Google’s retail ambitions, Microsoft’s FOMO, and how a group of nerds created the digital revolution

By Maia on Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Google has its sights set on retail

One year on and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods continues to send ripples through the industry. The last mile has since seen a flurry of interest from e-commerce players: Walmart acquired Flipkart, Target bought Shipt, and Kroger invested in UK’s Ocado.

Now Google wants in on the action. It recently announced strategic partnerships with Carrefour and to change the way people shop. Both retailers will use Google Shopping, Google Home and Cloud products and each will work with Google AI experts to design new consumer experiences.

But its forays into the last mile are arguably the most interesting for a company that started with such a singular purpose. Its new partnership with Target, Walmart and Costco amongst others makes their products appear in search and voice-activated Assistant before routing through a universal shopping cart – and finally to the customer’s door through its Google Express delivery service.

The lines between digital search and physical fulfilment continue to shrink. E-commerce is pretty much all commerce, and the last mile is increasingly the connective tissue between digital user experience and the overall customer experience. The delivery experience is becoming the customer experience. Exciting times…

Microsoft has a sudden case of FOMO

Inspired perhaps by Amazon Go, Microsoft (an unlikely player in this game) plans to dip its toes in retail, creating its own brand of checkout-free technology. Rumour has it that Microsoft is in talks with Walmart about a possible collaboration. If this is where grocery is headed, it’s safe to assume that Walmart will not sit back and let Amazon dominate the space unchallenged.

But this technology is expensive to build and margins are already paper thin in grocery retail. So will all the investment be worth it? It seems Amazon and Microsoft are placing bets not only on retailers’ desire to provide fast and convenient shopping experiences for their customers, but also serve their need to drive costs down in-store via reduced headcount.

This makes it far easier for stores to act as fulfilment centres located close to the customer. Checkout-free stores means that shoppers and delivery drivers alike can move in and out at pace, collecting groceries for themselves or on someone else’s behalf and walk out without wasting time at the till.

Lifting emotional baggage

Source: Waymo

Giants in the transport industry are coming together for a noble cause. The newly formed Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (PTIO) includes legacy automakers like Ford, Toyota and Daimler, tech giants like Uber, Lyft, and Waymo (representing Google), and finally, logistics providers like FedEx. They’re joining forces to study the “human impact” of self-driving cars.

Driverless vehicles may one day carry our goods in cities and across the country, but they currently carry heavy emotional baggage for taxi, bus, truck, and delivery drivers.

The PTIO’s goal is to understand the impact of autonomous vehicles and launch awareness campaigns highlighting “existing and near-term career opportunities” for the millions of people who operate motor vehicles for their livelihood.

All these companies have a massive stake in selling driverless cars to a so far unconvinced public. One can only hope that whatever the future holds, proactive policies and initiatives that ensure everyone benefits will be put in place before anybody gets out from behind the wheel.

When good food goes bad

Source: Eater London, by Ellie Foreman-Peck/elliefp

Deliveroo has recently announced its plan to open up its platform to restaurants who have their own fleets and power their own deliveries. The new service, called Marketplace+, will launch next month in 7 markets, including the UK. Marketplace+ will offer 5,000 restaurants that do their own deliveries the added exposure of being on the platform as well as the ability to deliver through Deliveroo’s fleet, should they choose to.

This may sound like a win-win situation for all, but – as covered previously – restaurants would be well served to think carefully about encouraging their customers to use the Deliveroo platform. Whilst they might benefit from some incremental revenue, they risk losing control of their most important asset – the customer.

Recommended Reading

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

by Walter Isaacson


Every story we’ve ever written in The Last Mile has one underlying theme: the digital revolution. This book provides a lucid, thrilling and amusing history of the digital age. From Alan Turing and Steve Jobs to Bill Gates and Larry Page, it explores the patterns and talents of those who led us to where we are today. It’s interesting to see that these very innovators, who powered the movement that revolutionised the way information is stored and moves are now, as explained above, changing the way goods are stored and move.

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