Should I buy this World Traveler t-shirt by Travel is Life? Hit me back with an emoji and let me know.
That's the question Amazon wants shoppers to pose to their friends and family with their new social shopping features.
However as Amazon seeks more human interaction on their shopping marketplaces, the company is advancing towards less human interaction in their warehouses with the pilot test of new humanoid robots (who are objectively adorable).
In addition to the above, I cover several big Amazon stories this week, including one that I'm particularly happy about as an advocate of eliminating single-use plastics.
I also share stories about YouTube attempting to lure Creators back to their platform, Samsung finding initial success with shoppable TV ads, Shein launching a pop-up store at Forever 21, and HomeGoods saying goodbye to e-commerce.
All this and more in this week's 144th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!
PS: I was pleased to share on my LinkedIn that Shopifreaks surpassed 6,000 subscribers last week! Many thanks to those of you who have shared this newsletter with your colleagues. Your referrals are the number one driver of new readers, so thanks very much for continuing to spread the word.
Stat of the Week 📈
Amazon is set to drop more than $1B during the next five years on over one million licenses for Microsoft 365. – According to Insider
The company is expected to use Microsoft 365 licenses for corporate employees and workers in frontline roles, and is likely to start rolling these out in November, with a full-blown migration set for next year.
For a billion dollars, I'm surprised Amazon didn't decide to just build their own competing productivity suite!
1. Amazon launches social shopping
Amazon launched a social shopping feature that allows customers to ask friends for advice while they shop online through the Amazon app.
“Consult-a-Friend” lets shoppers send a message with a link that takes friends to a page where they can react to the product with comments and emojis. (Maybe Amazon should've “consulted a friend” about that name…)
As Ryan Howard of Dunder Mifflin said in 2007, “It's all about creating a one stop shop consumer experience, alright? You're chatting with your friends, you're talking about the latest music, about the election; all of it is happening in our virtual paper store.”
Amazon explained that the idea is to help customers make purchase decisions, and that friends and family's recommendations are often high among the most trusted sources.
Plus, the company says that customers were already seeking feedback from friends using the app's existing “Share” button. Consult-a-Friend will build on that existing behavior, especially in areas where customers look for more feedback, like when shopping for apparel, shoes, electronics, and furniture.
The feature is now available in the Amazon app in the US, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sweden, Turkey, UAE and the UK.
Plus a new feature for Inspire (Amazon's TikTik clone):
Alongside this launch, Amazon added a new “Create” feature to its Inspire shopping feed, allowing users to take a photo or video of their favorite products and then tag the product and share their experience.
Once the content is reviewed and approved, it will be displayed publicly in Inspire’s feed, and users will be able to see all the posts and hearts they received on their public profile page.
With TikTok moving in-house with its e-commerce and affiliate program, Amazon has no choice but to bring social to its platform, as it can no longer leech off of other social media for traffic.
2. YouTube wants Creators to earn more money
YouTube unveiled two new creator-focused features that make it easier for consumers to shop products presented by its video publishers.
Creators can now:
- Add timestamps to videos for their tagged products. YouTube tested the feature in the US last month and found that viewers who saw these timestamps clicked on tagged products twice as often.
- Tag their affiliate products in bulk across their video library. Creators can access the Shopping tab in YouTube Studio to see a list of their videos with products mentioned in the description. From there they can quickly tag them all at once.
The new features will simplify the process of marketing products through YouTube videos and potentially increase sales and make creators more money — something that YouTube desperately needs in order to lure them back to the platform.
The features are only available on long-form content for now, not Shorts, and the video must be at least a minute long with a maximum of 30 seconds between timestamps.
YouTube is also teasing new insights and analytics for affiliate products that will allow creators to view sales metrics, orders, offer clicks and impressions, although these features are not yet available to everyone.
These improvements come just weeks after TikTok officially debuted its long-awaited TikTok Shop in the US, which offers an integrated affiliate program for Creators.
3. Amazon's Ohio facility goes plastic free 🎉
Props to Amazon for creating its first PLASTIC-FREE fulfillment center in Ohio!
Amazon rebuilt its existing equipment at its facility in Euclid, Ohio to work with paper filler instead of plastic air pillows, without compromising on weight, durability, and package size. You can see the new process in action in this cheesy YouTube video.
This is a huge step in the right direction of eliminating single-use packaging plastics in the US.
However despite the milestone, Matt Littlejohn, senior vice president of Oceana, criticized Amazon for its “multi-year” timeline. “Unfortunately, Amazon, in this announcement, did not make a clear, quantifiable, and time-bound commitment, so it is unclear when, where, and how much real plastic reduction there will be.”
While I'm not usually an Amazon-defender, I back their decision not to announce an exact timeline at this point. They've just implemented the plastic-free operations and need time to test it and work out the kinks.
Plus, announcing an exact timeline for when the process would be rolled out across the US would do the company no good, and simply create a deadline for them to fail at hitting in the future. Organizations like Oceana would cling to that deadline, ready to blast Amazon for not hitting it (and subsequently ignoring the impressive progress of getting halfway there).
I'm an advocate of pressuring large corporations to transition to more sustainable and environmentally friendly operations, and offer transparency about how they're getting there.
However, I also think that we can't ALWAYS be critical. We have to applaud milestones along the way.
Bringing attention to positive milestones encourages other companies to take similar action.
Whereas harboring on what's still left to do has the opposite effect. It can make other companies think, “Well if they're not doing it yet, why should we?”
There's a happy medium between celebrating the milestones and getting back to work — but this announcement deserves a solid moment of recognition in my opinion.
4. Samsung sees success with Shoppable Ads
Samsung Ads and Kerv conducted a survey of 1,000 adults who own smart TVs and found that:
- 55% recall seeing shoppable ads
- 50% interacted with them
- Almost half said they shopped on another device while watching TV
- 28% said they browsed online for an item seen on TV
- 51% said they had scanned QR codes to get more information about a product
- 26% said they had scanned QR codes to make a purchase
- 82% said they purchase through shoppable ads on mobile devices
- Clothing, electronics, food and food delivery were the most popular products purchased through shoppable ads
T-commerce is the future and every major retailer and platform wants a piece:
- Sep 2023 – Amazon's Prime Video launched a virtual shopping experienced tied to its Gen V series.
- July 2023 – Shopify and Roku partnered up to let viewers buy products from their TV with one click of their remote using pre-stored payment and shipping info.
- Nov 2022 – Disney+ launched a test that allowed subscribers to shop exclusive merchandise from their brands directly from the detail pages of movies, series, and shorts on the streaming service.
- July 2022 – YouTube and Shopify teamed up to add live shopping tools that allow viewers to purchase products without leaving the video platform.
- June 2022 – Roku pilot tested a shoppable ads feature with Walmart.
What's been your experience so far with shoppable ads as either a consumer or for your brand? Hit reply and let me know.
5. The Coalition For Trusted Reviews
Amazon, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Glassdoor, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot teamed up to launch the global Coalition for Trusted Reviews, a cross-industry collaboration committed to protecting access to trustworthy reviews. (Although the name sounds like another Amazon Prime spinoff of The Boys.)
The coalition will define best practices for hosting online reviews and share methods of fake review detection in an effort to decrease review fraud.
“We should track consumers more to ensure that it's actually that person leaving a review.” LOL
The coalition is a result conversations that came out of a Fake Reviews conference that was organized by Tripadvisor and held last year in San Francisco. The companies will meet again in early December at a second conference that will be organized by Amazon and held in Brussels.
Combating fake reviews has been a sore spot for these companies, especially Amazon, in recent years:
- In August, I reported on the underground market that exists on Telegram, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Groups to help third-party Amazon sellers obtain an unfair advantage over other sellers.
- Last year, Amazon sued the admins of 10,000 Facebook groups that it alleged were coordinating bogus reviews in exchange for money or free products.
- However despite the lawsuit, earlier this year, the British consumer watchdog group “Which?” discovered plenty of Facebook groups that were still trading reviews for Amazon, Google, and Trustpilot.
Positive change is on the horizon:
- Last month, Amazon said two review brokers in China were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and three years of probation after using messaging apps to sell fake reviews.
- In August I reported that Amazon was testing a new star rating system and AI powered review summaries that could, in part, diminish the impact of fake reviews.
- In June, the FTC proposed a new rule that would prohibit businesses from selling or obtaining fake reviews, suppressing honest reviews and selling fake social media engagement.
- Last week I reported that Mozilla is about to introduce a Review Checker feature in its Firefox web browser to help users identify fake reviews on e-commerce sites.
Speaking of reviews, thanks for taking a moment to write a Google review for Shopifreaks if you've been enjoying this newsletter!
6. Amazon is testing humanoid robots
Amazon is trialing humanoid robots in its US warehouses, in a move that the company says is about “freeing employees up to better deliver for our customers.”
The new robot, named Digit, has two arms and two legs and can walk, pick up and move packages, and handle items in a similar fashion to a human. Check him out in action in this YouTube video by TODAY.
Digit is objectively adorable with a toy-like green body and digital blinking eyes to mimic human facial behavior, features which are of course designed to distract us from the robot uprising he will inevitably lead.
Rather than use wheels, Scott Dresser of Amazon Robotics told the BBC that the robot's legs allowed it to “deal with steps and stairs or places in our facility where we need to move up and down.”
For now, the humanoid robot is just a prototype and the trial was about seeing whether it could work safely with human employees. (Safely for the robot or for the humans?!)
Union leaders once again criticized Amazon for leveraging robots to put workers out of jobs, which hits a little closer to home once the robots start looking like us. But honestly, aren't these the kinds of jobs that robots are perfect for? Why should humans continue to break their backs in the name of same day delivery?
Amazon says that it currently employs more than 750k robots that work collaboratively with its human staff, often being used to take on highly repetitive tasks.
Plus, Amazon claims that its robotics systems has in fact helped create “hundred of thousands of new jobs” within its operations — which are arguably higher paying than traditional warehouse jobs.
7. Shein launches a pop-up shop at Forever 21
In August, I reported that Shein acquired a one-third interest in Sparc Group, owner of Forever 21, as part of a new partnership agreement between the two companies.
The partnership will expand Forever 21's reach by enhancing its brand distribution through Shein's online platform, while conversely allowing Shein to bring its products into Forever 21's physical stores across the US.
Two months later, that plan is beginning to take shape at the Forever 21 store at the Ontario Mills mall, where Shein launched a four-day pop-up storefront featuring apparel, beauty products and accessories normally sold on its website.
The pop-up occupies 8,000 sq.ft. of Forever 21’s 50,000 sq.ft. store and has sections for women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, along with beauty products. As they enter the space, customers are handed canvas totes to put items that catch their attention.
There's also an Instagram photo-op backdrop with a neon Shein sign, as well as dedicated employees and a checkout counter for the pop-up.
Customers lined up at 8:30am, including several H&M employees who work in the same mall.
One customer told the LA Times, “I wish they had actual stores all the time.” Famous last words.
8. HomeGoods sunsets e-commerce
HomeGoods, the discount home decor chain owned by TJX Companies (which also owns TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Sense, and Sierra), shut down its online store.
The company wrote in an e-mail, “We've made the decision to focus our resources on our brick-and-mortar stores,” while adding that it would be announcing “many new store openings.”
HomeGoods only launched its e-commerce site in Sep 2021.
At the time of its launch, Mark DeOliveira, president, TJX Digital U.S., said the e-commerce store would “provide a complementary experience to our stores, allowing shoppers to pair in-store purchases with online finds to bring their vision to life.”
However it never really took off. HomeGoods reported that net sales from e-commerce were less than 1% of total sales in 2021 and 2022.
For years the company hesitated to go online, citing the bargain-hunting thrill that only comes from physical retail as their primary reason for focusing exclusively on bringing customers into stores and not to their website.
And their brick-and-mortar model seems to be working. Second quarter net sales were $2B, an 8% increase YoY, and the company plans to open about 125 new stores in fiscal 2024.
You might recall the feature I ran about Trader Joe's this past May, who has also famously put off launching e-commerce (and still hasn't). The grocer believes that e-commerce would disrupt the company's focus on value, and that it would have trouble replicating online the “treasure hunt” in-store shopping experience it offers customers.
Trader Joe's and HomeGoods make good points. Not everything needs to be online. Either that, or HomeGoods executives completely botched the e-commerce launch and are using the whole “bargain-hunting thrill” excuse to cover their tails. At this point, we'll never know.
Other e-commerce news of interest
Instacart is expanding its advertising platform by making its category-based purchase data available for brands using The Trade Desk. Brands participating in the pilot launch will be able to build and activate Instacart-informed audiences across omnichannel media buys, connecting with consumers ahead of their next grocery shop across connected TV and display channels.
Amazon is launching a marketing place in South Africa next year, marking the second African country after Egypt where the company has set up a locally-dedicated website. South Africa will be Amazon's 21st country with a local domain name, Amazon.co.za.
California passed the Delete Act into law, which requires the California Privacy Protection Agency to create a tool that enables residents to request that all of the nearly 500 registered data brokers in California delete their information. Current privacy laws allow Californians to make this request, but they must contact each company one by one, and the request can be denied. Under the new law, data brokers must fulfill deletion requests every 45 days or risk facing a fine.
This week, campaigners, politicians, and unions will gather at a summit in Manchester called Make Amazon Pay to call for international action over workers' rights, market abuse, and tax. Protests are planned around the world this week, including on Black Friday.
X will begin charging new users in New Zealand and the Philippines $1 a year to access key features including the ability to tweet, retweet, reply, and quote (reading is still free). X described the charge, which only applies to new accounts, as a way to curb the prevalence of bots and spam on the platform, rather than a money-making endeavor.
Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the FTC's claims that it uses dark patterns to trick consumers into joining or renewing Prime membership, and that they make it difficult to cancel. The company argued that its processes comply with existing laws and regulations, including the FTC’s own best practices recommendations.
Zalando launched Zalando E-commerce Operating System (ZEOS), a platform that provides fashion and lifestyle retailers with fulfillment solutions and the ability to manage their multi-channel businesses across Europe from a single integrated platform. ZEOS is integrated with over 40 European carriers and offers more than 160 localized delivery and return options across 23 European markets.
Amazon Pharmacy customers in College Station, Texas can now select “free drone delivery in less than 60 minutes” at checkout, giving them access to more than 500 medications that treat common conditions like flu, asthma, and pneumonia. A pharmacist will oversee the process to ensure that the proper medications are loaded onto the drone for transport.
Web Summit founder and CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, who has been running the annual event since 2009, announced his resignation after companies including Google, Meta, Amazon, Stripe and Intel withdrew from the event in the wake of his comments about the Israel-Hamas war. Cosgrave wrote on X, “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are,” referring to Israel's wave of attacks on Gaza after the violence committed by Hamas. He later issued an apology.
BigCommerce announced the winners of its 2023 Make it Big Customer Awards, which spotlight and celebrate retailers' achievements on their platform across design, innovation, emerging brand, and global strategy. Winners include Combat Corner for design, London Tile Co for innovation, Alpinistas for emerging brand, and NZ Natural Clothing for global strategy.
British prankster Oobah Butler collected bottles of Amazon delivery driver pee, resold them as an energy drink on Amazon's marketplace (but never shipped them), and then earned the title of #1 Best Seller in Bitter Lemon drinks! He said, “I set out to discover if Amazon marketplace was blind and insecure enough to let me list bottles of its own driver’s piss as an energy drink. I couldn’t have predicted how easy it would be.”
Thredd, a UK-based global payments platform that operates across 44 countries, named Jim McCarthy as its CEO, replacing Kevin Schultz who is set to retire later this year. McCarthy joined Thredd in January this year as executive VP following positions at i2C and Visa.
Amazon rolled out support for passkeys in the US, UK, France, and Germany, allowing users to log in to their mobile website using biometric authentication on their device, such as with their fingerprint or face scan. For the time being, there is no support for passkey on Amazon's apps, and website users are still prompted to enter a one-time verification code when logging in if they have 2FA enabled.
PayPal added instant package tracking to its online order monitoring app, eliminating the need for shoppers to manually enter order numbers or check their e-mail for delivery status. PayPal streamlines the process by automatically collecting shipping information and tracking deliveries using Gmail integration.
10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions
Creative Force, a creative operations workflow platform for e-commerce retailers, raised $8.9M in a Series A round from Export and Investment Fund of Denmark and Hearst Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $17.9M. The company will use the funding to scale its headquarters and integrate generative AI into its platform.
Darwinium, an Australian digital security and fraud prevention startup, raised $18M in a Series A round led by U.S. Venture Partners LLC, bringing its total amount raised to $26M. Darwinium offers a decision technology platform that uses machine learning, orchestration, and analytics to protect mobile apps, websites, and APIs against automated attacks.
In other fraud protection seed round news… Fingerprint, a device intelligence platform that aids developers in building device identification capable of identifying fraudsters, raised $33M in a Series C round led by Nexus Venture Partners, bringing its total amount raised to $77M. The company will use the funds to accelerate adoption within larger Enterprise customers and build new tools.
Compass, an Italy-based consumer credit company that's part of Mediobanca Group, acquired HeidiPaySwitzerland, a fintech specializing in BNPL. The deal represents the first step in Compass' geographical diversification path, thanks to the distribution license held by HeidiPay Switzerland.
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PS: Why didn't the skeleton cross the road? He didn't have the guts!