Fraud protection startup nSure AI raises $6.8M in seed funding

Fraud protection startup nSure AI has raised $6.8 million in seed funding, led by DisruptiveAI, Phoenix Insurance, AXA-backed venture builder Kamet, Moneta Seeds and private investors.

The round will help the company bolster the predictive AI and machine learning algorithms that power nSure AI’s “first of its kind” fraud protection platform. Prior to this round, the company received $550,000 in pre-seed funding from Kamet in March 2019.

The Tel Aviv-headquartered startup, which currently has 16 employees, provides fraud detection for high-risk digital goods, such as electronic gift cards, airline tickets, software, and games. While most fraud detection tools analyze each online transaction in an attempt to decide which purchases to approve and decline, nSure AI’s risk engine leverages deep learning techniques to accurately identify fraudulent transactions.

nSure AI, which is backed by insurance company AXA, said it has a 98% approval rating on average for purchases, compared to an industry average of 80%, allowing retailers to recapture nearly $100 billion a year in revenue lost by declining legitimate customers. The company is so confident in its technology that it will accept liability for any fraudulent transaction allowed by the platform.

nSure AI’s founders Alex Zeltcer and Ziv Isaiah started the company after experiencing the unique challenges faced by retailers of digital assets. The first week of their online gift card business found that 40% of sales were fraudulent, resulting in chargebacks. The founders began to develop their own platform for supporting the sale of high-risk digital goods after no other fraud detection service met their needs.

Alex Zeltcer, co-founder and chief executive, said the investment “enables us to register thousands of new merchants, who can feel confident selling higher-risk digital goods, without accepting fraud as a part of business.”

nSure AI, which currently monitors and manages millions of transactions every month, has approved close to $1 billion in volume since going live in 2019.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #axa, #crime, #crimes, #fraud, #fraud-detection, #funding, #insurance, #merchant-services, #online-shopping, #security, #tel-aviv

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Shopify acquires augmented reality home design app Primer

In Friday acquisition news, Shopify shared today that they’ve acquired augmented reality startup Primer, which makes an app that lets users visualize what tile, wallpaper or paint will look like on surfaces inside their home.

In a blog post, co-founders Adam Debreczeni and Russ Maschmeyer write that Primer’s app and services will be shutting down next month as part of the deal. Debreczeni tells TechCrunch that Primer’s team of eight employees will all be joining Shopify following the acquisition.

Primer had partnered with dozens of tile and textile design brands to allow users to directly visualize what their designs would look like using their iPhone and iPad and Apple’s augmented reality platform ARKit. The app has been highlighted by Apple several times including this nice write-up by the App Store’s internal editorial team.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Primer’s backers included Slow Ventures, Abstract Ventures, Foundation Capital and Expa.

There’s been a lot of big talk about how augmented reality will impact online shopping, but aside from some of the integrations made in home design, there hasn’t been an awful lot that’s found its way into real consumer use. Shopify has worked on some of their own integrations — allowing sellers to embed 3D models into their storefronts that users can drop into physical space — but it’s clear that there’s much more room left to experiment.

#abstract-ventures, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #augment, #augmented-reality, #companies, #foundation-capital, #ipad, #iphone, #online-shopping, #paint, #primer, #shopify, #slow-ventures, #software, #technology, #tile

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Apple’s RealityKit 2 allows developers to create 3D models for AR using iPhone photos

At its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced a significant update to RealityKit, its suite of technologies that allow developers to get started building AR (augmented reality) experiences. With the launch of RealityKit 2, Apple says developers will have more visual, audio, and animation control when working on their AR experiences. But the most notable part of the update is how Apple’s new Object Capture technology will allow developers to create 3D models in minutes using only an iPhone.

Apple noted during its developer address that one of the most difficult parts of making great AR apps was the process of creating 3D models. These could take hours and thousands of dollars.

With Apple’s new tools, developers will be able take a series of pictures using just an iPhone (or iPad or DSLR, if they prefer) to capture 2D images of an object from all angles, including the bottom.

Then, using the Object Capture API on macOS Monterey, it only takes a few lines of code to generate the 3D model, Apple explained.

Image Credits: Apple

To begin, developers would start a new photogrammetry session in RealityKit that points to the folder where they’ve captured the images. Then, they would call the process function to generate the 3D model at the desired level of detail. Object Capture allows developers to generate the USDZ files optimized for AR Quick Look — the system that lets developers add virtual, 3D objects in apps or websites on iPhone and iPad. The 3D models can also be added to AR scenes in Reality Composer in Xcode.

Apple said developers like Wayfair, Etsy and others are using Object Capture to create 3D models of real-world objects — an indication that online shopping is about to get a big AR upgrade.

Wayfair, for example, is using Object Capture to develop tools for their manufacturers so they can create a virtual representation of their merchandise. This will allow Wayfair customers to be able to preview more products in AR than they could today.

Image Credits: Apple (screenshot of Wayfair tool))

In addition, Apple noted developers including Maxon and Unity are using Object Capture for creating 3D content within 3D content creation apps, such as Cinema 4D and Unity MARS.

Other updates in RealityKit 2 include custom shaders that give developers more control over the rendering pipeline to fine tune the look and feel of AR objects; dynamic loading for assets; the ability to build your own Entity Component System to organize the assets in your AR scene; and the ability to create player-controlled characters so users can jump, scale and explore AR worlds in RealityKit-based games.

One developer, Mikko Haapoja of Shopify, has been trying out the new technology (see below) and shared some real-world tests where he shot objects using an iPhone 12 Max via Twitter.

Developers who want to test it for themselves can leverage Apple’s sample app and install Monterey on their Mac to try it out.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#animation, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #computing, #ios, #ipad, #iphone, #macos, #mobile, #online-shopping, #realitykit, #unity, #wayfair, #wwdc-2021

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Pinterest adds a Shopping List feature to round up your saved products

Pinterest has long positioned itself a source for inspiration that could ultimately lead to online purchases. And over the years, it has worked on features to better connect consumers with the products and services they want to buy, like shoppable pins, visual search, AR try-on, product recommendations, and more. Today, the company is rolling out another feature aimed at turning users’ saved Pins into purchases: a shopping list.

The new Pinterest Shopping list feature saves all your Product Pins in one place, so when you’re ready to purchase you won’t have to hunt around through your saved Pins and Boards to find the products you had been considering. Here, you’ll find the information you need, including an item’s price, reviews, and shipping info in an even grid so you can compare products and make decisions.

The feature, however, isn’t just an organizational tool — Pinterest says it will also send out notifications if the items you’ve saved have dropped in price — which could encourage users to make the purchase.

The Shopping List is available on your Profile page above your other boards, and will include the shoppable items you’ve saved as well as items you’ve recently viewed. When you’re ready to buy, you can click on the pin to visit the retailer’s website to complete the transaction — giving Pinterest the credit for the referral, of course.

The feature will launch first in the U.S. and U.K., and will later roll out to Australia, Canada, France and Germany later in the year, Pinterest says.

Alongside the Shopping List, Pinterest today is also expanding merchant tools with the debut of its Verified Merchant Program in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and Germany, plus a merchant storefront on profile feature, and new product tagging in Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Launched last year, the Verified Merchant Program offers retailers a way to sign up for a manual review to determine if they meet Pinterest’s qualifications for high-quality customer service experiences. If so, they receive a blue checkmark on their profile as a signal to consumers that they’re a trustworthy retailer.

Image Credits: Pinterest

In addition, the company is today launching a special two-week long Shopping Spotlight called “The Goods by Pinterest,” which offers users access to limited edition items sold by DTC brands including Brooklinen, Outdoor Voices, Clare Paint, Olive & June, and Maude. And it’s running a “Shop the mood” campaign offering curated trends from its annual report, “Pinterest Predicts.”

Though Pinterest notes its users, on average, outspend non-users by 2x every month and have a 85% larger basket size, the way people want to shop online is rapidly changing.

Historically an image-centric idea board of sorts, Pinterest may be left behind as more consumers — and particularly younger shoppers — begin to more heavily rely on shopping via video (both recorded and live), including through influencer-driven content across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Pinterest has only more recently expanded into this area, with the launch of video-first “Idea Pins” last month aimed at creators, and a test of livestreamed creator events around the same time.

The new launches follow a Pinterest earnings beat in April on both EPS and revenue (11 cents vs 7 cents expected, and $485M vs $474M expected), but slowing user growth. The company reported 478 million monthly active users versus the 480.5 million expected, causing the stock to drop 10% after the report came out. The company blamed the decline in user growth and user engagement on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as consumers began to spend less time online.

With the new additions, Pinterest wants to better ensure those users who are on its site are not just idly browsing, but actually checking out.

#digital-media, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-purchases, #online-shopping, #pinterest, #products, #shopping, #visual-search

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Instagram launches a new section for shopping product drops

Instagram today announced it’s adding a new feature to help connect online shoppers to product drops through its app. Drops, which are a newer e-commerce trend, help sellers create buzz for forthcoming products in the days and weeks leading up to their availability. The products themselves are often only available in limited supplies or for a short period of time, increasing demand.

On Instagram, drops will now have their own destination inside the app at the top of the Shop tab, where consumers can discover, browse and shop all the latest product launches as well as view upcoming launches. Shoppers can also sign up to receive reminders about products they’re interested in from here, and look through products and collections from other drops that recently took place on Instagram.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

Like other online shopping offered through Instagram, consumers can make their Drops purchases directly in the Instagram app itself via Checkout on Instagram, not by visiting third-party websites. This model will eventually allow Instagram to collect fees on purchases — something that’s become a more important part of Facebook and Instagram’s overall business model in the wake of Apple’s privacy crackdown on iOS apps that impacts Facebook’s ad revenues.

However, Instagram has temporarily waived its selling fees to both help businesses who are recovering from the last year of Covid. The move will also help it to gain ground in online shopping against new competitors, including TikTok.

Brands on Instagram had already been running drops before today, following Instagram’s release of a product reminders feature back in 2019 that allowed consumers to get notified when an item they were interested in became available for purchase. To date, brands across fashion, beauty, streetwear and others have leveraged the feature, the company says, including Hill House Home, Dragun Beauty, adidas, and others.

The new Drops location simply organizes the product launches in one place to make it easier to browse and shop. Instagram tells us it’s curating the featured drops in this section. To be considered, brands need to use the product launch feature which is available to businesses on Checkout with Instagram.

At launch, some of the drops available include today’s Drake x NOCTA ‘Cardinal Stock’ collection and upcoming drops like Wren + Glory hand-painted summer collection and Charlotte Tilbury Exclusive Pillow Talk Lips & Dreams Lashes Kit. This week, there are five total drops available. This number will vary from week to week as Instagram continues to test the new feature, the company tells us.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

On an individual brand’s page inside Drops, consumers can view info like when the product became available, pricing, and other item details. They can also bookmark the item to add it to a wishlist or share the drop with a friend through Instagram’s direct messaging feature. From the top of the Drops page, users can return to their Cart or Wishlist at any time to complete the checkout — assuming they aren’t too late, of course.

In addition, the brand’s Live shopping can be scheduled to align with their product drop. When the brand goes live for a drop, there’s an on-screen countdown and confetti animation when the product becomes available.

The new feature is currently only available in the Instagram app in the U.S., and only on mobile devices (iOS and Android), not the web.

#apps, #brands, #drops, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flash-sales, #instagram, #mobile, #mobile-shopping, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #shops, #social, #social-media, #social-shopping, #united-states

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Affirm spinout Resolve raises $60M for its B2B ‘buy now, pay later’ platform

Buy now, pay later is everywhere these days, mostly focused on the consumer.

Resolve — a San Francisco-based startup in the space specializing in “buy now, pay later” capabilities for B2B transactions — announced today that it has raised $60 million in funding. Initialized Capital led the round — the company’s first funding since its 2019 inception. KSD Capital, Haystack VC, Commerce Ventures, Clocktower Ventures and others also participated.

The funding is a combination of equity and asset funding according to co-founder and CEO Chris Tsai, although he declined to reveal the breakdown.

Since launching as a spinout from Affirm in 2019, Resolve says it has seen “overwhelming” demand for its B2B buy now, pay later (BNPL) billing offering for business purchases. Notably, the two companies refer business to each other. Tsai describes Affirm founder Max Levchin as a “friend” with whom he has been working in a variety of capacities since 2012. (He’s also reportedly an investor in the company.)

Unlike Affirm — which is more focused on the consumer — Resolve is exclusively focused on business-to-business billing by automating the process of billing and purchasing on credit. What it’s doing is basically allowing businesses to defer payments digitally and on better terms than what they’ve seen historically via an automated underwriting process, the company claims. This, it says, can lead to faster invoice payment and thus, improved cash flow. 

The company also claims it can offer extended payment terms with buyers not having to pay any interest or fees if accounts are repaid within the agreed-upon terms. Meanwhile, merchants receive full payment (minus any fees) as soon as an order is placed. 

Resolve offers businesses loan terms ranging from 30 to 90 days and gives them more control of their billing and cash flow, according to Tsai. While he declined to give specifics around any growth metrics, he said the company has seen a “significant and meaningful” uptick in growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic because of so many businesses’ shift to digital e-commerce. For example, one of its customers is a bike merchant that had to expand into online selling in the wake of the pandemic.

“This is not a new transaction type, but being able to do it in this new digital or e-commerce way of buy now, pay later, like Affirm — that’s very new and in fact it’s still very much not the norm yet,” he told TechCrunch. “But we’re finding, especially post-pandemic, incredible demand for switching to more digital e-commerce payment formats.”

Image Credits: Resolve

Among Resolve’s features is a “Smart Credit Engine,” which the company says creates a direct sync with a merchant’s real-time data feed of past payment histories to allow for “immediate” credit line decisioning with no input required from buyers.

Its embedded bill payment portal gives its B2B customers a way to pay vendor bills “while building their business credit history” bureaus, the company says.

“Digital and e-commerce transformation is coming for B2B payments,” Tsai said. “Growing companies must balance heightened demand for deferring payments from their business customers with their own limited capacities to satisfy that demand.”

The embedded nature of Resolve’s platform gives it an edge, Tsai believes, in that it integrates into a company’s existing financial tech stack. The benefit to the business, he said, is increased growth and sales revenue as well as optimized cash flow “while removing risk for the company.”

Initialized Capital General Partner Alda Leu Dennis said she was familiar with Tsai and co-founder Brian Nguyen since their days at Celery, their prior startup. She views them as experienced and determined.

We also have conviction around the clear market need for digitizing net terms for small businesses that are increasingly moving their ordering online,” she said.

In her view, Resolve’s unique differentiation is that it provides software that solves net terms billing complexity. 

“Businesses desperately need to manage their B2B billing operations, from helping them gauge the strength of their customers to chasing down payments,” she told TechCrunch. “Their [Resolve’s] approach of accelerating payments and collections via software and offering payment terms as an ancillary service is a powerful pairing; it provides an easy yet comprehensive way for merchants to improve their entire system of managing receivables and billing on credit.”

The San Francisco startup is using the money primarily to grow its embedded billing platform.

“We’re doing a lot of work to scale the platform. So we’re investing heavily in products and the customer sides of the business, given all the demand that we’ve seen,” Tsai said. “The operations software that we’ve built is very seamless for our customers, but there’s a lot going on in the background that we have to do to reduce the complexity for our customers.”

#affirm, #alda-leu-dennis, #articles, #clocktower-ventures, #commerce-ventures, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #haystack-vc, #initialized-capital, #marketing, #max-levchin, #online-selling, #online-shopping, #payments, #recent-funding, #resolve, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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5 predictions for the future of e-commerce

In 2016, more than 20 years after Amazon’s founding and 10 years since Shopify launched, it would have been easy to assume e-commerce penetration (the percentage of total retail spend where the goods were bought and sold online) would be over 50%.

But what we found was shocking: The U.S. was only approximately 8% penetrated — only 8% for arguably the most advanced economy in the world!

We’ve had a close eye on the rate of e-commerce penetration globally ever since. Despite e-commerce growth skyrocketing over the past year, the reality is the U.S. has still only reached an e-commerce penetration rate of around 17%. During the last 18 months, we’ve closed the gap to South Korea and China’s e-commerce penetration of more than 25%, but there is still much progress to be made.

Image Credits: Accel

It’s clear that we are still in the early days of this megatrend and it is our strong conviction that it is inevitable that we will get to a point where at least half of every retail dollar is spent online over the next decade.

Below are five key predictions for what this road to further penetration will hold.

D2C retail will accelerate as merchants seek independence

Marketplaces have forged the path for e-commerce adoption among merchants of all sizes. They have raised significant capital and made the necessary investments in payments and logistics infrastructure, often subsidizing the consumer experience with free shipping or discounts to get them comfortable buying online.

The balance of power has shifted toward merchants, who previously didn’t have the picks and shovels to build their own e-commerce capabilities.

In recent years, merchants have pursued options aside from these marketplace aggregators. They have sought independence, opting to pay 5%-10% of their gross merchandise value (GMV) on their own technology infrastructure rather than paying the 6% to 45% (average of about 15%) in marketplace fees. Most importantly, they have prioritized owning the relationship with their end customers, given that customer loyalty and lifetime value is becoming ever more important in a hypercompetitive online market.

#amazon, #column, #d2c, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #social

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Facebook debuts ‘Live Shopping Fridays’ featuring beauty, fashion and skincare brands

Facebook wants to whet consumers’ appetite for live streamed shopping with this week’s launch of “Live Shopping Fridays” event series, which will see larger brands live streaming beauty, skincare, and fashion content on a weekly basis. The event begins Friday, May 22nd and runs through mid-July, with streams from brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Sephora, Dermalogica, Alleyoop, and Zox.

The events are meant to encourage larger brands to try out live shopping as a medium, as well as generally raise awareness about live shopping on Facebook among consumers.

The brands will use their live shopping events in a number of ways. They may give a behind-the-scenes look at their business or they may partner with creators to showcase their products in “how-to” style videos, for example.

During the live streams, viewers can comment and ask questions which brands can read and respond to. Shoppers can also tap on the products displayed in the stream to learn more without having to leave the video. If they want to buy, they can add them to the cart and check out at any time — during or even after the event has wrapped. The brands receive the customer’s shipping information, and if the consumer opts in, they can gain access to other details as well, like email and phone number.

Live stream video shopping became publicly available on Facebook last summer, following a series of smaller trials and beta tests, where the format initially found traction with smaller to medium-sized businesses and digital-first brands, Facebook says.

The Covid pandemic also pushed adoption of the format, in some cases, as creative business owners turned to live shopping to reach their customers when lockdowns closed non-essential businesses.

Image Credits: Facebook

More recently, larger brands like Petco and Bobbi Brown have run live shopping events — the former as part of a charity effort, and the latter with a live stream featuring tips from makeup artist Michele Shakeshaft. (Pictured)

“The way that we’re thinking about this is that e-commerce has made buying incredibly convenient. So when you have a need, you pull out your phone, purchase, and your order is on its way,” explains Yulie Kwon Kim, who leads product for Facebook App Commerce.

“But buying is not shopping. And so, a lot of what people do is window shop to see what’s new, for entertainment. You discover something cool that you didn’t know about. When you’re shopping, people often want to hear from a live person, get suggestions, and see the product and context,” she says. “And increasingly, people are discovering and deciding what to buy through social media,” Yulie adds.

She also notes that almost three-quarters of consumers globally are getting shopping ideas through Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp, and almost two-thirds agree that social media has now become as important as other information sources when making purchase decisions.

 

Facebook says the live events will be presented to consumers in a number of ways during the summer. If you follow a brand, you’ll be notified of their participation. You’ll also see News Feed announcements where you’ll be notified when events are starting (see above). And the Facebook Shop tab will offer a schedule of upcoming live shopping streams taking place across the platform.

Facebook, of course, is not the only one to realize the potential in live shopping.

Startups like NTWRK, Popshop Live, Talkshoplive, Dote, Bambuser, and others brought the live shopping model already popular in China to the U.S. and other markets, many months before the pandemic. TikTok has been testing live shopping, including with Walmart in the U.S., as well.

Amazon, meanwhile, live streams to its website, and YouTube announced earlier this year its beta tests of an integrated e-commerce experience.

As for Facebook, a live shopping platform could ultimately serve as a significant revenue stream, thanks to selling fees applied at checkout. While Facebook did waive those selling fees through June 2021 — a decision it claims was to help support small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic — that move also conveniently helps Facebook stake its place in the live stream shopping market land grab now underway. Facebook also needs to diversify its revenue, given that Apple’s privacy push around third-party tracking will hurt Facebook’s ad business. 

Facebook’s Live Shopping Fridays series will roll out across both mobile and desktop in the U.S. this week, and will also pop on Facebook’s Shop Tab for easy access.

#apps, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #livestreaming, #mobile, #news-feed, #online-shopping, #social, #social-media, #united-states

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Walmart acquires virtual clothing try-on startup Zeekit

Retail giant Walmart announced this morning it’s acquiring the Tel Aviv-based startup Zeekit, which allows consumers to virtually “try on” clothing when shopping online. The company leverages a combination of real-time image processing, computer vision, deep learning and other A.I. technology to show shoppers how they would look in an item by way of a simulation that takes into account body dimensions, fit, size, and even the fabric of the garment itself.

Deal terms were not disclosed. According to data from Pitchbook, Zeekit had raised over $24 million in outside capital, but we’ve confirmed that’s inaccurate. Zeekit raised a $9 million Series A in 2016, and has raised a total of $16 million since 2014.

The company had already been working with a range of retailers and brands ahead of the acquisition, including Walmart, as well Macy’s, Asos, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, and others. It had once worked with Rebecca Minkoff during Fashion Week to help women shop the show’s looks.

Zeekit had been founded in 2013 by CEO Yael Vizel, VP of Research and Development Nir Appleboim and CTO Alon Kristal, with the premise that if online shoppers could see how clothing would look on their own bodies, the technology could reduce the rate of returns due to non-fitting, non-flattering items.

Image Credits:

Walmart says customers will be able to use the Zeekit technology to virtually try on items brands including Free People, Champion, Levi’s Strauss, ELOQUII Elements, Free Assembly, Scoop, Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara, plus its own private label brands, like Time and Tru, Terra & Sky, Wonder Nation and George.

When the technology goes live on Walmart.com, customers can choose to upload an image of their own or choose from a series of models that best represent their height, shape and skin tone in order to see themselves virtually in any item of clothing. The goal is to provide a similar experience to trying on clothing when shopping online as you would otherwise have had when in a retail store.

Shoppers will also be able to share their virtual outfits with friends for a second opinion, via the new integration, adding the social element back into online shopping.

In addition to the virtual try-on, Walmart says Zeekit’s technology may be used to build other fashion experiences over time, including a virtual closet experience where you could mix and match styles.

With the deal’s closure, Zeekit’s three co-founders will be joining Walmart.

“We’re confident that with the team’s expertise in bringing real-time image technologies, computer vision and artificial intelligence to the world of fashion, we’ll identify even more ways to innovate for our customers in our continued effort to be the first-choice destination for fashion,” said Denise Incandela, Walmart U.S. EVP of Apparel and Private Brands, in an announcement.

Walmart in years past had heavily invested in apparel, including by acquiring online brands like Bonobos, ModCloth, Eloquii, and others, and even tried offering some brands, like Nike, their own shop on Walmart. com. Not all of these efforts paid off. Walmart sold ModCloth only a couple of years after buying it, for example, after ModCloth customers balked at being owned by a retail giant, and the brand remained unprofitable. More recently, Walmart partnered with online consignment shop ThredUP to list a large number of secondhand items on Walmart’s website.

In addition to the struggles around profitability, apparel more broadly been a harder area for online retail to get right, often because of the difficulties involved with picking out items that have to fit unique bodies and the non-standard sizing fashion designers use — meaning clothing can run smaller or larger, depending on given brand, even when shopping “your size.”

Another factor that may have impacted the acquisition was the pandemic, which pushed e-commerce years ahead, as retailers closed their doors and consumers stayed home to shop online due the circumstances of the health crisis. During this time, Amazon passed Walmart as the top apparel retailer in the U.S., according to Wells Fargo, which estimated its apparel and footwear sales grew 15% in 2020 to over $41 billion, or 20-25% higher than Walmart.

Walmart didn’t say when Zeekit would go live on Walmart’s website, only that it would show up “soon.”

We understand that, post-acquisition, Walmart will not continue to operate Zeekit’s existing business. Zeekit will work with their current customers on a transition plan.

Updated 5/13/21, 11:05 AM ET with more accurate funding totals. Previously we noted Pitchbook data. We’ve since confirmed the figures directly. 

#a-i, #apparel, #artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #exit, #fashion, #fundings-exits, #image-processing, #ma, #online-brands, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #simulation, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv, #walmart

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Prime today, gone tomorrow: Chinese products get pulled from Amazon

If you ever bought power banks, water bottles, toys, or other daily goods on Amazon, the chances are your suppliers are from China. Analysts have estimated that the share of Chinese merchants represented 75% of Amazon’s new sellers in January, up from 47% the year before, according to Marketplace Pulse, an e-commerce research firm.

Chinese sellers are swarming not just Amazon but also eBay, Wish, Shopee and Alibaba’s AliExpress. The boom is in part a result of intense domestic competition in China’s online retail world, which forces merchants to seek new markets. Traditional exporters are turning to e-commerce, cutting out excessive distributors. Businesses are enchanted by the tale that a swathe of the priciest property in Shenzhen, the Chinese city known for its vibrant tech industry and expensive apartments, is now owned by people who made a fortune from e-commerce export.

But the get-rich-quick optimism among the cross-border community came to a halt when several top Chinese sellers disappeared from Amazon over the past few days. At least eleven accounts that originate from Greater China were suspended, according to Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of Marketplace Pulse.

Several accounts belong to the same parent firms, as it’s normal for big sellers, those with more than a million dollars in annual sales, to operate multiple brands on Amazon to optimize sales.

TechCrunch has reached out to Mpower and Aukey, whose Amazon stores are gone and were two of the most successful brands native to the American marketplace.

In total, the suspended accounts contribute over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon, said Kaziukenas.

Amazon didn’t comment on the status of the suspended accounts, but said in a statement for TechCrunch that it has “long-standing policies to protect the integrity of our store, including product authenticity, genuine reviews, and products meeting the expectations of our customers.”

“We take swift action against those that violate them, including suspending or removing selling privileges,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

Chinese e-commerce exporters were startled by the incident. Inside WeChat groups where hundreds of sellers normally exchange business strategies, anxiety is rife and the consensus is that the targeted sellers have “crossed the line” in conducting questionable platform practices. Amazon says it shares enforcement actions directly with selling accounts.

“This isn’t the first time Amazon has shut down accounts over fake reviews and other behavior that violate its rules, but the scale of this wave is unprecedented,” said Bill Zhang, who develops and exports smart training suits through Amazon.

It’s no doubt that Amazon needs Chinese suppliers for affordable and diverse products, of which average quality has also increased remarkably in recent years. But as competition heated up among Chinese sellers, black hat tactics that were common in Chinese e-commerce became a necessity to survive on Amazon.

“It’s an open secret that a lot of Chinese sellers are aggressive towards marketing,” Cameron Walker, who worked for an export trade show in China for over a decade before running a toy export business.

One of the common tricks employed by Chinese sellers is review manipulation because reviews affect how a product is listed on Amazon. This can be done by paying real buyers to leave a positive review or sending fake orders and leaving good reviews through zombie accounts.

The latter approach is often delegated to agents that call themselves “product review” services, which offer a suite of resources to emulate real accounts: IP proxies, virtual credit cards, overseas addresses, any pieces of identity that can help avoid suspicion from Amazon’s anti-fake algorithms, said an executive at a payments service who works closely with Chinese exporters.

Another prevalent tactic, which perhaps poses a greater existential crisis to Amazon than fake reviews, is ways to direct buyers away from Amazon onto merchants’ own web stores. Amazon restricts merchants from collecting sensitive buyer information such as emails, but Chinese exporters find a way around: sending postcards to customers asking them to leave reviews on their own websites.

These tricks have been around for years, so what caused the sudden attack at top sellers?

Exporters contacted by TechCrunch pointed to a data breach uncovered by SafetyDetectives, a cybersecurity firm, which contained a trove of direct messages between Amazon sellers soliciting fake reviews from buyers. The data, which implicates more than 200,000 individuals, was hosted on a server that appears to be in China, according to SafetyDetectives’ report.

The report didn’t mention the names of the sellers involved. TechCrunch cannot immediately verify claims in the report.

Amazon did not say whether it was aware of the data breach. It, however, claimed that it uses “machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly” and monitor “all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue.” It also works with social media sites to report “bad actors.”

But bad actors will likely come back even after the latest episodes of crackdowns, said the cross-border payments executive.

“Amazon is fighting an entire lucrative and tight-knit ecosystem of merchants and fake review services, not just a few big sellers.”

In recent years, Amazon has been trying to nudge more new sellers to join and be “good brands,” observed Walker. Merchants now need to meet strict requirements for brand registries, safety testing, and insurance liability, he said.

“It’s getting more difficult and costly to run a business on Amazon.”

These challenges have encouraged hordes of exporters to diversify sales channels beyond Amazon and invest in their own Shopify-based web stores, where they get to write the rules. They are encouraged by what Shein, an independent e-commerce store that sells made-in-China apparel to overseas markets, has achieved. In the first quarter, Shein was the world’s second most downloaded shopping app, according to data provided by app analytics firm SensorTower. Many Chinese sellers dream that one day they, too, could break free from the grip of a behemoth like Amazon.

#alibaba-group, #aliexpress, #amazon, #amazon-marketplace, #asia, #china, #cross-border-commerce, #e-commerce, #ebay, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shein, #shenzhen, #shopee, #shopify, #tc

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eBay embraces NFTs

eBay is joining the NFT frenzy, telling Reuters today that going forward it will allow the sales of NFTs on its platform, a mainstream embrace that follows billions of dollars in NFT purchases over the past few months. The e-commerce company seems poised to slowly build up sales of digital collectibles on the platform, starting with a smaller group of verified sellers on the platform.

“In the coming months, eBay will add new capabilities that bring blockchain-driven collectibles to our platform,” eBay exec Jordan Sweetnam told them.

eBay has invested heavily in infrastructure for physical collectibles like trading cards, as well as items like sneakers and watches which they help verify for buyers.

eBay is a major presence in online shopping, but the platform will have its work cut out for it competing with dozens of crypto native NFT marketplaces already out there. While NFT interest has been high as of late, the infrastructure for buying collectibles with cryptocurrencies still isn’t the most user-friendly. Earlier this week, executives at eBay said they were open to accepting cryptocurrencies in the future.

This news comes as the Ethereum cryptocurrency, which is the primary method of purchase for most NFTs, reaches past all-time-highs, currently trading over $4,100.

#articles, #blockchain, #computing, #cryptocurrency, #ebay, #ecommerce, #nft, #online-shopping, #technology

0

Look out Amazon Go — A Lisbon startup plans to offer autonomous stores to other retailers

Look out Amazon Go. A Lisbon startup plans to offer the same autonomous store technology to other retailers. Lisbon-based Sensei, a computer vision startup that allows convenience stores to offer check-out-free purchasing has secured a seed round of $6.5 million (€5.4M). The funding was led by Seaya Ventures and Iberis Capital, with participation from 200M Fund.

The startup will now scale its R&D and launch new stores. Its proprietary platform uses a blend of cameras, sensors, and AI to automate stores, both new and existing. The platform means retailers can manage inventory in real-time and also access insights into the way the stores are used.

Vasco Portugal, Sensei’s CEO and Co-founder said: “Sensei’s technology will help level the playing field for retailers to compete against digital giants such as Amazon. We aim to enhance the familiar and enjoyable customer shopping experience, making it seamless, convenient, and safe.”

Sensei is designed to work mainly with grab-and-go stores, forecourts, and similar retail formats. Competitors include Trigo which has raised $89 million.

The advantages of automated stores in a pandemic are obvious: customers no longer have to queue. Plus retailers can avoid stock-outs and staff turn into customer support.

“We are delighted to invest in a business that is part of the digitalization of commerce, a trend that is currently clearly being accelerated,” said Aris Xenofontos, Principal at Seaya Ventures.

Luis Quaresma, Partner at Iberis Capital, added: “Sensei brings tremendous efficiencies and cost-savings to the retail industry, while providing a much needed seamless checkout experience for consumers.”

Sensei was founded by Vasco Portugal (CEO, ex-MIT), Joana Rafael (COO),Nuno Moutinho (CTO) and Paulo Carreira (CSO).

#amazon, #ceo, #coo, #cto, #europe, #lisbon, #marketing, #merchandising, #mit, #online-shopping, #partner, #portugal, #retail, #retailers, #seaya-ventures, #sensei, #tc, #trigo

0

Amazon is opening a London hair salon to test AR and other retail technologies

Amazon announced this morning it’s opening Amazon Salon, the retailer’s first hair salon and a place where Amazon aims to test new technologies with the general public. The salon will occupy over 1,500 sq. ft on Brushfield Street in London’s Spitalfields, where Amazon says it will initially be trialing the use of augmented reality (AR) and “point-and-learn” technology — the latter being a system that allow customers to point to products on a display shelf in order to learn more through videos and other content that then appears on a display screen.

To then order the products, the customers will scan the QR code on the shelf, which takes them to the Amazon.co.uk shopping page for the item where they can add it to their cart and check out.

Image Credits: Amazon

The salon’s AR technology, meanwhile, will be used to allow customers to experiment by virtually trying on different hair colors before making a commitment to a new shade.

Amazon has already entered the convenience store market, grocery business and other physical retail, where it’s innovating with new technologies like cashierless checkout, smart grocery carts, and biometric systems. But it’s not clear that Amazon actually has ambitions to be in the salon business itself. Instead, it seems the salon will largely serve as a testing ground for new technologies that Amazon will likely want to sell to other retail clients in the future, or perhaps implement in its own stores. And in the case of AR, Amazon may want to gather data on customers’ experiences it can use on its own shopping site, too.

Hinting that its goals are not about the salon business itself, Amazon today describes the salon as an “experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” and notes that it has no other plans to open more salons at this time.

The company has also recruited an existing salon owner, Elena Lavagni of Neville Hair & Beauty Salon, to help with this project, instead of hiring a new staff to run it long-term. Lavagni and her team have previously provided hairdressing services for other events, like Paris Fashion Week and the Cannes Film Festival.

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon has not detailed what sort of data it will collect from customers who use the salon, but it’s clearly there to learn about how new retail technologies would work in a real-world environment. But the fact that Amazon is capturing customer images for its hair color virtual try-on should raise questions about what it plans to do with the data it collects from the new salon. Will it only be used to learn about the specific technology being tested, or will it be put to other uses, too?

As many recall, Amazon has a complicated history with its use of technologies like facial recognition and biometrics, having sold biometric facial recognition services to law enforcement in the U.S., while its facial recognition technology was the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. And its Ring camera company continues to work in partnership with police. Customers should be told if they’re participating in an Amazon research project, not just having fun with new tech products.

Like other Amazon physical stores, the salon will first be open to Amazon employees only before offering bookings to the wider public in the weeks to come.

#amazon, #amazon-co-uk, #ar, #augmented-reality, #ecommerce, #london, #online-shopping, #salon, #shopping, #technology

0

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

#atlanta, #business, #dallas, #denver, #e-commerce, #logistics, #los-angeles, #marketing, #model, #online-shopping, #palantir, #palo-alto, #paul, #playground-global, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saltbox, #seattle, #self-storage, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #techstars, #village-capital, #warehouse, #wilshire-lane-partners

0

Goldman Sachs leads $23M in funding for Brazilian e-commerce startup Olist

Olist, a Brazilian e-commerce marketplace integrator, has raised $23 million in a Series D round extension led by new investor Goldman Sachs Asset Management that brings its total Series D financing to $80 million.

Existing backer Redpoint Ventures, which first put money in Olist in 2015, also participated in the latest round. With this latest infusion, Olist has now raised over $126 million since its 2015 inception. This round is reportedly its last before the company plans to go public, according to Bloomberg.

SoftBank led the first tranch of Olist’s Series D in November as well as the company’s $46 million Series C in 2019. Valor Capital, Velt Partners, FJ Labs, Península and angel Kevin Efrusy had previously invested in the first tranche of the Series D.

Olist connects small businesses to larger product marketplaces to help entrepreneurs sell their products to a larger customer base. The company was founded with the mission of helping small merchants gain market share across the country through a SaaS licensing model to small brick and mortar businesses.

As of October 2019, Olist had more than 7,000 customers and used a drop-shipping model to send products directly from stores to clients around the country, allowing them to grow with a capital-light model.

Today, Olist says its platform provides tools that support “all the stages of an e-commerce operation” with the goal of helping merchants see “rapid increases in sales volume.” It currently has about 25,000 merchants on its platform.

The startup is no doubt benefiting from the pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom taking place all over the world as more people have turned to online shopping. Latin America, in general, has been home to increased e-commerce adoption. The region’s $85 billion e-commerce market is growing rapidly with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

As evidence of that, Olist says its revenue tripled to a record number in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year, although it did not provide hard figures. It also reportedly doubled revenue in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

Olist Store, the company’s flagship product, gives merchants a way to manage product listings, logistics and store payments. It also offers “a unique sales experience” through channels such as Mercado Livre, B2W and Via Varejo. The product saw a record GMV in the first half of the year, which was up 2.5 times over the same period in the prior year, the company said.

Last year, Olist launched a new product, Olist Shops, giving users the ability to create a virtual showcase “in less than 3 minutes” that also offers payment checkout tools and integration with logistics operators. Shops has interfaces in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and since its launch, it has attracted more than 200,000 users in 180 countries, according to Olist.

“The pandemic has accelerated digitalizing business processes around the world, thus spurring e-commerce growth in a surprising way,” said Tiago Dalvi, Olist’s founder and CEO, in a written statement. 

The company plans to use its new capital to invest in technology and products, pursuing new mergers and acquisitions and boosting its internationalization process. This is on top of two acquisitions Olist made last year — Clickspace and Pax Logistica, which gave Olist entry into the heated logistics space with more than 4,000 registered drivers.

Specifically, CFO Eduardo Ferraz said the company is in preliminary discussions with ERPs, retailers, and companies with complementary solutions to its own.

“That is why we also decided to expand the investment in our Series D and bring Goldman Sachs as another relevant investor to our cap table,” he said.

David Castelblanco, managing director and head of Latin America Corporate and Growth Equity Investing for the Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said his firm was impressed with how Olist empowers SMBs to generate more revenue.

“Tiago and the Olist team are incredibly customer oriented and have created an innovative technological solution for their e-commerce clients,” he added.

Olist is operating in an increasingly crowded space. In March, we covered São Paulo-based Nuvemshop’s $90 million raise that was led by Silicon Valley venture firm Accel. That company has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. 

#accel, #banks, #brazil, #ceo, #cfo, #companies, #e-commerce, #finance, #fj-labs, #goldman-sachs, #kevin-efrusy, #latin-america, #olist, #online-shopping, #opera, #redpoint-ventures, #sao-paulo, #series-d, #softbank, #tc, #valor-capital

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Mercato raises $26M Series A to help smaller grocers compete online

The pandemic upended the way people shop for their everyday needs, including groceries. Online grocery sales in the U.S. are expected to reach 21.5% of the total grocery sales by 2025, after leaping from 3.4% pre-pandemic to 10.2% as of 2020. One business riding this wave is Mercato, an online grocery platform that helps smaller grocers and speciality food stores get online quickly. After helping grow its merchant sales by 1,300% in 2020, Mercato has now closed on $26 million in Series A funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round was led by Velvet Sea Ventures with participation from Team Europe, the investing arm of Lukasz Gadowski, co-founder of Delivery Hero. Seed investors Greycroft and Loeb.nyc also returned for the new round Gadowski and Mike Lazerow of Velvet Sea Ventures have also now joined Mercato’s board.

Mercato itself was founded in 2015 by Bobby Brannigan, who had grown up helping at his family’s grocery store in Brooklyn. But instead of taking over the business, as his Dad had hoped, Brannigan left for college and eventually went on to bootstrap a college textbook marketplace, Valore Books, to $100 million in sales. After selling the business, he returned his focus to the family’s store and found that everything was still operating the way it had been decades ago.

Image Credits: Bobby Brannigan of Mercato

“He had a very basic website, no e-commerce, no social media, and no point-of-sale system,” explains Brannigan. “I said, ‘I’m going to build what you need.’ This was my opportunity to help my dad in an area that I knew about,” he adds.

Brannigan recruited some engineers from his last company to help him build the software systems to modernize his dad’s store, including Mercato’s co-founders Dave Bateman, Michael Mason, and Matthew Alarie. But the team soon realized could do more than help just Brannigan’s dad — they could also help the 40,000 independent grocery stores just like him better compete with the Amazon’s of the world.

The result was Mercato, a platform-as-a-service that makes it easier for smaller grocers and speciality food shops to go online to offer their inventory for pickup or delivery, without having to partner with a grocery delivery service like Instacart, AmazonFresh or Shipt.

The solution today includes an e-commerce website and data analytics platform that helps stores understand what their customers are looking for, where customers are located, how to price their products, and other insights that help them to better run their store. And Mercato is now working on adding on a supply platform to help the stores buy inventory through their system, Brannigan notes.

“Basically, the vision of it is to give them the tech, the systems, and the platform they need to be successful in this day and age,” notes Brannigan.

He likens Mercato as a sort of “Shopify for groceries,” as it gives stores their own page on Mercato where they can reach customers. When the customer visits Mercato on the web or via its app, they can enter in their zip code to see which local stores offer online shopping. Some stores simply redirect their existing websites to their Mercato page, as they can continue to offer other basic information, like address, hours, and other details about their stores on the Mercato-provided site, while gaining access to Mercato’s over 1 million customers.

However, merchants can also opt for a white-label solution that they can plug into their own website, which uses their own branding.

The stores can further customize the experience they want to offer customers, in terms of pickup and delivery, and the time frames for both they want to commit to. If they want to ease into online grocery, for example, they can start with next-day delivery services, then speed thing up to same-day when they’re ready. They can also set limits on how many time slots they offer per hour, based on staffing levels.

Image Credits: Mercato

Unlike Instacart and others which send shoppers to stores to fill the orders, Mercato allows the merchants themselves to maintain the customer relationship by handling the orders themselves, which they can receive via email, text or even robo-phone calls.

“They’re maintaining that relationship,” says Brannigan. “Usually, it’s a lot better if it’s somebody from the store [doing the shopping] because they might know the customer; they know the kind of product they’re looking for. And if they don’t have it, they know something else they can recommend — so they’re like a really efficient recommendation engine.”

“The big difference between an Instacart shopper and the worker in the store is that the worker in the store understands that somebody is trying to put a meal on the table, and certain items could be an important ingredient,” he notes. “For the shoppers at Instacart, it’s about a time clock: how quickly can they pick an order to make the most money.”

The company contracts with both national and regional couriers to handle the delivery portion, once orders are ready.

Mercato’s system was put to test during the pandemic, when demand for online grocery skyrocketed.

This is where Mercato’s ability to rapidly onboard merchants came in handy. The company says it can take stores online in just 24 hours, as it has built out a centralized product catalog of over a million items. It then connects with the store’s point-of-sale system, and uploads and matches the store’s products to their own database. This allows Mercato to map around 95% of the store’s products in a matter of minutes, with the last bit being added manually — which helps to build out Mercato’s catalog even further. Today, Mercato can integrate with virtually all point-of-sale (POS) solutions in the grocery market, which is more than 30 different systems.

As customers shop, Mercato’s system uses machine learning to help determine if a product is likely in stock by examining movement data.

“One of the challenges in grocery is that most stores actually don’t know how many quantities they have in stock of a product,” explains Brannigan. “So we launch a store, we integrate with the POS. And with the POS we can see how quickly a product is moving in-store and online. Based on movement, we can calculate what is in stock.”

This system, he says, continues to get smarter over time, too.

“We’re certainly three to five years ahead, and we’re not going back,” says Brannigan of the COVID impacts to the online grocery business. “It’s very plentiful now in many places, in terms of e-commerce offerings. And the nature of retail businesses is competitive. So if 1% of people are online, it might not drive other people. But if you have 15% of stores online, then other stores have to get online or they won’t be able to compete,” he notes.

Mercato generates revenue both from its consumer-facing membership program, with plans that range from $96/year – $228/year, depending on distance, and from the merchants themselves, who pay a single digit percentage transaction fee on orders — a lower percentage than what restaurant delivery companies charge.

The company has now scaled its service to over 1,000 merchants across 45 U.S. states, including big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, and others.

With the additional funding, Mercato aims to expand its remotely distributed team of now 80 employees, as well as its data analytics platform, which will help merchants make better decisions that impact their business. It also plans to refresh the consumer subscription to add more benefits and perks that make it more compelling.

Mercato declined to share its valuation or revenue, but as of the start of the pandemic last year, the company had said it was reaching a billion in sales and a $700 million run rate.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #grocery-store, #lukasz-gadowski, #machine-learning, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #startups, #supermarkets, #velvet-sea-ventures

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U.S. e-commerce on track for its first $1 trillion year by 2022, due to lasting pandemic impacts

The COVID-19 pandemic boosted U.S. online shopping by $183 billion, accord to a new report by Adobe’s e-commerce division, released this morning. This figure represents the increase in online shopping during the months of March 2020, when the pandemic began in the U.S, through February 2021. During this time, U.S. consumers spent a total of $844 billion online. Meanwhile, $813 billion was spent during the calendar year 2020 alone, up 42% over 2019. To put this $183 billion in perspective, Adobe notes it’s nearly the size of the last holiday shopping season, when $188.2 billion was spent online during the months of November and December 2020. The firm expects this growth to continue in the years ahead, reaching $1 billion by 2022.

The pandemic has served as an accelerant to many industries, pushing them years ahead of where their natural growth would have otherwise taken them.

E-commerce benefitted from this trend as well, as consumers faced stay-at-home orders, non-essential retailers closed their doors, and in-person shopping was replaced with online commerce for many consumers. Adobe says the pandemic itself produced a “rare step change in online spending, equivalent to a 20% boost,” and noted the impacts will continue even as the pandemic comes to an end in the months to come.

The company’s analysts, for example, noted that the first two months of 2021 (Jan.-Feb 2021), have already seen consumer spending of $121 billion in the U.S, or a 34% year-over-year increase.

Also during this time, the buy-now-pay-later method for online shopping has jumped up by 215% year-over-year, with orders that are 18% larger — another factor in the growing sales driven by these changes.

Adobe predicts that current growth rates will continue, leading to 2021 calendar year sales of somewhere between $850 billion and $930 billion. It then expects 2022 to deliver the first trillion-dollar year for U.S. e-commerce.

Beyond the e-commerce sales increases, the pandemic may have also led to other long-lasting changes in terms of how people shop and what they’re buying.

Adobe said that both in-store and curbside pickup services had grown in adoption by 67% year-over-year, as of Feb. 2021. Consumers seem very receptive to this hybrid model of shopping, with a recent Adobe survey finding that 30% of U.S. consumers actually prefer pickup over standard delivery, for instance.

The shift to regular online shopping may have some later impacts on typical “sales holidays” that had, in the past, drawn larger increases in shopper activity. Memorial Day 2020 commerce grew 20% less than other days that week, and resulted in $32 million less revenue, Adobe noted. Labor Day and President’s Day saw similar trends. And notably, the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday 2020 also contributed 9% less to revenue share during the holiday season, equivalent to $600 million.

There were some indications that retailers haven’t quite adapted to the surge of new online shoppers, however. “Out of stock” messages were common, peaking in July 2020 which saw 3x the number of stockouts compared with a pre-pandemic period. And it Jan. 2021, out of stock messages were elevated at 4x pre-pandemic levels. This was common particularly among groceries, pet products and medical supplies, Adobe said.

Online grocery has also benefited from the change in consumer behavior, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing. In Feb. 2021, the category was up by 230% compared with Jan. 2020, pre-pandemic.

Unlike with consumer surveys, Adobe’s data is derived from trends seen directly in Adobe Analytics, which covers over 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites and over 100 million SKUs, giving it a more comprehensive, real-time look into the U.S. e-commerce industry and consumer spending.

#adobe, #commerce, #consumers, #e-commcerce, #ecommerce, #online-shopping

0

Identiq, a privacy-friendly fraud prevention startup, secures $47M at Series A

Israeli fraud prevention startup Identiq has raised $47 million at Series A as the company eyes international growth, driven in large part by the spike in online spending during the pandemic.

The round was led by Insight Partners and Entrée Capital, with participation from Amdocs, Sony Innovation Fund by IGV, as well as existing investors Vertex Ventures Israel, Oryzn Capital, and Slow Ventures.

Fraud prevention is big business, which is slated to be worth $145 billion by 2026, ballooning by eightfold in size compared to 2018. But it’s a data hungry industry, fraught with security and privacy risks, having to rely on sharing enormous sets of consumer data in order to learn who legitimate customers are in order to weed out the fraudsters, and therefore.

Identiq takes a different, more privacy-friendly approach to fraud prevention, without having to share a customer’s data with a third-party.

“Before now, the only way companies could solve this problem was by exposing the data they were given by the user to a third party data provider for validation, creating huge privacy problems,” Identiq’s chief executive Itay Levy told TechCrunch. “We solved this by allowing these companies to validate that the data they’ve been given matches the data of other companies that already know and trust the user, without sharing any sensitive information at all.”

When an Identiq customer — such as an online store — sees a new customer for the first time, the store can ask other stores in Identiq’s network if they know or trust that new customer. This peer-to-peer network uses cryptography to help online stores anonymously vet new customers to help weed out bad actors, like fraudsters and scammers, without needing to collect private user data.

So far, the company says it already counts Fortune 500 companies as customers.

Identiq said it plans to use the $47 million raise to hire and grow the company’s workforce, and aims to scale up its support for its international customers.

#articles, #cryptography, #customer-data, #digital-rights, #entree-capital, #human-rights, #identity-management, #insight-partners, #marketing, #online-shopping, #online-stores, #peer-to-peer, #privacy, #security, #slow-ventures, #sony, #sony-innovation-fund, #startups, #terms-of-service, #vertex-ventures

0

Venmo to gain crypto, budgeting, savings, and Honey integrations this year

The Venmo mobile payments app is going to look very different in 2021 as it inches closer to neobank territory with expansions into budgeting, saving, and cryptocurrency, said Venmo parent company PayPal, during its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company also plans to put its $4 billion Honey acquisition to work by integrating its suite of shopping tools into the Venmo app, including merchant offers, deals, price tracking and wish lists.

PayPal already signaled its intentions to bring cryptocurrencies to Venmo. The company entered the crypto market last November by adding support for buying, holding, and selling cryptocurrencies in the U.S. through a partnership with the regulated crypto services provider, Paxos Trust Company. At the time, PayPal noted it would bring a similar feature set to its Venmo app during 2021.

That time frame is still on track, PayPal confirmed during its earnings call with investors.

The company said, in the next few months, Venmo users will gain the ability to buy, hold and sell crypto inside the Venmo mobile app, along with other “investment alternatives.” (This statement refers to PayPal’s work with central banks who are developing their own digital currencies on the blockchain.)

Other changes to Venmo make the app sound as if it’s becoming more of a neobank competitor.

For example, PayPal said it will work with its financial industry partners this year to introduce features like budgeting and saving tools as well as bill pay options inside PayPal — additions that are common to modern-day mobile banking apps.

On Venmo, the forthcoming savings feature will look similar to PayPal’s existing PayPal Cash Plus account, where it partners with financial institutions to provide FDIC pass-through insurance. Today, funds held in the Cash Plus account are eligible for this insurance only if customers also have a PayPal Cash Card debit card, have enrolled in Direct Deposit, or have established Goals in their Cash Plus account. Venmo now has the pieces in place to offer the same.

Another change includes the Honey integration, which PayPal has been promising for some time. Now, the company is offering more details around what those integrations will look like. It said the plan is to integrate Honey’s features into both its PayPal and Venmo platforms in the first half of 2021 — including Honey’s wish list, price monitoring tools, deals, coupons and rewards.

This integration will allow merchants to target specific demographics of PayPal and Venmo customers with personalized offers and discounts, thanks to PayPal’s two-sided marketplace. In other words, the company will attempt to capture the consumer in the earlier stages of the shopping process, when they’re browsing for deals, looking up prices, or searching for specific products. Honey’s shopping tools could point them to a matching deal, and then the customer could complete the checkout process using the Venmo app. 

These new tools will arrive at a time when the pandemic has forced more commerce to shift online, as retail stores and other in-person retail opportunities declined due to store closures and government lockdowns. Plus, some people today now just prefer to shop online because they no longer feel safe in physical retail stores where basic safety measures like mask-wearing and social distancing aren’t enforced.

This broader acceleration of e-commerce and “contactless” payments also helped PayPal to add 1.4 million new merchants in the quarter. It now has 29 million merchants across its platform, who interact with now nearly 350 million consumers.

Meanwhile, Venmo’s total payment volume grew 60% year-over-year to $47 billion, and its customer base grew 32%, ending just shy of 70 million accounts. The company expects its revenues will approach $900 million in 2021.

Venmo credit card

Image Credits: Venmo

Venmo has been rapidly expanding beyond being just a payments app. In recent months, it has launched its first credit card, which will be 100% rolled out by month-end, as well as QR codes for in-store shopping, business profiles, and cash-checking features that arrived just in time to handle customers’ stimulus checks.

But Venmo doesn’t aim to be a full neobank — at least not yet. Instead, it imagines itself as more of a “digital wallet” of sorts.

“Today’s digital reality is rapidly accelerating the need for a digital wallet that encompasses payments, financial services and shopping,” explained PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors. “This year, our digital wallet will change more than it has ever changed before, significantly increasing its functionality within a single, integrated and beautifully designed app that should meaningfully increase consumer engagement,” he said.

As Venmo’s new features roll out, PayPal expects the app’s usage and payment volume to grow.

“I think we are going to see….a real bend in the historic rate of engagement. And it’s going to be all around that super app functionality in that digital wallet, moving well beyond just payments,” Schulman said.

Correction, 2/4/21, 1 pm et —  Schulman’s note about bill pay was referencing a launch inside PayPal’s app in 2021. It was mentioned alongside other forthcoming Venmo features, which led to some confusion. We’ve now corrected this. 

#digital-currency, #e-commerce, #finance, #financial-services, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #online-shopping, #paypal, #venmo

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Will Carbon and Shahry usher in a wave of buy now, pay later services in Africa?

Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna, Quadpay. These are some of the big global players in the buy now, pay later (BNPL) movement. They allow shoppers to purchase products online and pay in installments with nominal or no fees, and have become more prominent due to how the pandemic accelerated e-commerce market growth around the world.

Credit card companies have filled in this gap for a long time. But the problem is credit cards rely on exorbitant fees, leading people to debt in the long run. While the pandemic left many jobless, it taught millennials and Gen Zers — a growing demographic with more than $200 billion in spending power — the hard way of sorting out their debt issues. In turn, a number of them have become debt-averse and increased their demand for better financing options. 

A 2020 poll carried out by Motley Fool surveyed 1,800+ people on why U.S. consumers use BNPL services. From the survey, 39% of the respondents said they used BNPL services to avoid paying credit card interest rates, while 16.3% said they don’t like to use credit cards and 14% said their credit cards were maxed out.

To millennials, there’s no incentive to own a credit card these days. A shift of preference to buy products on credit at the point-of-sale is on the rise; $680 billion will be spent by global consumers using online POS finance or BNPL over e-commerce channels by 2025.

Yet, as established players continue to have thousands of merchants and millions of users on their platforms, BNPL services are just picking up in Africa.

In a continent where debit cards (not credit) are prevalent, the upcoming players are primarily lending companies who have found a way to assess their customers’ credit risk via technology. Gathering data from partnerships with merchants, they use consumers’ shopping habits and purchasing power to drive their BNPL ambitions.

How these platforms assess credit risk

Last week, Nigerian digital bank Carbon introduced Carbon Zero, a product that lets customers purchase electronics and gadgets while paying in small installments at a 0% interest rate. However, before a purchase is made, a percentage of the total cost is paid upfront. After that, customers can pay the remaining price over six months. 

There are different reasons why such services hardly exist on the continent. For one, the country’s credit infrastructure is still a work in progress, and most of its citizens have limited purchasing power. So how does Carbon plan to assess risk? 

The company started in 2012 as a digital lender. But it has since grown to become one of the country’s few digital banks providing different financial services to its more than 659,000 customers. With extensive experience and a track record of providing loans to Nigerians (in 2020, its loan disbursement volume was $63 million), Carbon has found itself in pole position to enter the buy now, pay later market with Carbon Zero.

“We do not believe that a firm without a track record of lending can provide a similar service, except they have a significant amount of capital to burn. Carbon has been lending in Nigeria for nearly 10 years, so we have a lot of credit history of our customers, and we believe we can assess new customers very well,” Chijioke Dozie, the company’s CEO, told TechCrunch. 

Dozie says Carbon Zero hopes to be the embodiment of the promise made to its customers years ago to embed finance in their everyday purchase. But there’s a benchmark to who these customers are. According to the company, Carbon Zero can only be accessed by customers who earn at least ₦200,000 ($500) monthly, representing a small amount of the population.

The case of finding a market need and product-market fit was slightly different for Egyptian digital lending platform Shahry. In 2019, co-founders Sherif ElRakabawy and Mohamed Ewis, while running Yaoota — Egypt’s largest shopping engine and price comparison website — noticed that one of the most frequent requests they got from users was the option to buy products and pay for them later. Simultaneously, the Egyptian pound was experiencing devaluation against the dollar, thereby causing inflation.

The founders launched Shahry targeting the underbanked part of its young population to pay for products in installments, going head to head with the banks that offered similar services, albeit via credit cards.

“We’re currently the only buy now, pay later app in Egypt that offers a fully online service with no physical friction or paperwork from signing up to product home delivery,” the CEO ElRakabawy told TechCrunch.  

While Shahry’s model does not require a down payment, it does require that users apply for virtual credit through their mobile app, which they use to buy products from Arab e-commerce giant Souq. The company determines creditworthiness using algorithms and a credit risk review based on customer data. The company is also working on an AI model for fully automated instant decisions.

Partnering with merchants and raising capital to compete

Depending on the vertical, BNPL helps merchants drive sales, increase conversion rates and improve transaction sizes at decent percentages.

On how it makes money, Shahry takes interests and commission fees from merchants — a method Carbon Zero adopts. Via Souq, Shahry has Amazon as an online partner, and ElRakabawy says the company plans to onboard hundreds of brick and mortar, and online, merchants later this year.  

On the other hand, Carbon Zero launched with merchants that are top distributors of authentic electronics and gadgets in Nigeria. Although these merchants sell competing products, Dozie says Carbon doesn’t control the prices. The company is only concerned with financing the products as other necessities like product pricing, fulfilment and logistics is between the merchant and the customer.

“We have told merchants it’s in their best interest to provide the best pricing as we will not favour any merchant over the other. Customers can choose which Zero merchant they want to use, and they will vote with their wallet,” he said. 

To embark on a BNPL journey, a company must have a functioning credit system and a large war chest. This is why the likes of Affirm and Klarna have raised billions, and Afterpay millions, of dollars in investments. While Shahry and Carbon don’t have those amounts to burn, they will make do with what they have, as is usual with most African startups — case in point, despite raising just $650,000 in pre-seed investment last year, Shahry claims to have been experiencing double-digit month-on-month growth.

But ElRakabawy reckons that financing these transactions have put a strain on the business even though the company is yet to scratch the surface of what could be achieved in the Egyptian market.

“The market is huge and still mostly underserved,” he said. “The demand is so big that we’re currently only capped by the amount of loan capital we can disburse.” In the coming months, the company plans to close a second round of funding from new and existing investors to meet the growing demand for its service.

Carbon might be looking to do the same as the company gears up for a Series B in the foreseeable future. However, what is top of mind for Dozie is not fundraising; it is how to tailor the buy now, pay later service, which has become a global phenomenon, to a harsh market like Nigeria.

“We see a lot of potential in the Nigerian market for Carbon Zero. We do not believe we can blindly copy other BNPL players like Affirm or Klarna because they operate in markets that have an established offline and online retail market,” he said. “Carbon Zero will not only adapt to its environment to offer payment experience in the retail space but also in other areas where customers need to spread payments — in travel, education, and healthcare.”

#africa, #bnpl, #carbon, #carbon-zero, #ecommerce, #finance, #online-lending, #online-shopping, #startups, #tc

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Mind the gap: E-commerce marketers should revise their TAM and SAM estimates

2021 is going to be another glorious year for e-commerce.

It is that time of the year when most of us are looking back at the “total addressable market” estimates to plan for specific campaigns. Unlike us, if you had your 2021 kick off in Q3, bless your soul. You are an enlightened being.

For the rest of you, for whom e-commerce is a strategic market, I have a question — have you built your total addressable market (TAM) and serviceable addressable market (SAM) estimates for 2021 considering how things evolved in 2020?

It’s important to understand the underlying business model dynamics of companies and visualize TAM from those perspectives.

For most of us, research is a mind-numbing, repetitive exercise of clicking through links on Google until they all turn purple — at which point we start seeking the simplest possible explanation. For e-commerce, addressable market estimates come in the form of headlines from platforms like Shopify. The company quotes a merchant count number in its earnings calls and that becomes the basis for guesstimating the current TAM of e-commerce companies.

The other, rather simplistic approach is to look at the user-base count from several databases that publish tech platform-level user stats.

In reality, the simplest answer is not the right answer.

Mind the gap

Let’s take e-commerce shopping cart installations. Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, BigCommerce and others publish installation numbers that run into millions.

Here is the dichotomy that should frame your TAM discussions.

E-commerce is long-tail heavy. Yes, there are millions of merchants, but e-commerce revenue is a fat-tail phenomenon — meaning, a disproportionate amount of e-commerce revenue comes from a few tens of thousands of companies.

PipeCandy publishes bottom-up TAM estimates with detailed data cuts by technology, logistics and payment system adoptions by firms across revenue tiers across all major markets. One of the common misconceptions we see in how firms misinterpret TAM estimates is that they equate revenue to spend potential.

#amazon, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retail, #shopify, #total-addressable-market, #web-applications

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BlackCart raises $8.8M Series A for its try-before-you-buy platform for online merchants

A startup called BlackCart is tackling one of the key challenges with online shopping: an inability to try on or test out the merchandise before making a purchase. That company, which has now closed on $8.8 million in Series A funding, has built a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with e-commerce storefronts, allowing customers to ship items to their home for free and only pay if they choose to keep the item after a “try on” period has lapsed.

The new round of financing was led by Origin Ventures and Hyde Park Ventures Partners, and saw participation from Struck Capital, Citi Ventures, 500 Startups, and several other angel investors including Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs, Dean Bakes of M3 Ventures, Greg Rudin of Menlo Ventures, Jordan Nathan of Caraway Cookware, and First National Bank CFO Nick Pirollo, among others.

Image Credits: BlackCart

BlackCart founder Donny Ouyang had previously founded online tutoring marketplace Rayku before joining a seed stage VC fund, Caravan Ventures. But he was inspired to return to entrepreneurship, he says, after experiencing a personal problem with trying to order shoes online.

Realizing the opportunity for a “try before you buy” type of service, Ouyang first built BlackCart in 2017 as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform that worked by way of a Chrome extension with some 50 different online merchants, largely in apparel.

This MVP of sorts proved there was consumer demand for something like this in online shopping shopping.

Ouyang credits the earlier version of BlackCart with helping the team to understand what sort of products work best for this service.

“I think, in general, for try-before-you-buy, anything that’s moderate to higher price points, lower frequency of purchase, where the customer makes a considered purchase decision — those perform really well,” he says.

Two years later, Ouyang took BlackCart to 500 Startups in San Francisco, where he then pivoted the business to a B2B offering it is today.

Image Credits: BlackCart

The startup now provides a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with online storefronts, including those from Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, SalesForce Commerce Cloud, WordPress, and even custom storefronts. The system is designed to be turnkey for online retailers and takes around 48 hours to set up on Shopify around a week on Magento, for example.

BlackCart has also developed its own proprietary technology around fraud detection, payments, returns, and the overall user experience, which includes a button for retailers’ websites.

Because the online shoppers aren’t paying upfront for the merchandise they’re being shipped, BlackCart has to rely on an expanded array of behavioral signals and data in order to make a determination about whether the customer represents a fraud risk. As one example, if the customer had read a lot of helpdesk articles about fraud before placing their order, that could be flagged as a negative signal.

BlackCart also verifies the user’s phone number at checkout and matches it to telco and government data sets to see if their historical addresses match their shipping and billing addresses.

Image Credits: BlackCart

After the customer receives the item, they are able to keep it for a period of time (as designated by the retailer) before being charged. BlackCart covers any fraud as part of its value proposition to retailers.

BlackCart makes money by way of a rev share model, where it charges retailers a percentage of the sales where the customers have kept the products. This amount can vary based on a number of factors, like the fraud multiplier, average order value, the type of product and others. At the low end, it’s around 4% and around 10% on the high-end, Ouyang says.

The company has also expanded beyond home try-on to include try-before-you-buy for electronics, jewelry, home goods, and more. It can even ship out makeup samples for home try-on, as another option.

Once integrated on a website, BlackCart claims its merchants typically see conversion increases of 24%, average order values climb by 51%, and bottom-line sales growth of 27%.

To date, the platform been adopted by over 50 medium-to-large retailers as well as e-commerce startups, like luxury sneaker brand Koio, clothing startup Dia&Co, online mattress startup Helix Sleep, cookware startup Caraway, among others. It’s also under NDA now with a top 50 retailer it can’t yet name publicly, and has contracts signed with 13 others who are waiting to be onboarded.

Soon, BlackCart aims to offer a self-serve onboarding process, Ouyang notes.

“This would be later, end of Q2 or early Q3,” he says. “But I think for us, it will still be probably 80% self-serve, and then larger enterprises will want to be handheld.”

With the additional funding, BlackCart aims to shift to paying the merchant immediately for the items at checkout, then reconciling afterwards in order to be more efficient. This has been one of merchants’ biggest feature requests, as well.

Image Credits: BlackCart; team photo

The funding will also allow BlackCart to expand its remotely distributed 10-person team to around 50 by year-end, including engineers, product specialists, customer support staff, and sales.

More broadly, it aims to quickly capitalize on the growth in the e-commerce market, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[We want to] take advantage of the favorable macroeconomic situation to scale as quickly as possible,” Ouyang explains. “We’re hoping to get to around $250 million in transactions through our platform by the end of 2021. And this would be driven by both engineering and sales hires, and just pushing it up,” he says.

Longer-term, Ouyang envisions adding more consumer-facing features to BlackCart’s platform, like on-demand returns where a courier comes to the house to pick up your return, for example.

“Our firm is excited to partner with BlackCart as it makes try-before-you-buy the standard in online shopping,” said Prashant Shukla of Origin Ventures, who now sits on BlackCart’s board, as result of the new financing. “Its underwriting technology provides merchants with peace of mind, and its best-in-class consumer experience delivers significant sales and conversion lifts. Digital Native generations expect to be able to shop online exactly as they would in a retail store, and BlackCart is the only company providing this experience,” he adds.

#bigcommerce, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #magento, #online-shopping, #shopify, #shopping, #startups

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E-commerce infrastructure startup Nacelle closes $18M Series A

Consumer online shopping habits have led to a windfall of revenues for these web storefronts, but COVID-era trends have also breathed new life into the market for developer tools that help e-commerce sites operate more smoothly for shoppers.

LA-based Nacelle is one of many e-commerce infrastructure startups to earn attention from investors amid COVID.

The web services company helps streamline the backends of e-commerce websites with a so-called “headless” platform that shifts how the front end of websites interact with content in the back end. The startup claims its tech can boost performance, promote better scalability, cut down on hosting costs and offer developers a more streamlined experience.

Nacelle has closed an $18 million Series A led by Inovia with participation from Accomplice, Index Ventures, High Alpha, Silas Capital and Lerer Hippeau. The company just closed a $4.8 million seed round in mid-2020, the speedy pace of their Series A’s close seems to speak to the investor enthusiasm that has deepened around companies operating in the e-commerce world.

“It’s not secret that commerce has done well during COVID,” CEO Brian Anderson tells TechCrunch. “Not only did we get this subtle structural change with COVID that I believe is long-lasting, but merchants have been focusing more on performance.”

One of the startup’s central points of focus has been ensuring that they can bring customers onboard its platform without causing undue headaches. It can be “very painful to migrate data” with other services, Anderson says. The company’s service is “anti-rip-and-replace,” meaning potential customers can integrate “without having to be rebuild their stores.”

The firm’s customer base is largely made up of small- to medium-sized e-commerce sites. Nacelle works closely with agencies for customer referrals, also tapping on Anderson’s past contacts from his days running a Shopify Plus agency.

This past August, data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index suggested that pandemic trends had accelerated the consumer shift from primarily visiting to physical stores to shopping on e-commerce storefronts by roughly five years.

#alpha, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #lerer-hippeau, #marketing, #nacelle, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopify, #shopify-plus, #web-services

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MadeiraMadeira, Brazil’s answer to Wayfair and Ikea, is now worth over $1 billion

MadeiraMadeira, the Brazilian answer to Wayfair or Ikea, is now worth $1 billion after raising $190 million in late stage financing from investors led by SoftBank’s Latin American investment fund and the Brazilian public and private investment firm, Dynamo.

An online marketplace specializing in home products, MadeiraMadeira offers roughly 300,000 products so customers can build furnish, renovate and decorate their homes.

Founded in 2009 by Daniel Scandian, Marcelo Scandian and Robson Privado, the company has seen huge tailwinds come from the shift to online shopping in Brazil as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

With stores closed, online shopping in Brazil surged. As Daniel Scandian noted, before the pandemic ecommerce penetration in Brazil was at roughly 7%, that number ballooned to 17% at the height of the pandemic in Brazil and has now stabilized at around 10%.

Combining third party sales with private labeled goods and its own shipping and logistics facilities has meant that MadeiraMadeira can take the best practices from several online retailers and home furnishing stores, Scandian said.

There are more than 10,000 sellers on the MadeiraMadeira platform and roughly 2.5 million stock keeping units. In recent years the company has added showrooms to its mix of retail facilities, where customers can check out merchandise, but complete their orders online.

“That’s the way we can tackle the offline market with a digital mindset,” Scandian said. 

Money from the most recent financing will be used to invest in expanding its logistics capabilities with the addition of new warehouse facilities to expand on its existing ten locations. The company also intends to add same day delivery and the expansion of its private label services.

The new capital, likely the last round before a potential public offering, included previous investors like Flybridge and Monashees along with public-focused investment firms Velt, Brasil Capital and Lakewood.

Early investors like Monashees, Kaszek, Fundo Avila, Endeavour Catalyst and angel backers like Niraj Shah, the founder of Wayfair, and Build.com founder Christian Friedland were instrumental to MadeiraMadeira’s early success, Scandian said.

Based in Curitiba, MadeiraMadeira has over 1300 employees, with the majority of them focused on technology, logistics and product development.

“With this new investment, we are raising our commitment to MadeiraMadeira’s long-term value creation vision as the company consolidates its position as the leader in Latin America’s home goods market. Since our initial investment, MadeiraMadeira’s management team has delivered everything they’ve promised, and our faith in them continues to grow,” said Paulo Passoni, Managing Investment Partner to SoftBank Latin America fund.

#brazil, #companies, #dynamo, #e-commerce, #flybridge, #founder, #ikea, #latin-america, #leader, #online-marketplace, #online-shopping, #partner, #retailers, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #wayfair

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Walmart to pilot test live-streamed video shopping on TikTok

Walmart and TikTok announced this morning they will be partnering on the first pilot test of a new shoppable product experience on TikTok’s social video app. Walmart, as you may recall, had planned to invest in TikTok when the app was being threatened with a ban from the U.S. market unless it sold its U.S. operations to an American company, per a Trump administration executive order —  a ban that’s now on pause after multiple legal challenges. Walmart’s interest in TikTok, however, has not waned. The retailer, though seemingly an odd fit for a social network, had seen the potential to attract a younger online consumer through video and, in particular, live streamed video.

This is what the new test on TikTok will involve, as well.

During a Walmart live stream, TikTok users will be able to shop from Walmart’s fashion items without having to leave the TikTok app, in a pilot of TikTok’s new “shoppable product.” The fashion items themselves will be featured in content from ten TikTok creators, led by host Michael Le, whose TikTok dances have earned him 43+ million fans. Other creators will be more up-and-coming stars, like Devan Anderson, Taylor Hage, and Zahra Hashimee.

All will be participating in a special event hosted on TikTok called the “Holiday Shop-Along Spectacular,” which will take place on Friday, Dec. 18 at 8 PM ET on Walmart’s TikTok profile.

Image Credits: Walmart

During this special, the creators will show off their favorite Walmart fashion finds in their own unique ways. For some, that will mean giving fans a peek inside their closet. Others may do a living room runway or even a fashionable “dance off,” Walmart says.

There are two ways TikTok users can shop for the fashion items featured.

As products are shown on screen, pins will pop-up which users can tap to add the item to their cart. They’re then directed to a mobile checkout experience. Alternately, customers can choose to tap on a shopping cart pin at the end of the event to look through all the items featured and select what they’d like to purchase.

And for anyone who misses the event, they’ll still be able to shop the items from Walmart’s TikTok profile when the Shop-Along event is over.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to innovate the shopping experience for our customers,” said Walmart’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, William White, in an announcement. “We’re moving faster than ever to find new and improved ways to better serve our customers and meet them where they are. We created this event for, about, and by our community, reflecting the lives, passions and styles of a diverse set of creators so everyone watching will feel represented, no matter who they are or how they outfit their closet,” he added.

Walmart said the idea to partner on mobile shopping didn’t emerge as a result of the recent deal talks, as it’s been an active brand on the platform for over a year. (In fact, it’s even tasked its employees with making TikTok videos, a recent report from ModernRetail detailed.)

The retailer also told TechCrunch there’s not a revenue share with TikTok on the sales it makes through the app, nor any fees, as this is considered a joint test.

Image Credits: Walmart’s profile on TikTok

This is not TikTok’s first foray into shoppable video.

The company has been exploring this space for some time, including with last year’s launch of the Hashtag Challenge Plus which added a shoppable component to a hashtag, directing video viewers to shop a site from within TikTok. This year, brands like Levi’s leveraged TikTok’s “Shop Now” buttons that allowed consumers to make purchases through links posted on TikTok. And in a significant deal just this fall, TikTok formally partnered with Shopify on social commerce by allowing Shopify merchants to create, run and optimize their TikTok marketing campaigns directly from the Shopify dashboard.

Live-streamed shopping is also a fast-growing and lucrative market, as younger users are turning to influencers and online video to both be entertained and to shop.

All the major tech companies have invested in this space as well, to varying degrees, including not only Facebook (in an aggressive push across Facebook and Instagram), but also Google through its R&D arm, Amazon through its QVC-like Amazon Live, Alibaba through AliExpress, JD.com, Pinduoduo, WeChat, and even TikTok’s Chinese sister app, Douyin.

The trend is also fueling startups, like Bambuser and Popshop Live, which have raised new rounds in 2020 for their own live-streamed shopping products.

For TikTok, however, is more of a natural evolution of its product where influencers are already showing off their favorite items, their fashion and style.

“At TikTok, we’re constantly exploring new ways to inspire creativity, bring joy and add value for our community,” said Blake Chandlee, Vice President, Global Business Solutions at TikTok. “Creators and brands have found a creative outlet to connect with audiences through TikTok Live, and we’re excited to further innovate on this interactive experience to enable our community to discover and engage with the brands they love,” he continued.

“Brands have had an incredible impact on the community throughout this year, and we’re thrilled to see Walmart embrace the creativity of TikTok and this first-of-a-kind experience to meaningfully engage with their community,” Chandlee said.

 

 

 

 

#apps, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #shopping, #social, #tiktok, #video, #walmart

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Despite limitations, 3D and AR are creating new realities in retail

In North America, shoppers are increasingly turning to online orders to buy their products.

National postal services have seen a significant uptick in parcel volumes; so many that the number matches those sent during the Christmas surge — minus the wrapping paper. But although the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for online shopping, it’s part of a continuing trend.

The online sector has slowly been eating up the percentage of sales from retail stores. Virtual shopping’s total share of the global market has doubled between 2015 and 2019, with the U.S. Department of Commerce reporting that online retail sales overtook general merchandise stores in the country for the first time in February 2019.

As customers have turned to their web browsers, shop vacancies are on the rise around the world, with big brands deserting even New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Within the next five years, I think we’re going to see that having AR and 3D on your dot-com and beyond will be mandatory.”

The high street has been forced into a period of transformation. Now, forward-thinking companies are finding ways to adapt.

New realities in retail

In 2019, Charles Bergh, the CEO of Levi’s, proclaimed that stock sizes for clothes would be gone within a decade. Body scanning and made-to-order items would replace the letters and numbers found on the labels of clothes, and products would no longer be found by scrolling through images or browsing shop floors. Instead, customers would select their products — a pair of shoes, a new coffee table, a snapback hat — and customize it to their own specifications. These clothes or items would be tried on or placed within a virtual scan of their room, all without leaving the couch.

Using 3D modeling and augmented reality (AR) — a technology that places computer-generated images onto the real world — Bergh’s vision is already possible.

One of the first sectors to take advantage of the nascent technology was the furniture industry. Leading retailers like Wayfair and IKEA invested early into 3D and AR, allowing customers to physically visualize their products inside their spaces. For Shrenik Sadalgi, the director of Research and Development at Wayfair Next — the arm of the furniture giant that uses technology to make shopping more seamless — adding the two technologies to its sales arsenal was an obvious choice for the company.

Wayfair’s customers can take advantage of two AR experiences. The first, View in Room 3D, lets users place an accurately sized piece of furniture into their room, twist and move it in the space, and even walk around it in real time. Room Planner 3D goes further, allowing customers to visualize the piece of furniture in their home even when they’re on the go.

“We’re letting customers capture the space first,” Sadalgi says of Room Planner 3D. “So you take a photo, and that photo is a very piece of rich information about your room. At a later point in time — maybe you’re on the subway, or maybe you’re at a friend’s house or whatever — you can pull up your room, and then you can add furniture as if you were there. So you don’t have to actually be in the space to plan your space.”

It’s not just homeware companies that have embraced the digital option. Augmented reality has found a natural fit in the beauty industry, and like major furniture retailers, bigger brands have been using the tech for several years. The experiences they offer continue to be refined as the technology improves. Leading players like L’Oréal, Sephora, Procter & Gamble, and more have been honing their version of the AR over time, offering customers a more interactive shopping experience.

For Lynda Pak, senior vice president at beauty powerhouse Estée Lauder, AR lets shoppers gain a familiarity with many of the products within its portfolio of 29 brands.

“AR is becoming a way for a consumer to be able to engage with a beauty advisor or makeup artist,” she says. “It may be tied in with, let’s say, a digital consultation. But if the consumer wants no live consultation whatsoever, [they] can just try the various shades on their own as well.

“The AR experiences that we have right now are really around virtual try-on for makeup,” she continues. “That encompasses eye, it encompasses foundation, it encompasses lip, and we also have skin diagnostic capabilities. The calibration that we’ve done is able to note if you’ve got some dry patches or red flares, or if you’re looking a little tired — it will highlight some of those skin concerns. When we go into haircare, we’re able to view the scalp and the condition of the hair close to the scalp, as well as further down to the ends. You’re able to see what you look like as a blonde, of what you may look like with an ombre. It’s a great way to get a sense of what the shade will look like.”

In both of these industries, as well as a number of others that rely on customization or fit, consumers are beginning to shop differently. Companies like Facebook have invested heavily in online transactions, encouraging more purchases in the digital realm.

Instagram now boasts its Shopping and Checkout options to allow businesses to advertise and complete transactions through the app, offering an alternative to website- or brand app-based shopping platforms — all with a potential customer base of over a billion. As buyers continue to explore new ways to make their shopping decisions, brands are increasingly focusing on how they present their products digitally.

Making the digital feel physical

Changes in retail have always been tied to developments in technology. The advent of the postal service inspired mail-order catalogs. Televisions created shopping channels. The internet ushered in the possibility of online shopping, and mobile phones — with their cameras — have been the launchpad for AR and 3D. Each leap creates more opportunity for shoppers to see the product how it really is — as if it was already on their body or in their homes.

#ar, #augmented-reality, #column, #ecommerce, #marketing, #online-shopping, #retail, #wayfair

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As several marketplace unicorns prepare IPOs, a VC digs into the data

The end of 2020 will be marked by a series of high-profile consumer technology IPOs. Among the companies on file are several marketplace businesses including home rental giant Airbnb, food delivery service DoorDash, grocery delivery company Instacart and the online shopping platform Wish.

Poshmark, a social commerce platform in which Menlo Ventures invested early, has also filed to go public. While the public market will soon assign value to these marketplace businesses, the dominance of these businesses underscores the strength of the marketplace business model. It’s interesting then, to dig into the numbers to understand the state of marketplace businesses today.

What to make of 2020?

Typically, we’d spend most of our time analyzing the most recent data. But, it will surprise no one that 2020 is an outlier. Thankfully, we don’t need to throw the data out. There are some interesting insights. The pandemic impacted businesses broadly, some boomed while others went bust. How the marketplace category fared varied from business to business, depending on the category.

The large public marketplaces continued to perform. If we look at the top 20 publicly traded marketplaces, we see that their combined market cap increased ~63% in 2020. This growth rate is lower than the ~99% growth of the 20 public SaaS leaders.

Not surprisingly companies like the video meeting platform Zoom and Shopify, a commerce platform that allows anyone to set up an online store and sell their products, benefitted from new dynamics introduced by the pandemic.

If we look at the top 20 publicly traded marketplaces, we see that their combined market cap increased ~63% in 2020.

Similarly, some of the largest public marketplaces, like Amazon, Etsy and Delivery Hero were boosted by changes in consumer behavior including spikes in online shopping and delivery.

Acquisition efficiencies increased with increased demand from consumers and merchants that resulted in favorable growth plus EBITDA pairing.

Take Etsy as an example: In the last quarter, it grew at a whopping 128% YoY compared to 32% the year before with EBITDA margin of 30% versus 15% from the year before.

But where some marketplace categories were propelled by COVID-19 tailwinds, categories like travel and fitness struggled against the headwinds created by the pandemic. This is where we saw some exciting innovation from startups — which tend to be more nimble than their public counterparts — adapted to the new normal. Take Classpass, which was originally conceived as a platform to connect gym goers with the right studio/fitness classes.

#airbnb, #column, #doordash, #initial-public-offering, #menlo-ventures, #online-shopping, #venture-capital

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