Instacart, in partnership with ALDI, will support SNAP EBT for online groceries

Instacart is making its grocery delivery and pickup services more accessible to lower-income customers by offering customers the ability to pay for groceries using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. This is the first time Instacart shoppers have been able to use government assistance programs when paying for groceries, and follows earlier moves by larger retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and others in extending SNAP EBT to online grocery.

In Instacart’s case, the option is being made available in partnership with ALDI, which will offer the ability for SNAP EBT participants to access fresh food and other staples using the online service.

When shopping, Instacart users will be able to add ALDI’s EBT SNAP-eligible items to their cart, then select how much of their benefits they want to allocate to their order before checking out.

Image Credits: Instacart

The program will launch over the new few weeks, and will first arrive at ALDI’s over 60 Georgia stores before expanding to over 570 stores across Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania in the months ahead.

Instacart says it runs its Customer and Shopper Care team from Atlanta, which one reason why it selected Georgia as the debut market — adding it was important to first support the communities where its own employees live and work.

Today, online grocery shopping is often seen as a luxury service, but that should not be the case. Often, it’s just as affordable to shop online than in-store (if using the pickup option, at least), as customers can more easily compare prices with other retailers online. For some lower-income customers, online shopping can also save time when they’re stretched between jobs and family commitments.

The pandemic has now further complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and in particular, for high-risk individuals. These customers now have to take risks with their lives and health to shop in-store, making online grocery more of a necessity.

“The introduction of Instacart’s EBT SNAP payments comes at a time when food insecurity in the U.S. has compounded as the nation continues to be impacted by COVID-19,” Instacart stated in its announcement. “According to Feeding America, due to the effects of the pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, which includes a potential 18 million children. In Georgia specifically, food insecurity impacts 12.5% of the population and disproportionately affects communities of color,” it noted.

Instacart is now one of several online retailers supporting SNAP EBT for groceries.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had been working to make online grocery more accessible to SNAP recipients through an online purchasing pilot program with support of retailers including Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite, and others. The pilot retailers  have made it possible to shop for groceries online, then pay using SNAP EBT.

ALDI and Instacart are not listed on the USDA’s website as program participants, however.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #georgia, #grocery-store, #instacart, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program


Amazon launches a program to pay consumers for their data on non-Amazon purchases

Amazon has launched a new program that directly pays consumers for information about what they’re purchasing outside of and for responding to short surveys. The program, Amazon Shopper Panel, asks users to send in 10 receipts per month for any purchases made at non-Amazon retailers, including grocery stores, department stores, drug stores and entertainment outlets (if open), like movie theaters, theme parks, and restaurants.

Amazon’s own stores, like Whole Foods, Amazon Go, Amazon Four Star and Amazon Books do not qualify.

Program participants will take advantage of the newly launched Amazon Shopper Panel mobile app on iOS and Android to take pictures of paper receipts that qualify or they can opt to forward emailed receipts to to earn a $10 reward that can then be applied to their Amazon Balance or used as a charitable donation.

Amazon says users can then earn additional rewards each month for every survey they complete. The optional surveys will ask about brands and products that may interest the participant and how likely they are to purchase a product. Other surveys may ask what the shopper thinks of an ad. These rewards may vary, depending on the survey.

The program is currently opt-in and invite-only, and is also only open to U.S. consumers at this time. Invited participants can now download the newly launched Shopper Panel app and join the panel. Other interested users can use the app to join a waitlist for an invite.

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon claims it will delete any sensitive information from the receipts users upload, like prescription information. But it doesn’t delete users’ personal information, instead storing it in accordance with its existing Privacy Policy. It will allow users to delete their previously uploaded receipts, if they choose, but it’s not clear that will actually remove collected data from Amazon’s systems.

Consumer research panels are common operations, but in Amazon’s case, it plans to use the data in several different ways.

On the website, Amazon explains it “may use” customer data to improve product selection at and Whole Food Market, as well as to improve the content selection offered through Amazon services, like Prime Video.

Amazon also says the collected data will help advertisers better understand the relationship between their ads and product purchases at an aggregate level and will help Amazon build models about which groups of customers are likely to be interested in certain products.

And Amazon may choose to offer data to brands to help them gain feedback on existing products, the website notes.

Image Credits: Amazon

The program’s launch follows increased scrutiny over Amazon’s anti-competitive business practices in the U.S. and abroad when it comes to using consumers’ purchase data.

Amazon came under fire from U.S. regulators over how it had leveraged third-party merchants’ sales data to benefit its own private label business. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified before Congress in July, he said the company had a policy against doing this, but couldn’t confirm that policy hadn’t been violated. The retailer may also be facing antitrust charges over the practice in the E.U..

At the same time, Amazon has been increasing its investment in its advertising business, which grew by 44% year-over-year in Q1 to reach $3.91 billion. That was a  faster growth rate than both Google (13%) and Facebook (17%), even if tiny by comparison — Google ads made $28 billion that quarter and Facebook made $17.4 billion, Digiday reported.

As the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce by 5 years or so, Amazon’s need to better optimize advertising space has also been sped up — and it may rapidly need to ingest more data that what it can collect directly from its own website.

In a message to advertisers about the program’s launch, Amazon positioned its e-commerce business as a small piece of the overall retail market — a point it often makes in hopes of avoiding regulation:

“In this incredibly competitive retail environment, Amazon works with brands of all sizes to help them grow their businesses not just in our store, but also across the myriad of places customers shop. We also work hard to provide our selling partners—and small businesses in particular—with tools, insights, and data to help them be successful in our store. But our store is just one piece of the puzzle. Customers routinely use Amazon to discover and learn about products before purchasing them elsewhere. In fact, Amazon only represents 4% of US retail sales. Brands therefore often look to third-party consumer panel and business intelligence firms like Nielsen and NPD, and many segment-specific data providers, for additional information. Such opt-in consumer panels are well-established and used by many companies to gather consumer feedback and shopping insights. These firms aggregate shopping behaviors across stores to report data like average sales price, total units sold, and revenue on tens of thousands of the most popular products.”

The retailer then explained that the Shopper Panel could help it to support sellers and brands by offering additional insights beyond its own store.

Amazon doesn’t say when the program waitlist will be removed, but says anyone can sign up starting today.

#advertising, #amazon, #amazon-com, #business-intelligence, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retailers, #united-states, #whole-foods


Perch raises $123.5M to grow its stable of D2C brands that sell on Amazon

While Amazon gradually builds out its own-branded line of products, third-party sellers continue to account for a significant part of the transaction volume and growth on its marketplace — by one estimate, accounting for $200 billion of the $335 billion in gross merchandise value sold on Amazon in 2019. Today, in a twist on the economies of scale that has propelled much of Amazon’s growth, a Boston startup that has built a tech platform that it uses both to buy up and then run D2C brands sold on Amazon is announcing a major round of growth funding to expand its business.

Perch, which acquires D2C businesses and products that are already selling on Amazon, and then continues to operate and grow those operations, has raised $123.5 million in funding.

Perch plans to use the capital mainly to continue acquiring D2C businesses, as well as to build out its team and invest in its platform, “but we are profitable so we plan to use cashflows from the business to build the team and the funding toward acquiring additional winning brands and products,” said Chris Bell, Perch’s CEO and founder, in an interview over email.

The company currently counts women’s athleisure brand Satina, kitchenware from Flathead and Aulett and others, health and personal care brands among its stable of companies. There are just 10 on the platform today, and the funding is coming on the back of success so far, as well as ambitious plans to grow that to 50 by the end of 2021, and eventually hundreds or thousands of brands.

And before you think that this is just about running a lot of smaller businesses together, Bell adds that “technology is the most important part of our model.”

Some 40% of the startup’s team works on its platform, which is used to onboard “eventually thousands of brands at scale in an e-commerce-native environment.” The platform is used to help run analytics on sales, determine pricing and ad strategy, and inventory positioning and other marketing decisions. Longer term it will also be used to help figure out how to sell and balance products on social and retail channels (while ultimately selling through Amazon, for now).

The funding — which brings the total raised by Perch to over $130 million — is being led by Spark Capital, with previous backer Tectonic Ventures and new investor Boston Seed also participating. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

Amazon has grown in part on the principle of economies of scale, both in terms of procurement as well as in distribution. Both in the case of physical or digital goods, small margins on sales of a huge array of products adds up to strong returns; and the same goes for working out the costs for operating a logistics and distribution network.

Perch has essentially picked up on that idea and is developing its own take on it around the D2C model.

Direct-to-consumer businesses have been one of the big stories in e-commerce in the last decade: companies are leveraging the internet and newer innovations in manufacturing to build their own products and brands that they sell direct to customers, bypassing traditional retail chains, with some like Everlane, Warby Parker and Third Love finding huge success in the process.

But while a lot of those sales have focused around D2C companies developing their own sites or via social media, a very large proportion of the smaller players are also selling through marketplaces — and specifically Amazon’s marketplace.

As a larger category, they are growing fast — up 50% year-on-year in 2020, with some 86% of third-party sellers profitable.

But on an individual basis, most of them don’t necessarily have a strategy for how they will scale or exit the business eventually, so the opportunity here is to bring a number of these more promising smaller D2C brands into a bigger operation — the idea being to bring more economies of scale both to manufacturing those products as well as to collectively distributing them over Amazon.

“We typically do not retain the entrepreneurs or founders beyond a transition period, though we are open-minded if there is the right fit, though they are often excited to take some time off or start their next adventure,” said Bell. “For staff or contractors who work with the founder on the brand, we have a discussion with the founder and those individuals throughout the process and depending on need or mutual discussion we have retained some of those relationships.”

It’s Perch’s own realization of how to expand the economies of scale for D2C that has attracted investors here.

“The Perch team has the M&A, eCommerce, and Amazon experience to understand what makes a quality and scalable consumer product and take those products to the next level post-acquisition,” said Alex Finkelstein, General Partner, Spark Capital, in a statement. “We are beyond excited to lead this round. Perch is already off to an exceptionally strong start. Given the booming eCommerce market, I expect we will continue to see record numbers and additional acquisitions this year.”

Bell added that while any company can approach it to get acquired, it has a relatively strict set of criteria for what it would seriously consider.

“We look for winning products and brands,” he said. “What that means is the products need to have a proven track record of product-market fit, as evidenced through at least 18-24 months of profitable sales, great customer reviews, low return rate, no evidence of consistent product quality issues, and a trademarked brand that is recognized and enforced by their channel partners / marketplaces.”

There have been a number of companies that are trying to muscle in on Amazon’s supremacy in online retail markplaces in the US — including the likes of Walmart and Alibaba — but for now Amazon continues to be the main game in town, Bell said. (And no surprise there: one estimate in 2018 was that it was hovering at 49% marketshare in e-commerce in the U.S.)

“Amazon has created the leading third-party seller marketplace in a really differentiated way,” he said. “Not only do they have the most consumers visiting every day, but they also have the most maturity around technical integrations, brand protections, and a best-in-class fulfillment operation.”

He added that “Walmart is making good strides in terms of developing their seller services and technical integrations, and their announcement that they will be offering fulfillment for 3rd party merchants will help considerably. I expect they will continue to gain share, but they have a really long way to go to catch up with both consumers and marketplace sellers.” In terms of others, he also noted that “Google appears to be investing in their marketplace, but we haven’t seen as much traction there. Without an integrated fulfillment option, many sellers would prefer to use their Google ad dollars to send consumers to their own page to transact rather than through Google’s marketplace. Facebook/Instagram stores have promise but still very nascent.”

Interestingly, the Perch proposition provides a very different alternative to the e-commerce landscape that others see. Some like Shogun have built their business on premise that the only way foward is to move away from a reliance on third-party marketplaces like those of Amazon, Perch has doubled down on it, seemingly confident that it’s here to stay. And indeed, the bigger that Perch grows, the more likely it is that the bulked-up company has a chance of having some negotiating power of its own.

“We have some sales through standalone brand sites, but the vast majority of our focus is on the marketplace and we expect that to continue for the immediate future,” said Bell.

#ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #perch, #recent-funding, #tc


ShopUp raises $22.5 million to digitize millions of mom-and-pop shops in Bangladesh

A startup that is aiming to digitize millions of neighborhood stores in Bangladesh just raised the country’s largest Series A financing round.

Dhaka-headquartered ShopUp said on Tuesday it has raised $22.5 million in a round co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures. For both the venture firms, this is the first time they are backing a Bangladeshi startup. Veon Ventures, Speedinvest, and Lonsdale Capital also participated in the four-year-old ShopUp’s Series A financing round. ShopUp has raised about $28 million to date.

Like its neighboring nation, India, more than 95% of all retail in Bangladesh goes through neighborhood stores in the country. There are about 4.5 million such mom-and-pop stores in the country and the vast majority of them have no digital presence.

ShopUp is attempting to change that. It has built what it calls a full-stack business-to-business commerce platform. It provides three core services to neighborhood stores: a wholesale marketplace to secure inventory, logistics (including last mile delivery to customers), and working capital, explained Afeef Zaman, co-founder and chief executive of ShopUp​, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Image Credits: ShopUp

These small shops are facing a number of challenges. They are not getting inventory on time or enough inventory and they are paying more than what they should, said Zaman. And for these businesses, more than 73% (PDF) of all their sales rely on credit instead of cash or digital payments, creating a massive liquidity crunch. So most of these businesses are in dire need of working capital.

Zaman declined to reveal how many mom-and-pop shops today use ShopUp, but claimed that the platform assumes a clear lead in its category in the country. That lead has widened amid the global pandemic as more physical shops explore digital offerings to stay afloat, he said.

The number of neighborhood shops transacting weekly on the ShopUp platform grew by 8.5 times between April and August this year, he said. The pandemic also helped ShopUp engage with e-commerce players to deliver items for them.

“Sequoia India has been a strong supporter of the company since it was part of the first Surge cohort in early 2019 and it’s been exciting to see the company become a trailblazer facilitating digital transformation in Bangladesh,” said ​Klaus Wang, VP, Sequoia Capital, in a statement.

The startup has no intention to become an e-commerce platform like Amazon that directly engages with consumers, Zaman said. E-commerce is still in its nascent stage in Bangladesh. Amazon has yet to enter the country and increasingly Facebook is filling that role.

ShopUp sees immense opportunity in serving neighborhood stores, he said. The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to deepen its partnerships with manufacturers and expand its tech infrastructure.

It opened an office in Bengaluru earlier this year to hire local tech talent in the nation. Indian e-commerce platform Voonik merged with ShopUp this year and both of its co-founders have joined the Bangladeshi startup. Zaman said the startup will hire more engineering talent in India.

#asia, #bangladesh, #ecommerce, #flourish-ventures, #funding, #sequoia-capital-india, #speedinvest


Small business payments and marketing startup Fivestars raises $52.5M

It’s a difficult time for small businesses — to put it mildly. And Fivestars CEO Victor Ho said that many of the big digital platforms aren’t really helping.

Ho argued that those platforms — whether they offer delivery services, user reviews or marketing tools — all have the same underlying model: “They seek to take over a small business’ customer base and then charge them a tax to start reaching those customers.”

Superficially, a company like Fivestars, which has created software to support small business payments and marketing, might not sound that different.

But Ho said that the startup actually takes the “opposite” approach, because Fivestars isn’t trying to build up a big “walled garden” of its own customers that businesses pay to access. Instead, businesses pay for the software, which they use to build a database of their own customers; they don’t have to pay to reach those customers.

“The incentives are more aligned,” he said.


Image Credits: Fivestars

The Fivestars platform includes its own payment product, integration with other point-of-sale systems, marketing automation that delivers personalized messages to customers and a broader network of 60 million shoppers, allowing for cross-promotion across different Fivestars businesses.

The startup is announcing today that it has raised $52.5 million in new funding, combining a Series D equity round as well as debt and bringing its total funding to $145.5 million. The round was led by Salt Partners, with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners, DCM Ventures, Menlo Ventures and HarbourVest Partners.

Ho said Fivestars actually closed the round before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the team decided to hold off on the announcement because it seemed like a bad idea to “flaunt” the company’s bank account when so many of its customers were suffering.

The company has seen “record usage” during the pandemic, with 1 million new shoppers joining the network every month. At the same time, Ho acknowledged that the pandemic has caused the company to shift its strategy. Originally, the goal for the funding was “just to keep growing our portfolio of merchants across our existing products,” but Ho said, “What changed pretty dramatically through this period for us was emphasizing the payments piece and the network” and focusing on “what small businesses need more than ever.”

He also noted that during the pandemic, the company has provided customers with more than $1 million worth of credits and also made more of its products free to use.

“It’s very clear that small businesses are incredibly resilient,” Ho added. “Particularly when it comes to the category of experiences — you’re not going to take your wife on a date to Pizza Hut, when you go to Paris, you’re not going to go to a generic chains.”

In the funding announcement, Natasha Teague of Ft Lauderdale health food store Tropibowls described the Fivestars platform as “a huge help.”

“The value of being able to communicate with our customers and share updates in real-time has been immeasurable,” Teague said in a statement. “The power of Fivestars’ expansive network and payment tech has made our reopening process seamless and a lifesaver as we navigate new needs as a result of the pandemic.”

#advertising-tech, #ecommerce, #fivestars, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups


France and the Netherlands signal support for EU body to clip the wings of big tech

The French and Dutch governments have signalled support for EU rules that can proactively intervene against so-called gatekeepers, aka “structuring platforms” or “large digital platforms with significant network effects acting as gatekeepers” — or, more colloquially, ‘big tech’.

They have also called for a single European body with enforcement powers over such platforms — and the ability to audit their algorithms.

Pre-emptive action should intervene prior to the stage where damage becomes irreversible,” French digital minister, Cederic O, and Mona Keijzer, the secretary of state for economic affairs for the Netherlands, write in a joint position paper where they also argue that: “Intervention is justified when the asymmetric bargaining power of structuring platforms leads to negative consequences.”

The two ministers went further in accompanying remarks to the press, with the Financial Times reporting that their support for intervention against big tech’s market muscle includes keeping the option of breaking up companies “on the table” — although their stated preference is for rules that prevent such an “ultimate” step being necessary.

The intervention by two high profile EU Member States comes as the European Commission is working on a major package of pan-EU legislation to update the bloc’s ecommerce rules — including devising a new regime of ex ante rules for so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms. 

In recent months press reports have suggested EU lawmakers are considering forcing such platforms to share data with smaller rivals and/or limiting how they can make use of data — such as via strict purpose limitation.

They are also reportedly considering rules to ban self-preferencing and apply conditions on bundling, as well as requiring annual audits of ad metrics and reporting practices.

Although the package remains at the draft stage for now, with the Commission saying only that it’s committed to introduce the Digital Services Act (DSA) by the end of this year.

Commission lawmakers are also eyeing expanded powers for competition regulators to proactively tackle the network effects that can apply in digital markets — and have, in recent weeks, been consulting on a new competition tool for this purpose. 

The French-Dutch intervention thus sends a strong signal of support to the Commission for regulating big tech — and a warning shot against watering down policy measures.

Competition chief and Commission EVP, Margrethe Vestager, who is one of the key lawmakers drafting the DSA, has previously cautioned against breaking up tech giants as a solution to competitive imbalances in digital markets — calling instead for a finer grained regulatory framework which regulates their access to data.

Such an approach would be akin to a structural separation, without the huge legal challenge involved in actually breaking up businesses, is the thinking.

The French-Dutch position paper reflects back many of the ideas the Commission is actively considering, per recent press leaks. So it may be intended to send a message that key Member States are on the same page.

The paper advocates for intervention to apply to platforms that have “considerable market power” in at least one market, while warning against imposing “unnecessary obligations” to platforms without any gatekeeper position.

It also suggests a “platform-by-platform approach” by regulators to determine whether or not a platform is a gatekeeper or not, noting: “It is important to stress that classical methods of market definition cannot always be used effectively in digital markets.”

Platform-specific factors such as the characteristics of the service and the behaviour of users should factor into the analysis of whether it holds a structural position, they also suggest — before again hitting a cautious note and urging that “a right balance” be struck between a platform-specific analysis and “the need for a reasonable level a legal certainty”.

Interventions should also be ‘case-by-case, flexible and proportionate’ in their view — with the pair suggesting regulatory authorities be empowered to “impose tailor-made remedies to a structuring platform”.

“Proportionate intervention is needed to preserve the benefits of platforms whilst enhancing competition. Too heavy-handed an intervention would hamper innovation,” they warn.

They also voice support for gatekeepers to be subject to a set of “principle-based obligations and prohibited practices” — and recent press reports have also suggested EU lawmakers are considering a laundry list of obligations and conditions on gatekeepers.

“The full set of behavioural obligations could be widened to the whole ecosystem of the platform to tackle the risks stemming from its gatekeeper position on a number of neighbouring markets (leveraging). Also, it could be adjusted over time, in light of the evolution of the business environment. The measures could be either eased or tightened depending on the actual evolution of these conditions,” they further suggest.

Among the “possible behavioral measures” listed in the position paper are beefing up the right to portability (which EU users’ already enjoy under the GDPR); rules to ensure fair contracts (and unfair contract clauses have already attracted EU antitrust enforcement action in the case of, for example, Google Android); a ban on what they describe as “disruptive” self-preferencing; and a stop on platforms yanking third party access (e.g. to APIs or data) — “without objective justification” (the EU has already agreed on some fairness and transparency rules for general ecommerce).

The position paper also voices support for access obligations — such as obligations to share data; provide interoperability; and/or proactively offer alternatives to users — as a potential intervention to ensure market openness, while cautioning of the need to properly investigate ‘pros and cons’ before such enforcement.

On sanctions for infringements, the French and Dutch ministers urge “significant enough” penalties that platforms are effectively deterred from breaking rules, i.e. rather than being able to factor them in as a line of business cost (as now).

The level of these fines or other sanctions should be significant enough to ensure the effectiveness of the rules at stake by deterring the platform from breaking them. The requirement of an efficient and deterrent mechanism of sanctions is all the more important here since any breach of the rules would be likely to induce serious and irreversible harm,” they write. 

On enforcement, the paper calls for a single “European body” outfitted with “proper tools” — including “broad investigation, audit and monitoring powers, and the ability to audit algorithms” — to be entrusted with enforcing the new regulations. 

That would mark a step-change from the EU’s data protection framework (GDPR), where responsibility for enforcement is decentralized to a patchwork of under-resourced local/national data protection agencies. Critics maintain the pace of GDPR enforcement in complex, cross-border cases against big tech is too slow to be effective. A two-year review of the regulation by the Commission this summer also found a general lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement.

That stands as a warning signal to EU lawmakers shaping the next generation of digital regulations that very careful attention needs to be paid to ensuring effective enforcement.

#ecommerce, #europe, #policy, #social


Alibaba-affiliated marketplace to leave Taiwan, again

Separated by a strait, the internet in Taiwan and mainland China are two different worlds. Even mainland tech giants Alibaba and Tencent have had little success entering the island, often running into regulatory hurdles.

Less than a year after Taobao launched on the island through an Alibaba-backed joint venture, the marketplace announced it will cease operations by the end of this year, the platform said in a notice to customers on Thursday.

The decision came two months after the Investment Commission under Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs ruled that Taobao Taiwan is a Chinese-controlled company and required the firm to either leave or re-register under a different corporate structure. Under Taiwanese law, Chinese investors must obtain permission from the government to directly or indirectly acquire a stake of more than 30% in any Taiwanese company.

Taobao Taiwan is owned and operated by British-registered Claddagh Venture Investment, which is 28.77% owned by Alibaba. Nonetheless, the investment regulator ruled that the one with de facto control over Taobao Taiwan is Alibaba, which has “veto power” over Claddagh’s board decisions.

The app is currently the most downloaded shopping app in the Taiwanese Google Play store, according to app tracking firm App Annie. Unexpectedly, the Chinese edition of Taobao comes in sixth in the iOS shopping category, where Shopee tops.

Taobao Taiwan is separate from Alibaba’s main marketplaces, which last boast 874 million mobile monthly users. Most of Alibaba’s shoppers are in mainland China, though customers in Hong Kong and Taiwan have long been able to shop on the Chinese Taobao app and have the goods imported to them with extra fees.

Taobao Taiwan, on the other hand, established to attract local vendors in a market of around 24 million people, competing with popular alternatives like Singapore-headquartered Shopee and the indigenous PChome 24.

This isn’t the first time Taobao has been hit by local law. In 2015, the authority ordered Taobao Taiwan, at the time set up by a Hong Kong entity of Alibaba, to leave because of its Chinese association. Even Shopee wasn’t exempt and was under investigation in 2017 for Tencent owned around 40% of its parent company Sea.

“We respect the decision by Claddagh,” an Alibaba representative said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Alibaba businesses are operating as normal in the Taiwan market, and we will continue to serve local consumers with quality products through our Taobao app.”

It’s unclear how Claddagh came to decide on its retreat rather than restructuring the joint venture. The firm has not responded to TechCrunch’s request for comment.

#alibaba, #asia, #ecommerce, #government, #taiwan, #taobao


Google Analytics update uses machine learning to surface more critical customer data

If you ever doubted the hunger brands have for more and better information about consumers, you only need to look at Twilio buying customer data startup Segment this week for $3.2 billion. Google sees this the same thing as everyone else, and today it introduced updates to Google Analytics to help companies understand their customers better (especially in conjunction with related Google tools).

Vidhya Srinivasan vice president of measurement, analytics and buying platforms at Google wrote in a company blog post introducing the new features that the company sees this changing customer-brand dynamic due to COVID, and it wants to assist by adding new features that help marketers achieve their goals, whatever those may be.

One way to achieve this is by infusing Analytics with machine learning to help highlight data automatically that’s important to marketers using the platform. “[Google Analytics] has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms,” Srinivasan wrote in the blog post.

The idea behind the update is to give marketers access to more information they care about most by using that machine learning to surface data like which groups of customers are most likely to buy and which are most likely to churn, the very types of information marketing (and sales) teams need to try make proactive moves to keep customers from leaving or conversely turning those ready to buy into sales.

Google_Analytics_predictive_metric predict churn and most likely to convert to sales.

Image Credits: Google

If it works as described, it can give marketers a way to measure their performance with each customer or group of customers across their entire lifecycle, which is especially important during COVID when customer needs are constantly changing.

Of course, this being a Google product it’s designed to play nicely with Google Ads, YouTube and other tools like GMail and Google Search along with non-Google channels. As Srinivasan wrote:

The new approach also makes it possible to address longtime advertiser requests. Because the new Analytics can measure app and web interactions together, it can include conversions from YouTube engaged views that occur in-app and on the web in reports. Seeing conversions from YouTube video views alongside conversions from Google and non-Google paid channels, and organic channels like Google Search, social, and email, helps you understand the combined impact of all your marketing efforts.

The company is also trying to future proof analytics with an eye toward stricter privacy laws like GDPR in Europe or CCPA in California by using modeling to fill in gaps in information when you can’t use cookies or other tracking software.

All of this is designed to help marketers, caught in trying times with a shifting regulatory landscape to better understand customer needs and deliver them what they want when they want it — when they’re just trying to keep the customers satisfied.

#advertising-tech, #ecommerce


Quince launches out of beta with new ‘manufacturer-to-customer’ model

The retail landscape is shifting rapidly. While D2C brands have changed the way we shop, Quince is looking to change retail even more dramatically.

The brand, which raised $8.5 million in seed funding last year (and only revealed as much today), is looking to rethink the supply chain with its own line of 700 items including men’s and women’s apparel, accessories, jewelry and home goods.

After beta testing for a year as ‘Last Brand,’ Quince is launching with a new model called ‘M2C,’ or manufacturer to consumer.

The idea is that Quince goes directly to factories with designs for essentials — not overly patterned or branded items — with an order that can dynamically adjust each week based on demand. As orders start coming in, Quince can work alongside manufacturers to ensure they aren’t over or under producing on a specific SKU. The factory then ships directly to the customer, rather than shipping to a distribution center or store and then again to the final destination.

You might think that factories wouldn’t be as amenable to this model, as they have little to lose when a brand overestimates demand for a SKU and doesn’t sell it through to the customer. But cofounder and CEO Sid Gupta says that this new model is being presented at a pivotal time in retail. Bigger brands, the ones that place orders for 100,000 units, are struggling during the pandemic and shrinking their SKU portfolio.

This leaves the factories with two options: turning to D2C brands or selling through a marketplace like Amazon.

“D2C demand is really fragmented, and most b2c companies are really sub-scale,” said Gupta. “It’s hard to get the efficiency gains out of it. The issue with selling on a marketplace, like Amazon, is you’ve got to compete with hundreds, if not thousands, of other sellers for the same exact good. If you’re a factory that actually makes high quality goods, and you pay your workers fairly, and you don’t damage the environment, your cost might be 3% or 5%, higher.”

He added that it’s difficult for a factory to have those factors shine through to the customer on Amazon, and more difficult still to learn how to play the advertising game.

This environment has made manufacturers slightly more open to a new way of doing things.

By working directly with factories, Quince says it’s able to bring the cost of luxury items down significantly, selling a cashmere sweater for approximately $50 instead of $150+, as you’ll often find with other brands. Quince works with more than 30 different factories across the world.

Cofounder and CEO Sid Gupta says the company has also thought very deeply about sustainability, setting standards around the materials used (are they organic or recycled?), the manufacturing process (is it ecologically sound?), worker pay, and more. The company is also looking into giveback programs to share in the profits with the factories and the workers.

The funding from last fall has allowed Quince to beta test last year and grow the team to 16, including cofounders Becky Mortimer and Sourabh Mahajan. Thirty-five percent of employees are female, and 65 percent of employees are minorities.

The company’s investors include Founders Fund, 8VC and Basis Set Ventures.

#ecommerce, #quince, #startups, #tc


Thailand’s logistics startup Flash Express raises $200 million

Flash Express, a two-year-old logistics startup that works with e-commerce firms in Thailand, said on Monday it has raised $200 million in a new financing round as it looks to double down on a rapidly growing market spurred by demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding, a Series D, was led by PTT Oil and Retail Business Public Company Limited, the marquee oil and retail businesses of Thai conglomerate PTT. Durbell and Krungsri Finnovate, two other top conglomerates in the Southeast Asian country, also participated in the round, which brings Flash Express’ to-date raise to about $400 million.

Flash Express, which operates door-to-door pickup and delivery service, claims to be the second largest private player to operate in this space. The startup, which also counts Alibaba as an investor, entered the market with delivery fees as low as 60 cents per parcel, a move that allowed it to quickly win a significant market share.

The startup has also expanded aggressively in the past year. Flash Express had about 1,100 delivery points during this time last year. Now it has over 5,000, exceeding those of 138-year-old Thailand Post.

Flash Express currently delivers more than 1 million parcels a day, up from about 50,000 during the same time last year. The startup says it has also invested heavily in technology that has enabled it to handle over 100,000 parcels in a minute by fully automated sorting systems.

Komsan Lee, CEO of Flash Express, said the startup plans to deploy the fresh funds to introduce new services and expand to other Southeast Asian markets (names of which he did not identify). “We are also prepared to create and develop new technologies to achieve even greater delivery and logistics efficiency. More importantly we intend to assist SMEs in lowering their investment costs which we believe will provide long-term benefit for the overall Thai economy in the digital era,” he said.

Retail Business Public Company Limited plans to leverage Flash Express’ logistics network as it looks to meet the rising demand from consumers, said Rajsuda Rangsiyakull, Senior Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy, Innovation and Sustainability at Retail Business Public Company Limited.

Flash Express competes with Best Express — which, like Flash, is also backed by Alibaba — and Kerry Express, which filed for an initial public offering in late August.

Even as online shopping and delivery has accelerated in recent months, some estimates suggest that the overall logistics market in Thailand will see its first contraction in the history this year. Chumpol Saichuer, president of the Thai Transportation and Logistics Association, said last month Thailand’s logistics business has already been hit hard by the slowing global economy.

#alibaba, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #funding, #logistics, #thailand


Millennial Media’s Paul Palmieri launches Tradeswell, a startup promising to fix e-commerce margins

A new startup called Tradeswell said it’s using artificial intelligence to help direct-to-consumer and e-commerce brands build healthier businesses.

The company is led by Paul Palmieri, who previously took mobile advertising company Millennial Media public and then sold it to TechCrunch’s corporate parent AOL (now Verizon Media). Afterwards, Palmieri founded Grit Capital Partners, but he told me he decided to join Tradeswell as a co-founder and CEO because he was so excited about the vision.

Palmieri said that just as Millennial helped independent app developers get smarter about advertising, Tradeswell gives upstart e-commerce companies the data they need to compete with “the big platform behemoths.”

It’s no secret that a number of direct-to-consumer companies have struggled to make a profit due to challenging unit economics. Palmieri suggested that one reason for this is the fragmentation of their tools and data.

“If you’re selling something like Campbell’s Soup, you want to figure out, how is your tomato soup business and your chicken soup business?” Palmieri said. “Today, brands are saying, ‘How’s my Amazon business? How’s my Shopify business? How’s my Shopify business on Instagram?’”

So rather than relying on those platforms for data, Palmieri suggested brands want an indpendent platform that they trust to bring everything together, “where it’s a combination of a Bloomberg terminal plus a trading platform.”

Tradeswell’s AI focuses in six key areas of an e-commerce business: marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials. Palmieri suggested that in some cases (like ad-buying), Tradeswell will replace existing software, while in other cases it will integrate.

“Think of us as a neural AI layer, where [a brand] might have different platform relationships, which are the fingers, and we’re the AI brain,” he said. “We’re giving brands insights and forecasts: If you make this change, we anticipate XYZ will happen.”

In some cases, like the aforementioned advertising, Tradeswell can also support full automation, so that merchants don’t have to worry about “setting up and tearing down hundreds of campaigns.”

The key, Palmieri said, is that the platform has access to the business’ full financials, so it can optimize for net margins, rather than simply driving the most impressions or clicks or sales.

While Tradeswell is only coming out of stealth mode today, it’s already been working more than 100 brands. For example, Steve Tracy of Red Monkey Foods and San Francisco Salt Company said in a statement that the startup’s “unique, comprehensive, algorithmic approach has helped us grow sales, identify commercialization opportunities and forecast far more accurately.”

#ecommerce, #paul-palmieri, #startups, #tradeswell


Delivery startup goPuff raises $380M at a $3.9B valuation

GoPuff is a Philadelphia-headquartered startup that delivers products like over-the-counter medicine, baby food and alcohol (basically, the stuff you’d buy at a convenience store) in 30 minutes or less.

Yakir Gola, who serves as co-CEO with his co-founder Rafael Ilishayev, told me that their goal is to create “the go-to platform for over-the-counter medicine or household products or baby food or ice cream or even alcohol — goPuff will deliver all these products in under 30 minutes, 24/7.”

While the startup has kept a relatively low profile in the media, it’s already available in more than 500 U.S. cities (recent launches include Dallas, Miami, Detroit, Minneapolis and Houston). And it’s raised $1.35 billion in total funding, including a just-announced $380 million round that values the company at $3.9 billion.

The new round was led by Accel and D1 Capital Partners, with participation from Luxor Capital and Softbank Vision Fund. (Accel and Softbank were both invested previously as well.)

“Accel first invested in goPuff in 2018 because of the team’s visionary approach to on-demand delivery and its commitment to building the infrastructure needed to create its unique, vertically integrated model,” said Accel partner Ryan Sweeney in a statement. “Because of goPuff’s focused approach, they have consistently delivered some of the best unit economics we’ve seen, while growing nationwide. We’re thrilled to remain a committed partner to Yakir, Rafael and the rest of the goPuff team on their journey.


Image Credits: goPuff

Gola said that he and Ilishayev created the company in 2013 when they were attending Drexel University together and thought, “There has to be a better way to get convenience products delivered.”

Despite the company’s impressive war chest, Gola said goPuff has had “a huge focus on fiscal responsibility” from the start. At first, the founders were the ones making the deliveries, and they funded their initial expansion with cashflow and profits.

“What was important for us from day one was to start a business that makes money, that has real margins,” he said.

To achieve that, Gola touted the startup’s “vertically integrated model,” where it buys products directly from manufacturers, then gets those products to consumers through a network of 200 “micro-fulfillment” centers (staffed with goPuff employees) and a network of independent drivers.

Besides meaning that goPuff “makes money off the products we sell” (rather than simply charging a fee on deliveries), Gola said this model allows the company to mix products from national and local brands, and it’s “constantly introducing new products and discontinuing things that don’t sell.”

As you’d expect, demand increased significantly during the pandemic, but Gola said the company also made sure to provide protective equipment to all its employees and drivers, and it created an emergency fund to provide financial assistance for any of them who got sick.

In addition to the funding, goPuff is announcing that it has hired former Lowe’s CMO Jocelyn Wong as its first chief customer officer, former Uber global head of fintech and U.S. business development Jonathan DiOrio as its first chief business officer and former TripAdvisor engineering executive Rekha Singh as vice president of engineering.

Looking ahead, as companies like Amazon and Uber are also looking to deliver more and more products in less and less time, Gola said goPuff will continue to differentiate itself in a few key ways.

“There’s nothing like goPuff, so we had to build everything from scratch,” he said. “Whether it’s our location-based inventory system or many things related to our technology, that’s all ours. And then when you talk about differentiation from the customer side, we control the inventory and can make sure that the customers get exactly what they ordered. That focus on our customer is how we’re going to win long-term, and it’s how we got to the point of where we are today.”

#accel, #d1-capital-partners, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #tc


DoorDash introduces a new corporate product, DoorDash for Work

Delivery service DoorDash is giving employers a way to feed their remote employees through a new suite of products called DoorDash for Work.

There are four main products, starting with DashPass for Work, where employers can fund employee memberships to DashPass, a program that eliminates delivery fees on orders from thousands of restaurants. In fact, DoorDash says it already worked with Mt. Sinai to offer free DashPass subscriptions to 42,000 healthcare employees, and that other DashPass for Work customers include Charles Schwab, Hulu and Stanford Research Park.

DoorDash for Work also includes the ability for employers to provide credits for meal orders — there are options for day and time restrictions, so employers can be sure they’re paying for food while someone is working. For teams that are working in-person, there’s the ability to combine individual meal orders into a larger group order. And the service also includes employee gift cards (Zoom, for example, is providing these on employee birthdays).

In a blog post, Broderick McClinton, the head of DoorDash for Work, noted that COVID-19 has had “a profound impact on our daily routines, including the way we eat.”

“Instead of meeting our favorite barista on the way into the office or socializing with our colleagues in the lunch room, we’re spending a lot more time in the kitchen and eating solo at home, missing out on those moments to engage with peers and support our favorite restaurants,” McClinton wrote. “In this new normal, companies are adapting and looking for ways to support their employees’ wellbeing and productivity through new work-from-home corporate wellness benefits, including food perks.

While free food might seem relatively low on the list of priorities during the pandemic (at least for those of us who have been fortunate enough to keep our jobs), DoorDash says it conducted a survey of 1,000 working Americans last month and found that 90% of them said they miss at least one food-related benefit from the office.

So DoorDash for Work is designed to help employers continue offering benefits in this area, and also it opens up a new source of revenue for DoorDash.


#doordash, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #food, #startups


Shogun raises $35M to help brands take on Amazon with faster and better sites of their own

E-commerce has boomed this year, with more businesses and shoppers than ever before turning to websites and apps as a safer, socially distanced alternative during the current global health pandemic. Today, a startup that has built a platform to help individual companies and brands design better websites is announcing a round of growth funding to help them step up to that challenge with faster and better designed interfaces.

Shogun, which lets companies build sites that sit on top of e-commerce back-ends like Shopify, Big Commerce or Magento to let them sell goods and services is today announcing that it has raised $35 million in funding after seeing its business growth 182% over the last year, with 15,000 companies — including Leesa, MVMT, Timbuk2 and Chubbies, as well as household Fortune 500 brands that it declines to name — now using Shogun’s tools, up 5,000 in the last eight months.

Finbarr Taylor, the CEO who co-founded the company with Nick Raushenbush, said that the startup plans to use the company to continue enhancing its two main products — Page Builder for bigger companies and agencies; and frontend, a headless commerce solution for smaller businesses — and to help improve its market strategy.

To date, much of the company’s growth has been organic, with a marketing team of two, and also only two sales people. “So it will be about scaling up those teams as well as our engineer and design and product teams, to deliver on the promises we made to our customers.”

The Series B is being led by Accel with participation from Initialized Capital, VMG Partners, and Y Combinator, and it also has a number of high-profile individuals in the round that speak to Shogun’s credibility in the worlds of e-commerce and web design, including Bryant Chou (CTO at Webflow), Mark Lavelle and Mark Lenhard (former CEO and SVP of Strategy at Magento, respectively), Alex O’Byrne (CEO of We Make Websites, a leading Shopify agency), Brian Grady (CEO of Gorilla Group, a leading Magento agency), and Romain Lapeyre (CEO of Gorgias).

Growth is one marker of how hot the market is for what Shogun is offering — in addition to Shogun’s own expanding list of users, it’s estimated by the company that there has been some $94 billion in extra sales online (beyond original projections, that is) since March globally — and another is the funding itself.

This the second round that the startup has raised in the short span of eight months: Shogun closed a $10 million Series A in February of this year led by Initialized (with participation also from YC and VMG).

And a third marker is the valuation. Taylor said that the company is valued in the “solid nine figures” but declined to say where in the regions of hundreds of millions of dollars that might be. For some context, the company was valued at $50 million in February, according to data from PitchBook.

Shogun’s news comes at a key moment in the world of e-commerce not just in terms of the wider macroeconomic trends, but in terms of who is making the wheels move. Amazon and other marketplaces have come to dominate how a lot of people are shopping online: after all, they offer one-stop shops for whatever you might want or need, free shipping, and a familiar interface. Similarly, social media platforms have made a play as a new kind of “store” of sorts, a place where brands already are interacting with would-be customers, and are now being given the tools to sell to them there as well.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story: brands and companies want to have their own space to present things how they want them to look, to better control the customer experience, and to make sure that they are not beholden to a third party (both physically and financially) for their online survival.

Yes, some consumers might only care about where they can get what they want for the cheapest price, but others know exactly what they want, or feel loyal to a specific company, and want to shop there without the rest of the noise, and there will always be a business opportunity in building stores for them, too.

And the predictability of the interface of a marketplace like Amazon, or a “shoppable” photo on Instagram, belies how frustratingly oblique it can also be at times. I don’t want to see 15 different Danish whisks at slightly different prices; I just want one that will arrive in one piece and not break after a month of use, leading me down a rabbit hole trying to find someone to provide a refund. Similarly, I may want to buy from a brand, but perhaps not the particular item that they’re serving me in a Story.

Shogun’s proposition to the companies it works with is to give them more choice and better speed after they have already made the decision to build their own “real estate” online using backends like Shopify’s.

The opportunity is that, even if an e-commerce business is seen as a “tech” play, that is not often its core competency.

“Merchants large and small are getting sick of maintaining their own tech stacks,” said Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel. While the platforms are getting ever more sophisticated by moving into areas like shipping and logistics alongside payments and inventory ordering and so on, they have yet to extend into web design. “Shopify only has like 15 templates,” he said. “There is no design control and you look like 1 of one million other sites.” At the same time, if you have the funds and energy to build a custom site, he added, “that is expensive and it can take a whole day to change just a piece of text.”

The speed is an issue that Shogun has identified and fixed in another way: Taylor says that with site speed being the most important aspect of converting a browser to a buyer, it’s providing the fastest page loading times to customers.

As with so many startup stories, Taylor and Raushenbush nearly stumbled on their gap in the market by accident. The pair were working at Y Combinator — Taylor, an engineer originally from Glasgow in Scotland, had been devising tools for YC to help it manage the huge inbound volume of applications it was receiving for its incubator. (Sidenote: one offshoot of that was the Startup School that the company created to better address working with startups on a more regional level: Taylor built that.)

As a side project, he and Nick had come up with a page builder based on Ruby on Rails. It wasn’t getting much traction, but a friend of Nick’s, who worked for an e-commerce agency, said that if the two could tweak it for building e-commerce pages specifically, his agency would use it and even pay them. “So we did,” he said. That eventually took off with more customers and more use, prompting them to eventually move to the other side of the organization, becoming part of a YC cohort and eventually striking out on their own.

Looking ahead, one particular focus for Shogun, Taylor said, will be to build more tools to improve mobile commerce — notable for typically accounting for 80% of all e-commerce browsing but only some 20% of sales.

#design, #ecommerce, #recent-funding, #shogun, #startups, #tc, #websites


Big tech blows a collective raspberry at the House’s antitrust report

Big tech has responded to the mammoth antitrust report put out by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee yesterday with blanket denials there’s any monopolistic behaviour or competitive imbalances to see here.

Below is a quick run down of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’s rebuttals.

Among the committee’s (many) recommendations are structural separations and prohibitions on certain dominant platforms from operating in adjacent lines of business; interoperability and data portability requirements; non-discrimination requirements and a ban on self-preferencing; and beefed up merger and monopolization enforcement, as well as better administration of antitrust laws.


In a lengthy but punchy blog post the ecommerce giant brands the committee’s views on antitrust “fringe notions” and “regulatory spitballing” — lathering on dire predictions of doom for small business and hoards of inflated-price-enraged consumers should lawmakers deign to dabble in any “misguided interventions”.

Sample quote:

The flawed thinking would have the primary effect of forcing millions of independent retailers out of online stores, thereby depriving these small businesses of one of the fastest and most profitable ways available to reach customers. For consumers, the result would be less choice and higher prices. Far from enhancing competition, these uninformed notions would instead reduce it.

The substance of Amazon’s argument against the need for antitrust intervention is the top-line claim that retail is “thriving and extraordinarily competitive” — with the tech giant saying it accounts for a tiny fraction of global retail and isn’t even the largest US retailer by revenues (that’s Walmart). Among the grab-bag of competitors Amazon lists as evidence that it’s a mere retail minnow are Best Buy, Costco, Facebook, Kroger, Google Shopping, Home Depot, Shopify and Target. (It doesn’t mention Whole Foods because it already consumed that competitor.)

The strategy here is to claim online and offline retail are just one giant market — because of course if lawmakers slice by online retail alone there’s no denying Amazon’s oversized punch.

Another chunk of rebuttal is against what it claims is “false narrative” that its own interests don’t align with “the thousands of small and medium-sized businesses thriving as sellers in our store”.

“The opposite is true: Amazon and sellers complement each other, and together we create a better customer experience than either could create alone,” it pouts, before going on to say SME sales account for around 60% of all physical products sold on its marketplace, and that it “typically” makes the same or more revenue on third-party sales — rubbishing the idea there could possibly be any conflict of interest at all from Amazon also selling own brand rival products on the same marketplace where only Amazon gets an overview of merchants’ data.

NB: European regulators aren’t so convinced about the lack of competitive risks on dual-sided platforms.  


Asked for its response to the committee report, Apple sent us an on the record statement in which it writes that it “vehemently” disagrees with the conclusions reached — adding the beautiful kicker to the sentence “with respect to Apple”. Epic trolling Tim.

It also said it would be issuing a more “extensive refutation” of the accusations levelled at its business in the coming days.

Here’s the rest of its statement:

Our company does not have a dominant market share in any category where we do business. From its beginnings 12 years ago with just 500 apps, we’ve built the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for users to discover and download apps and a supportive way for developers to create and sell apps globally. Hosting close to two million apps today, the App Store has delivered on that promise and met the highest standards for privacy, security and quality. The App Store has enabled new markets, new services and new products that were unimaginable a dozen years ago, and developers have been primary beneficiaries of this ecosystem. Last year in the United States alone, the App Store facilitated $138 billion in commerce with over 85% of that amount accruing solely to third-party developers. Apple’s commission rates are firmly in the mainstream of those charged by other app stores and gaming marketplaces. Competition drives innovation, and innovation has always defined us at Apple. We work tirelessly to deliver the best products to our customers, with safety and privacy at their core, and we will continue to do so.

In further background comments the gist of Apple’s argument boils down to ‘Don’t mess with a good thing’.

Aka billions of users across 175 countries can’t be wrong nor unhappy — nor can the tens of millions of developers making wares for its kit, given, for example, how many (1.8M) apps are now on the App Store. (Developers whose apps get excluded are unlikely to be so happy, of course.)

It also defends the 30% commission it takes on app sales — aka the ‘Apple tax’ — pointing to a recent study by Analysis Group that the structure is “similar in magnitude to those of other app stores and digital content marketplaces” — and further noting that for in-app subscriptions the tax falls to 15% after the first year.

Lastly it invokes privacy, pointing out that by reviewing apps and curating its users access to third party software it can offer protection from surveillance, as well as keep things clean by rejecting objectionable, harmful, unsafe, and illegal content. (Albeit, even the Apple gods can’t always do that.)


In a brief on the record statement — presumably while it prepares the next chapters of its neverending ‘hard questions‘ series of lobbyist ‘literature’ — the social media giant sought to paint its business success as American as apple pie or, er, the freely unfettered market.

Here’s what it told us in full, with remarks attributed to a faceless “Facebook spokesperson”:

Facebook is an American success story. We compete with a wide variety of services with millions, even billions, of people using them. Acquisitions are part of every industry, and just one way we innovate new technologies to deliver more value to people. Instagram and WhatsApp have reached new heights of success because Facebook has invested billions in those businesses. A strongly competitive landscape existed at the time of both acquisitions and exists today. Regulators thoroughly reviewed each deal and rightly did not see any reason to stop them at the time.

So, in sum, there’s absolutely nothing to see here but successful! business! as! usual! is Facebook’s wafer-thin claim. Sure, it bought and assimilated rival social media businesses that could have gained enough market share to challenge its dominance of the category but that’s also just totally great business! Moreover, Facebook buying those really successful rivals just made them even more great and successful! But not so great and successful that there isn’t also “strong” competition in the space Facebook has dominated for 15+ years through its sheer force of business success.

Of course Facebook’s statement makes no mention of Onavo: A VPN app it acquired and used to spy on rival app usage to figure out which apps it should be buying or, er, crushing via cloning their innovations — but that’s a whole other story Facebook isn’t at all keen to talk about for some reason. Ditto the whole paying teenagers to spy on them thing.

In any case, the social media behemoth concludes, it’s the regulators who really screwed up here because they didn’t stop it buying Instagram and WhatsApp when they could have done. So ya! boo! sucks! it’s too late suckers! (we paraphrase).


We also reached out to Google for a response to the antitrust report. The adtech giant had a statement ready to go — which kicks off by emphasising how much value its “free” products pump into the economy (not to mention all the “billions” it throws at R&D), before going on to chide policymakers for making “outdated and inaccurate allegations”.

The statement also features what’s become a go-to tech giant talking point as antitrust has risen up the political agenda in recent years — which is the claim that breaking up Internet giants wouldn’t actually fix anything.

Rather, Google warns (taking a similar tack to Amazon), of economic ruin awaiting the US economy — even from a ‘lesser’ intervention of tinkering with the sacred protections enshrined in Section 230 — and geopolitical doom for America’s tech leadership (taking a similar tack to Facebook). Or, in other words, cut Google and American bleeds. But also, no we’re not a monopoly, hell no! We’re just a verrrry fleet-o-foot operator in a “highly competitive industry”. So, er, which is it?

Interestingly, Google is the only tech giant to include some soft soap for lawmakers in this first response to the antitrust committee report — writing that it “support[s] Congress focusing on areas where clearer laws would help consumers”. (Translation: Stick with the small stuff and leave the important moneymaking business stuff to big tech.)

Here it invokes interoperability (because what technology solutionist doesn’t love a technology ‘solution’ to a monopoly problem); as well as claimed support for passing “comprehensive federal privacy legislation”. (Because a weaker federal framework is the only way to unpick state-level privacy laws with teeth like CCPA).

Here’s Google’s statement in full:

Google’s free products like Search, Maps and Gmail help millions of Americans and we’ve invested billions of dollars in research and development to build and improve them. We compete fairly in a fast-moving and highly competitive industry. We disagree with today’s reports, which feature outdated and inaccurate allegations from commercial rivals about Search and other services.

Americans simply don’t want Congress to break Google’s products or harm the free services they use every day. The goal of antitrust law is to protect consumers, not help commercial rivals. Many of the proposals bandied about in today’s reports — whether breaking up companies or undercutting Section 230 — would cause real harm to consumers, America’s technology leadership and the U.S. economy — all for no clear gain.

We support Congress focusing on areas where clearer laws would help consumers, a few of which are mentioned in today’s reports: Google has long championed the importance of data portability and open mobile platforms; we are arguing a case before the Supreme Court tomorrow for the important principle of software interoperability; and we have urged Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation. We look forward to engaging with Congress on these and other issues moving forward.

TechCrunch’s Taylor Hatmaker contributed to this report 

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #competition, #digital-regulation, #ecommerce, #facebook, #google, #government, #policy, #privacy


Despite pandemic, Amazon Prime Day expected to generate nearly $10B in global sales

A new forecast released today estimates Amazon’s delayed Prime Day sales event will top last year’s by bringing in an estimated nearly $10 billion in worldwide sales when it runs later this month. According to eMarketer, which released its first-ever Prime Day forecast, consumers will continue to spend heavily on e-commerce and seek out deals ahead of the 2020 holiday season, benefitting the major sales event.

The firm says of the total $9.91 billion in Prime Day 2020 global sales, $6.17 billion will be generated by U.S. consumers.

This is ahead of what Prime Day achieved in years past. In 2019, the sales event delivered $6.93 billion in sales, eMarketer says, with $4.32 billion from the U.S.. Total Prime Day sales in 2016, 2017 and 2018, were at $1.5 billion, $2.47 billion, and $4.13 billion, respectively.

These estimates are fairly in line with those from other firms. For example, Internet Retailer had estimated Prime Day 2019 reached $7.16 billion in global sales, up from $4.19 billion in the year prior. Amazon doesn’t detail Prime Day sales volume, specifically, but last year said it had sold over 175 million items during the event.

Image Credits: eMarketer

Forecasting for this year’s Prime Day, of course, has been much more difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the e-commerce industry. The health crisis has disrupted supply chains, causing delays, while consumer demand can be unpredictable. Some past boosts in e-commerce spending for major retailers was also closely tied to government stimulus checks.

Due the to pandemic, Amazon this year decided to move its annual sales holiday from mid-July to October for most markets. Meanwhile, the retailer ran Prime Day in India in August — later than it had been held in prior years, but ahead of other countries’ Prime Day events planned for 2020. Following the India event, Amazon reported record seller participation, and said it gained at least 1 million new subscribers for its Prime membership program.

Despite the changes to Prime Day, the analysts at eMarketer believe Prime Day’s predictability will help to continue to drive traffic and sales this year.

“Since Prime Day’s 2015 debut, Amazon has expanded the scale and spectacle of the event in a mostly predictable fashion,” said Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst. “The generally incremental changes from year to year gave customers and sellers a better sense of what to expect, with Lightning Deals and heavily discounted Echos and Fire TVs taking center stage. Sellers developed a playbook for their promotions and advertising strategy and could plan their inventory accordingly,” he added.

Though Prime Day doesn’t officially begin until October 13, Amazon has already started to run some early deals for Prime subscribers, including a discounted Echo Show 5 ($45 instead of $90), a discounted Echo Auto ($30 off at $19.99), cheaper Echo Dots, as well as discounts on an Amazon TV-powered Insignia 4K TV, Blink Mini devices, and others.

Prime Day has also typically inspired a range of competitive sales, given that Amazon’s event would drive an increase in online shopping that benefitted other e-commerce retailers. As of March, as many as 37% of digital retailers said their Prime Day plans were up in the air because of coronavirus, but 56% said they still expected Prime Day sales would perform well, eMarketer noted.

So far, Target has planned a massive sale, Target Deal Days, to compete with Prime Day, which promises Black Friday-like discounts on hundreds of thousands of items on the same days that Prime Day runs. Walmart, on the other hand, said it would run its event starting earlier, on Sunday Oct. 11 through Oct. 15.




#amazon, #e-commcerce, #ecommerce, #emarketer, #online-shopping, #prime-day, #sales


Boom! Hacked page on mobile phone website is stealing customers’ card data

A cartoon depicts a thief emerged from one computer and reaching onto the screen of another.

Enlarge / Computer hacker character stealing money online. Vector flat cartoon illustration (credit: GettyImages)

If you’re in the market for a new mobile phone plan, it’s best to avoid turning to Boom! Mobile. That is, unless you don’t mind your sensitive payment card data being sent to criminals in an attack that remained ongoing in the last few hours.

According to researchers from security firm Malwarebytes, Boom! Mobile’s website is infected with a malicious script that skims payment card data and sends it to a server under the control of a criminal group researchers have dubbed Fullz House. The malicious script is called by a single line that comprises mostly nonsense characters when viewed with the human eye.

(credit: Malwarebytes)

When decoded from Base64 format, the line translates to: paypal-debit[.]com/cdn/ga.js. The JavaScript code ga.js masquerades as a Google Analytics script at one of the many fraudulent domains operated by Fullz House members.

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#biz-it, #ecommerce, #payment-cards, #skimmers, #websites


Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels

Instagram this morning announced the global expansion of its Instagram Shopping service across IGTV. The product, which lets you watch a video then checkout with a few taps, offers creators and influencers a way to more directly monetize their user base on Instagram, while also giving brands a way to sell merchandise to their followers. Instagram said it would also soon begin testing shopping within its newer feature and TikTok rival, Reels.

Image Credits: Instagram

Shopping has become a larger part of the Instagram experience over the past few years.

Instagram’s Explore section in 2018 gained a personalized Shopping channel filled with the things Instagram believed you’d want the most. It also expanded Shopping tags to Stories. Last year, it launched Checkout, a way to transact within the app when you saw something you wanted to buy. And just this summer, Instagram redesigned its dedicated Shop section, now powered by Facebook Pay.

Today, Instagram users can view products and make purchases across IGTV, Instagram Live, and Stories.

On IGTV, users can either complete the purchase via the in-app checkout or they can visit the seller’s website to buy. However, the expectation is that many shoppers will choose to pay for their items without leaving the app, for convenience’s sake. This allows Instagram to collect selling fees on those purchases. At scale, this can produce a new revenue stream for the company — particularly now as consumers shop online more than ever, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s acceleration of e-commerce.

In the future, Instagram says its shoppable IGTV videos will be made discoverable on Instagram Shop, as well.

Given its intention to make shopping a core part of the Instagram platform, it’s not surprising that the company intends to make Reels shoppable, too.

“Digital creators and brands help bring emerging culture to Instagram, and people come to Instagram to get inspired by them. By bringing shopping to IGTV and Reels, we’re making it easy to shop directly from videos. And in turn, helping sellers share their story, reach customers, and make a living,” said Instagram COO Justin Osofsky, in a statement.

Instagram isn’t alone in seeing the potential for shopping inspired by short-form video content. Walmart’s decision to try to acquire a stake in TikTok is tied to the growing “social commerce” trend which mixes together social media and online shopping to create a flurry of demand for new products — like a modern-day QVC aimed at Gen Z and broadcast across smartphones’ small screens.

By comparison, TikTok so far has only dabbled with social commerce. It has run select ad tests, like a partnership with Levi’s during the early days of the pandemic to create influencer-created ads that appeared in users’ feeds and directed users’ to Levi’s website. It has also experimented with allowing users to add links to e-commerce sites to TikTok profiles and other features.

Instagram didn’t say when Reels would gain shopping features, beyond “later this year.”


#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #igtv, #instagram, #mobile-e-commerce, #online-shopping, #reels, #shopping, #social


GrubMarket raises $60M at a $500M+ valuation as food delivery stays center stage

Companies that have leveraged technology to make the procurement and delivery of food more accessible to more people have been seeing a big surge of business this year, as millions of consumers are encouraged (or outright mandated, due to Covid-19) to socially distance or want to avoid the crowds of physical shopping and eating excursions.

Today, one of the companies that is supplying produce and other items both to consumers and other services that are in turn selling food and groceries to them, is announcing a new round of funding as it gears up to take its next step, an IPO.

GrubMarket, which provides a B2C platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, and a B2B service where it supplies grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products that they resell, is today announcing that it has raised $60 million in a Series D round of funding.

Sources close to the company confirmed to TechCrunch that GrubMarket — which is profitable, and originally hadn’t planned to raise more than $20 million — is now valued at around $500 million.

The funding is coming from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Reimagined Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment, Celtic House Venture Partners, Marubeni Ventures, Sixty Degree Capital, Mojo Partners alongside with previous investors GGV Capital, WI Harper Group, Digital Garage, CentreGold Capital , Scrum Ventures, and other unnamed participants. Past investors also included Y Combinator, where GrubMarket was part of the Winter 2015 cohort), and for some more context, GrubMarket last raised money in April 2019, $28 million at a $255 million valuation.

Mike Xu, the founder and CEO, said that the plan remains for the company to go public (he’s talked about it before) but given that it’s not having trouble raising from private markets and is currently growing at 100% over last year, and the IPO market is less certain at the moment, he declined to put an exact timeline on when this might actually happen, although he was clear that this is where his focus is in the near future.

“The only success criteria of my startup career is whether GrubMarket can eventually make $100 billion of annual sales,” he said to me over both email and in a phone conversation. “To achieve this goal, I am willing to stay heads-down and hardworking every day until it is done, and it does not matter whether it will take me 15 years or 50 years.”

I don’t doubt that he means it. I’ll note that we had this call in the middle of the night his time in California, even after I asked multiple times if there wasn’t a more reasonable hour in the daytime for him to talk. (He insisted that he got his best work done at 4.30am, a result of how a lot of the grocery business works.) Xu on the one hand is very gentle with a calm demeanor, but don’t let his quiet manner fool you. He also is focused and relentless in his work ethic.

When people talk today about buying food, alongside traditional grocery stores and other physical food markets, they increasingly talk about grocery delivery companies, restaurant delivery platforms, meal kit services and more that make or provide food to people by way of apps. GrubMarket has built itself as a profitable but quiet giant that underpins the fuel that helps companies in all of these categories by becoming one of the critical companies building bridges between food producers and those that interact with customers.

Its opportunity comes in the form of disruption and a gap in the market. Food production is not unlike shipping and other older, non-tech industries, with a lot of transactions couched in legacy processes: GrubMarket has built software that connects up the different segments of the food supply chain in a faster and more efficient way, and then provides the logistics to help it run.

To be sure, it’s an area that would have evolved regardless of the world health situation, but the rise and growth of the coronavirus has definitely “helped” GrubMarket not just by creating more demand for delivered food, but by providing a way for those in the food supply chain to interact with less contact and more tech-fueled efficiency.

Sales of WholesaleWare, as the platform is called, Xu said, have seen more than 800% growth over the last year, now managing “several hundreds of millions of dollars of food wholesale activities” annually.

Underpinning its tech is the sheer size of the operation: economies of scale in action. The company is active in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, Michigan, Boston and New York (and many places in between) and says that it currently operates some 21 warehouses nationwide. Xu describes GrubMarket as a “major food provider” in the Bay Area and the rest of California, with (as one example) more than 5 million pounds of frozen meat in its east San Francisco Bay warehouse.

Its customers include more than 500 grocery stores, 8,000 restaurants, and 2,000 corporate offices, with familiar names like Whole Foods, Kroger, Albertson, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Raley’s Market, 99 Ranch Market, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Fresh Direct, Imperfect Foods, Misfit Market, Sun Basket and GoodEggs, all on the list, with GrubMarket supplying them items that they resell directly, or use in creating their own products (like meal kits).

While much of GrubHub’s growth has been — like a lot of its produce — organic, its profitability has helped it also grow inorganically. It has made some 15 acquisitions in the last two years, including Boston Organics and EJ Food Distributor this year.

It’s not to say that GrubMarket has not had growing pains. The company, Xu said, was like many others in the food delivery business “overwhelmed” at the start of the pandemic in March and April of this year. “We had to limit our daily delivery volume in some regions, and put new customers on waiting lists.” Even so, the B2C business grew between 300% and 500% depending on the market. Xu said things calmed down by May and even as some B2B customers never came back after cities were locked down, as a category B2B has largely recovered, he said.

Interestingly, the startup itself has taken a very proactive approach in order to limit its own workers’ and customers’ exposure to Covid-19, doing as much testing as it could — tests have been, as we all know, in very short supply — as well as a lot of social distancing and cleaning operations.

“There have been no mandates about masks, but we supplied them extensively,” he said.

So far it seems to have worked. Xu said the company has only found “a couple of employees” that were positive this year. In one case in April, a case was found not through a test (which it didn’t have, this happened in Michigan) but through a routine check and finding an employee showing symptoms, and its response was swift: the facilities were locked down for two weeks and sanitized, despite this happening in one of the busiest months in the history of the company (and the food supply sector overall).

That’s notable leadership at a time when it feels like a lot of leaders have failed us, which only helps to bolster the company’s strong growth.

“Having a proven track record of sustained hypergrowth and net income profitability, GrubMarket stands out as an extraordinarily rare Silicon Valley startup in the food technology and ecommerce segment,” said Jay Chen, managing partner of Celtic House Venture Partner. “Scaling over 15x in 4 years, GrubMarket’s creativity and capital efficiency is unmatched by anyone else in this space. Mike’s team has done an incredible job growing the company thoughtfully and sustainably. We are proud to be a partner in the company’s rapid nationwide expansion and excited by the strong momentum of WholesaleWare, their SaaS suite, which is the best we have seen in space.”

#ecommerce, #enterprise, #food, #food-delivery, #grocery-delivery, #grubmarket, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc