retail news in context, analysis with attitude

•  From CNBC:

"Amazon Care, the virtual health clinic for employees, is undergoing its first major expansion beyond the Seattle area.

"The service, which is available to Amazon employees and their dependents, is designed to make it easier to access primary care by letting employees exchange messages with a health-care provider or jump on a video visit. There are also at-home visits available in some ZIP codes, although these are not part of the expansion.

"The clinic, which launched as a pilot in September of 2019, is described on its website as a new benefit for employees that offers 'the best of both virtual and in-person care.'

"While most of Amazon’s corporate employees in the state are located in Seattle and its suburbs, it also has fulfillment and other types of facilities in Spokane, Cheney, Vancouver and elsewhere. The company declined to say how many employees are being covered now."

Amazon also has not said exactly how much it is expanding the service, except to say that this move "is the first big step."

•  The New York Times has a story about how the pandemic has allowed Amazon to conquer Italy.  An excerpt:

"Amazon has been one of the biggest winners in the pandemic as people in its most established markets — the United States, Germany and Britain — have flocked to it to buy everything from toilet paper to board games. What has been less noticed is that people in countries that had traditionally resisted the e-commerce giant are now also falling into its grasp after retail stores shut down for months because of the coronavirus.

"The shift has been particularly pronounced in Italy, which was one of the first countries hard hit by the virus. Italians have traditionally preferred to shop in stores and pay cash. But after the government imposed Europe’s first nationwide virus lockdown, Italians began buying items online in record numbers.

"Even now, as Italy has done better than most places to turn the tide on the virus and people return to stores, the behavioral shift toward e-commerce has not halted."

The success is notable:  Amazon started doing business in Italy in 2010, but "the company had only muted success over the next decade. Fewer than 40 percent of Italians shopped online last year, compared with 87 percent in Britain and 79 percent in Germany, according to Eurostat, a European Union government statistics group."  During the pandemic, in Italy, the number hit 75 percent.

You can read the piece here.

•  From the Puget Sound Business Journal:

"Much of the economy is in shambles in the wake of Covid-19. Yet Amazon this month launched a new luxury shopping experience available by invitation only.

"Why? Because well-heeled shoppers are more likely to buy online in the current economic climate, and the high-end fashion industry is foundering as brick-and-mortar retail is on the decline, experts say.

"'The luxury market has suffered considerably' during the pandemic, said David Camp, a former Amazon marketing executive who is now co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce, a Seattle boutique marketing consultancy.

"'Amazon has always been good at exploiting weakness in other categories,' he said. 'It’s a classic Amazon strategy to recognize that there’s an opening in a market that’s compromised'."

•  Interesting interview in the Wall Street Journal with Toni Reid, Amazon's vice president of Alexa experience and Echo devices, who talks about new skills that have been built into the Alexa system since the beginning of the pandemic.  The goal, the story says, was "to give consumers coronavirus safety tips and information about its spread, the same way they teach Alexa to tell jokes and read the news. And people’s interactions with Alexa changed as the pandemic progressed, with more turning to Alexa for at-home exercise tips and recipes. The sheer volume of customers using Alexa-enabled devices jumped 65% from a year earlier between April and June."

According to Reid, " We started with hospitals and nursing homes. We donated tens of thousands of Echo devices that allowed hospital staff to communicate with their patients who were in isolation without having to use personal protective equipment each time.

"We built a bunch of new Alexa routines for working from home and staying at home. They’re things like reminding you to get up and stretch. Or go eat. Or maybe it’s time to stop working. It’s like a prepackaged routine.

"Third-party developers started building skills to help with their situations. In India, the Bengaluru city police created a skill for customers to ask what they can and can’t do during lockdown. The Spanish Red Cross created a way for people to donate by talking to Alexa, and then offered guidance on how to avoid Covid contagion."

The fastest growing skill needs on Alexa, Reid says:  meditation and cooking.