Technology

Group Grocery Buying? Walmart, Chinese Tech Leaders Bet on Bundling

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Early on in the pandemic, when hunkering down at home was still new, it wasn't uncommon to see groups of friends and neighbors reaching out via text or online message board with some version of the following: "I'm planning to run to XYZ store. Can I pick up anything for you?" 

Some big names in retail tech in the U.S. and abroad see business potential in the group grocery run. As reported by TechCrunch, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba recently co-led a $196 million funding round for Nice Tuan, a two-year-old group grocery buying platform. With Nice Tuan, users submit their individual grocery orders to a neighborhood manager (typically through messaging app WeChat, TechCrunch notes). Neighborhood managers—who also can act as brand promoters to those in their group—will then place a group order for delivery by stores/suppliers to a local pickup spot. Tencent, the Chinese tech conglomerate perhaps best known as the vendor of the Fortnite video game, is an investor in competing grocery delivery services Xingsheng Youxuan and Missfresh.

The group grocery buying model is touted as a way to offer a safe, convenient shopping experience, especially for elderly individuals, who lag behind younger generations in adopting online grocery shopping and may be more inclined to trust a neighbor rather than strangers to place and pick up their grocery order. (See also on the "neighbors helping elderly neighbors" front: the Miami-based startup Papa, which bills itself as "family on demand." The company pairs individuals known as Papa Pals with older adults and their families for companionship, technology assistance and help with everyday tasks—such as grocery shopping.)

In the U.S., Walmart recently disclosed that it's acquiring select assets (including IP, talent and tech) of Redwood City, Calif.-based JoyRun, a "community-powered delivery platform" that offers rewards to "runners" who place group orders at local grocery stores and restaurants. Srini Venkatesan, EVP of Walmart Global Tech, wrote in a LinkedIn post on Nov. 19 that the acquisition supports Walmart's "last-mile" efforts and "allows us to further augment our team and ongoing efforts to explore even more ways to deliver for customers in the future." JoyRun has about 540 retail partners, Venkatesan noted, and more than 30,000 people have been acted as "runners" since JoyRun's 2015 launch. 

He added: "We continue to offer more ways to serve our customers through delivery and pickup and this acquisition reflects our commitment to deliver how, when and where our customers need."

JoyRun promotes itself to retailers as offering a lower-cost delivery option vs. other third-party delivery services and enhanced access to delivery-challenged locations such as hospitals and high-security buildings. It also touts the opportunity to introduce new and established customers to new products/brands without customers' having to set foot in store—and with the added credibility of a recommendation from a "runner," who can share what they're ordering and serve as an influencer.

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