All the news that’s fit to print from the front lines of retail technology

2019 has wasted no time out of the gates, and with next week’s NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show it’s not going to slow down anytime soon. Take a look at the top five stories to cross our desk recently.

Sample Sales

Amazon is already on their way to becoming the third-largest digital ad platform in the world, and now they’re rolling out a new promotional channel for major brands — free samples.

No longer the domain of lonely product advocates standing in a supermarket, Amazon’s sample rollout promises a “higher likelihood of conversion than display ads” and will use the reams of data Amazon has on consumer habits to target lucky recipients.

“I would think this would play in well to Amazon’s efforts to capture more activity from packaged goods companies,” Pivotal Research Group’s senior advertising analyst Brian Wieser told Axios.


You Down on DTC?

Want to know a secret? The explosive growth of DTC brands has been driven largely by venture capital, not profitability. And while it’s not unusual for young consumer brands to struggle with revenue, the onslaught of cash from VCs means the demand for fast, big returns have become overwhelming.

Last year alone, DTC brands received $1 billion in venture funding, per data from CB Insights. But as consumer brands struggle with customer acquisition costs, it appears that some of that venture money is drying up.

“Unless you’re a serial founder, you’re having a much harder time raising money,” JB Osborne, cofounder of the agency Red Antler, said. “There was a moment where everyone could get funded and it got a little crazy. Now, every category and every channel is more competitive.”


Where’s the Beef?

We’ve seen subscription boxes for everyone from Harry Potter fans to marijuana aficionados, but fast food junkies? That’s a new one. On Tuesday, Arby’s announced the launch of their Arby’s of the Month subscription plan, “providing [fans] with the Arby’s branded merchandise they didn’t even know they wanted,” Jim Taylor, the company’s CMO, said in a statement.

For a one-time fee of $25, roast beef enthusiasts receive six monthly boxes filled with seasonally-themed Arby’s gear (a prescription for Lipitor, presumably, is not included). But if you want to get your hands on future boxes, you better put the fast in fast food — the offering sold out in under an hour.


Putting the Super in Supermarkets

Kroger’s supermarkets and Microsoft have launched a pilot program in two retail locations that could prove to be the much-prophesied “supermarket of the future”. The revamped supermarkets will use connected sensors and Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to roll out a host of impressive upgrades to your weekly food shop.

A new shelving system offers digital price tags that can be changed in real time, provide nutritional information, and display promotions. And shoppers can also opt for a guided shopping experience, where the Kroger app guides them around the store and the digital shelves light up to alert them to the location of their product.

As Venture Beat explains, “It’s clear there is a battle to bring the offline world in line with the online world, giving retailers more control, data, and insights into the actions of consumers, wherever they roam.”

[Venture Beat]