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3 ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending

By Walter Thompson
Eric Tan Contributor
Eric Tan is Senior Vice President of IT and Business Services Coupa, a leader in business spend management and a former Battery portfolio company.
Scott Goering Contributor
Scott Goering is VP of Business Development at Battery Ventures .

Ever since the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force last March, the B2B tech community keeps asking the same questions: Are businesses spending more on technology? What’s the money getting spent on? Is the sales cycle faster? What trends will likely carry into 2021?

Recently we decided to join forces to answer these questions. We analyzed data from the just-released Q4 2020 Outlook of the Coupa Business Spend Index (BSI), a leading indicator of economic growth, in light of hundreds of conversations we have had with business-tech buyers this year.

A former Battery Ventures portfolio company, Coupa* is a business spend-management company that has cumulatively processed more than $2 trillion in business spending. This perspective gives Coupa unique, real-time insights into tech spending trends across multiple industries.

Tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many startups are raising large rounds and even tapping public markets for capital.

Broadly speaking, tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many tech startups are raising large financing rounds and even tapping the public markets for capital. Here are our three specific takeaways on current tech spending:

Spending is shifting away from remote collaboration to SaaS and cloud computing

Tech spending ranks among the hottest boardroom topics today. Decisions that used to be confined to the CIO’s organization are now operationally and strategically critical to the CEO. Multiple reasons drive this shift, but the pandemic has forced businesses to operate and engage with customers differently, almost overnight. Boards recognize that companies must change their business models and operations if they don’t want to become obsolete. The question on everyone’s mind is no longer “what are our technology investments?” but rather, “how fast can they happen?”

Spending on WFH/remote collaboration tools has largely run its course in the first wave of adaptation forced by the pandemic. Now we’re seeing a second wave of tech spending, in which enterprises adopt technology to make operations easier and simply keep their doors open.

SaaS solutions are replacing unsustainable manual processes. Consider Rhode Island’s decision to shift from in-person citizen surveying to using SurveyMonkey. Many companies are shifting their vendor payments to digital payments, ditching paper checks entirely. Utility provider PG&E is accelerating its digital transformation roadmap from five years to two years.

The second wave of adaptation has also pushed many companies to embrace the cloud, as this chart makes clear:

Similarly, the difficulty of maintaining a traditional data center during a pandemic has pushed many companies to finally shift to cloud infrastructure under COVID. As they migrate that workload to the cloud, the pie is still expanding. Goldman Sachs and Battery Ventures data suggest $600 billion worth of disruption potential will bleed into 2021 and beyond.

In addition to SaaS and cloud adoption, companies across sectors are spending on technologies to reduce their reliance on humans. For instance, Tyson Foods is investing in and accelerating the adoption of automated technology to process poultry, pork and beef.

All companies are digital product companies now

Mention “digital product company” in the past, and we’d all think of Netflix. But now every company has to reimagine itself as offering digital products in a meaningful way.

DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO

By Alex Wilhelm

DoorDash filed a fresh S-1/A, providing the market with a new price range for its impending IPO.

The American food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85. That’s a bump of 20% on the low end and 12% on the upper end of its IPO range.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


DoorDash still anticipates 317,656,521 shares outstanding after its IPO, giving the company a new, non-diluted valuation range between $28.6 billion and $30.2 billion. On a fully-diluted basis, the company’s valuation rises to more than $35 billion.

For the on-demand giant, the upgrade is enormously positive news. Not only will its valuation stretch even further above its most recent private price — around $16 billion, set this summer — but DoorDash will also raise even more money than it previously anticipated. That war chest will be welcome when a vaccine becomes widely available and food consumption habits could shift.

DoorDash will raise as much as $3.135 billion in its IPO, according to the filing.

After mulling over the company’s updated valuation from its new SEC filing, I’ve decided that there are three things worth calling out and discussing. Let’s get into them.

It’s Friday, so to make our analysis as easy as possible I’ve broken it into discreet sections for your perusal. Let’s go!

A path to profitability is important

DoorDash’s most profitable quarters that we are aware of were its two most recent. During the June 30 quarter, the company saw positive net income of $23 million off revenues of $675 million. In the September 30 quarter, on the back of even more revenue growth, DoorDash lost a modest $42 million against $879 million in top line.

Those two quarters contrast with the first quarter of 2020 when DoorDash lost a far-greater $129 million against a far-smaller revenue result of $362 million, and Q4 2019 when the figures were a $134 million loss and revenues of just $298 million.

YC-backed LemonBox raises $2.5M bringing vitamins to Chinese millennials

By Rita Liao

Like many overseas Chinese, Derek Weng gets shopping requests from his family and friends whenever he returns to China. Some of the most wanted imported products are maternity items, cosmetics, and vitamin supplements. Many in China still uphold the belief that “imported products are better.”

The demand gave Weng a business idea. In 2018, he founded LemonBox to sell American health supplements to Chinese millennials like himself via online channels. The company soon attracted seed funding from Y Combinator and just this week, it announced the completion of a pre-A round of $2.5 million led by Panda Capital and followed by Y Combinator .

LemonBox tries to differentiate itself from other import businesses on two levels — affordability and personalization. Weng, who previously worked at Walmart where he was involved in the retail giant’s China import business, told TechCrunch that he’s acquainted with a lot of American supplement manufacturers and is thus able to cut middleman costs.

“In China, most supplements are sold at a big markup through pharmacies or multi-level marketing companies like Amway,” Weng said. “But vitamins aren’t that expensive to produce. Amway and the likes spend a lot on marketing and sales.”

Inside LemonBox’s fulfillment center

LemonBox designed a WeChat-based lite app, where users receive product recommendations after taking a questionnaire about their health conditions. Instead of selling by the bottle, the company customizes user needs by offering daily packs of various supplements.

“If you are a vegetarian and travel a lot, and the other person smokes a lot, [your demands] are going to be very different. I wanted to customize user prescriptions using big data,” explained Weng, who studied artificial intelligence in business school.

A monthly basket of 30 B-complex tablets, for instance, costs 35 yuan ($5) on LemonBox. Amway’s counterpart product, a bottle of 120 tablets, asks for 229 yuan on JD.com. That’s about 57 yuan ($9) for 30 tablets.

Selling cheaper vitamins is just a means for LemonBox to attract consumers and gather health insights into Chinese millennials, with which the company hopes to widen its product range. Weng declined to disclose the company’s customer size, but claimed that its user conversion rate is “higher than most e-commerce sites.”

With the new proceeds, LemonBox is opening a second fulfillment center in the Shenzhen free trade zone after its Silicon Valley-based one. That’s to provide more stability to its supply chain as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts international flights and cross-border trade. Moreover, the startup will spend the money on securing health-related certificates and adding Japan to its sourcing regions.

Returnees adapt

Screenshot of Lemonbox’s WeChat-based store

In the decade or so when Weng was living in the U.S., the Chinese internet saw drastic changes and gave rise to an industry largely in the grip of Alibaba and Tencent. Weng realized he couldn’t simply replicate America’s direct-to-customer playbook in China.

“In the U.S., you might build a website and maybe an app. You will embed your service into Google, Facebook, or Instagram to market your products. Every continent is connected with one other,” said Weng.

“In China, it’s pretty significantly different. First off, not a lot of people use web browsers, but everyone is on mobile phones. Baidu is not as popular as Google, but everybody is using WeChat, and WeChat is isolated from other major traffic platforms.”

As such, LemonBox is looking to diversify beyond its WeChat store by launching a web version as well as a store through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace.

“There’s a lot of learning to be done. It’s a very humbling experience,” said Weng.

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

By Walter Thompson

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.

Walmart+ takes on Prime by dropping $35 minimum on Walmart.com purchases

By Sarah Perez

Walmart+, the retailer’s lower cost alternative to Amazon Prime offering same-day delivery of groceries and other items, is making its service more appealing with today’s launch of a new perk. The company says that starting on Friday, December 4, it will remove the $35 shipping minimum on orders from Walmart.com for its members. However, this doesn’t apply to the same-day orders of groceries or other items fulfilled by Walmart stores, but rather online shopping where orders are placed through Walmart’s traditional e-commerce channels.

That means there’s no longer a minimum order requirement on the next-day and two-day shipping that’s offered on items shipped from Walmart.com, no matter the basket total. The change, arriving only a couple of months after Walmart+’s launch, positions the new program as more of a true alternative to Amazon Prime, as Prime’s biggest perk has always been its free fast shipping service that encourages consumers to shop online without worrying about minimum order sizes.

Meanwhile, Walmart+’s biggest perk until now had been its same-day delivery service, with a particular focus on groceries — similar to Instacart or Amazon Fresh. The service didn’t charge fees on same-day grocery if the orders were at least $35, and this aspect continues today.

The Walmart+ program itself grew out of Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited, an earlier version of the service that had also involved having Walmart store staff pick orders which are handed off to delivery partners. In the past, those partners have included Postmates (now acquired by Uber), DoorDash, Roadie, and Point Pickup, among others. More recently, Walmart acquired last-mile delivery operation JoyRun, to bring more of its delivery logistics business in-house. 

Unlike some grocery delivery services, Walmart’s advantage in same-day is that it could also fulfill orders of other everyday items from its store shelves, not just food and household goods. When Walmart+ launched in mid-September, it promised same-day delivery of over 160,000 items.

The program also includes a small handful of other perks like fuel discounts at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations and access to Scan & Go to skip the checkout lines when shopping in-store.

Today, Walmart said it’s also expanding the fuel savings to over 500 Sam’s Club gas stations, too.

While Amazon Prime has expanded over the years to include all sorts of benefits, like free music and streaming video, e-books, audiobooks, gaming perks, and more, Walmart+ so far remains focused on its core features — like shipping benefits and cost savings. And coming in at $98 per year (or $12.95/mo), it’s cheaper than Prime’s $119 per year membership, which could appeal to consumers only interested in free delivery.

Walmart, like many large retailers, has benefitted by the acceleration of e-commerce driven by the pandemic. The company, in its third quarter earnings, reported U.S. e-commerce sales were up by 79% in the quarter, with earnings of $1.34 a share on revenue that was up 5.2% year-over-year to $134.7 billion.

So far, Walmart has declined to share how many customers have signed up for Walmart+ much to investors’ dismay. The retailer, however, notes the program is available at over 4,700 stores, including 2,800 stores that offer delivery — the latter which reaches 70% of the U.S.

Who’s building the grocery store of the future?

By Walter Thompson
Christopher Wan Contributor
Chris is a venture fellow at Bessemer Venture Partners and a JD/MBA candidate at Stanford University who writes a weekly newsletter about tech, policy and business strategy.
Tess Hatch Contributor
Tess Hatch hopes to travel to space, in the meantime she is a venture investor at Bessemer Venture Partners, investing in frontier tech.

The future of grocery stores will be a win-win for both stores and customers.

On one hand, stores want to decrease their operational expenditures that come from hiring cashiers and conducting inventory management. On the other hand, consumers want to decrease the friction of buying groceries. This friction includes both finding high-quality groceries at consumers’ personal price points and waiting in long lines for checkout. The future of grocery stores promises to alleviate, and even eliminate, these points of friction.

Amazon’s foray into grocery store technology provides a succinct introduction into the state of the industry. Amazon’s first act was its Amazon Go store, which opened in Seattle in early 2018. When customers enter an Amazon Go store, they swipe the Amazon app at the entrance, enabling Amazon to link purchases to their accounts. As they shop, a collection of ceiling cameras and shelf sensors identify the items and places them in a a virtual shopping cart. When they’re done shopping, Amazon automatically charges for the items they grabbed.

Earlier this year, Amazon opened a 10,400-square-foot Go store, about five times bigger than the largest prior location. At larger store sizes, however, tracking people and products gets more computationally complex and larger SKU counts become more difficult to manage. This is especially true if the computer vision AI-based system also must be retrofitted into buildings that come with nooks and crannies that can obstruct camera angles and affect lighting.

Perhaps Amazon’s confidence in its ability to scale its Go stores comes from vertical integration that enables it to optimize customer experiences through control over store format, product selection and placement.

While Amazon Go is vertically integrated, in Amazon’s second act, it revealed a separate, more horizontal strategy: Earlier this year, Amazon announced that it would license its cashierless Just Walk Out technology.

In Just Walk Out-enabled stores, shoppers enter the store using a credit card. They don’t need to download an app or create an Amazon account. Using cameras and sensors, the Just Walk Out technology detects which products shoppers take from or return to the shelves and keeps track of them. When done shopping, as in an Amazon Go store, customers can “just walk out” and their credit card will be charged for the items in their virtual cart.

Just Walk Out may enable Amazon to penetrate the market much more quickly, as Amazon promises that existing stores can be retrofitted in “as little as a few weeks.” Amazon can also get massive amounts of data to improve its computer vision systems and machine learning algorithms, accelerating the speed with which it can leverage those capabilities elsewhere.

In Amazon’s third and latest act, Amazon in July announced its Dash Cart, a departure from its two prior strategies. Rather than equipping stores with ceiling cameras and shelf sensors, Amazon is building smart carts that use a combination of computer vision and sensor fusion to identify items placed in the cart. Customers take barcoded items off shelves, place them in the cart, wait for a beep, and then one of two things happens: Either the shopper gets an alert telling him to try again, or the shopper receives a green signal to confirm the item was added to the cart correctly.

For items that don’t have a barcode, the shopper can add them to the cart by manually adding them on the cart screen and confirming the measured weight of the product. When a customer exits through the store’s Amazon Dash Cart lane, sensors automatically identify the cart, and payment is processed using the credit card on the customer’s Amazon account. The Dash Cart is specifically designed for small- to medium-sized grocery trips that fit two grocery bags and is currently only available in an Amazon Fresh store in California.

The pessimistic interpretation of Amazon’s foray into grocery technology is that its three strategies are mutually incompatible, reflecting a lack of conviction on the correct strategy to commit to. Indeed, the vertically integrated smart store strategy suggests Amazon is willing to incur massive fixed costs to optimize the customer experience. The modular smart store strategy suggests Amazon is willing to make the tradeoff in customer experience for faster market penetration.

The smart cart strategy suggests that smart stores are too complex to capture all customer behaviors correctly, thus requiring Amazon to restrict the freedom of user behavior. The more charitable interpretation, however, is that, well, Amazon is one of the most customer-centric companies in the world, and it has the capital to experiment with different approaches to figure out what works best.

While Amazon serves as a helpful case study to the current state of the industry, many other players exist in the space, all using different approaches to build an aspect of the grocery store of the future.

Cashierless checkout

According to some estimates, people spend more than 60 hours per year standing in checkout lines. Cashierless checkout changes everything, as shoppers are immediately identified upon entry and can grab products from the shelf and leave the store without having to interact with a cashier. Different companies have taken different approaches to cashierless checkout:

Smart shelves: Like Amazon Go, some companies utilize computer vision mounted on ceilings and advanced sensors on shelves to detect when shoppers take an item from the shelf. Companies associate the correct item with the correct shopper, and the shopper is charged for all the items they grabbed when they are finished with their shopping journey. Standard Cognition, Zippin and Trigo are some of the leaders in computer vision and smart shelf technology.

Smart carts and baskets: Like Amazon’s Dash Cart, some companies are moving the AI and the sensors from the ceilings and shelves to the cart. When a shopper places an item in their cart, the cart can detect exactly which item was placed and the quantity of that item. Caper Labs, for instance, is pursuing a smart cart approach. Its cart has a credit card reader for the customer to checkout without a cashier.

Touchless checkout kiosks: Touchless checkout kiosk stations use overhead cameras that verify and charge a customer for their purchase. For instance, Mashgin built a kiosk that uses computer vision to quickly verify a customer’s items when they’re done shopping. Customers can then pay using a credit card without ever having to scan a barcode.

Self-scanning: Some companies still require customers to scan items themselves, but once items are scanned, checkout becomes quick and painless. Supersmart, for instance, built a mobile app for customers to quickly scan products as they add them to their carts. When customers are finished shopping, they scan a QR code at a Supersmart kiosk, which verifies that the items in the cart match the items scanned using the mobile app. Amazon’s Dash Cart, described above, also requires a level of human involvement in manually adding certain items to the cart.

Notably, even with the approaches detailed above, cashiers may not be going anywhere just yet because they still play important roles in the customer shopping experience. Cashiers, for instance, help to bag a customer’s items quickly and efficiently. Cashiers can also conduct random checks of customer’s bags as they leave the store and check IDs for alcohol purchases. Finally, cashiers also can untangle tricky corner cases where automated systems fail to detect or validate certain shoppers’ carts. Grabango and FutureProof are therefore building hybrid cashierless checkout systems that keep a human in the loop.

Advanced software analytics

US shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8M installs

By Sarah Perez

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.

Ankorstore raises $29.9 million for its wholesale marketplace

By Romain Dillet

French startup Ankorstore has raised a $29.9 million Series A round (€25 million) with Index Ventures leading the round. Existing investors GFC, Alven and Aglaé are also participating.

Ankorstore is building a wholesale marketplace that connects independent shop owners with brands selling household supplies, maple syrup, headbands, bath salts, stationery items and a lot more. That list alone should remind you of neighborhood stores that sell a ton of cutesy stuff that you don’t necessarily need but that tend to be popular.

The company works with 2,000 brands and 15,000 shops. And the startup isn’t just connecting buyers and sellers as it has a clear set of rules. For instance, the minimum first order is €100, which means that you can try out new products without ordering hundreds of items at once.

By default, Ankorstore withdraws the money 60 days after placing an order. Brands get paid upon delivery. And of course, buying from several brands through Ankorstore should simplify your admin tasks.

Ankorstore is currently live in eight countries — France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Luxembourg. France is the biggest market followed by Germany. Up next, the startup plans to launch in the U.K. in 2021.

In many ways, Ankorstore reminds me of Faire, the wholesale marketplace that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S.

“There are a number of different retail marketplaces connecting retailers with makers and brands. Where we believe we differ is in our clear focus on the independent shop owner, offering the tools and the terms that make it really easy and cost-effective to discover and access some of the most desirable up-and-coming brands,” Ankorstore co-founder Pierre-Louis Lacoste said.

Given that the startup is working with small suppliers, chances are they’re only selling their products in Europe. So there should be enough room for a European leader in that space that I would describe as wholesale Etsy-style marketplaces with a strong focus on curation.

Image Credits: Ankorstore

French administration suspects Wish of selling counterfeit products

By Romain Dillet

A French administration in charge of consumer rights and fraud has investigated on Wish, the mobile e-commerce platform that recently filed to go public. While the company generated $1.9 billion in revenue in 2019, the French administration believes Wish could be selling products, such as sneakers and perfumes, with images incorrectly showing the logos of famous brands.

In addition to those wrongly labeled products, the administration says Wish pretends products are on sale while they aren’t. The platform could be displaying -70%, -80% or -90% on some products even though the original price is completely made up.

The administration in charge of the investigation is the direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF), an administration that reports to the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance. They have transmitted the report to a court in Paris.

Now, it’s up to the court to decide whether the allegations are right or unfounded. “The court can subpoena Wish or offer to plead guilty. We should know in the coming days,” France’s digital minister Cédric O told me.

On Twitter, Cédric O highlighted one case in particular. “Wish already stood out during the first lockdown by selling facemasks that don’t meet safety standards. French people who are using the app to find low-cost products should know that they’ll mostly find scams,” he tweeted.

.@WishShopping s’était déjà distinguée pendant le 1er confinement en vendant des masques ne respectant pas les normes. Les Français-e-s qui utilisent l'application pour y trouver du low-cost doivent savoir qu'ils y trouveront surtout des arnaques. @alaingriset @BrunoLeMaire

— Cédric O (@cedric_o) November 30, 2020

If Wish is found guilty, the company could risk up to 10% of its annual revenue in France. In particular, it’s going to be interesting to see whether Wish is responsible for products sold by third-party merchants.

The timing of the case is a bit odd as Europe’s upcoming Digital Services Act should overhaul the e-commerce directive from 2000. All eyes are on content moderation, but the Digital Services Act should also focus on counterfeit sellers, the liability of marketplaces and more.

Cyber Monday: Up to $12.7B will be spent online, marking biggest-ever US shopping day

By Ingrid Lunden

Thanksgiving and Black Friday online shopping this year had big gains on 2019, but both still fell somewhat short of expectations in what is proving to be a good if more muted holiday shopping season, without the usual physical crowds to help enforce Covid-19 social distancing and many feeling the economic strain of the health pandemic.

Now all eyes are on “Cyber Monday,” which has for the last several years has been the biggest online shopping day of the four-day stretch. Adobe predicts that it will be the biggest shopping day yet in the US, with between $10.8 billion and $12.7 billion spent, while Salesforce’s forecast is in the middle of that range, $11.8 billion. Globally, Salesforce believes the figure will be $46 billion.

Adobe figure of 40% of sales on smartphones has been relative steady all week. Shopify, which typically works with smaller merchants, has put the figure closer to 70%.

For some context, Black Friday came in at $9 billion and Thanksgiving at $5.1 billion this year according to Adobe’s figures. And last year $9.4 billion was spent on Cyber Monday 2019.

Salesforce was more optimistic: it said that digital revenues on Black Friday were $12.8 billion with global figures coming in at $62 billion, while Thanksgiving was closer to $6.8 billion in online sales in the US, with the global figure around $30.4 billion.

“Cyber Monday is on track to break all previous records for online sales. Consumers will likely take advantage of the best discounted items today like TVs, toys and computers before price levels start creeping back up throughout the rest of the season,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Shoppers are encouraged to do their gift buying soon as shipping in time for Christmas will get more expensive in the coming weeks.”

We will continue to update these figures as we get more data in. Adobe, for example, said that it believes that a whopping 29% of today’s revenue will come only between 7pm and 11pm Pacific (after work is over for the day).

(Part of the disparity in the two companies’ figures is based on methodology. Adobe bases its figures on 80 of the top 100 retailers in the US, covering some 1 trillion transactions. Salesforce is using data gleaned from its Commerce Cloud, covering billions of engagements and millions of social media conversations, which it then combines with further analytics in its Shopping Index.)

One thing that is clear from both companies is that Cyber Monday continues to be the biggest day of them all. Why? It’s a perfect storm: the big rush of sales for the holiday season are up, but everyone is back at work, so they shop online instead of in person. Hence, big numbers on Cyber Monday.

As with the other days of the long weekend, one thing that has been impacting sales numbers is the fact that sales are starting earlier and earlier, but Adobe said that many consumers still believe that big bargains are laid on for the specific day. Some of the most popular shopping categories have included computers (marked down 30% on average), toys (20% discount), appliances (21%) and electronics (26%).

Bigger businesses continue to reap the biggest spoils in online shopping — not least because they still provide the best range of delivery, pick-up and return options to consumers, which become an even bigger set of priorities as you move further away from more amenable early adopters and into the more general population and potentially less experienced online shoppers. The conversion rates for big retailers (over $1 billion in revenues annually) are typically 70% higher than for smaller businesses.

Still, small businesses have tried to spend years catching up, boosted by various startups and companies like Shopify building tools for them to “be like Amazon” in their fulfillment, delivery and other features. Adobe said that Small Business Saturday, the newest of the Thanksgiving shopping holidays, saw $4.7 billion spent, a record for the day and up 30.2% on 2019. And to underscore just how tough times are for small businesses, Adobe said that the money small businesses were bringing in online this year was a whopping 294% higher than an average day in October.

So far some $23.5 billion has been spent during the holiday weekend.

Black Friday online shopping comes in $9B, $3.6B on smartphones

By Ingrid Lunden

Black Friday — the day that launched 1,000 other shopping holidays — may have lost its place as the “start” of the Christmas shopping season by now (it gets bigger and earlier with each passing year). But the day after Thanksgiving still pulls in a crowd of buyers looking for a bargain and remains a major bellwether for tracking how sales will progress in what is the most important period for the retail and commerce sector.

This year saw growth, but at the low end of the predicted range.

Adobe, which is following online sales in real-time at 80 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S., covering some 100 million SKUs, said US consumers spent $9 billion online on Black Friday, up 21.6% on a year ago. Adobe had originally forecast sales of between $8.9 billion and $9.6 billion.

The figure makes Black Friday (for now at least) the second-largest online spending day in US history (after 2019’s Cyber Monday).

Although growth was not as wild as some thought it might be, it still had a fillip from current circumstances. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year was definitely slimmer when it came to actual, in-person crowds — kind of a refreshing break from those times when you feel like it’s the worst of humanity when people are breaking out into fights over TVs at a local Walmart.

Smartphones continued to account for an increasing proportion of online sales, with this year’s $3.6 billion up 25.3%, while alternative deliveries — a sign of the e-commerce space maturing — also continued to grow, with in-store and curbside pickup up 52% on 2019.

Adobe predicts Cyber Monday 2020 will see spending of between $10.8 billion and $12.7 billion.

For some context, in 2019, Adobe tracked $7.4 billion in online sales, and yesterday it said that shoppers spent $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving, with more than $3 billion spent online each day in the week leading up to Thursday.

Its analysts said evening would be big for online shopping — which makes sense since people might have been either going out in person during the day, or just doing something else on a day off.

Not all are in agreement that night time is the right time, however. Figures from Shopify — which analyses activity from the 1 million-plus merchants that use its e-commerce platform — said that the peak shopping hour on its platform was actually 9am Eastern, when there were as many as $3 million in sales per minute. The average cart size for US shoppers was $95.60, it added.

Interestingly, Shopify’s per-minute sales number underscores how the long tail of merchants are still quite a ways behind the very biggest: Adobe noted that its figures, across the sites that it tracks (which have at least $1 billion in annual sales) tally to $6.3 million spent per minute on Black Friday.

In either case, smartphones continue to be a major driver of how sales get made. Adobe said 40% of all sales were on handsets, lower than the day before but 7% higher than in 2019.

And just as it was yesterday, it seems that smaller retailers are attracting more shoppers on mobile: Shopify said that some 70% of its sales are being made via smartphones.

We’ll see how all of that plays out later today also with the initial figures from “Small Business Saturday”, which is the latest of the shopping designations added to the holiday weekend, this one trying to hone focus more squarely away from major chains and big box merchants.

One big takeaway from the bigger weekend figures will be that offering items — electronics, tech, toys and sports goods being the most popular categories — at the right price will help retailers continue to bring in sales, in what has proven to be an especially strong year for online shopping. Many have opted to stay away from crowded places due to the pandemic, and it has also been a critical year for retailers because of the drag that the pandemic has had on the wider economy.

Cyber Monday is likely to continue to be the biggest of them all, expected to bring in between $11.2 billion and $13 billion in e-commerce transactions, up 19%-38% year-on-year.

Perhaps because of the shift to more online shopping, and the concern over flagging sales, it’s interesting that “holiday season” has also been extended and now comes earlier. Adobe said a survey of consumers found that 41% said they would start shopping earlier this year than previous years due to much earlier discounts. Recall too that Amazon’s Prime Day was delayed to start in October this year, an ‘event’ that many treated as a moment to get a jump start on holiday shopping.

“Black Friday is headed for record-breaking levels as consumers flock online to shop for both holiday gifts and necessities,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Concurrently, it’s also worth noting that this year, we’re seeing strong online sales momentum across not only the major shopping days like Thanksgiving weekend, but throughout the holiday season as consumers spread out their shopping across several weeks in reaction to continued, heavy discounting from retailers.”

Bigblue wants to automate e-commerce fulfillment in Europe

By Romain Dillet

Meet Bigblue, a French startup that just raised a $3.6 million seed round (€3 million) to build an end-to-end fulfillment solution in Europe. If you sell products on your own website and across multiple marketplaces, you can use Bigblue to handle everything that happens after a transaction.

Bigblue doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it partners with existing logistics companies so that you only have to manage one relationship with Bigblue. It means that Bigblue works with several fulfillment centers to store your products as well as multiple shipping carriers.

Essentially, Bigblue lets you improve the experience for your customers. When you start using Bigblue, you send your products to a fulfillment center and you integrate Bigblue with your online stores. The startup has integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Wix Store, Prestashop, Fastmag and Amazon’s marketplace.

When a client orders a product from you, it is packed and shipped directly from the fulfillment center to your customers. Bigblue customers pay a flat fee per order and don’t have to deal with anything. Some packages might be delivered through DHL, others might be sent out using Chronopost, etc. It is completely transparent as Bigblue chooses the right carrier for you.

The startup also gives you more visibility into your shipping process. Retailers get an overview of their operations and can see the inventory from Bigblue’s interface. Clients receive branded delivery emails.

While it’s hard to build a good logistics network if you’re a small e-commerce company, Bigblue lets you compete more directly with Amazon big e-commerce websites. You can level up the customer experience without putting together an in-house logistics team.

Samaipata is leading today’s funding round. Bpifrance is contributing to the round. Plug and Play, Clément Benoit, Thibaud Elziere and Olivier Bonnet are also investing.

With the new influx of funding, the startup plans to hire 50 people and improve its product. You can expect more integrations with e-commerce platforms, ERPs and marketplaces. Bigblue is also going to build out its own shipment tracking pages and email personalization toolkit. The company will also improve product returns and delivery ETAs.

Amazon expands IP Accelerator to Europe after US SMBs register 6,000 trademarks

By Ingrid Lunden

As we head into the biggest shopping period of the year — which this year may well have an even stronger online component than usual because of COVID-19 — Amazon has launched its latest effort to combat the sale of counterfeit goods on its site.

The e-commerce giant today announced that its IP Accelerator is now live in Europe — specifically France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and the United Kingdom — to help SMBs selling on Amazon obtain trademarks on their intellectual property, protect their brands and tackle the sale of counterfeit goods, connecting companies with recommended legal firms to carry out work. Joining the IP Accelerator is free, while the legal aid is provided as “low-cost assistance”, with those costs coming in the form of “competitive, pre-negotiated rates,” Amazon said.

The European launch — in Amazon’s six biggest markets in Europe, covering more than 150,000 small and medium businesses selling on Amazon’s platform, which account for more than half the products sold in the region — comes just over a year after Amazon kicked off an IP Accelerator in the U.S., in October 2019.

Amazon today said that the U.S. effort has so far yielded 6,000 trademark applications submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office by SMBs working through the program.

Amazon has long struggled with counterfeit and other illicit items sold through its marketplace — which brings in third-party sellers and is built on the very concept of economies of scale, offering a vast array of choices to shoppers, and the IP Accelerator comes on the heels of a lot of other proactive efforts to battle the situation.

They have included Amazon filing a number of lawsuits — both on its own and in partnership with others, and most recently, just this month, being the plaintiff in a case that interestingly extended outside its own platform to target online influencers.

It also has built a lot of technology also to help track and spot illicit goods.

And it’s working with government authorities, most recently in an initiative to halt the import of counterfeit inventory before it gets sold or delivered to buyers.

It’s a Sisyphean task in some regards: Amazon’s growth means more sellers, and more goods to triage, and more chances for dodgy items. But it’s one that is very much in Amazon’s interest to get right: if it can’t protect IP, the best brands will stay away, and consumers will start to lose confidence in the platform, too.

That’s where initiatives like the IP Accelerator come in, where the idea is that it gives sellers who are smaller more direct control over their own brand destinies.

The focus on SMBs is very specific and not just because of their collective selling power on Amazon. They are most often not in full possession of their legal options, and perhaps also worried about the costs of getting involved in trademarking, with a recent report from the European Intellectual Property Office finding that just 9% of SMBs have registered IP rights, versus 36% of larger companies.

“We know from our conversations with small business owners that there is often confusion about why IP rights are important and how sellers can secure them,” said Francois Saugier, Vice President for EU Seller Services, Amazon, in a statement. “As part of our broader commitment to supporting small businesses, we have set up IP Accelerator to make the IP registration process as easy and as affordable as possible for entrepreneurs in the early days of their businesses.”

In addition to legal assistance, SMBs in the program can then join the Amazon’s Brand Registry. This currently covers some 350,000 brands and gives businesses the ability to manage and track their brands, using automated algorithms built by Amazon and giving participants a hotline to reporting and acting on potential copycats and other trademark criminals.

One IP publication, IP Watchdog, describes how the IP Accelerator is a particularly disruptive concept in part because of that quick access to the Brand Registry: Previously, a company would have had to have a trademark approved by the patent office before joining. Now, it seems that as long as the application is in progress — via the legal firms that have been picked to be a part of the IP Accelerator — you can join the registry. Businesses generally try to join it to get a leg up on their marketing, and critics see the Accelerator as one way to potentially game that system.

(The other way that the IP Accelerator is disruptive, according to the article? By forcing a pricing structure for trademarking services that departs from the norm, for a potentially very large audience of customers, which also could lay the groundwork for a wider set of legal services for businesses.)

The business of providing business services to SMBs on the platform is an interesting one.

We’ve seen a number of startups emerge in recent times that are looking to acquire and roll up the best of the SMBs that sell on Amazon with big ambitions of their own.

Their plans are to use economies of scale to run these businesses better, with better supply-chain management, marketing, IP control and more. That strategy is predicated on the fact that those small businesses are finding it a challenge to take their enterprises to the next level on their own.

In that regard, Amazon’s IP Accelerator potentially gives those smaller sellers another helping hand to stay independent (or at least grow their businesses enough to catch the attention of these consolidators).

“Great ideas are the core of every good business. Turning those ideas into a reality relies on IP,” said Pippa Hall, director of Innovation and Chief Economist at the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, said in a statement. “Understanding, protecting and getting the most out of your IP is a crucial ingredient of success. A good IP strategy should sit at the heart of every good business plan.”

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

By Sarah Perez

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.

Cure Hydration raises $2.6M for its healthy sports drink alternative

By Anthony Ha

Cure Hydration is announcing that it has raised $2.6 million in seed funding as it brings a healthier approach to the sports beverage market.

Founder and CEO Lauren Picasso, whose past roles include serving as director of marketing at Jet.com, told me that she became interested in the market after training for a triathlon; she’d often feel dehydrated even after drinking lots of water. (This is also something I struggled with while training for a marathon last year — and yes, I’m only mentioning this because I really want you to know that I ran a marathon.)

The obvious solution was to drink Gatorade or something similar to replenish her electrolytes, but Picasso said, “When I started looking for electrolyte products that were healthy and effective, I realized everything on the market still uses a base of sugar.” In fact, the average sports drink contains 36 grams of sugar.

So Picasso and the Cure team developed a new beverage based on the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution, which Picasso said is “primarily used to help people suffering from diseases like cholera,” and which has saved “millions of lives and is proven to hydrate as effectively as an IV drip.”

Cure uses the ORS as a foundation to create a range of flavored beverages (it’s adding the new flavors Ruby Riot Grapefruit and Laser Focus Matcha). The core ingredients include coconut water and pink Himalayan salt, while everything is organic and vegan, with no added sugars.

Cure Hydration

Image Credits: Cure Hydration

The startup sells these drinks in the form of powders that you mix with water. On its website, they cost $20.99 for a pack of 14, or $16.79 of you subscribe. (The company donates 1% of proceeds to the women’s sports nonprofit SheIS.) Picasso said early customers have tended to be amateur athletes and people who need help staying hydrated due to chronic illnesses and other health conditions.

The product is also available in stores like CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods. Picasso said that one of her goals with the funding is to continue expanding Cure’s retail footprint beyond its current 4,200 locations across the United States.

She also plans to develop new products beyond hydration, though she said they will stay true to the company’s “guiding principles” that all its products are “backed by science” and “taste delicious.” The company has a medical advisory board that includes Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist; Dr. Dana Cohen, the author of “Quench”; and nutritionist Brooke Alpert, author of “The Sugar Detox.”

The round was led by Lerer Hippeau, with participation from M3 Ventures, Litani Ventures, Andy Roddick, Nas, Matthew Dellavedova, Casper CEO Philip Krim, mParticle CEO Michael Katz, Thrive Market CEO Nick Green and others.

“Now, more than ever, consumers are prioritizing health in their daily lives and looking for products that are not only effective, but better-for-you,” said Lerer Hippeau principal Caitlin Strandberg in a statement. “Lauren is an exceptional operator and we’ve been impressed with her ability to bring a WHO-approved formulation to market without compromising on product quality or efficacy. With this cash infusion and retail expansion, we’re excited to see Cure get into even more hands.”

Restaurant search engine FoodBoss adds support for direct delivery from restaurants

By Anthony Ha

FoodBoss aims to be something like Kayak for online food ordering — the place where you can search across different service and apps to find the lowest prices and fastest delivery times.

One limitation, however, is the fact that the service was limited to third-party services like Uber Eats and Postmates, with no way to order from the restaurant itself — until recently, with the launch of a new feature called Restaurant Direct.

FoodBoss co-founder and CEO Michael DiBenedetto said that restaurants are placing an increasing emphasis on accepting delivery and pickup orders directly, both to save on the fees they pay to third-party services, and also to have a direct relationship with their customers.

“The main problem is they spent all this money to build out the [ordering] infrastructure, but they don’t necessarily know that they have to spend marketing dollars to drive consumers to their site or app,” DiBenedetto said. “That’s where we’re really helping.”

FoodBoss

Image Credits: FoodBoss

Restaurant Direct may present some additional technical hurdles, because it will require FoodBoss to integrate with a variety of ordering systems. DiBenedetto said the company will be connecting through APIs in some cases and can also work directly with restaurant IT departments.

He emphasized that FoodBoss will remain agnostic about how you order — the goal is just to show you all the options, and to highlight the ordering method that best matches your priorities.

“At FoodBoss, we’re focused on making sure we’re helping third parties and [restaurants] have a lower overall marketing cost,” DiBenedetto continued. “Everybody wants to be profitable on delivery.”

The first restaurant available through Restaurant Direct is Lou Malnati’s in Chicago, with plans to add Sbarro in multiple markets next year. In a statement, Lou Malnati’s president, Heather Stege, said, “The challenge for restaurants is being able to serve customers through the users preferred channels, while still providing them with exceptional food. FoodBoss helps simplify that by offering multiple options, including our own, to attract customers.”

Xesto is a foot-scanning app that simplifies shoe gifting

By Natasha Lomas

You wait ages for foot-scanning startups to help with the tricky fit issue that troubles online shoe shopping and then two come along at once: Launching today in time for Black Friday sprees is Xesto — which, like Neatsy, which we wrote about earlier today, also makes use of the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera to generate individual 3D foot models for shoe size recommendations.

The Canadian startup hasn’t always been focused on feet. It has a long-standing research collaboration with the University of Toronto, alma mater of its CEO and co-founder Sophie Howe (its other co-founder and chief scientist, Afiny Akdemir, is also pursuing a Math PhD there) — and was actually founded back in 2015 to explore business ideas in human computer interaction.

But Howe tells us it moved into mobile sizing shortly after the 2017 launch of the iPhone X — which added a 3D depth camera to Apple’s smartphone. Since then Apple has added the sensor to additional iPhone models, pushing it within reach of a larger swathe of iOS users. So you can see why startups are spying a virtual fit opportunity here.

“This summer I had an aha! moment when my boyfriend saw a pair of fancy shoes on a deep discount online and thought they would be a great gift. He couldn’t remember my foot length at the time, and knew I didn’t own that brand so he couldn’t have gone through my closet to find my size,” says Howe. “I realized in that moment shoes as gifts are uncommon because they’re so hard to get correct because of size, and no one likes returning and exchanging gifts. When I’ve bought shoes for him in the past, I’ve had to ruin the surprise by calling him — and I’m not the only one. I realized in talking with friends this was a feature they all wanted without even knowing it… Shoes have such a cult status in wardrobes and it is time to unlock their gifting potential!”

Howe slid into this TechCrunch writer’s DMs with the eye-catching claim that Xesto’s foot-scanning technology is more accurate than Neatsy’s — sending a Xesto scan of her foot compared to Neatsy’s measure of it to back up the boast. (Aka: “We are under 1.5 mm accuracy. We compared against Neatsy right now and they are about 1.5 cm off of the true size of the app,” as she put it.)

Another big difference is Xesto isn’t selling any shoes itself. Nor is it interested in just sneakers; it’s shoe-type agnostic. If you can put it on your feet it wants to help you find the right fit, is the idea.

Right now the app is focused on the foot-scanning process and the resulting 3D foot models — showing shoppers their feet in a 3D point cloud view, another photorealistic view as well as providing granular foot measurements.

There’s also a neat feature that lets you share your foot scans so, for example, a person who doesn’t have their own depth-sensing iPhone could ask to borrow a friend’s to capture and takeaway scans of their own feet.

Helping people who want to be bought (correctly fitting) shoes as gifts is the main reason they’ve added foot-scan sharing, per Howe — who notes shoppers can create and store multiple foot profiles on an account “for ease of group shopping”.

“Xesto is solving two problems: Buying shoes [online] for yourself, and buying shoes for someone else,” she tells TechCrunch. “Problem 1: When you buy shoes online, you might be unfamiliar with your size in the brand or model. If you’ve never bought from a brand before, it is very risky to make a purchase because there is very limited context in selecting your size. With many brands you translate your size yourself.

“Problem 2: People don’t only buy shoes for themselves. We enable gift and family purchasing (within a household or remote!) by sharing profiles.”

Xesto is doing its size predictions based on comparing a user’s (<1.5mm accurate) foot measurements to brands’ official sizing guidelines — with more than 150 shoe brands currently supported.

Howe says it plans to incorporate customer feedback into these predictions — including by analyzing online reviews where people tend to specify if a particular shoe size is larger or smaller than expected. So it’s hoping to be able to keep honing the model’s accuracy.

“What we do is remove the uncertainty of finding your size by taking your 3D foot dimensions and correlate that to the brands sizes (or shoe model, if we have them),” she says. “We use the brands size guides and customer feedback to make the size recommendations. We have over 150 brands currently supported and are continuously adding more brands and models. We also recommend if you have extra wide feet you read reviews to see if you need to size up (until we have all that data robustly gathered).”

Asked about the competitive landscape, given all this foot-scanning action, Howe admits there’s a number of approaches trying to help with virtual shoe fit — such as comparative brand sizing recommendations or even foot scanning with pieces of paper. But she argues Xesto has an edge because of the high level of detail of its 3D scans — and on account of its social sharing feature. Aka this is an app to make foot scans you can send your bestie for shopping keepsies.

“What we do that is unique is only use 3D depth data and computer vision to create a 3D scan of the foot with under 1.5mm accuracy (unmatched as far as we’ve seen) in only a few minutes,” she argues. “We don’t ask you any information about your feet, or to use a reference object. We make size recommendations based on your feet alone, then let you share them seamlessly with loved ones. Size sharing is a unique feature we haven’t seen in the sizing space that we’re incredibly excited about (not only because we will get more shoes as gifts :D).”

Xesto’s iOS app is free for shoppers to download. It’s also entirely free to create and share your foot scan in glorious 3D point cloud — and will remain so according to Howe. The team’s monetization plan is focused on building out partnerships with retailers, which is on the slate for 2021.

“Right now we’re not taking any revenue but next year we will be announcing partnerships where we work directly within brands ecosystems,” she says, adding: “[We wanted to offer] the app to customers in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. In 2021, we are launching some exciting initiatives in partnership with brands. But the app will always be free for shoppers!”

Since being founded around five years ago, Howe says Xesto has raised a pre-seed round from angel investors and secured national advanced research grants, as well as taking in some revenue over its lifetime. The team has one patent granted and one pending for their technologies, she adds.

Neatsy wants to reduce sneaker returns with 3D foot scans

By Natasha Lomas

U.S.-based startup Neatsy AI is using the iPhone’s depth-sensing FaceID selfie camera as a foot scanner to capture 3D models for predicting a comfortable sneaker fit.

Its app, currently soft launched for iOS but due to launch officially next month, asks the user a few basic questions about sneaker fit preference before walking through a set of steps to capture a 3D scan of their feet using the iPhone’s front-facing camera. The scan is used to offer personalized fit predictions for a selection of sneakers offered for sale in-app — displaying an individualized fit score (out of five) in green text next to each sneaker model.

Shopping for shoes online can lead to high return rates once buyers actually get to slip on their chosen pair, since shoe sizing isn’t standardized across different brands. That’s the problem Neatsy wants its AI to tackle by incorporating another more individual fit signal into the process.

The startup, which was founded in March 2019, has raised $400K in pre-seed funding from angel investors to get its iOS app to market. The app is currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Canada and Russia. 

Neatsy analyzes app users’ foot scans using a machine learning model it’s devised to predict a comfy fit across a range of major sneaker brands — currently including Puma, Nike, Jordan Air and Adidas — based on scanning the insoles of sneakers, per CEO and founder Artem Semyanov.

He says they’re also factoring in the material shoes are made of and will be honing the algorithm on an ongoing basis based on fit feedback from users. (The startup says it’s secured a US patent for its 3D scanning tech for shoe recommendations.)

The team tested the algorithm’s efficiency via some commercial pilots this summer — and say they were able to demonstrate a 2.7x reduction in sneaker return rates based on size, and a 1.9x decrease in returns overall, for a focus group with 140 respondents.

Handling returns is clearly a major cost for online retailers — Neatsy estimates that sneaker returns specifically rack up $30BN annually for ecommerce outlets, factoring in logistics costs and other factors like damaged boxes and missing sneakers.

“All in all, shoe ecommerce returns vary among products and shops between 30% and 50%. The most common reasons for this category are fit & size mismatch,” says Semyanov, who headed up the machine learning team at Prism Labs prior to founding Neatsy.

“According to Zappos, customers who purchase its most expensive footwear ultimately return ~50% of everything they buy. 70% online shoppers make returns each year. Statista estimates return deliveries will cost businesses $550 billion by 2020,” he tells us responding to questions via email.

“A 2019 survey from UPS found that, for 73% of shoppers, the overall returns experience impacts how likely they are to purchase from a given retailer again, and 68% say the experience impacts their overall perceptions of the retailer. That’s the drama here!

“Retailers are forced to accept steep costs of returns because otherwise, customers won’t buy. Vs us who want to treat the main reasons of returns rather than treating the symptoms.”

While ecommerce giants like Amazon address this issue by focusing on logistics to reducing friction in the delivery process, speeding up deliveries and returns so customers spend less time waiting to get the right stuff, scores of startups have been trying to tackle size and fit with a variety of digital (and/or less high tech) tools over the past five+ years — from 3D body models to ‘smart’ sizing suits or even brand- and garment-specific sizing tape (Nudea‘s fit tape for bras) — though no one has managed to come up with a single solution that works for everything and everyone. And a number of these startups have deadpooled or been acquired by ecommerce platforms without a whole lot to show for it.

While Neatsy is attempting to tackle what plenty of other founders have tried to do on the fit front, it is at least targeting a specific niche (sneakers) — a relatively narrow focus that may help it hone a useful tool.

It’s also able to lean on mainstream availability of the iPhone’s sensing hardware to get a leg up. (Whereas a custom shoe design startup that’s been around for longer, Solely Original, has offered custom fit by charging a premium to send out an individual fit kit.)

But even zeroing in on sneaker comfort, Neatsy’s foot scanning process does require the user to correctly navigate quite a number of steps (see the full flow in the below video). Plus you need to have a pair of single-block colored socks handy (stripy sock lovers are in trouble). So it’s not a two second process, though the scan only has to be done once.

At the time of writing we hadn’t been able to test Neatsy’s scanning process for ourselves as it requires an iPhones with a FaceID depth-sensing camera. On this writer’s 2nd-gen iPhone SE, the app allowed me to swipe through each step of the scan instruction flow but then hung at what should have been the commencement of scanning — displaying a green outline template of a left foot against a black screen.

This is a bug the team said they’ll be fixing so the scanner gets turned off entirely for iPhone models that don’t have the necessary hardware. (Its App Store listing states its compatible with iPhone SE (2nd generation), though doesn’t specify the foot scan feature isn’t.) 

While the current version of Neatsy’s app is a direct to consumer ecommerce play, targeting select sneaker models at app savvy Gen Z/Millennials, it’s clearly intended as a shopfront for retailers to check out the technology.

When as ask about this Semyanov confirms its longer term ambition is for its custom fit model to become a standard piece of the ecommerce puzzle.

“Neatsy app is our fastest way to show the world our vision of what the future online shop should be,” he tells TechCrunch. “It attracts users to shops and we get revenue share when users buy sneakers via us. The app serves as a new low-return sales channel for a retailer and as a way to see the economic effect on returns by themselves.

“Speaking long term we think that our future is B2B and all ecommerce shops would eventually have a fitting tech, we bet it will be ours. It will be the same as having a credit card payment integration in your online shop.”

India approves Reliance’s $3.4 billion deal with Future Group, brings new headache to Amazon

By Manish Singh

The Indian watchdog Competition Commission (CCI) of India said on Friday it has approved the $3.4 billion deal between the nation’s two largest retail giants, Future Group and Reliance Retail, posing a new headache for American e-commerce group Amazon, which had raised objections over the deal.

The CCI, the Indian antitrust body, said in a brief statement that it had approved the proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, by Reliance Retail, the largest chain — and one that is controlled by Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Reliance Retail and Future Group announced their proposed deal, worth $3.4 billion, in late August. Amazon, which owns a stake in one of Future Group’s holding companies, has raised objections over the deal, alleging the Indian firm has engaged in insider trading and violated contracts. Amazon has argued that its contract with Future Coupons, one of Future Group’s holding companies, prohibited the Indian group from selling its assets to a competing firm like Reliance Retail.

Late last month, a Singapore arbitration court issued an order to temporarily halt the deal between the two Indian retail giants, but it has been unclear ever since how much water that order holds in India. Shortly after the court issued the order, Future Group and Reliance Retail said they were working to complete their deal “without any delay.”

Friday’s announcement is crucial. Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, had requested the CCI and SEBI, the regulator of the securities and commodity market in India, to consider Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s order and block the deal.

Future Group is currently fighting with Amazon in a court in Delhi, where a lawyer for the Indian firm has used bizarre language to charge the American firm. On several occasions, the lawyer has likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Future Retail has argued that its contract with Amazon is not valid in the deal with Reliance Retail, and that if the deal was approved tens of thousands of people will be out of their jobs.

The deal between India’s two largest retail chains was also seen an opportunity for the CCI to review the entire value chain — wholesale, logistics, warehousing and front-end retailing — of the retail industry. The clearance delivered today means that the antitrust body has concluded that the deal won’t have an adverse impact on competition in the relevant industry.

Amazon’s drone delivery team hit with layoffs amid reorganization

By Brian Heater

Amazon has confirmed an early Financial Times report outlining layoffs at the retail giant’s Prime Air drone delivery program.

“As part of our regular business operations, we are reorganizing one small team within our larger Prime Air organization to allow us to best align with the needs of our customers and the business,” spokesperson Kristen Kish said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “For affected employees, we are working to find roles in the areas where we are hiring that best match their experience and needs.”

The statement echoes similar sentiment from Amazon departments that have undergone headcount reduction, including the bit about attempting to shift employees around inside the company. Among other things, it’s an attempt to get out in front of suggestions that the project could be struggling. The company adds, however, that it is committed to the Prime Air project.

The initial report points to dozens of layoffs, though Amazon, unsurprisingly, is loath to give an exact figure. Understandably, the ambitious project, which would add rapid air delivers to Amazon’s existing robust delivery structure, hasn’t exactly been a quick launch.

In a blog post tied to the company’s RE:Mars conference last June, consumer head Jeff Wilke noted, “[W]ith the help of our world-class fulfillment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages via drone to customers within months.”

Certainly the health risks to essential workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a prime candidate for such a launch, but there are a number of hurdles for the program, including both regulatory and technological. In August, the service received FAA approval for trials.

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