Walmart-Amazon Whole Paycheck Tracker: Expanding Services, New Devices And Rising Challenges

DATE POSTED:September 13, 2019

There wasn’t a lot of news out of Walmart and Amazon this week, but there was perhaps a slightly higher share of big news. The big news of the second week of September for both firms was rollouts — with new services, new offerings and some pretty big (and competitive) expansions thrown out.

Not all the news was good news, particularly on Amazon’s side of the aisle — because additions weren’t the only thing in its headline feed this week. Amazon also had news come of a very major contraction in the amount of data open to its online pharmacy business PillPack — a big move that could have big consequences for Amazon and its path to the consumer’s whole paycheck via their medical care needs.

It’s a tough problem and a setback in a race that has very little margin for error.


Big News of the Week: The New Echos Are Coming! The New Echos Are Coming 

Fall is here, which means pumpkin spice, Halloween and product rollouts from tech giants positioning themselves in the penultimate season before the holiday rush officially begins. Apple’s big show wrapped up this week, and according to reports Amazon’s is set to get underway on Sept. 25.

If you find yourself wondering if this hasn’t already happened, that feeling of deja vu issues from an IFA show earlier this month, when Amazon introduced a refreshed Fire TV Cube, a new OLED Fire TV Edition, a Fire TV Edition Soundbar and a new 65-inch Toshiba Fire TV Edition with Dolby Vision HDR. That release, however, was the warm-up act; the main show begins later this month when, Amazon has confirmed, it will fire off a host of new offerings across its Alexa, Echo and Ring product lines (among others).

Previous big releases from the Amazon fall event have included  Ring security cameras, the Echo Show, Alexa Auto and the much beloved   Amazon Basics Alexa-enabled smart Microwave. And while there are no specifics being offered up by Amazon about its rollouts at the end of the month, most analysts are predicting — or at least strongly hoping for — a surprise reveal or two. The favored rumors right now, according to Bloomberg, are a robot that uses Alexa voice commands and a better-quality Echo speaker.

These rumors, however, come from unnamed sources and ought to be taken with the requisite grain of salt.

The Big Setback of the Week: PillPack’s Ongoing War For Prescription Data 

PillPack, the Amazon-owned digital pharmacy, has a data problem. A big one. Online prescriptions giant CVS Caremark-owned Surescripts has taken yet another step in its quest to cut PillPack off from its prescription data.  This week it announced it will cut ties with ReMy Health over patient data issues. PillPack had a deal with ReMy Health that allowed it to access patient history that was obtained by Surescripts.

The fight has been an ongoing conflict between the two firms that has been escalating over the last several months. Without Surecripts’ data, care of ReMy Health, PillPack must either rely on patient memory alone or manually reach out to physicians. That former is unreliable and can even be dangerous in some situations; the latter is time-consuming and expensive.

Surescripts said it has ended its relationship with ReMy Health’s due to some troubling issues it turned up in a probe. While no flagrant patient privacy violations were mentioned, Surescripts has said it will be “turning the matter over to the FBI for further investigation.”

“Surescripts has uncovered evidence that the fraud in connection with ReMy Health’s requests for patient data was not limited to patient medication history information,” said the company’s CEO Tom Skelton. “This evidence shows the fraud extended to requests for patient health insurance and prescription price information that ReMy Health provided to drug marketing websites.”

Skelton noted that the amount of activity was small, but meaningful enough to end business relations.

Surescripts, however, has in the past been punished by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in for “illegal monopolization of e-prescription markets.”

Meanwhile, ReMy Health CEO Aaron Crittenden has denied the allegations and said the company’s mission is to make healthcare more affordable, which “should not be a threatening proposition to anyone.”

Whether PillPack can find a better — and more direct — route to patient prescription data seems unlikely, since Surescripts controls over 80 percent of the market.


Big Play of the Week: The Great Grocery Delivery Expansion 

Walmart made an aggressive move in its ongoing grocery war with Amazon (and everyone else in the segment) with the announcement that it is expanding its Grocery Delivery membership option to 1,400 stores later this autumn.

Through the offering Walmart customer can opt in for an unlimited amount of groceries delivered over the course of a year. The a la carte, pay-per-delivery option will also remain for those who do not want to sign on for a membership.

“We’ve been investing in our online grocery business by quickly expanding our Grocery Pickup and Delivery services. Delivery Unlimited is the next step in that journey,” Tom Ward, senior vice president, digital operations, Walmart U.S., said in the announcement.

Walmart is aggressively pushing its grocery unlimited program and forecasts that it will be available in over 1,600 of its stores by the end of 2019. That is roughly 50 percent of the country covered. The service will cost $98 a year. That is lower than the $119 cost of Amazon Prime — though doesn’t include Prime’s wide range of services. Prime members have unlimited Prime Free delivery through an increasing number of Whole Foods locations.

Jumping On The Bandwagon: Another Day, Another Streaming Play 

Given the sudden upswing in the battle for video streaming service dominance — with Apple and Disney both planning big moves on Netflix’s throne later this fall — it should perhaps be unsurprising that Walmart is pushing upgrades to its video content streaming platform Vudu.

Walmart’s video streaming platform has announced it is adding new tools that will allow parents to evaluate and screen the content their kids watch for sex, nudity or violence.

The family-viewing features are launching alongside Vudu’s first original series, also aimed at family audiences: Mr. Mom.

“We’ve heard from customers that they’re concerned about what their family can browse and watch on Vudu,” Jeremy Verba, VP and general manager of Vudu told Variety. At launch, the set of screening tools called Family Play will be available on 586 titles, though that is set to expand. The goal, Verba said, is simple, make it easier for families to enjoy stream content together.

“We’re the one and only streaming service, as far as we know, to offer this feature,” Verba said.

And yet, if it catches on, we suspect it won’t be the last.

But in a tight race with competitors of all stripes making the same run for a share of the consumer’s paycheck, even a temporary advantage is a good one. And if Walmart can leverage its scale to sign on a lot of delivery partnerships? It might be more than a temporary advantage.

Then again, if Amazon actually has an Alexa-powered robot that is actually capable of being useful? The whole race may be a totally different place as of Sept. 26.