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This Week In Amazon: Open With Caution

People are receiving what in the mail?

Walmart Catching Up In E-commerce Race

Prime Cut: Hey Amazon, that looming object in your rearview mirror is Walmart. According to the discounter’s fourth-quarter and full-year financials, released today, its multibillion-dollar investments in multichannel retail are beginning to pay off, with online sales up 23 percent in Q4 and an eye-opening 44 percent for all of 2017.

TWICE Take: With founder Marc Lore now at the digital helm, the chain is further leveraging its massive real estate portfolio by encouraging in-store pickups; continues to cherry-pick smaller e-tailers like Bonobos to attract a higher-income customer; and is working overtime to narrow the delivery-window gap with its arch online rival. But the capital investments are coming at a price, as Q4 earnings fell below expectations, triggering a 10-percent decline in Walmart shares.

See the full story at USA Today.

Toy Story 5: A Play Date With Alexa

Prime Cut: Alexa was the unofficial Queen of CES last month, as ubiquitous throughout the show as it is in U.S. homes, where it commands 70 percent of the voice-command market. Now, after winning the tech crowd in Las Vegas (and decimating Toys“R”Us), the Amazon agent is wooing the toy industry at this week’s Toy Fair in New York.

TWICE Take: Apparently its reputation preceded it, as Alexa has already been integrated into a host of new playthings, providing everything from timers and background music to score keeping and rule reminders. Toymakers like Mattel said it’s a lot cheaper to leverage Alexa than to develop their own software, and in return Amazon is acclimating a whole new generation of customers to its AI playmate.

See the full story at CNET.

Return To Sender

Prime Cut: A growing number of Amazon customers in the U.S. and Canada have begun receiving unsolicited deliveries from unknown benefactors. The first report of uninvited gifts came from a Boston couple who received 25 packages filled with phone chargers, plastic fans and other odds and ends, all purchased with a gift card lacking a sender’s name or address. Then, as the phenomenon spread, the contents grew cruder.

TWICE Take: For University of Minnesota senior Molly Schoenecker, her anonymous Amazon Prime packages went from cookie cutters and nail clippers to sex toys. Same too for several student unions at Canadian universities that received unrequested light bulbs, computer cables … and vibrators. Amazon said it’s investigating the matter, and has dismissed conjecture that it’s related to “brushing” — boosting a product’s ranking with fake reviews by verified purchasers — as it found few appraisals of the unsolicited items. Privately, however, the company acknowledged that it’s baffled by the situation.

See the full story at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Woot Gets Primaried

Prime Cut: Back in the day (that day being 2004), tech distributor Matt Rutledge was the first to bring forth the deal-of-the-day concept for offloading excess or otherwise unwanted inventory, as embodied by his sarcastic e-commerce site Woot. The business was eventually acquired six years later by Amazon (for a cool $110 million), but still dishes out its daily deals as an autonomous entity.

TWICE Take: It’s taken another eight years, but Woot has finally received one of the prime blessings of Amazon ownership: free Prime shipping. Prior, the site did offer discounts on its owner’s proprietary tech devices and sold its own items on Amazon, but its flat-rate shipping would set back customers about five bucks. Now Prime members can share in no-charge deliveries, making the company’s deals even more compelling, albeit with one caveat — Prime’s two-day arrival window only applies to shirts, leaving Woot’s tech fans to wait out standard shipping.

See the full story at Android Headlines.

Amazon Video: Tambor Transparent In ‘Transparent’

Prime Cut: Veteran actor Jeffrey Tambor has been officially cut from the Amazon Studios series that gave him his first Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and Emmy awards. His career-reviving role as the transgender Maura Pfefferman (née Morton) on “Transparent” was cut short following allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior last fall.

TWICE Take: Caught up in the #MeToo wave that followed revelations of appalling conduct by Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, Tambor initially left the show in November and later said no final decision had been made. But an internal Amazon investigation supported charges by two transgender cast members of sexual harassment, and he was formally terminated last week. Tambor continues to deny any misconduct.

See the full story at Broadcasting & Cable.

Amazon Quote Of The Week

“”Nearly all parents who have a smart speaker feel comfortable with their child using it.” — Mattel’s chief technology officer Sven Gerjets on integrating Alexa into toys