Prime Now – including in some of the same markets where AmazonFresh is live.

Walmart, on the other hand, has been testing both online grocery delivery and local pickup at a number of stores. It tried delivery in Denver and San Jose, but has seemed to favor local pickup as that service has been the one to expand over the course of 2015.

Over A Dozen Markets Now Live

Prior to today, local pickup was live in five markets, including San Jose, California; Bentonville, Arkansas; Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; and more recently, Huntsville, Alabama.

As of now, Walmart is announcing a slew of new markets are going live with online grocery shopping. These include: Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte and Fayetteville, N.C.; Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Customers in these regions can begin filling their online carts today, but pickup itself begins October 13.

In addition, the retailer says the plan is to roll out online grocery shopping to even more stores and regions in the weeks ahead, but is not sharing details.

The choice of cities is somewhat interesting, too. (Ogden?!) While grocery delivery competitors often focus on denser, urban markets, Walmart is choosing good-sized cities, some with millions of households, but also those that are being passed over by grocery delivery providers. That speaks to there being something more of a “secret sauce” that Walmart is looking for in terms of its customer demographics.

On that front, it seems important to point out that the new service is seeing more women than men shopping for groceries online, as well as a mix of loyal Walmart shoppers combined with new customers.

“The majority of what we see coming and the focus of the Walmart customer base is largely women – that’s what we have a lot of. We see a lot of women with kids in car seats, who are moving from place to place throughout the day,” explains Michael Bender, EVP and COO, Walmart Global e-commerce.

How Walmart’s Online Grocery Shopping Works

The way the grocery shopping service works involves a combination of online and offline interactions between the customer and the retailer. Customers shop online via the Walmart website, adding items to their cart – which they can even save throughout the week as they build their order if they choose.

There are around 30,000 SKUs available, which is comparable to what you’d find in the store. The majority are grocery items, though there is also a limited selection of general merchandise available, too. The prices are the same as they are in the store, and there’s no fee for using the service. However, unlike when you shop in store, coupons are not accepted.

When the order is complete, the customer pays online, then sets their pickup time frame. When that time arrives, they drive to their local Walmart store and park in a designated space reserved for online grocery shoppers located either in the front or side of the store. After parking, they call the store at a number provided both via their original confirmation email, and again through a reminder call a few minutes ahead of their pickup time.

A store associate will then bring out a cart filled with their groceries, including the fresh and frozen items which had been picked and stored separately in coolers and freezers in the back of the store in advance of the customer’s arrival.

Hybrid E-Commerce

Bender confirms that the retailer is increasing headcount by hiring full-time “personal shoppers” who handle picking the customers’ orders. Over time, the technology will become more personalized to each customer, he says, by allowing grocery shoppers to make specific requests – like asking for a particular ripeness to a fruit, for example.
The exec also notes that with each subsequent launch of online grocery shopping, customer adoption has accelerated faster than in the previous market, indicating growing consumer interest in this service. However, the retailer declined to talk about adoption numbers, transaction volume or other specific metrics.

The strategy of focusing on pickups is not unique to Walmart, but something many brick-and-mortar retailers are considering in order to compete with the growing number of delivery services. For example, Target and Best Buy are testing local pickup in partnership with Curbside. Meanwhile, a number major U.S. retailers have offered in-store pickup and ship-to-store programs for years.

Given that it’s still early days for online grocery shopping here in the U.S., it’s unclear which type of service – delivery or pickup – American consumers will gravitate toward in the months ahead. But Walmart’s strategy has always been about offering hybrid e-commerce experience where the digital and physical converge.

“This is one of the more visible manifestations of that goal we have as a company,” says Bender. “We think we’re positioned well to be a significant player in the [online grocery shopping space] going forward,” he adds.

Via: techcrunch

Fancred Video Lets Every Sports Fan Be A Live Commentator

Fancred, the social network for sports fans wants to move beyond pure social into media. Today it announced an update that lets fans post-Periscope style videos from the stadium or their couches.

To this point, Fancred has been a social platform designed specifically for sports fans to talk about their favorite teams and share content like pictures from the sporting events or fan gatherings. This announcement is attempting to advance the platform by adding a video component.

Fans tend to get most passionate during the game, and Fancred wants to capture that intensity and allow them to broadcast to fellow fans in the moment. Essentially, it lets every fan be a commentator, at least for a few moments. The videos are going to be five minutes or less.

In fact, there is going to be a countdown clock built into the software. The idea is to get in, make your point, and get out.

Much like Periscope or Snapchat, the content is ephemeral, only lasting for the duration of the broadcast. At some point, they might let people let users save the videos, but for starters they will disappear.

“It adds a new dimension for [regular users] to reach a live audience and not have to type,” Fancred CEO Kash Razzaghi told TechCrunch.

The idea is that lots of fans are engaged in the game and on the platform, but they want an easier way to interact.

They are not just leaving it to the users, however. The company has a much more ambitious vision. Instead of being the Facebook for sports, Fancred wants to be a media giant not unlike ESPN. To that end, they are also announcing a new real-time scores to the platform, which makes perfect sense, but has been missing up to this point.

In addition, they announced a number of partnerships with sports teams and media outlets alike, all in the interest of producing original content for the site. Partners include The Boston Globe, Liverpool FC and The Boston Red Sox — all of which are owned by John Henry, whose wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, was a seed investor in Fancred. Others include the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and the ACC Digital Network, all of whom will be contributing content to the app.

This is really an attempt to provide some separation from Facebook and Twitter and the personal and professional video component and live scores is something that these platforms don’t always have (at least right now).

The company is based in Boston and has raised $5.1 million. The most recent was a $3 million investment in August 2014.

Via: techcrunch

Pearltrees Can Now Automatically Import And Organize Your Twitter And Facebook Posts

In 2009, Pearltrees started out as a bookmarking service with a quirky interface. Since then, the service has added a number of new curation features like support for uploading files, taking notes and managing your photos.

Today the company is announcing a major new feature with the launch of its Smartcloud service. The idea here is to allow Pearltrees to automatically import and organize your tweets and Facebook posts (as well as files stored in Dropbox and Google Drive). Having a backup service for your social media posts isn’t all that exciting and novel, but Smartcloud takes this data and then automatically organizes it by topic.

To power the algorithms behind this service, Pearltrees relies on the data it can extract from the tens of millions of bookmarks and files its users have already organized (and in addition, Pearltrees can extract semantic data from most sites).

As the Pearltrees team told me, it developed all the technology behind this feature in-house. “We use machine learning algorithms to understand the way a typical user organizes items, so we are able to infer the way he or she would have organized yours,” a company spokesperson told me. “We are not only able to group items and put them into collections and sub-collections, but also to give an accurate name to those collections. As far as we know, the latter is a pretty unique piece of technology.”

In my test, the feature actually worked surprisingly well. I imported all the links from my recent tweets and the service neatly organized them into groups related to Google, Microsoft, big data, acquisitions, drones and other things I tend to tweet about. Having this structure makes it easier to go back to links you know you once tweeted but can’t find again. To me, that’s probably the main utility of this service.

Pearltrees also pulls in your images from Twitter and Facebook, but it doesn’t classify them automatically, so that part of the service didn’t strike me as all that interesting, but there are surely quite a few users who want to keep a backup of the images they share on Twitter and Facebook on a third-party service.

The new Smartcloud tool is now available on the web and should find its way into Pearltrees’ Android and iOS apps within the next couple of days.

Via: techcrunch

Facebook Brings VR-Style 360-Degree Video To News Feed

Hold up your phone, spin around, and Facebook’s newest News Feed videos will spin with you, showing you every angle of a scene. Today, Facebook announced that its News Feed will now support 360-degree videos on Android and web, and they’ll work on iOS within a few months. At launch, publishers including Star Wars,DiscoveryGoProUninterrupted With LeBron James, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and VICE will start posting 360 videos.

Facebook tells me the company worked with Oculus to build out 360 video for News Feed. The format could let you share extraordinarily immersive vacation videos and unlock distribution for a burgeoning art form. And just as whenever a new content type comes along, businesses could start exploiting it to make 360 video ads and paying to boost their reach in the feed.

Mark Zuckerberg has long said that Facebook is on a steady march to more vivid content formats, from text to photos to videos to VR. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to just pop your phone into a Google Cardboard or other VR headset and watch these clips by spinning your head. But you can imagine a way to split the view into different lenses for VR headsets could be on the way, though that would require videos to be shot with two lenses side-by-side.


For now, on the web and mobile you’ll be able to swipe around to view different angles, or your phone’s gyroscope will pick up your swiveling motions and convert them into moving your perspective. Facebook actually tip-toed in this direction with its news reader app Paper, which let you tilt your phone back and forth to pan across panoramic photos.

To shoot these videos, you’ll need a somewhat expensive 360 camera like a Bubblcam, which costs $800. That means for now we’re more likely to see bigger brands and publishers sharing these videos than average humans. But as the cost of the technology comes down and phone cameras get better, we could see a democratization of this immersive format.

When Facebook bought Oculus, Zuck talked about the potential for VR to bring people together and make them feel like they’re in the same place. That combined mission is coming to fruition.

Via: techcrunch

Piper Lets Kids Design Circuits Using Minecraft And Electricity

There is a disease destroying our young people. It is silent, malignant, and fatal. It is called Minecraft and something must be done. If you have children of a certain age chances are they have made a giant Pikachu out of yellow blocks or put up a signpost that says “Poop Here” next to a chicken pen. It is truly terrible.

But there is hope. With Piper, we can turn Minecraft into something more exciting. The kit lets kids create circuits in real life and then see how they interact in Minecraft. It lets you, for example, add a battery and a button to a breadboard and see those parts pop up on the screen. Electricity flowing through virtual wires simulates what is happening in real life. In short, what you make on screen happens in real life and vice versa – sort of. Watch the video to really understand it.

Mark Pavlyukovskyy and his partners created the project as a way to help kids learn electronics and they even got a plug from Steve Wozniak who said “I love Piper because it represents what enabled me to do all the great technology things in my life.” It is, in short, a popular project that looks like it could change the way our kids think about electronics.

The team has sold 1,500 units through Kickstarter and raised $50,000 from Co.lab. They are looking for more seed funding to expand the idea.

The kit includes a Raspberry Pi 2 and a laser cut case as well as wires, buttons, lights, switches, sensors, tiny breadboards, and everything else you need to start building right away!” In other words, it’s great fun and really useful. The kit costs $199 with a Raspberry Pi 2.

While many kids will remain enslaved by the evils of Minecraft if only one escapes and makes a little robot that buzzes and spits out pieces of paper that say “Poop Here,” I think we’ll be in good shape.



via: techcrunch

RePhone Lets You Turn Anything Into A Phone

Making a cellphone is easy. You go into a mine, pull up some ore, extract various metals and then add components that you manufacture from other mines. Then you have to get FCC clearance and create lithium ion battery. Finally, you need to write a Snake game. If you can’t do that, try RePhone.

The project is actually a tiny circuit board with a SIM slot and an optional screen. It also supports Bluetooth. You’re going to want to get the $49 Kit Create, a tiny watch-like system that includes a little case and all the modules. It’s like getting a tiny unlocked cellphone for under $50.

This is obviously an experimental board but I checked it out a week ago and it seemed to work fairly well. It includes programming libraries in Arduino IDE, Lua and Javascript that allow you to connect the phone to the web and even IFTTT.

It’s a fun little project and it works pretty well. While you won’t gain the experience of mining your own gold for wire traces and learning chip fabrication, this will let you make a phone quickly and easily which is great for all of us hobbyists without ready access to mineral rights.


Check out the video:


via: techcrunch

Georama’s Live Virtual Reality Platform Lets You Explore The World From Your Sofa

St. Augustine of Hippo said “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”—-which is somewhat unfair to people who can’t travel because of financial or physical reasons. Georama wants to help them with its virtual-reality travel platform, which offers live guided tours in high-definition video. The startup, which already has an enterprise service, launched its consumer site today in Disrupt’s Startup Alley.

Online travel agencies have revolutionized the tourist industry and Georama now wants to do the same for online tours by becoming “the destination for virtual travel.”

The startup has been around since 2012, when TechCrunch first profiled it. Back then, it was a map-based travel search site, but founder Nihal Advani says he learned out the hard way how tough it is to compete in the online travel planning industry. So Georama decided to focus instead on tours for people who can’t travel long distances, but still have wanderlust.

Its B2B platform’s clients includes several educational institutions, including colleges that want to offer campus tours to international students, and Lurie Children’s Hospital, which takes its young patients on virtual trips to zoos, museums, and other fun places.

Georama’s consumer site functions as a marketplace for guides, who schedule tours and take stabilized HD streaming videos with Georama’s Android app (currently in private beta), wearable cameras like GoPro, and some 360-degree cameras. Tours are free to view, but users pay to ask questions or make requests, like asking guides to check out certain landmarks.

To be sure, there are already services that have high-quality online tours, like Arounder. For real-time tours, apps like Meerkat and Periscope are also potential competitors. Advani says Georama differentiates with its software, which uses low latency so people in areas with poor network coverage can still see HD quality live video, as well as its focus on becoming compatible with as many virtual reality headsets as possible.

Georama’s consumer site currently has 30 guides in cities, including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Istanbul, Seoul, Milan, and Copenhagen. For more information, check out their tour schedule.

Via: techcrunch

Reiterating The IRS, A U.S. Government Agency Declares Bitcoin A Commodity

Is bitcoin a currency or a commodity? According to the United Stated Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), bitcoin is the former. Its recent decision mirrors former verbiage by the IRS declaring bitcoin to be, as TechCrunch reported at the time, “property, not currency.”

What’s going on? As it turns out, the CFTC recently settled charges with a bitcoin shop that allowed investors (gamblers?) to trade options on bitcoin. Given that the CFTC views bitcoin as a commodity, those actions place the cryptocurrency squarely inside of its own jurisdiction.

Here’s the CFTC, from its blog post announcing that it has at once filed, and settled charges relating to the matter:

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today issued an Order filing and simultaneously settling charges against Coinflip, Inc. d/b/a Derivabit (Coinflip) and its chief executive officer Francisco Riordan for conducting activity related to commodity options transactions without complying with the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and CFTC Regulations, specifically, by operating a facility for the trading or processing of commodity options without complying with the CEA or CFTC Regulations otherwise applicable to swaps or conducting the activity pursuant to the CFTC’s exemption for trade options.

It was over a year ago that the IRS decided that bitcoin was property, and not some form of currency. The difficulty with that distinction is the potential for tax headaches. If every bitcoin transaction is worthy of tax treatment over the fluctuation of the market price of bitcoin, the United States government is essentially begging to make a swath of technologists tax cheats by accident.

Regardless, here’s the CFTC laying down some law [emphasis TechCrunch]:

In the Order, the CFTC for the first time finds that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are properly defined as commodities. The Order further finds that the activities related to commodity option transactions were not conducted in compliance with a provision of the CEA or a provision of the Regulations otherwise applicable to swaps, and were not conducted pursuant to the Regulation 32.3 “trade option” exemption.

What matters there is that the agency is not merely throwing bitcoin into a specific categorization, but also other cryptocurrencies in something akin to a blanket ruling. Litecoin can’t hide, in other words, by claiming that this was a bitcoin-only decision. It is not.

The price of bitcoin hasn’t moved much in the wake of the news, managing to stay in the mid-$230 range. Perhaps that’s due to the government managing something only akin to a retweet of its former position.

Via: techcrunch

Microsoft Drops A New Windows 10 Build, Promises Cortana And Xbox Improvements

Microsoft released a new Windows 10 build to the ‘fast ring’ of its operating system testing community today.

The new code, dubbed build 10547, has quite a lot to it, including improvements to the Start Menu, better Cortana coverage, and a number of app updates. In short, if you are the testing sort, there will be ample material present for you to dig into.

App Updates: The core apps that Microsoft builds for Windows 10 received a grip of updates in build 10547. Among the mix: Improvements for Groove, Maps, Calendar and Mail. The Windows 10 Xbox app also picked up some new capabilities, including ‘game progress comparison,” and improved information on what your friends are doing.

The takeaway here is that Microsoft remains set in its quick update strategy for Windows 10 in a holistic sense. Again, nothing new, but reconfirmation all the same.

Start Menu changes: If you are a real apps aficionado, you can now stick more things to your Start Menu. According to Microsoft, you can now have 2048 on your Start area, up from 512. If you can find that many apps in the world that you want, points, I guess.

Cortana: Users of Windows 10 can now use Cortana without the requirement of using a Microsoft account. I am not sure how in-demand that feature has been, but it’s now there.

What matters more than the useful changes above is that Microsoft, now some time past the formal launch date of Windows 10, continues to release builds of its new operating system that meet its promise of rapid development and deployment.

You could read that as boding well for Windows 10, in that the company is still heads-down improving its code. Or that Microsoft is playing catch up for a release that was, calendar-dictated, perhaps a bit early.

Via: techcrunch

Google Is Unveiling ‘New Treats’ — Like Its Next Nexus Device — On September 29th

Good things are coming this month, and I don’t just mean our Disrupt San Francisco event next week. Google just pulled the trigger on invites to a press event later this month which could see it unveil its next Nexus device, among other things.

The company is inviting media to “a morning conversation about some new treats from Google” on September 29th.

Google isn’t always predictable, as its recent decision to split its divisions under ‘Alphabet’ showed, but speculation surrounding new Google hardware has been palpable. CNET earlier this month said a Nexus launch was planned for the 29th, and there’s been speculation that Google has tapped both LG and Huawei to build different sized phones under its Nexus brand. Additionally, the company announced the name of its next version of Android…Marshmallow.

The Nexus brand has proved popular in the past because it runs with a pure form of Android and is optimized for Google’s mobile software, while devices are also usually fairly inexpensive, but Google doesn’t manufacture the phones itself.

LG previously created the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 phones, but Huawei — a growing force in the global smartphone race — hasn’t ever worked on the project. It’s speculated that LG is working on a regular sized smartphone, with Huawei contracted to develop a larger handset.

If true, that would be an interesting development that fits with trends in the market. Both Samsung — Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus — and Apple — iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus — have released ‘little’ and ‘large’ devices to suit different tastes, and it seems like a strategy that others are embracing too.

That might not be all, however, since Google has been linked with a new version of Chromecast, its media streaming dongle. 9to5Google this week reported that Chromecast 2.0 will land later this month with a number of improvements such as faster WiFi connectivity, faster playing, multi-room support and improved audio feedback.

It’s worth noting that this will be the first major event with Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google. Make no mistake, the invite comes from that entity and not Alphabet for a reason. It’s important for Pichai to step in and discuss how all of the units at the company, including Android, are being developed together, in a streamlined way. In the past, it was very clear which teams at Google worked on what, from a design and a functionality standpoint. Under Pichai’s watch, that’s changing.

It’s his show now, will he be hosting it?

We’ll be there when Google makes its unveil on September 29th, so stay tuned for more details.

Via: techcrunch