Tuesday , October 17 2017
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Big Brother Walmart Tries to “Help” You: “It’s Like Magic”

Summary:
On the bleeding edge of “in-fridge delivery.” It’s great that Walmart is out there on the bleeding edge of technology, coming up with stuff and testing gizmos and doing things differently before it gets run over by Amazon. It’s trying to stay relevant in the era of online shopping and Millennials. Stopping Amazon is a dirty job, but someone has got to do it. But good grief – connect the lock of our home to the Internet so that Walmart can get into our fridge? And so soon after the Equifax hack that showed just how easy it is to crack open corporate IT systems even when they contain the crown jewels of consumer data? How easy must it be to hack the software in a mere door lock, the connection from the door lock to the server, the app that runs that thing, the communication system

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On the bleeding edge of “in-fridge delivery.”

It’s great that Walmart is out there on the bleeding edge of technology, coming up with stuff and testing gizmos and doing things differently before it gets run over by Amazon. It’s trying to stay relevant in the era of online shopping and Millennials. Stopping Amazon is a dirty job, but someone has got to do it.

But good grief – connect the lock of our home to the Internet so that Walmart can get into our fridge?

And so soon after the Equifax hack that showed just how easy it is to crack open corporate IT systems even when they contain the crown jewels of consumer data?

How easy must it be to hack the software in a mere door lock, the connection from the door lock to the server, the app that runs that thing, the communication system with Walmart…. One vulnerability in the chain, such as a missed security update on the server of some obscure middleman, and suddenly hackers can let themselves and others into our home at will.

And this: Install security cameras inside our home and connect them to the Internet so that, when the system gets hacked, everyone else can see what’s going on inside our home?

My home used to be my castle.

So here’s the idea, from Walmart’s blog. It starts out with a truth that practically everyone, particularly me who has to do much of the grocery shopping, can agree with:

There’s nothing in my fridge that I want to eat. How am I going to find time to go grocery shopping?

Shopping for groceries can be a hassle for my busy family. We need to make the time to go to the store, make sure we find everything on our list (and a few things that likely weren’t), lug them home and then put them away.

But then it gets just a little creepier…

So we asked the question: what if Walmart could help busy families like mine ensure my fridge was always well-stocked?

Creepy because suddenly Walmart is given access to our fridge to “help” us. But let’s soldier on:

What if we created a service that not only did my grocery shopping and brought everything to my home, but even went so far as to put it directly into my fridge? And, what if it was even more convenient because this “in-fridge delivery” happened while I was at work or off doing other things?

Now I’m getting the willies. Walmart is offering to do our grocery shopping, bring everything to our place, and put it in the fridge? How the heck is Walmart getting into our fridge while no one is home?




Here we go – Walmart on the bleeding edge of the Internet of Things. It’s a three-step program.

Step one: We need a keyless Internet-connected door lock for the front door of our home. The lock is controlled by an app on our smartphone. Walmart partnered with August Home, inevitably a startup in San Francisco that sells “smarter home access products and services.”

“Give keyless entry to family, friends, housekeepers and others without worrying about lost or copied keys,” it says. As a side-benefit, it can give keyless entry to hackers. “Control and monitor your door from anywhere,” it says – you, or whoever hacks into it.

August Home raised $73 million in venture funding in five rounds, including $25 million in July.

Step two: Connect the security cameras inside our home to the Internet of Things so that we can watch on our smartphone who is coming and going, and what’s going on in our kitchen, hallway, or wherever else.

Step three: The test. Walmart is partnering with August Home. The willing test subjects would place an order at Walmart’s online store for whatever, “even groceries”:

When my order is ready, a Deliv driver will retrieve my items and bring them to my home. If no one answers the doorbell, he or she will have a one-time passcode that I’ve pre-authorized which will open my home’s smart lock.

As the homeowner, I’m in control of the experience the entire time – the moment the Deliv driver rings my doorbell, I receive a smartphone notification that the delivery is occurring and, if I choose, I can watch the delivery take place in real-time [via the  security cameras].

The Deliv associate will drop off my packages in my foyer and then carry my groceries to the kitchen, unload them in my fridge and leave. I’m watching the entire process from start to finish from my home security cameras through the August app. As I watch the Deliv associate exit my front door, I even receive confirmation that my door has automatically been locked.

Walmart takes care of everything.

Step four? What isn’t mentioned, this being just a test, is the next item to buy: A fridge that is connected to the Internet and that figures out what to reorder directly from Walmart, so we don’t even have to bother entering an order…. But that’s for later.

Walmart gushes: “When I enter my house later that day, it’s like magic.” Everything we ordered is in the fridge, unbroken eggs, undamaged peaches, non-squished bananas, non-wilted lettuce, all beautifully stocked inside our chaotic fridge though we never put bananas in the fridge.

Think of the possibilities! Plan a romantic surprise dinner via a few moments on our smartphone while at work, and our dinner is being lined up.

So where can I sign up?

We’re excited to be running this test in Silicon Valley with a small group of August Home customers, all of whom have opted-in to participate in testing this new concept.

And it’s not just our fridge.

And we want to do more in the future by delivering groceries and other orders in whatever location works best for our customers – inside the house for some and in the fridge/freezer in the garage for others. The possibilities are endless….

But Walmart soothes our rattled nerves – I mean, not exactly:

What might seem novel today could be the standard tomorrow. This may not be for everyone – and certainly not right away – but we want to offer customers the opportunity to participate in tests today and help us shape what commerce will look like in the future.

So we’ll steel ourselves for the moment when Walmart, Amazon, Safeway, and assorted hackers manage our fridge and our pantry and run around our home when we’re not there, and we – along with some hackers – get to watch them from afar. Yippee!

Another retailer owned by private equity firms goes bust. Read…  Toys ‘R’ Us Melts Down, Files for Bankruptcy, Bonds Collapse




Wolf Richter
Founder, Wolf Street Corp. In his cynical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he muses on WOLF STREET about economic, business, and financial issues, Wall Street shenanigans, complex entanglements, and other things, debacles, and opportunities that catch his eye in the US, Europe, Japan, and occasionally China.

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