eCommerce

How COVID-19 transformed the way Americans spend online

Posted by | Column, coronavirus, COVID-19, e-commerce, eCommerce, Extra Crunch, Gaming, growth marketing, Market Analysis, Media, mobile web, online shopping, payments, retail, shopping, Social, social commerce, Startups, TC | No Comments
Ethan Smith
Contributor

Ethan Smith is founder and CEO of Graphite, an SEO and growth marketing agency based in San Francisco. Ethan has served as a strategic advisor to Ticketmaster, MasterClass, Thumbtack and Honey.

COVID-19 has transformed the way Americans use their phones and the way they spend their time and money online. These shifts present both a number of challenges and a raft of opportunities for savvy growth marketers.

We’ve seen COVID-19 affect a number of verticals. A number of industries have taken a hit (like music streaming and sports), while some are expanding due to the pandemic (groceries, media, video gaming). Others have found distinctive ways to adjust the way they position and sell their product, allowing them to take advantage of changes in buyer behavior.

The key to being able to read and react to changes in this still-tumultuous time and tailoring your growth marketing accordingly is to understand how public sentiment is reflected in new purchasing behaviors. Here’s an overview of the most important trends we’re seeing that will allow you to adjust your growth marketing effectively.

By the numbers: A sheltering-in-place economy

Virtually all of the data we’ve seen shows a marked difference in buyer behavior following the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic on March 11, 2020. With consumers encouraged to stay home to deter the spread of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that the biggest change is the spike in online activity.

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Xiaomi launches Mi Commerce in India to boost sales amid lockdown

Posted by | Amazon, Asia, coronavirus, counterpoint, COVID-19, Covid19, eCommerce, Gadgets, Samsung, Walmart, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi today launched a new e-commerce service in India that allows people in the nation to easily browse and order its handsets and other products from nearby physical retail stores as the Chinese giant rushes to kickstart its sales in its biggest overseas market.

Dubbed Mi Commerce, the service allows people to locate nearby stores that are either run by Xiaomi or those that have tie-ups with the company and browse smartphones, TVs, electric lamps, and a range of other products.

Users can express their “interest” to purchase the selected item through the app that would prompt the retail store to place a confirmation call. The retail store would deliver the item and then process the payment, Xiaomi said. A spokesperson told TechCrunch that Mi Commerce is available only in India currently.

Xiaomi has also launched a WhatsApp Business account that operates on a similar flow. Users can send a message to +91 8861826286 to initiate the conversation with retail stores through Facebook-owned service.

The shift to what is often described in the industry as an online to offline model comes as Xiaomi, like other smartphone vendors, looks to make up its lost sales in recent weeks. India ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March that shut retail shops, and restricted e-commerce firms to only service grocery orders.

According to Hong Kong-headquartered research firm Counterpoint, no smartphone units were sold in India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, in April.

In a call with reporters, Xiaomi executives said they were hopeful that the Indian market would attain at least 80% of its momentum by the end of the year. Counterpoint slashed its smartphone projections for India last month, saying it now expects the market to shrink by 10% this year. Indian smartphone market has consistently grown year-by-year in the last decade.

Mi Commerce would additionally also help potential customers maintain social distance and avoid errands to stores that would otherwise expose them to novel coronavirus.

Xiaomi said it was working with the government for an update on the resumption of smartphone manufacturing plants that are also shut since the lockdown was ordered in March. The company executives said they currently have inventory to meet demand for three to four months.

The Chinese giant is also providing working capital to its retail store partners, it said.

Samsung, which lost the tentpole position in India’s smartphone market to Xiaomi in 2018 and recently the second spot to Vivo, did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment on any similar efforts it has made — or not made — in India.

On Monday, e-commerce firms including Amazon and Walmart in India resumed their service for people in more than 80% zip codes in the country. A lockdown would remain in place for another two weeks in India, but New Delhi has eased some restrictions.

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Shopify launches Shop, a new mobile app

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Mobile, Shopify | No Comments

While Shopify is best-known for powering the online stores of more than 1 million businesses, the company is launching a consumer shopping app of its own today, simply called Shop.

The app is actually an update and rebrand of Arrive, an app for tracking packages from Shopify merchants and other retailers, which the company says has been used by 16 million consumers already.

Shop includes those same package tracking capabilities, but it also allows consumers to browse a feed of recommended products, learn more about each brand and make purchases using the one-click Shop Pay checkout process.

Carl Rivera, the general manager of Shop, told me that the app is a response to a broader shift — not just from desktop to mobile commerce, but also from mobile web to native mobile apps. The challenge, he suggested, is that most of us only download and shop from a handful of native apps, so it can be hard for an independent brand to launch an app of their own.

“What we want to do with Shop is give them a place to call their own,” Rivera said.

Shopify Shop overview

Image Credits: Shop

Shop provides customized product recommendations to each shopper, but Rivera noted that these recommendations all come from brands that you’ve already shown an interested in, either by purchasing a product from their Shopify store or by following their profiles in the app.

He contrasted this with product recommendations on other online stores, which he said offer “a feed of products from brands you don’t know, brands you don’t care about — most these platforms are driven by advertising.” Shop, Rivera said, will not include any ads, and it will be available for free to both shoppers and brands.

He added that he’s been working on Shop “basically since I came on-board” in late 2018. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis prompted his team (and Shopify at large) to ask “What are the things we can today to best support merchants?”

One of their answers: a feature that allows shoppers to browse local merchants, see which ones currently support delivery and in-store purchase, then make purchases to support them.

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$75M weed giant Caliva ditches Eaze, launches delivery

Posted by | Apps, Caliva, cannabis, eaze, eCommerce, Finance, Health, marijuana, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC | No Comments

It’s a brutal time for marijuana startups. I’m hearing some are raising at 1/5th of their 2019 valuation amidst rampant competition, tall taxes, and slow legalization. The struggles for marijuana’s best-known startup, delivery service Eaze, continue as today it’s losing one of its top partners. $75 million-funded weed brand empire Caliva has dropped Eaze in favor of launching its own delivery system.

By partnering with Hypur banking to solve the marijuana payments legality issue, Caliva will be able to accept contactless mobile payments unlike Eaze that it claims usually requires customers pay in cash. [Update: Eaze claims the majority of payments come via debit cards]. Caliva buyers won’t have to worry about trips to the ATM, especially now during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, which the startup expects will boost their average order volume. Combined with verticalizing delivery in-house plus its retail and wholesale operations, Caliva hopes it can grow its margins and survive this long winter for weed startups.

“Our mission at Caliva has always been to provide safe and easy access to plant-based solutions for health, happiness and healing,” said Caliva CEO Dennis O’Malley. “Together with Hypur, we are proud to offer our customers safe, compliant and convenient cashless payment options to improve and modernize their purchasing experience.” It hasn’t been so easy for Eaze, though.

Back in January, we reported that Eaze was in trouble, having suffered unannounced layoffs and executive departures. It burned cash on billboards, and never launched the services of a startup it acquired. There were questions about data security, and weed brands dropped Eaze due to delayed payments. It was almost out of money and in danger of vaporizing. It luckily managed to secure a $15 million bridge round to keep it alive plus a $20 million Series D in February just before the COVID hit the fan, though I dread to think of the terms of that funding.

The plan for Eaze was to verticalize, buying and developing brands that it could sell through its existing delivery service to up its margins. Now it’s seeing former partner Caliva do the reverse, launching a delivery service to sell its own Fun Uncle, Deli, and Caliva brands as well as distribute other vape, edible, and flower brands like Dosist and Kiva. Its menu breadth to attract customers and in-house brands to drive profits could be a winning combo. After limited pilots in SoCal, Caliva delivery is launching in LA and the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, traditional payment processors usually refuse to work with marijuana companies for fear of legal repercussions. That’s why most delivery services can’t accept credit or debit cards, or do so through sketchy legal workarounds that have led payment providers to be sued. Others like CanPay only offer ACH transfers, while Square only works with CBD sellers. “We spent time researching and evaluating all platforms that accept cannabis payments in the U.S., and found that Hypur has the best security, compliance and consumer experience” O’Malley tells me.

400-person Caliva is now trying to raise a Series B, but may experience tough headwinds with shelter-in-place orders in effect in states where marijuana is legal. Stiff taxes on marijuana have meanwhile helped the black market continue to thrive, as California’s $3.1 billion in legal 2019 sales were overshadowed by an estimated $8.7 billion in illegal sales. Faster delivery and simpler payments could help. But enthusiasm for the industry has dwindled following the initial flood of entrants sought to exploit the end of prohibition. Is the Green Rush over?

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COVID-19 crisis spurs triple-digit growth for refurbishing startup Back Market

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Back Market, Column, coronavirus, COVID-19, eCommerce, Europe, Extra Crunch, France, Gadgets, grover, Growth, hardware, paris, retail, smartphone, Startups | No Comments
Eva Yoo
Contributor

Eva Yoo is founder of Seek Road, the project wherein she cycles from Seoul to London while interviewing startups on the Silk Road.

While a number of startups have been hard hit by efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, refurbishing firm Back Market is showing increased growth globally.

The Paris -based startup encourages customers to send in their old devices so they can be refurbished and resold into the e-commerce secondhand market. The growth achieved in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is partly due to increased laptop sales as people seek better devices to work remotely.

For people who are unsure whether refurbished products are reliable, Back Market permits customers to send in old devices, exchange them for newer versions and pay the difference. CEO Thibaud Hug de Larauze said this payback service is currently possible only in France, but starting in Q2, it will be available in other markets.

Founded in 2014, Back Market has raised a total of €48 million in funding over two rounds, most recently a Series B in June 2018. The company is profitable and reportedly still has money to spend from its last funding round.

“We don’t release the gross merchandise volume, but it’s a three-digit growth rate,” Hug de Larauze told TechCrunch. “We saw an increase in demand for laptops, printers and other devices needed for working at home. Demand for refurbished phones is going down as people seek to get the first necessity items, like food for their situation.”

Over the past two weeks, Back Market saw skyrocketing demand from Italy, a nation with a high coronavirus death toll where citizens were warned they would be confined to their homes for four weeks.

Another factor that helped the platform’s growth: Smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung closed their retail stores, a move that turned Back Market into a major supply channel. While offline retailers and carriers are shut down in Europe, Hug de Larauze says Chinese offline retailers and refurbishing factories are starting to get back to work.

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Online marketplace OfferUp raises $120M, acquires top competitor letgo

Posted by | Apps, buying, eCommerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, letgo, M&A, marketplace, Mobile, OfferUp, olx group, online shopping, Recent Funding, Selling, Startups, TC | No Comments

OfferUp, a top online and mobile marketplace app, announced this morning it’s raising $120 million in a new round of funding led by competing marketplace letgo’s majority investor, OLX Group, and others. As a part of the deal, OfferUp will also be acquiring letgo’s classified business, with OLX Group gaining a 40% stake in the newly combined entity.

Other investors in the new round include existing OfferUp backers Andreessen Horowitz and Warburg Pincus. The funds will be put toward continued growth, product innovation and monetization efforts, OfferUp says.

The round will close with the closing of the acquisition, which is expected to take place sometime in May. To date, OfferUp has raised $380 million.

The acquisition will see two of the largest third-party buying and selling marketplaces — outside of Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace, of course — become a more significant threat to the incumbents. Together, the new entity will have more than 20 million monthly active users across the U.S. For consumers, the deal means they’ll no longer have to list in as many apps when looking to unload some household items, electronics, furniture or whatever else they want to sell.

“My vision for OfferUp has always been to build a company that helps people connect and prosper,” said Nick Huzar, OfferUp CEO, in a statement about the acquisition. “We’re combining the complementary strengths of OfferUp and letgo in order to deliver an even better buying and selling experience for our communities. OLX Group has unparalleled expertise and clear success with growing online marketplace businesses, so they’ll be a great partner as we continue to build the widest, simplest, and most trustworthy experience for our customers.”

OfferUp also acknowledged that mid-pandemic is an odd time to announce such a deal — especially at a time when the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting its own employees, its partners, and the buying and selling community itself. And this will continue for some time.

However, Huzar positions the deal as one that will allow the business to grow, despite the current state of affairs.

“This news helps us to continue to innovate and grow, in spite of these challenging times, and continue to deliver on that promise,” Huzar noted, in a company blog post.

For now, the OfferUp and letgo apps will remain separate experiences and no disruptions to any sales will be made. Consumers will also be able to download both apps to iOS and Android devices for the time being, too.

But soon, both sets of users will gain access to a larger network of buyers and sellers, along with nationwide shipping options, and trust and safety problems. We understand this will involve allowing users of both sets of apps to see more posts and interact with more buyers and sellers — so some sort of merging of the two networks is at play here. There will be additional changes to improve the user experience for all users in the future, as well, but the company isn’t sharing details on that today.

Letgo is bringing to the table an app with more than 100 million worldwide downloads, so there is a potential to reactivate some of the lapsed users who aren’t currently shopping or selling on its marketplace today. The two apps were often neck-and-neck in terms of their app store category rankings, though on iPhone OfferUp has maintained a slight lead. (See App Store and Google Play charts below.)

However, letgo’s business outside of North America will be separately owned and operated as part of the OLX Group, the companies said.

“Letgo and OfferUp have always shared the same core vision for how large America’s secondhand economy can become — harnessing tech innovation to bring about an extraordinarily positive impact on consumers’ wallets and also on the environment,” said letgo co-founder Alec Oxenford. “Bringing our apps together moves us much closer to that vision,” he added.

Prior to this deal, OfferUp had seen a number of executive departures, including the exit of Engineering lead and VP Peter Wilson in 2017, VP of Product Chloe Harford in 2018, VP of Employee Experience Deb Nielsen in 2018, subsequent VP of Employee Experience Sarah Bilton in 2019, and Chief Experience Officer Jerry Howe in January 2020. CFO Rodrigo Brumana has also left, which was previously unreported. The company’s interim CFO is Chief Growth Officer Ian Fliflet, and OfferUp is actively hiring for a new CFO, we’re told.

Huzar characterizes these changes as part of the challenges with growing a startup and getting the right people into place.

“As the company grows up, so must leaders and so must the culture. I think a lot of times when you’re scaling businesses…you go through evolutions where leaders really need to evolve and change,” he says. “If you look to Bill Carr, for example, our COO, you know he helped build out Amazon Video from nothing to over 2,000 employees. We had nobody in the halls of OfferUp that had seen that scale before,” Huzar added.

There’s some admiration for Amazon’s culture, as well.

“There are clearly things that Amazon has done very well — like their ability to innovate at scale is unbelievable,” Huzar says. “We do think people [who] come out of Amazon have great startup DNA. They’re very scrappy. They dive deep into the business and understand things. They can think big. There’s a lot of value I think from that business that I really appreciate,” he added.

OfferUp also just hired former ChannelAdvisor VP Mark Vandegrift as head of e-commerce this month, as the company focuses on growth and scale.

But not all employees have been on board with these exec shakeups. More than a handful of employee reviews on Glassdoor and chatter on networking app Blind speak to various company culture issues, women being treated inequitably, negative office politics, and attrition — including among senior management.

In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, OfferUp may have needed to merge to scale and compete with the marketplace giants. User growth was slowing, for instance — the userbase was 42 million annual users in 2018 that only grew to 44 million in 2019. Presumably, slower revenue growth had followed. (Huzar declined to speak to current revenue and valuation.)

A combination of OfferUp and letgo could help to strengthen numbers outside of coastal cities, like Seattle, L.A., and Miami, where OfferUp was historically strong. Letgo was stronger in other parts of the country, like the Midwest, Huzar says. OfferUp will also bring its shipping business to letgo, which could be particularly helpful now as people are looking to sell household items for extra cash.

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval. If given, the combined businesses will be operated by OfferUp, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash. Huzar will continue to be CEO of OfferUp and chairman of the board. Oxenford, meanwhile, will join the board and serve as a senior advisor to OLX Group and Prosus.

Because the deal is still in the process of closing, the companies can’t speak to any team changes, including potential layoffs as a result of overlapping positions or other redundancies, we’re told.

Updated 3/25/20, 4:00 PM ET with additional quotes and background, following Huzar interview. 

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Apple now says its retail stores are closed ‘until further notice’

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple store, apple stores, China, coronavirus, COVID-19, eCommerce, Gadgets, iPhone, retail | No Comments

Apple appears to be expecting a longer disruption to shopping at its physical retail stores as a result of the public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, in a press release, the iPhone maker said it would be closing retail stores outside China until March 27. A note on its website now says the shutdown is open-ended. Apple writes that the bricks-and-mortar stores “are closed until further notice” — so at the very least it’s signalling to customers to expect ongoing disruption to its retail business as usual.

Those looking to buy Apple products are told to shop on the website. Service and support is also offered online or via telephone.

We’ve reached out to Apple to ask for confirmation on a policy change.

In its March 13 missive, the company wrote that it is committed to paying all its hourly workers as if the stores remained open, and also said it was expanding its leave policies to “accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19.”

Late yesterday six Bay Area counties issued a “shelter in place” order to restrict the potential spread of the novel coronavirus. Additional measures seem likely in the coming days.

Multiple countries in the European Union have already ordered the closure of non-essential shops — instructing residents to stay at home unless they need to venture out to obtain essential supplies or are required to work and cannot work from home.

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Grocery delivery apps see record downloads amid coronavirus outbreak

Posted by | Apps, apptopia, coronavirus, COVID-19, e-commerce, eCommerce, grocery, grocery delivery, Health, Instacart, Mobile, online grocery, online shopping, shipt, Target, Walmart | No Comments

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the U.S., grocery delivery apps have begun seeing record numbers of daily downloads, according to new data from app store intelligence firm Apptopia. On Sunday, online grocery apps, including Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt, hit yet another new record for daily downloads for their respective apps, the firm says.

Comparing the average daily downloads in February to yesterday (Sunday, March 15), Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have seen their daily downloads surge by 218%, 160% and 124%, respectively.

Typically, these apps (except for Shipt) see tens of thousands to as many as 20,000+ downloads per day. But on Sunday, Instacart saw more than 38,500 downloads and Walmart Grocery saw nearly 54,000 downloads, the firm says. Shipt, though hitting record numbers, saw only 7,285 downloads on Sunday. To some extent, its lower figures could be due to Target’s move to integrate Shipt’s grocery delivery service, which it owns, into its main app.

In fact, the Target app has also broken records for daily downloads, the report found. On Sunday, Target’s app saw more than 53,100 daily downloads; a month ago, it was seeing 25,000+.

Walmart very recently announced it would merge its grocery delivery service into its main app, as Target has done. But for now, consumers are still seeking and downloading its standalone grocery app at record levels.

These grocery delivery apps are in demand more than ever during this health crisis.

With government mandates to practice “social distancing,” U.S. consumers have been stocking up for long weeks to be spent at home. Stores were cleared of key supplies, like toilet paper, and several also saw long lines and crowds as panic-buying set in. Grocery delivery and pickup, meanwhile, presents an easier option — as well as one where you could limit your exposure to other people. With grocery pickup, consumers only have to interact with a single store employee from their curbside parking space. And with grocery delivery, most orders can simply be left on the doorstep with no person-to-person contact required.

Several grocery delivery services, including Instacart and others, promoted the fact they would add a “contactless” delivery option, which helps contribute to the huge sales boost. On Thursday, Instacart said its sales growth rates for the week was 10 times higher than the week before, and had increased by as much as 20 times in areas like California, New York, Washington and Oregon.

Apptopia’s report didn’t analyze the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on Amazon’s grocery delivery business, which includes Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods deliveries. This is more difficult to do because Amazon grocery orders aren’t placed inside a dedicated app, as with Instacart. However, Amazon confirmed a technical glitch on Sunday affected online orders through both its grocery delivery services, which the company attributed to the increase in online shopping.

“As COVID-19 has spread, we’ve seen a significant increase in people shopping online for groceries,” an Amazon spokeswoman explained, in a statement shared with Bloomberg. “This resulted in a systems impact affecting our ability to deliver Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market orders [on Sunday night]. We’re contacting customers, issuing concessions, and are working around the clock to quickly to resolve the issue,” they added.

Amazon Prime is also expected to experience delays and shortages as consumers stock up on non-grocery household items, the company says.

But even as grocery delivery booms, the market for food delivery apps has not seen the same results.

Despite promises for contactless delivery from several providers, including Uber Eats, food delivery apps are not experiencing a similar surge in daily downloads. According to Apptopia, the food delivery market earlier in March was starting to cool off. It later began to pick up but then cooled off again as consumers realized the expense of ordering food compared with home cooking, and because some consumers view restaurant delivery as not being as safe as cooking at home.

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Amazon rolls out Alexa-powered voice shopping experience in India

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apps, Asia, eCommerce, india | No Comments

Amazon today rolled out an Alexa-enabled voice-powered shopping feature in India as the e-commerce giant looks for new ways to engage with customers in one of its key overseas markets.

The American giant said the feature, currently rolling out to Android users, is available “primarily in English,” though it understands proper nouns and regional words across various languages.

“As we brought this functionality to Indian customers, we built custom functionality to cater to India’s unique requirements. We built this keeping the Indian customer at the center, optimizing for myriad accents and products relevant to the Indian customer,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This is the first time Amazon is bringing this feature outside of the U.S., the spokesperson said.

Customers will be able to use Alexa to search for items on the e-commerce platform, add them to the cart and proceed to checkout — by saying commands such as “Alexa, show me sarees,” “Alexa, add saree to my cart” and “Alexa, go to checkout.”

Once the order has been placed, users can check the whereabouts of the order through voice as well, by asking “Alexa, where is my delivery?”

Amazon has claimed in the past that its voice-enabled shopping feature is gaining traction, but according to one 2018 report, most users were not showing great appetite for this experience.

But India, where the company has vast presence and has invested over $5.5 billion in local businesses, may provide the company with some breakthrough.

As hundreds of Indians came online in the last decade, many have gravitated toward voice to engage with apps and internet services and make searches, as they are not comfortable with typing in English. Last year, Google reported that voice queries had grown by 270% over a year in India.

“Recognizing the opportunities, several well-known brands have enabled voice-activated search, including ride sharing apps, e-commerce sites, telcos, and car brands, to name a few,” it wrote in a blog post.

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