Amazon launches Counter in-store pick-up in the US, starting with 100 Rite Aid locations

Amazon’s strategy to bring more brick-and-mortar options into its vast e-commerce empire, and its ambition to sell more pharmaceutical products, today may have found themselves a little more knitted together. The company announced a new service in the US called Counter, a free in-store pick-up service where Amazon shoppers can arrange to collect packages. And its first partner in the new effort? None other than one of the bigger names in drug stores: Rite Aid.

The two will kick off Counter with availability in “over 100” Rite Aid locations across the US. The longer-term plan for Amazon is to expand the pick-up option to 1,500 stores (including other retail partners) by the end of 2019 — a very quick ramp-up in the next six months.

In an interesting geographic reversal of how Amazon rolls out services, this one launched first in Europe, by way of a partnership with the clothes retailer Next in the UK, and Giunti Al Punto Librerie, Fermopoint and SisalPay in Italy. Amazon said the service has so far “been positively received, driving strong customer engagement and additional foot traffic for partners” in those markets.

The deal is a development on Amazon’s bigger strategy to take its business — born and raised online — into ever-more traditional retail settings, both to increase options for its online shoppers, as well as bring more customers into the fold who prefer to procure their goods in person rather than by post. Other very big moves on that front have included trying out its own cashier-less retail locations, setting up bookshops on university campuses, and of course buying Whole Foods.

This latest deal is one of its blended approaches, where online shoppers are given the option of getting in person.

“Amazon is always looking for innovative and convenient ways for customers to ship and receive their orders,” explains Patrick Supanc, Worldwide Director of Amazon Hub, which also includes its Locker, Locker+ and Apartment Locker pick-up services, in a statement. “With Counter, we’ve leveraged our growing logistics network and invested in new, easy to use technology to give customers yet another delivery option rooted in flexibility and control. We are excited to partner with national businesses like Rite Aid, and local businesses in the future, to create an outstanding experience for our shared customers.”

The expansion to more pick-up options as an alternative to home delivery is partly out of practicality.

First, people are still spending, overall, way more time and money in physical retail locations than they are in virtual ones, with the latest US census figures putting the figure at just 10 percent of retail sales being made through e-commerce.

Second, having packages delivered at home is not always convenient if you work in an office and do not have suitable back-up neighbors or a porter to sign for your packages, or you have had problems with package theft if parcels are left outside.

Other options Amazon has been adding on the brick-and-mortar retailer front have included Amazon Lockers locations in stores (most recently Stein Mart), as well as partnering with stores to take exchanges (such as its deal with Khol’s). In both cases, the incentive for the stores is to bring people into the stores who will do more than just deal with their Amazon business; they might shop, too.

That will also be a hook that Rite Aid will hope to use.

“Creating a seamless, convenient customer experience is a key element of our strategy and digital transformation,” said Jocelyn Konrad, Executive Vice President, Pharmacy and Retail Operations of Rite Aid, in a statement. “Being the first store partner for Counter in the U.S. is a differentiator for Rite Aid and we believe our partnership with Amazon, that includes Locker, creates a stronger in-store experience for existing customers and new customers that come in to pick up their packages.”

To be clear, Amazon doesn’t make any mention of Rite Aid’s core business as a pharmacy, but given what else we know about Amazon’s ambitions in that area it seems very notable.

Last year, Amazon acquired online pharmacy PillPack for just under $1 billion (a sum that includes earn-outs and the full value of the deal, sources tell us), prompting many people speculating about how it might use it to move into a deeper into the very lucrative world of pharmaceuticals.

That idea was buffered by the fact that it also launched a healthcare JV in partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan, and it has also been making other gradual moves into the medical sector with the sale of supplies.

While Amazon never got very far with its investment and partnership years ago with Drugstore.com (which was eventually acquired by Walgreens and shut down), it seems that a retail partnership with a drug store chain could be an obvious way of extending not just its pick-up parcel network, but also a way of bringing PillPack the physical delivery world.

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Pavegen, which harvests energy and data from footsteps, secures crowd and Hinduja Group funding

Pavegen, a UK startup which harvests energy from people’s footsteps and also tracks that data, has raised £2.6m on its crowdfunding push having doubled its initial £950k target.

The campaign secured funds from over 1,400 investors, including partnership and anchor investment from major global engineering conglomerate Hinduja Group and family investment firm Tamar Capital.

The Hinduja Group, whose Co-Chairmen topped the UK 2019 Rich List, aims to use the technology to reduce the cost of manufacturing and provide access to fast-growing markets in India and South East Asia.

The funding round follows expansion into 36 countries worldwide, and £1.8m in revenues in 2018, with installations including smart city developments, retail destinations, transport hubs and education institutions in Hong Kong, India, Korea, Thailand, UAE, UK & USA.

In 2018, Pavegen also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with global engineering and technology giant, Siemens, to develop smart city projects together.

The key to Pavegen is not just power generation. Pavegen which converts the kinetic energy of footsteps into both electricity and data, and it is also developing an ecosystem allowing people to be rewarded for steps on Pavegen walkways.

The company says its first shopping center deployment at The Mercury mall in East London has raised engagement with the site by 15%.

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen, said: “We believe in placing people at the heart of the smart city. With the support of Hinduja Group, Siemens and Tamar Capital, our plan of making our technology ubiquitous for all cities becomes achievable.”

Hrag Sarkissian, Founding Partner, Tamar Capital, said: “Pavegen is very relevant when it comes to Smart cities, from a power and a data play. As cost comes down, large scale deployments could really change the game.”

Shom Hinduja, President of Alternative Energy and Sustainability Initiatives at Hinduja Group said: “It’s an exciting time for Pavegen with new projects in airports, retail sites and smart city developments in Asia, the Middle East and North America. We believe the Hinduja team will be able to play a key role in enabling the Pavegen team to rapidly bring their ambitious vision to life.”

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Electric scooter and bike startup Grow hits 10 million trips across Latin America

Latin America-based Grow, which formed after micromobility companies Grin and Yellow merged earlier this year, has hit 10 million rides. Grin, which first started operating about one year ago in Mexico, has since expanded into 23 cities across Latin America. That is, of course, thanks in part to its mergers with Yellow and Ride.

This milestone is notable in part because it shows Grow is, err, growing at about the same rate as Bird and Lime did in each of those companies first years. In September, Bird hit the ten million scooter rides milestone after about one year of operations. That same month, Lime hit 11.5 million bike and scooter rides after about 14 months of being in business.

It’s also notable given Lime just expanded into Latin America yesterday with an electric scooter presence in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Chile. Lime currently counts 65 million rides.

Grow, with $150 million in funding, Grow counts five million users across its shared scooter, bike and e-moped services in Latin America. Collectively, riders have traveled more than nine million miles on Grow’s micromobility vehicles.

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Toronto Raptors founder brings Bird scooters to Canada as a platform partner

Bird’s somewhat weird but also very clever global expansion model is to let others handle it, and one of those others is bringing their service online this month. Bird Canada, which is a wholly Canadian-owned company entirely distinct from Bird, will begin offering on-demand electric scooter rental service in Alberta this month, with plans to offer its services across more Canadian communities on a gradual rollout schedule after that.

Bird Canada will be operating its service under the Platform plan that the original Bird announced earlier this year, which will see it acquire its scooters from the U.S. Bird at cost, and gain access to the Santa Monica-based startup’s tools, software and technology to operate the service, in exchange for a 20 percent cut of ride revenue.

The new Canadian e-scooter company is founded by Canadian serial entrepreneur and Toronto Raptors founder John Bitove (he led the bid that brought the NBA expansion team to Toronto in 1993), who will act as the company’s Chairman. Bird Canada’s day-to-day operations will be overseen by CEO Steward Lyons, who previously worked with Bitove on SiriusXM’s Canadian business and the startup national wireless provider Mobilicity which the two entrepreneurs founded together.

For its part, the Canadian entity will operate the fleet, including recharging the electric, battery-powered scooters and ensuring they’re in good working order. Local operators are also the ones who’ll need to work with city and any other relevant governing officials, which is a big reason why this probably seemed like the wisest or at least most expedient path to getting revenue from markets outside the U.S. for Bird.

Bird is also being selective about how it rolls out these franchise-like Platform partnerships, by picking only one partner per region and also by avoiding any such partnerships in markets where it does have an interest in eventually expanding itself.

Both Lyons and Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden provided quotes around this news that emphasize how scooter charing can offer sustainable, affordable transportation that helps alleviate traffic, and Lyons specifically said that Alberta is “leading the way in Canada.” The regulatory environment around scooters is at best murky in most Canadian cities, and local governing authorities are scrambling to figure out what the formal rules should be ahead of the scooter explosion traveling north of the U.S. border in a bigger way.

Bird Canada is likely hoping to set the tone for that conversation and be involved in encouraging more communities beyond those in Alberta to open its arms to on-demand rental businesses, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception these receive, and what approach Bird Canada takes to managing their fleet in the country’s harsher winter conditions.

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