Constructor finds $55M for tech that powers search and discovery for e-commerce businesses

One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren’t getting to what they want fast enough — whether it’s finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way — they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.

Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers “billions” of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart’s Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.

The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners — which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.

It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition — a firm that helps underrepresented-background investors back up-and-coming startups — was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor’s board with this round.

The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce — with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned first-hand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it’s almost always the case that the results don’t have what we want.

When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there — we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere — but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.

Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor’s CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what’s happened before you ever visit a site.

“One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you,” he said. “We think the process should be descriptive.”

As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.

“We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing,” he said. “The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience.”

Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.

Interestingly it hasn’t extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 1997 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company’s enterprise search suite.

There are however others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor’s that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.

This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.

“Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market,” said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms.”

Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms — currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore — as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.

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Shipt’s new feature pairs members with their favorite, 5-star shoppers

Target’s same-day delivery service Shipt is launching a new feature that will pair customers with their favorite shoppers on future orders. This “Preferred Shoppers” feature will be available as a membership-only perk at no extra charge, offering customers a more reliable shopping experience, where more of their orders are directed towards people they already known and trust to do a good job.

The feature arrives at a time when the online grocery delivery market is booming due to the pandemic. But this market shift has also led to a number of newer shoppers joining the gig economy who don’t have the same level of experience as others. Today, you’ll come across some shoppers who excel at picking quality items, making great substitutions, and staying in close communication with their customers. Others, meanwhile, are checking out before you even have time to respond to their text about the product replacements they’ve made or the refunds they’ve put through. That can leave consumers feeling like online grocery shopping is an unreliable experience.

The Preferred Shoppers feature aims to change that.

As Shipt explains, customers who rate their shopper with five stars after their order is complete will be presented with the option to add the shopper to their Preferred Shoppers list. If the shopper accepts this request, they’ll be prioritized to shop for those customers in the future. (If the shopper declines, however, that won’t be shown the customer.) This list can be edited at any time, and if a customer downrates a shopper on a future order, they’ll be removed.

Image Credits: Shipt

The feature was developed in response to feedback from both shoppers and Shipt regulars, the company says. Consumers, in particular, had been asking for a way to be paired with their favorite shoppers who they already trusted to handle their orders correctly. But until now, whether or not that shopper would be available to grab the customer’s order was left mostly up to chance. The shopper would have had to see the order come in as it arrived, then grab it before someone else did.

During early tests, which included the Detroit metro, Shipt found the feature impacted its own bottom line and increased shoppers’ tips. Without providing specific metrics, the company said that customers using the feature would order more often and would rate their experience highly. Shoppers also benefitted because they were now serving customers who valued their work and who were expressing their appreciation with a larger tip.

“The more often a shopper shops for a customer, the more they learn about that customer’s wants and needs and are able to deliver a tailored shopping experience,” said Karl Varsanyi, Chief Experience & Product Officer at Shipt, in a statement. “Preferred Shoppers helps customers get the exceptional service they enjoy again and again,” he added.

The feature could also motivate shoppers to focus on building up a quality clientele, so they had a better shot at being assigned orders from customers they enjoyed working with and where they could expect to see higher tips. Over time, as customers add more shoppers to their Preferred Shopper list, the likelihood of being paired with a highly-rated shopper would improve, too. This could perhaps help to address some gig workers complaints over their work being undervalued, where bonuses are placed out of reach and customers are stingy with tips.

The idea for personal shoppers is not new. A startup called Dumpling has been developing a platform that allows gig economy workers to transition their clients off apps like Shipt and Instacart to a service where shoppers set their own rates and get to keep all their tips. But many consumers aren’t aware of Dumpling unless a shopper they know markets the service to them directly and usage of Dumpling isn’t free. In addition, while Shipt offers delivery from a number of top retailers, being owned by Target has other advantages. The service is now integrated into Target’s own website and mobile app, and Target products aren’t marked up on an individual basis, like you’d see on other services.

Currently, Shipt’s membership is $99 per year, offering free delivery on all orders over $35. The Preferred Shoppers feature will be made available to all U.S. members, starting today.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #instacart, #marketing, #merchandising, #online-shopping, #personal-shopper, #retail, #retailers, #shipt, #shopping, #target, #united-states

Pinterest rolls out new features that let creators make money from Pins

Pinterest today is increasing its investment in the creator community by introducing new tools that will allow creators to make money from their content. Now, creators will be able to tag products in their Idea Pins — a video-first feature the company first launched this spring — to make their content “shoppable.” They’ll also now be able to earn commissions through affiliate links and partner with brands on sponsored content, much like on other social platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

Despite its general focus on turning product inspiration into clicks and purchases, Pinterest has been slower to embrace the creator community which today is responsible for driving a significant amount of interest in new products among online shoppers. Over the past several years, brands have increased their influencer marketing budgets from $1.7 billion in 2016 to now $13.8 billion in 2021. However, Pinterest offered few tools for creators to tap into that market on its own site, until its more recent debut of Idea Pins in May.

These Pins are somewhat like Pinterest’s take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as they offer a way for creators to produce content that combines music, video, and other interactive elements. The videos in Idea Pins can be up to 60 seconds per page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin. Creators can also add other features to their Pins, like stickers or music, and tag other creators with their @username.

Image Credits: Pinterest

While similar in some ways to TikTok, the videos can include “detail pages” where viewers can find associated content, like the ingredient list and instructions for a recipe, or a list of how-to instructions for a craft project.

Now, explains Pinterest, creators will be able to tag products in their Pins, as well. That means fans viewing the Pin content can now go from inspiration to purchase from the Pinterest app. However, the path isn’t as straightforward as it is on Instagram, where a tap on a tag leads you to a page where you can then add an item to a shopping cart. Instead, Pinterest’s product tags tend to take you to another Pinterest page for the product in question, and from there you have to click again to visit the retailer’s website to complete your order.

The company has been testing the feature before today with creators including Olive + Brown, Fall for DIY and UnconventionalSouthernBelle who have already made some of their content shoppable.

The new Idea Pins product tagging tool will roll out to all business accounts in the U.S. and U.K. and will then continue to roll out access over the coming months to international creators.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Other new monetization features rolling out now include support for affiliate programs and brand sponsorships.

Creators will now be able to integrate their affiliate programs for Rakuten and ShopStyle to generate additional revenue from their recommendations. Meanwhile, creators who come to the platform with brand partnerships will be able to use a new tool, still in beta, that will let them disclose those partnerships to their followers.

When they then produce branded content on Pinterest and add the brands to their Idea Pins, the brand will then be able to approve the tag, and the Idea Pin will feature a label that reads “Paid Partnership.”

This paid partnerships tool is now live for select Creators in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain, Italy Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Most of Pinterest’s new monetization tools are not necessarily all that innovative or unique.

Instead, they represent a company that’s playing catch up to larger social platforms — like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, an d YouTube — which have been better catering to creators in recent years by allowing them to build their own businesses on their respective platforms and expand their reach. Instagram, in particular, has moved in on Pinterest’s territory to such an extent that many users today start their shopping inspiration searches on its app first.

And Instagram has catered to this growing group of online shoppers by turning its platform into an online shop of sorts, compete with a dedicated Shop button, built-in checkout features, alerts about product drops, and numerous ways for creators to generate profits from their work.

Now that influencer shopping is the norm, the race is on among large platforms and startups alike to bring a similar set of shopping tools to live streamed video.

Given the significant competition, Pinterest’s pitch to the creator community is that its user base is already primed to shop.

By the end of 2020, the company says it saw a 20x increase in product searches on its platform. It also notes that Pinterest users are 89% more likely to exhibit shopping intent on products tagged in creators’ Idea Pins than on its standalone Pins. Plus, the company says that its focus will be more on inspirational content, rather than “influence and entertainment” — a seeming knock at social media and its influencer stars.

“Pinterest is the place where creators with inspiring and actionable ideas get discovered. With this latest update, we’re empowering Creators to reach millions of shoppers on the platform and monetize their work,” said Pinterest Head of Content and Creator Partnerships, Aya Kanai. “Creators deserve to be rewarded for the inspiration they deliver to their followers, and the sales they drive for brands. Creators are central to our mission to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love, and we’ll continue working with them to build their businesses and find success on Pinterest,” she added.

#apps, #creative-content, #creators, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #media, #pinterest, #retailers, #shopping, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #tiktok, #video

YouTube to pilot test shopping from livestreams with select creators

YouTube will begin pilot testing a new feature that will allow viewers to shop for products directly from livestream videos. The feature will initially launch with just a handful of creators and brands, the company says, and is an expansion of the integrated shopping experience YouTube began beta testing earlier this year.

That feature was designed only for on-demand videos, and allowed viewers to tap into the “credibility and knowledge” of trusted creators in order to make informed purchases, the company explained at the time. It said it would roll out to more creators over the course of 2021.

More recently, YouTube tested livestreamed shopping with a one-day shopping event focused on small businesses.

YouTube’s video platform, for years, has been a powerful tool for product discovery, as its over 2 billion logged-in users per month turn to the service to watch product reviews, demos, unboxings, shopping hauls, and other content that could inspire future purchases. But creators who wanted to sell from their YouTube videos would often have to promote affiliate links to online stores through the video’s description or in-video elements, like cards or end screens.

In more recent years, YouTube also introduced a merch shelf that would allow viewers to shop a set of specific products the creator selected.

The integrated shopping experience, meanwhile, allows viewers to shop the products shown in the video itself by tapping on a “view products” button, which brings up a list of the items being featured.

Image Credits: YouTube

This feature allows YouTube to better compete with the growing number of video shopping experiences becoming available from both startups and competitors, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok Pinterest, Amazon, and Snapchat. Many of those include support for livestream videos, too.

Over the past year, for example, startups like Bambuser, Popshop Live, Talkshoplive, Whatnot, and others have raised multi-million dollar rounds to invest in their own live video shopping businesses. Meanwhile, Facebook recently launched Live Shopping Fridays to test live shopping within the beauty, fashion and skincare space. And Walmart partnered with TikTok on livestream shopping events on multiple occasions.

YouTube’s own interest in this space has been heating up, as well, as just this week the company announced it was acquiring Indian video shopping app Simsim — an indication of Google’s interest in further integrating video shopping experiences into its own platform. Google also integrated video shopping into its Shopping search business, which included one effort from Shoploop, a video shopping product that graduated from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120.

The expansion of YouTube’s integrated video shopping experience was announced today alongside other new Google Shopping features, including the addition of new section that organizes deals and sales on Google’s Shopping tab, which will be free for merchants who want to list.

#creators, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #google, #google-shopping, #live-shopping, #marketing, #merchandising, #online-stores, #search, #shopping, #social, #video, #video-hosting, #video-shopping, #youtube

Repeat raises $6 million Series A for its service that makes reordering favorite products easier

Subscriptions have become a popular way to pay for digital services, like Netflix or Spotify, but they haven’t yet taken off as a means of reordering your everyday items or other household essentials. Retailers, including Amazon, have tried shifting consumers to a subscription model for these sorts of purchases — even by offering discounts. Still, consumers have largely balked at the idea of forced reordering on a fixed schedule. A startup called Repeat believes it may have figured out a better solution. Instead of trying to lock consumers into subscriptions, Repeat analyzes consumer purchase behavior to nudge customers when it’s time to reorder. It then provides them with a personalized shopping cart to make the reordering experience fast and painless.

This service is now being used by 67 companies in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) market, including brands like By Humankind (personal care), Jot (coffee), Vegamour (haircare), Youth to the People (skincare), Osea (skincare), hydrant (rapid hydration packets), Twice (toothpaste), lemon perfect (flavored water), and many others.

Today, Repeat is announcing its $6 million Series A, led by Battery Ventures. Seed investors Mucker Capital and Harlem Capital also invested in the round. With the round’s close, Battery’s general partner Neeraj Agrawal, whose background is in enterprise software-as-a-service businesses, is joining Repeat’s board.

Repeat co-founders Sarah Wissel (L) and Kim Stiefel (R)

The idea to tackle e-commerce’s replenishment problem came about after Repeat’s co-founders Kim Stiefel and Sarah Wissel tried launching their own direct-to-consumer apparel brand, UNDR, focused on refreshing the basics — like socks, tees, and underwear. Having spend their careers in the marketing and ad tech world, they believed they would be able to put their experience to work to grow their new business.

After launching a quarterly subscription for t-shirts, the founders soon discovered not only how hard it was to get a brand-new brand off the ground, but also how getting customers to commit to ongoing purchases was even harder. From their customer feedback, the founders learned that most consumers actually don’t like the experience of reordering household items. Customers told them it doesn’t always make sense to reorder products on a fixed schedule.

Unlike Netflix, where you’re paying for the rights to access a broad catalog on an ongoing basis, there are times when you’ll use your household products more quickly or more slowly. That means you’ll sometimes end up receiving items too soon when you’ve ordered them on subscription. That’s not ideal; nor is it very eco-friendly. Other times, you may run out before your scheduled delivery is due to arrive. That’s also a problem.

“We should have known that,” admits Stiefel, now Repeat’s CEO, after hearing that customers didn’t like subscriptions. “We asked ourselves if we actually subscribe to any products, and it turns out, the answer was ‘no.’” 

The founders decided to scrap their subscription in favor of a new idea. Instead of forcing consumers to subscribe on a schedule, they would “nudge” customers to reorder during what they determined would would be the perfect window, based on past order history.

Image Credits: Repeat

After experimenting with personalized reminders for their own brand for a year, Stiefel and Wissel decided to pivot their startup so they could offer this service to any e-commerce CPG company.

Today, any brand that sells a replenishable or consumable product can use Repeat to turn their one-time buyer into a repeat customer. To do so, Repeat uses a combination of logic, where it analyzes all the company’s a la carte purchase behavior to make sense of the general replenishment intervals on a per-SKU basis. It then leverages that logic to nudge customers when it’s time to reorder by sending an email or text with a link to what Repeat calls its “replenishment cart.” The customer can choose to snooze the reminder or they can click through to checkout.

This replenishment cart is a special shopping cart that’s personalized to the individual customer and pre-filled with the product or products they’re due to repurchase, as well as other suggestions. But unlike a typical checkout experience, the customer can adjust the merchandise the cart contains — for example, by opting for a different flavor or scent for their product, or opting for a larger size, among other things.

As the customer continues to interact with Repeat’s reminders and cart, the service gets smarter about understanding that customer’s unique reordering intervals, so its nudges also get smarter. In time, Repeat envisions offering a universal cart where customers can reorder from across their favorite CPG brands in one place.

Image Credits: Repeat

“There’s a lot of logic that goes into making that cart experience work as well as it does,” notes Stiefel. “For example, the cart converts at around 25 percent on average. Some brands are seeing 40, or 45 percent conversion on that cart, and we see that people check out oftentimes in less than 15 seconds on that cart. And I think that’s really the underlying magic — that, in combination with the logic, is the underlying magic of Repeat,” she adds.

There is, of course, the challenge of getting its nudges exactly right. If Repeat hits up customers at the wrong time, it could be perceived as an annoyance and customers might opt out of the notifications.

Repeat currently generates revenue through a monthly SaaS (software-as-a-subscription) fee, and as a percentage of the revenue its cart drives. For brands that drive less than 2,000 a la carte, non-subscription orders per month, Repeat would charge $99 per month plus 5% of the revenue it drives. And for brands that are driving more than 10,000 a la carte, non-subscriptions orders per month, Repeat charges $499 per month, plus 5% of the revenue it drives. The company isn’t disclosing its own revenue figures, however.

L.A.-based Repeat says it plans to use the new funds to hire across all roles, including in engineering, product, sales, marketing and growth. The startup began the year with just 3 employees, but hopes to be at around 15 to 20 by the end of the year by expanding its team that’s distributed across the U.S.

The company will also use the capital to work on scaling the business. For example, it recently launched QR codes that allow anyone to be redirected to a Repeat cart — even first-time shoppers who discover a brand through a friend, and scan the product to order one of their own.

Over time, Repeat believes it can change the way CPG subscriptions work.

“The problem with subscription today is that it’s fixed, and time-based and rigid, and not rooted in any kind of real consumption cadence,” says Stiefel.

“Because Repeat focuses on that all a carte reordering experience, and because we’re looking at repeat behavior across individual product SKUs, we actually know a tremendous amount about consumption behavior across every category of CPG. I think what you’ll see from us in the future is being able to leverage that data to offer more flexible dynamic subscription experiences,” she says.

#battery-ventures, #brand, #business-models, #cpg, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #marketing, #neeraj-agrawal, #online-shopping, #recent-funding, #shopping, #startups, #tc

Facebook adds Shops to WhatsApp, among other e-commerce updates

Facebook is making it even easier to buy stuff while you scroll past photos of your high school lab partner’s dog. Yes, Instagram Shops and Facebook Marketplace are already displayed prominently on the apps’ bottom navigation tabs. But now, you can shop on WhatsApp too, along with other updates.

Today on a Live Audio Room, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced three e-commerce updates that are coming to Facebook products: Shops on WhatsApp and Marketplace, Shops Ads, and Instagram Visual Search.

“More than 1 billion people use Marketplace each month, so we’re making it easy for businesses to bring their Shops into Marketplace to reach even more people,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. When customers view a shop on WhatsApp, they’ll have the option of chatting with a business before buying something.

At its F8 conference earlier this month, Facebook revealed updates to WhatsApp for Business — previously, it could take weeks to set up a business account, but now, businesses can sign up in just a few minutes. Though WhatsApp has more than 2 billion global users, only about 175 million people message with WhatsApp Business accounts daily for things like customer support. Since Facebook has been pushing e-commerce on platforms like Instagram, it makes sense that this initiative will expand to WhatsApp too.

The rollout for Shops in WhatsApp will start soon, and Shops inventory in Marketplace is available now for Shops in the US with on-site checkout.

The next feature, Shops Ads, aims to provide a more individualized shopping experience based on people’s individual shopping habits. Zuckerberg said, “We’re launching the ability for a business to send shoppers to where you’re going to be most likely to make a purchase based on your shopping behavior.” Starting now, AR Dynamic Ads are available in the United States – companies like Huda Beauty and Laura Mercier are using these ads to let customers test lipstick shades with AR before making a purchase. These AR try-on experiences are made available through API integrations with Modiface and Perfect Corp. Early this year, Pinterest collaborated with ModiFace to launch an AR eyeshadow try-on.

Image Credits: Facebook

Over on Instagram, an AI-based Visual Search feature will roll out for testing in the coming months.

“A lot of shopping discovery begins with visual discovery, right, so you see something that you think is awesome. And then, you know, maybe you want to see other products that are like that, or you want to figure out how to get that product,” Zuckerberg explained. “And this is the type of problem that AI can really help out with.”

Using this AI, people will be able to upload their own photos — even ones they haven’t posted on Instagram — to find similar items. Facebook isn’t the first company to use this technology — see Cadeera, Donde Search, or Stye.ai, for instance. But bringing this technology to major platforms might change the way we shop, which seems to be Facebook’s current goal.

#api, #apps, #arkansas, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #chatbot, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #operating-systems, #perfect-corp, #pinterest, #shopping, #social-media, #social-media-marketing, #software, #tc, #united-states, #whatsapp

Shopify expands its one-click checkout, Shop Pay, to any merchant on Facebook or Google

E-commerce platform Shopify announced this morning its one-click checkout service known as Shop Pay will become available to any U.S. merchant that sells on Facebook or Google — even if they don’t use Shopify’s software to power their online stores. That makes Shop Pay the first Shopify product offered to non-Shopify merchants, the company notes.

First introduced at its developer conference in 2017, Shop Pay is similar to other instant checkout solutions that offer an easier way to pay online by reducing the number of fields a customer has to fill out during the checkout process. The service remembers and encrypts the customer’s information, so consumers can check out with just a tap when shopping online and, as of recently, even pay for purchase in installments, thanks to a partnership with Affirm.

Shopify in February had expanded Shop Pay to Facebook and Instagram, in partnership with Facebook, but it only worked for existing Shopify merchants selling on those social platforms at the time. In May, Google announced at its I/O developer conference it was partnering with Shopify on an online shopping expansion that would give Shopify’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach customers through Google Search and other “shopping journeys” that began through other Google properties like Search, Maps, Images, Lens, and YouTube.

The company declined to share how many of its 1.7 million merchants are already available on Facebook or Google today, but said they are two of the most popular channels.

Following today’s announcement, other merchants will also have the option to adopt Shop Pay for their own Facebook or Google stores. While how many will actually do so is yet unknown, Shopify notes that every day 1.8 billion people log onto Facebook and a billion shopping sessions take place across Google.

The company also touted Shop Pay’s advantages, including its 70% faster checkout than a typical checkout offers, with a 1.72x higher conversion rate — meaning fewer abandoned charts.

For consumers, the advantage of using Shop Pay over a traditional checkout, beyond the speed, is its integration with Shopify’s mobile app, Shop, which organizes and tracks your online orders across merchants, including Amazon,  so you can see when orders are arriving or quickly ask questions and manage returns.

To date, the Shop app has tracked over 430 million orders, the company says.

Over time, the Shop app can also customize a feed including users’ favorite stores to point to other recommendations, including those from local merchants. Shopify confirmed that the Shop app will be able to track the Shop Pay-enabled orders from the non-Shopify merchants.

“Since launching, Shop Pay has set the standard for checkout experiences, facilitating more than $24 billion in orders,” noted Shopify VP, Carl Rivera, who heads Product for Shop. “According to studies, cart abandonment averages 70%, with nearly 20% occurring because of a complicated checkout process. Shop Pay makes that process fast and simple, and the expansion to all merchants selling on Facebook and Google is a mission-critical step in bringing a best-in-class checkout to every consumer, every merchant, every platform, and every device,” he added.

The expansion could be a notable challenge to other payment mechanisms, including PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and those offered by the platforms themselves, thanks to Shopify’s growing traction with merchants — one analysis gives its platform a 23% market share in the U.S — combined with the popularity of the Shop app, now the No. 3 Shopping app on the App Store.

The news follows yesterday’s confirmation that Shopify has taken a significant stake in payments giant Stripe, the backbone of the Shop Pay service, as well as Shopify’s partner on merchant services, including bank accounts and debit cards.

Shopify says the Shop Pay service will be enabled for all U.S. merchants selling on Facebook in the “coming months,” and will roll out to all merchants on Google by late 2021.

 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #facebook, #google, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #online-shopping, #online-stores, #partner, #shop, #shopify, #shopping, #stripe, #tc, #united-states

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

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

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

A new YouTube feature will make its connected TV ads more shoppable

YouTube today gave advertisers a sneak peek at its plans to make its video platform more shoppable. The company will soon be introducing a new interactive feature aimed at advertisers called brand extensions, which will allow YouTube viewers to learn more about a product they see on the screen with a click of a button.

The new ad format will allow the advertiser to highlight their website link or another call-to-action in their connected TV video ad. The viewer can then click the option “send to phone,” which then sends that promotion or URL directly to their mobile device, without interrupting their viewing experience.

From the mobile device, the consumer could then shop the website as they would normally — browsing products, adding items to the cart, and completing the transaction. But they can do it when they’re ready to engage with that product information, instead of having to stop their video to do so.

The advertisers will also be able to smartly target the ads to the correct audience, based on the video content. For example, a fitness video may feature a brand extension ad that shows a new pair of running shoes.

Advertisers will be able to measure the conversions generated by these brand extensions directly in Google Ads, YouTube says.

In a related e-commerce ad effort, brands can now also add browsable product images to their direct response video ads, in order to encourage interested shoppers to click to visit their website or app.

These are only a few of the efforts YouTube has been working on with the goal of expand further into e-commerce.

Consumers, and particularly younger Gen Z users, today like to watch videos and engage while they shop, leading to the emergence of numerous video shopping services — like Popshop Live, NTWRK, ShopShops, TalkShopLive, Bambuser, and others. Facebook has also invested in live shopping and video-based shopping across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meanwhile, TikTok has become a home to video-based e-commerce, with Walmart (which also tried to acquire a stake in the app when Trump was trying to force a sale) hosting multiple shopping livestreams in recent months. TikTok also found success with e-commerce as it has rolled out more tools to direct video viewers to websites through integrated links and integrations with Shopify, for example.

But YouTube still has a sizable potential audience for video shopping, as it represents 40% of watch time of all ad-supported streaming services, per Comscore data. And of the top five streaming services in the U.S. that account for 80% of the connected TV market, only two are ad-supported, YouTube noted.

Ads are only one way YouTube will drive e-commerce traffic. Creators will also play a role.

A report from Bloomberg this past fall said YouTube was asking creators to tag and track the products they were featuring in their clips. YouTube later revealed more about this effort in February, saying it was beta testing a shopping experience that lets viewers shop from their favorite creators, and that this would roll out more broadly in 2021.

Brand extensions are separate from that effort, however, as they’re focused on giving the advertiser their own means to drive a shopping experience from a video.

YouTube says the new brand extensions ads are only the first of more interactive features the company has in store. The feature will roll out globally later this year.

#ad-technology, #ads, #adtech, #brands, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #google, #google-ads, #marketing, #online-advertising, #online-video-advertising, #shopping, #streaming-services, #video, #video-ads, #video-advertising, #youtube

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

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

Walmart to host a new live stream shopping event on TikTok, following successful pilot

In December, Walmart partnered with TikTok on the first pilot test of a new livestreamed shopping experience in the U.S. on the video platform. That test seemingly performed well, as today Walmart announced it will return to TikTok to host another livestream shopping event, the “Spring Shop-Along: Beauty Edition,” which will feature TikTok creators and influencers in an hour-long livestream.

The retailer didn’t disclose to what extent its first TikTok live shopping event drove sales, but noted that it netted 7x more views that it had anticipated, and was able to grow its TikTok follower base by 25%. These metrics were encouraging enough to send Walmart back to the platform for another go — this time, to promote beauty products instead of apparel, which had been the focus of the holiday livestream.

The new Spring Shop-Along will run this Thursday, March 11 at 9 PM EST on the Walmart TikTok channel. Like the prior holiday event, the new livestream shopping event will see various TikTok creators joining to talk about and demonstrate their favorite items. One participating creator has already been announced: Gabby Morrison (@GabbyMorr) who has over 3.5 million TikTok followers.

Image Credits: Walmart

Gabby and others will demo their skincare, makeup and hair routines and reveal the Walmart beauty products they’re using during the 60-minute live event. Featured beauty brands will include NYX, Maybelline, The Lip Bar, Bliss, Kim Kimble, and Marc Jacobs fragrances.

Viewers watching the event will be able to get beauty tips as well as shop the products featured directly in the TikTok app by tapping on product “pins.” This will allow them to add items to their cart that they can then check out either during or after the event.

“Brands have found a unique home on TikTok to create content that speaks to the community and inspires engagement, whether it’s participating in trends or discovering new products,” said Blake Chandlee, President of TikTok Global Business Solutions, in a statement about Walmart’s plans.

“With the shoppable livestream experience, it’s exciting to see how the TikTok community loves engaging with their favorite creators and discovering new products. We look forward to continue building innovative ways to power the path from discovery to purchase, and seeing brands like Walmart bring their creativity to users,” Chandlee added.

Walmart had already signaled its interest in leveraging TikTok for e-commerce ahead of the holiday livestream. Notably, it had planned to invest in TikTok when the video app was threatened with a ban under the Trump administration, unless it sold its U.S. operations to an American company. That forced sale, which would have spun out TikTok’s U.S. business to new owners Oracle and Walmart, is shelved for the time being as the Biden administration reviews the agency action under Trump.

Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart’s TikTok channel during the 2020 holidays

Livestreamed shopping is an area of increasing interest and investment in the U.S. The trend has seen a number of startups enter the market, including NTWRK and recently funded Bambuser and Popshop Live, among others. Larger tech companies are also taking part — including across mobile video and live video shopping.

Google’s R&D project for mobile video shopping Shoploop was integrated into search. Facebook acquired a video shopping startup Packagd to build out live shopping, and heavily invested in video shopping across Facebook and Instagram. Amazon runs live shopping through its QVC-like Amazon Live. Alibaba (AliExpress) JD.com, Pinduoduo, WeChat and TikTok’s Chinese sister app, Douyin, all support mobile video shopping, too.

Walmart had said its plan to partner with TikTok on livestream shopping wasn’t a result of its deal talks, however — it’s been an active brand on TikTok’s platform for well over a year. The retailer even tasked its employees to make TikTok videos, in addition to running its own TikTok channel.

Reached for comment, the retailer declined to provide further metrics about its first livestream on TikTok, but felt the pilot test delivered above expectations.

“We were happy with getting 7X more views than anticipated and the 25% increase in TikTok follower growth after the first event. We were also pleased with the smooth checkout experience,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We aren’t able to share sales numbers, but can share that we hit the projections we set ahead of the event.”

Following this week’s live shopping event, Walmart says it plans to bring more shopping experiences to TikTok in the months to come, by continuing to partner with creators to highlight different products via different formats.

#ecommerce, #live-e-commerce, #live-mobile-shopping, #live-shopping, #livestream, #livestreaming, #mobile-video, #shopping, #social, #tc, #tiktok, #video, #video-shopping, #walmart

Twitter tests new e-commerce features for tweets

Twitter confirmed it’s testing a new way to display tweets that link out to e-commerce product pages — like products on a Shopify store, for example. With a new Twitter card format, the company is experimenting with tweets that include a big “Shop” button and integrate product details directly into the tweet itself, including the product name, shop name, and product pricing.

The experiment was spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra who tweeted out screenshots of the new experience. The original poster, based in Qatar, had seen the experiment on an Android device, he tells TechCrunch.

While these tweets would work well as ads, Twitter confirmed to us the tweet is an example of a new treatment for “organic” tweets focused on e-commerce.

This format could potentially come into play as part of Twitter’s larger push to become a creator platform, with its recently announced plans for a “Super Follow” subscription. The new product will allow Twitter users to follow a particular account for subscriber-only perks like newsletters, exclusive content, a supporter badge, and other deals and discounts. A more “shoppable” tweet format could allow these creators to direct their fans to products and merchandise, perhaps.

Twitter also briefly touched on its plans for future investments in e-commerce during its Investor Day last week, but not in great detail.

“We’re…starting to explore ways to better support commerce on Twitter,” said Twitter Revenue Lead, Bruce Falck, during the event.

“We know people come to Twitter to interact with brands and discuss their favorite products. In fact, you may have even noticed some businesses already developing creative ways to enable sales on our platform,” he explained.

“This demand gives us confidence in the power of combining real-time conversation with an engaged and intentional audience. Imagine easily discovering, and quickly purchasing a new skincare product or trendy sneaker from a brand you follow with only a few clicks,” Falck added.

But he cautioned investors that while Twitter was “excited about the potential of commerce,” it was still something that’s in “very early exploration.”

The idea that Twitter could become more of discovery network for e-commerce products is an interesting one — especially given the growth in the social commerce sector in recent months. This includes increased investment from Facebook into shopping features across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as the growing attention being paid to video-based shopping.

The latter has been particularly popular, in terms of both live streamed product demos and pre-recorded short-form videos, like those on TikTok.

Shopify, for instance, partnered with TikTok on social commerce last fall. And Walmart — a suitor for TikTok’s potential U.S. spin-out (which is now on hold)ran its own live-streamed shopping event on the video app over the holidays. A number of video shopping startups have been taking on funding in recent months, too.

Twitter, meanwhile, may have dialed down its video ambitions over the years with the closure of Vine and now, Periscope, but it’s not without tools to make shopping more interesting on its platform, if it chose to do so. It still has integrated tools for posting photos, videos and even live video content. Combined with a Twitter Card that includes pricing and a big “Shop” button, people’s tweets could drive sales.

Or, in other words, a Twitter Card that points you directly to a product page could be just the start of what’s to come.

In fact, Twitter itself says it has a number of plans for social commerce.

“This is the first of many experiments in the commerce space and we will enrich the experience as we learn more,” a spokesperson said.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #shopping, #social, #social-commerce, #social-media, #twitter

Amsterdam’s Crisp, an online-only supermarket, raises €30M Series B led by Target Global

Crisp, an Amsterdam-based, online-only supermarket focused on fresh produce, has raised €30 million in a Series B financing led by leading Target Global and joined by Keen Venture Partners and the co-founders of Adyen and Takeaway.com. Crisp has now raised a total of €42.5 million to date. It plans to use the money to expand in the Netherlands, and eventually across Europe.

Crisp says its USP is seasonal products sourced directly from 600+ small and high-quality producers at an affordable price in the Netherlands. Customers order through a smartphone app and deliveries are the next day within a 1-hour time slot. It also uses a 100% electric fleet serving big cities and suburbs, and its model is to have zero food waste.

The European grocery market is currently worth €2 trillion, but access to customers for high-quality, smaller producers is still tricky and blocked by incumbents. Crisp is taking advantage of consumers moving online, and wanting fresher food.

Tom Peeters, CEO and co-founder of Crisp, told my via online interview that “the differentiation on our model is that we offer quality and convenience. So, fish is super fresh fruits and produce is super fresh, etc. We basically stay away from the standard supermarket proposition that everything is always there, and you manage long shelf life. We’d rather build a very short chain sourcing directly at the source and bringing it in a very convenient way to you.”

He said it’s not a 15 minute delivery but the next day in order to ensure freshness. “The typical customer is a young family. An average order is 45 products and rather than offering all the brands, we on-boarded the long-tail of food producers in our digital marketplace, so we sourced from over 600 sources of food.”

He said: “Food in Holland is 40 billion euros, in Germany it is 200 billion. I think Europe combined it’s over two or 3 trillion. So that means basically we don’t need to spread thin over many countries in order to build a healthy business, not just healthy products, so we make money on every customer order.”

Founded in 2018, by serial entrepreneurs Tom Peeters, Michiel Roodenburg and Eric Klaassen Crisp claims to be now one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the Netherlands, with a seven-fold in sales in 2020 and more than 85% of sales coming from repeat customers, it says.

Bao-Y van Cong, Investment Director at Target Global, headquartered in Berlin, said: “Crisp is building a world-class technology platform that is of value to both consumers and producers. The way we buy our food has not changed a lot since the 1950’s, creating inefficiencies in quality, affordability, and convenience. Crisp reflects the changing relationship that consumers today have with food: The European market for grocery shopping is starting to move online fast, super-accelerated by the pandemic. At the same time, we see a massive surge in demand for fresh and transparently sourced food.”

#adyen, #amsterdam, #berlin, #europe, #food, #food-waste, #germany, #grocery-store, #netherlands, #retailers, #shopping, #smartphone, #supermarkets, #takeaway-com, #target-global, #tc

Shopify expands its payment option, Shop Pay, to its merchants on Facebook and Instagram

Shopify announced this morning it’s partnered with Facebook to expand its payment option, Shop Pay, to all Shopify merchants selling across both Facebook and Instagram. This is the first time Shop Pay will be made available outside of Shopify’s own platform, and represents a significant expansion for the e-commerce platform’s payments technology.

The company tells TechCrunch Shop Pay will first become available to all Shopify merchants using checkout on Instagram in the U.S., and will then be rolled out to Facebook in the weeks that follow.

Prior to this launch, Facebook’s platform has been one of Shopify’s most popular sales and marketing channels for merchants, Shopify says. At the beginning of the pandemic last year (March through April 2020), marketing on Facebook and Instagram via Shopify’s channel integration saw 36% growth in monthly active users, and that trend continues to rise.

Today, Shop Pay’s payment option is used by a number of top direct-to-consumer and newer brands, including Allbirds, Kith, Beyond Yoga, Kylie Cosmetics, Jonathan Adler, Loeffler Randall, Blueland and others. Over 40 million buyers now regularly use Shop Pay at these merchants and others on Shopify’s platform to complete their purchases.

Image Credits: Shopify

Through the course of 2020, Shop Pay helped buyers complete 137 million orders. And by the end of the year, Shop Pay had facilitated nearly $20 billion in cumulative GMV since its launch in 2017. Through its carbon offsetting feature, this also represented 75,000 tons of carbon emissions.

In addition to the carbon offsets, Shopify claims Shop Pay on its own platform is 70% faster with a conversion rate that’s 1.72x higher than a typical checkout. It also includes order tracking and management, which, to date, have tracked over 430 million orders across over 450 million miles.

Once available on Instagram, consumers will be able to find tagged products from Shopify merchants in the app, then add them to their in-app cart. At checkout, they can then select Shop Pay as their preferred payment option from among credit card, debit card, and PayPal. The consumer will receive a confirmation code to their phone, then enter the code to complete the order without leaving Instagram. A similar experience will be available on Facebook.

These orders can also be tracked via Shopify’s Shop app, the same as those processed on Shopify itself.

Image Credits: Shopify

“People are embracing social platforms not only for connection, but for commerce,” said Carl Rivera, General Manager of Shop, in a statement. “Making Shop Pay available outside of Shopify for the first time means even more shoppers can use the fastest and best checkout on the Internet. And there’s more to come; we’ll continue to work with Facebook to bring a number of Shopify services and products to these platforms to make social selling so much better.”

This is not the first third-party payment option integrated into Facebook’s shopping platforms, as PayPal is also accepted. But it is a notable addition, given how heavily Facebook has pushed its own “shops” platform, which encourages merchants to sell and transact within its own apps — an even more critical source of revenue now that Apple’s privacy changes will impact Facebook’s ads business to the tune of billions of dollars. But likely, working with a third-party like Shopify is allowing the company to spin up a new revenue stream.

Shopify, however, declined to discuss its financial arrangement with Facebook.

Shopify isn’t limiting itself to Facebook in an effort to expand its e-commerce business. Last fall, it also partnered with TikTok on social commerce, allowing merchants to publish their marketing ads directly to the video platform.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #fintech, #instagram, #merchants, #payments, #shopify, #shopping, #shops, #tc

Amazon expands its biometric-based Amazon One palm reader system to more retail stores

Last fall, Amazon introduced a new biometric device, Amazon One, that allowed customers to pay at Amazon Go stores using their palm. Today, the company says the device is being rolled out to additional Amazon stores in Seattle — an expansion that will make the system available across eight total Amazon physical retail stores, including Amazon Go convenience stores, Amazon Go Grocery, Amazon Books, and Amazon 4-star stores.

Starting today, the Amazon One system is being added as an entry option at the Amazon Go location at Madison & Minor in Seattle. In the next few weeks, it will also roll out to two more Amazon Go stores, at 5th & Marion and Terry & Stewart, the company says. That brings the system to eight Seattle locations, and sets the stage for a broader U.S. expansion in the months ahead.

As described, the Amazon One system uses computer vision technology to create a unique palm print for each customer, which Amazon then associates with the credit card the customer inserts upon initial setup. While the customer doesn’t have to have an Amazon account to use the service, if they do associate their account information, they’ll be able to see their shopping history on the Amazon website.

Amazon says images of the palm print are encrypted and secured in the cloud, where customers’ palm signatures are created. At the time of its initial launch, Amazon argued that palm prints were a more private form of biometric authentication than some other methods, because you can’t determine a customer’s identity based only on the image of their palm.

But Amazon isn’t just storing palm images, of course. It’s matching them to customer accounts and credit cards, effectively building a database of customer biometrics. It can also then use the data collected, like shopping history, to introduce personalized offers and recommendations over time.

The system raises questions about Amazon’s larger plans, as the company’s historical use of biometrics has been fairly controversial. Amazon sold biometric facial recognition services to law enforcement in the U.S. Its facial recognition technology was the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. Its Ring camera company continues to work in partnership with police. In terms of user data privacy, Amazon hasn’t been careful either — for example, by continuing to store Alexa voice data even when users deleted audio files. 

What’s more is the company doesn’t just envision Amazon One as a means of entry into its own stores — they’re just a test market. In time, Amazon wants to make the technology available to third-parties, as well, including stadiums, office buildings and other non-Amazon retailers.

The timing of the Amazon One launch in the middle of a pandemic has helped spur customer adoption, as it allows for a contactless way to associate your credit card with your future purchases. Upon subsequent re-entry, you just hold your hand above the reader to be scanned again and let into the store.

These systems, however, can disadvantage a lower-socioeconomic group of customers, who prefer to pay using cash. They have to wait for special assistance in these otherwise cashless, checkout-free stores.

Amazon says the system will continue to roll out to more locations in the future.

#amazon, #amazon-one, #biometrics, #computer-vision, #ecommerce, #palm-reader, #retail, #shopping, #technology

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

Curtsy, a clothing resale app aimed at Gen Z women, raises $11 million Series A

Curtsy, a clothing resale app and competitor to recently IPO’d Poshmark, announced today it has raised $11 million in Series A funding for its startup focused on the Gen Z market. The app, which evolved out of an earlier effort for renting dresses, now allows women to list their clothes, shoes and accessories for resale, while also reducing many of the frictions involved with the typical resale process.

The new round was led by Index Ventures, and included participation from Y Combinator, prior investors FJ Labs and 1984 Ventures, and angel investor Josh Breinlinger (who left Jackson Square Ventures to start his own fund).

To date, Curtsy has raised $14.5 million, including over two prior rounds which also included investors CRV, SV Angel, Kevin Durant, Priscilla Scala, and other angels.

Like other online clothing resale businesses, Curtsy aims to address the needs of a younger generation of consumers who are looking for a more sustainable alternative when shopping for clothing. Instead of constantly buying new, many Gen Z consumers will rotate their wardrobes over time, often by leveraging resale apps.

Image Credits: Curtsy

However, the current process for listing your own clothes on resale apps can be time consuming. A recent report by Wired, for example, detailed how many women were spinning their wheels engaging with Poshmark in the hopes of making money from their closets, to little avail. The Poshmark sellers complained they had to do more than just list, sell, package and ship their items — they also had participate in the community in order to have their items discovered.

Curtsy has an entirely different take. It wants to make it easier and faster for casual sellers to list items by reducing the amount of work involved to sell. It also doesn’t matter how many followers a seller has, which makes its marketplace more welcoming to first-time sellers.

“The big gap in the market is really for casual sellers — people who are not interested in selling professionally,” explains Curtsy CEO David Oates. “In pretty much every other app that you’ve heard about, pro sellers really crowd out everyday women. Part of that is the friction of the whole process,” he says.

On Curtsy, the listing process is far more streamlined.

The app uses a combination of machine learning and human review to help the sellers merchandise their items, which increase their chances of selling. When sellers first list their item in the app, Curtsy will recommend a price then fill in details like the brand, category, subcategory, shipping weight and the suggested selling price, using machine learning systems training on the previous items sold on its marketplace. Human review fixes any errors in that process.

Also before items are posted, Curtsy improves and crops the images, as well as fixes any other issues with the listing, and moderates listings for spam. This process helps to standardize the listings on the app across all sellers, giving everyone a fair shot at having their items discovered and purchased.

Another unique feature is how Curtsy caters to the Gen Z to young Millennial user base (ages 15-30), who are often without shipping supplies or even a printer for producing a shipping label.

First-time sellers receive a free starter kit with Curtsy-branded supplies for packaging their items at home, like poly mailers in multiple sizes. As they need more supplies, the cost of those is built into the selling flow, so you don’t have to explicitly pay for it — it’s just deducted from your earnings. Curtsy also helps sellers to schedule a free USPS pickup to save a trip to the post office, and it will even send sellers a shipping label, if need be.

“One of the things we realized quickly is Gen Z does not really have printers. So we actually have a label service and we’ll send you the label in the mail for free from centers across the country,” says Oates.

Later, when a buyer of an item purchased from Curtsy is ready to resell it, they can do so with one tap — they don’t have to photograph it and describe it again. This also speeds up the selling process.

Overall, the use of technology, outsourced teams who improve listings, and extra features like supplies and labels can be expensive. But Curtsy believes the end result is that they can bring more casual sellers to the resale market.

“Whatever costs we have, they should be in service of increased liquidity, so we can grow faster and add more people,” Oates says. “In case of the label service, those are people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in selling online. There’s no other app that would allow them to sell without a printer.”

This system, so far, appears to be working. Curtsy now has several hundred thousand people who buy and sell on its iOS-only app, with an average transaction rates of 3 items bought or sold per month. When the new round closed late in 2020, the company was reporting a $25 million GMV revenue run rate, and average monthly growth of around 30%. Today, Curtsy generates revenue by taking a 20% commission on sales (or $3 for items under $15.)

The team, until recently, was only five people — including co-founders David Oates, William Ault, Clara Agnes Ault, and Eli Allen, plus a contract workforce. With the Series A, Curtsy will be expanding, specifically by investing in new roles within product and marketing to help it scale. It will also be focused on developing an Android version of its app in the first quarter of 2021 and further building out its web presence.

“Never before have we seen such a strong overlap between buyers and sellers on a consumer-to-consumer marketplace,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, about the firm’s investment. “We believe the incredible love for Curtsy is indicative of a large marketplace in the making,” he added.

#apps, #clothing, #clothing-resale, #curtsy, #ecommerce, #funding, #gen-z, #marketplace, #mobile, #recent-funding, #resale, #shopping, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

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

Instagram launches shopping in Reels, its TikTok rival

Instagram today is launching Shopping in Reels, its TikTok competitor. The new feature was announced in October as something the company had in the works, as part of a ongoing series of shopping-related updates to the Instagram app. With today’s launch, both businesses and creators will be able to tag products when they create Reels — the short-form videos that now have their own tab in Instagram following last month’s redesign.

The company says many Reels already feature shopping content, like fashion looks, makeup and skincare, or other product how-tos. When people view an Instagram Reel with this content, they’ll be able to now tap a “View Products” button to either buy, save or learn more about the featured products.

Image Credits: Instagram

In addition, creators can add a “Branded Content” tag to their Reels to be transparent about when they’re working with a brand to promote their products, which is a form of paid promotion.

The update makes shopping an even larger focus for Instagram than it already was, and arrives at a time when video-based shopping is seeing increased adoption. In particular, a growing number of startups focused on live-stream video shopping are finding traction. In recent months, investors have backed companies like live shopping platforms Popshop Live and Bambuser, for example, while major tech companies, including Alibaba, Amazon, Google and JD.com, have also joined the video shopping trend in various ways.

Image Credits: Instagram

Most importantly, perhaps, is that Instagram rival TikTok recently partnered with Shopify on e-commerce and today caters to brands that either advertise directly or work with influencers on its platform, eating into Instagram’s market. TikTok had also fielded interest from Walmart, when the Trump ban had forced the company to enter negotiations around a U.S. exit. And TikTok’s app in 2020 beat out Instagram as one of the world’s most downloaded apps, indicating a seismic shift in how younger users interact with social media.

Hoping to not be left behind, Instagram has revamped its app — to much user criticism when it relocated key home screen features — with the goal of becoming a top online shopping destination, as well. The company generates revenue when customers checkout in the app using Facebook Pay, which will allow it to make money outside of running ads.

Today, Instagram users can shop from videos in Feed, Stories, Live, IGTV and, with this latest launch, Reels.

The company says the feature is rolling out globally, starting today.

#apps, #instagram, #reels, #shopping, #social, #tiktok

U.S. shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8M installs

Many U.S. consumers spent this year’s Black Friday sales event shopping from home on mobile devices. That led to first-time installs of mobile shopping apps in the U.S. to break a new record for single-day installs on Black Friday 2020, according to a report from Sensor Tower. The firm estimates that U.S. consumers downloaded approximately 2.8 million shopping apps on November 27th — a figure that’s up by nearly 8% over last year.

However, this number doesn’t necessarily represent faster growth than in 2019, which also saw about an 8% year-over-year increase in Black Friday shopping app installs, the report noted. This could be because mobile shopping and the related app installs are now taking place throughout the month of November, though, as retailers adjusted to the pandemic and other online shopping trends by hosting earlier sales or even month-long sales events.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

The data seems to indicate this is true. Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 29, U.S. consumers downloaded approximately 59.2 million shopping apps from across the App Store and Google Play — an increase of roughly 15% from the 51.7 million they downloaded in Nov. 2019. That’s a much higher figure than the 2% year-over-year growth seen during this same period in 2019.

Another shift taking place in mobile shopping is the growing adoption of app from brick-and-mortar retailers. During the first three quarters of 2020, apps from brick-and-mortar retailers grew installs 27%. This trend continued on Black Friday, when 5 out of the top 10 mobile shopping apps were those from brick-and-mortar retailers, led by Walmart.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Walmart saw the highest adoption this year, with around 131,000 Black Friday installs, followed by Amazon at 106,000, then Shopify’s Shop at 81,000. Combined, the top 10 apps saw 763,000 total new installs, or 27% of the first-time downloads in the Shopping category.

Because the firms are only looking at new app installs, they aren’t giving a full picture of the U.S. mobile shopping market, as many consumers already have these apps installed on their devices. And many more simply shop online via a desktop or laptop computer.

To give these figures some context, Shopify reported on Saturday it had seen record Black Friday sales of $2.4 billion, with 68% on mobile. And today, Amazon announced its small business sales alone topped $4.8 billion from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, a 60% year-over-year increase, but it didn’t break out the percentage that came from mobile.

Sensor Tower and rival app store analytics firm App Annie largely agreed on the top 5 shopping apps downloaded this Black Friday. They both saw Walmart again beating Amazon to become the most-downloaded U.S. shopping app on Black Friday — as it did in 2019. The two firms reported that Amazon remained No. 2 by downloads, followed by Shopify’s Shop app, then Target. However, Sensor Tower put Best Buy in 5th place, followed by Nike, while App Annie saw those positions swapped.

Image Credits: App Annie

The rest of Sensor Tower’s top 10 included SHEIN, Sam’s Club, Klarna, then Offer Up, while App Annie’s list was rounded out by SHEIN, Sam’s Club, Wish, then Offer Up.

The pandemic’s impact may not have been obvious given the growth in online shopping this year, but the recession it triggered has played a role in how U.S. consumers are paying for their purchases. “Buy Now, Pay Later” apps like Klarna were up this year, even breaking into the top 10 per Sensor Tower’s data. The firm also noted that many new shopping apps launched this year focused on discounts and deals and retailers ran longer sales this year, as well.

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Despite pandemic, forecasts predict U.S. online holiday sales increase of 20%-30% or more

Strong e-commerce sales are predicted to help lift overall holiday retail spending in the U.S., according to forecasts released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and eMarketer. Both firms expect to see overall retail sales growth during November and December, though the market may be impacted by slowing brick-and-mortar sales.

Of the two, NRF had the more optimistic forecast. It estimates U.S. holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% year-over-year, for a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. That’s compared with a 4% increase in 2019 to $729.1 billion, and an average of a 3.5% increase over the past five years.

Image Credits: NRF

Growth will come from online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, which will increase between 20% and 30% to reach between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion. That’s up from $168.7 billion last year.

NRF’s takeaway is that consumers are willing to spend — perhaps because of the challenging year that 2020 has been, rather than despite it.

“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday,” noted NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season,” he added.

The firm also noted Americans may have reduced their spending in other categories, like personal services, travel and entertainment due to the pandemic, which could increase the money they have for retail spending.

eMarketer, on the other hand, paints a less rosy picture when it comes to overall sales.

The firm predicts that total holiday season retail sales will see the lowest growth rate at just 0.9% year-over-year. This growth will come from the e-commerce sector, which will see its highest growth rate — 35.8% — since the firm began tracking retail sales in 2008. Brick-and-mortar sales, on the other hand, will decline 4.7%.

The discrepancy between these two firms’ estimates have to do with how they calculate “retail sales.”

eMarketer’s estimates include auto and gasoline sales, but exclude restaurants, travel, and event sales. NRF’s figures, on the other hand, exclude auto, gasoline and restaurants.

However, both agree on an e-commerce surge. NRF notes online sales were already up 36.7% year-over-year in the third quarter — in part, due to early holiday shopping. This year, some 42% of consumers had started shopping earlier than usual, it recently found. Plus, retail sales were up 10.6% in October 2020 versus October 2019, in aggregate, its forecast noted.

But whether it’s 20% to 30% growth or 35.8%, depending on the firm, it’s clear e-commerce is saving the day here.

NRF also expects seasonal hiring to be in line with recent years, as retailers hire between 475,000 and 575,000 seasonal workers compared with 562,000 in 2019. Some of that hiring may have already taken place in October, due to early shopping, it said.

Though Black Friday may not see the same levels of in-person shopping as in years past, brick-and-mortar retailers have made it easier to shop digitally, then either have items shipped home, picked up in-store, or even curbside. Outside of Amazon, Walmart and Target have particularly benefited from investments in e-commerce, as both retailers easily beat Wall St. expectations in their latest earnings reports, released just ahead of the holiday quarter.

Online, however, Cyber Monday will continue to rule, however, eMarketer says.

Image Credits: eMarketer

Of the five big online shopping days in 2020, eMarketer says Cyber Monday will again beat out Black Friday in terms of overall e-commerce sales, at $12.89 billion compared with Black Friday’s $10.20 billion. But Thanksgiving Day will see the most year-over-year growth in e-commerce sales, at 49.5%, followed by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Sunday and Cyber Monday.

Image Credits: eMarketer

In a mobile forecast, analytics firm App Annie predicted Americans would spend over 110 million hours in shopping apps on Android devices during the two-week period consisting of Black Friday and Cyber Monday weeks. It noted the pandemic had already accelerated mobile device usage to 4 hours, 20 minutes per day, and Americans spent over 61 million hours shopping during the week of Prime Day.

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