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#111 – Drive up returns, ChatGPT everywhere, & Top 50 in E-commerce

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Recent Newsletters

Companies are getting more creative with their return policies. First they started sending you labels you could print at home. Then came in-store drop-off — even if you didn't buy from that store. Well now, Target has introduced a new return service that let's you bury your item in your backyard, and a little tree sprouts with your cash back!

Okay, well not really… but Target has introduced a new returns service that competitors will want to take note of. 

In addition to Target's new return service, I've got stories for you this week about ChatGPT coming to a service near you, new BOPIS features at BigCommerce, and Uber releasing features to compete with Instacart.

I also share results of Inside Retail's Top 50 People in E-Commerce and Financial Times' annual list of fastest growing companies in Europe.

All this and more in this week's 111th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!

PS: Next month I'm participating in a live panel webinar alongside Ron Wastal of Jitterbit and Paul do Forno of Deloitte. The topic is Mastering Omnichannel Commerce: 5 Essential Tips for Creating Seamless Customer Experiences. It's free if you'd like to register and participate.

Poll of the Week 🗳️

🛒 What's your favorite way to return items you bought online?

🗳️ Take the Twitter poll.


Last Weeks Poll Results: I asked if you plan on buying Twitter Coins to reward your favorite creators for their valuable tweets. 81.2% said “No, never,” while 8.7% voted “Yes, absolutely,” and 10% indicated “Maybe.” The good news for Twitter is that when it comes to offering a premium or paid service, the percentage of “Yes, absolutely” is more than enough to make Twitter Coins a success. [View Poll]

Stat of the Week 📈

The number of African e-commerce users is expected to exceed half a billion over the next three years. – According to Zawya

As of 2022, the number of digital buyers in Africa was around 387.5M, which was already a significant increase compared to 2017 when it stood at around 139M.

Share this week's stat on Twitter & LinkedIn.

1. Returns from your car

Target will soon allow customers to return new, unopened items from the convenience of their car, as an expansion of its Drive Up curbside option.

After a successful pilot test, the retailer is rolling out the service to stores this spring, with plans to reach all of their ~2,000 locations by end of summer.

To use the new service, customers inform Target when they're on the way, park in a Drive Up spot upon arrival, and then tap the “I'm here” button within the app. A team member will then meet them at their car to retrieve the item.

Money from the return will be refunded to the customer’s original form of payment, and the customer will receive a return confirmation via e-mail and within the app.

Most new, unopened items are allowed to be returned in this method within 90 days of purchase, and up to a year for Target-owned brands.

Target says that the new service is great for customers with kids or pets in the car, shoppers with disabilities, or fat and lazy people. (Okay, I may have added the last part.)

The new return service sounds great in theory, but success will depend on execution. Does Target staff enough team members to offer this new drive up return service in an expedited manner? Or will customers be left waiting in their cars for longer than they'd like?

If you've tried Target Drive Up returns, hit reply to this e-mail and let me know how your experience was.

Also don't forget to take this week's Twitter Poll and let us know your favorite way to return items you bought online. 

Along with Drive Up Returns, Target announced its roadmap of investments to spur growth and a “differentiated guest experience,” which include expanding Apple and Ulta shop-in-shop to more Target stores, launching or expanding more than 10 owned brands, opening 20 new stores, expanding its sortation center network, and expanding its newly introduced enterprise efficiency efforts.

2. OpenAI launches an API

OpenAI launched an API for ChatGPT that will allow businesses to build ChatGPT tech into their apps, websites, products and services.

The API is powered by the same AI model behind ChatGPT, and the company claims that it can power a range of experiences like chatbots and virtual assistants, as well as non-chat applications such as development or customer support. 

The API also includes a new feature called “DialoGPT” — which can supposedly generate conversational responses that are indistinguishable from those of a human. (Depends on the human, I guess.)

Early adopters of the API include: 

  • My AI – Snap’s chatbot for Snapchat+ subscribers
  • Q-Chat – Quizlet’s new virtual tutor feature
  • Shopify Personalized Assistant – for creating shopping recommendations
  • Ask Instacart – an upcoming feature that will allow customers to ask about food and get “shoppable” answers from product data provided by retail partners
  • Speak – powering a new AI speaking companion product

The API service is priced at $0.002 per 1,000 tokens, which is about 750 words.

Along with ChatGPT, the company will also let developers integrate Whisper, its lesser-known speech recognition model that enables text-to-speech through an open-source platform, priced at $0.006 / minute.

How will your company be leveraging API for ChatGPT? Hit reply to this e-mail and let me know.

In other AI news, Mark Zuckerberg said that Meta is creating an AI product that would be used to help create “personas” and “experiences” within their products. Will “Racist Uncle” and “Peaked In High School” be among those personas? 😂

3. BigCommerce launches BOPIS (Sponsored)

Today BigCommerce announced the launch of Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) — also known as Click & Collect in the UK — a feature that gives merchants even more ways to provide a frictionless shopping experience to their customers. 

In the US, BOPIS is projected to grow 10% per year and surpass $131B in 2026. The growth rate is similar in the UK, where Click & Collect is on track to exceed $40B in 2026.

Meghan Stabler, senior VP of marketing at BigCommerce, reported, “With this latest evolution of our omnichannel offering, BigCommerce makes it easy for merchants to offer BOPIS to their customers and coordinate orders and inventories across branded sites, social, search, marketplace and brick-and-mortar channels – all through the BigCommerce platform.”

The new BOPIS feature includes updated APIs that provide merchants with tools to create custom experiences tailored to their buyers' preferences and integrated into their overall strategy for order fulfillment.

This release features a set of new APIs including:

  • New Inventory API to manage inventory across locations
  • New Pickup Methods API to create and manage pickup methods per location
  • Updated APIs including Checkout SDK, Checkout S2S API, Storefront GraphQL, Orders API and Catalog API updated to support BOPIS

Learn more about BOPIS from BigCommerce.

4. Top 50 People in E-commerce 2023

Inside Retail published their 8th annual list of Top 50 People in E-commerce.

SPOILER: I wasn't on it 😞 – but there were some great people that you might be familiar with.

The report was revealed at a launch party on Wednesday in Melbourne, attended by more than 100 retailers and many of the Top 50 guests. The event was sponsored by BigCommerce (who sponsors this newsletter), CouriersPlease, Forter, and Klaviyo.

The list began in September 2022, when Inside Retail asked readers to nominate outstanding e-commerce professionals in Australia and describe their achievements from the last 12 months in the areas of commercial success, innovation, and broader impact. From there, the applications were scored by a panel of judges, and the final ranking was determined by each candidate's average score. 

Top 10 names from the list include: 

  • #1 Ellie Degraeve – Founder / CEO of Go For Zero, a low-waste and toxin-free store
  • #2 Steffen Daleng – Former CMO of Booktopia, Australia's leading online bookstore
  • #3 Erica Berchtold – CEO of The Iconic, an online fashion & lifestyle retailer
  • #4 James Reu – E-commerce Manager of LSKD, an Australian-owned sportswear / streetwear brand
  • #5 Ben Hare – Director & COO of Tinyme, “The World's Cutest Personalized Products For Kids”
  • #6 Hannon Comazzetto – Founder & CEO of Airrobe, tech that connects brands and customers to the circular fashion economy
  • #7 Rob Rand – Founder & CEO of Knobby, an underwear subscription service
  • #8 Rod Williams – GM of Digital at Baby Bunting, nursery retailer and one-stop-baby shop
  • #9 Lydia Bertini – Head of Customer & People at Miss Amara, retailer of Australian designed rugs
  • #10 Kirsten Kore – Co-founder & Co-CEO of Designerex, a peer to peer designer clothes sharing platform

Check out the complete list to see the rest of this year's Top 50.

In other awards news — last week BigCommerce also unveiled the winners of its 5th annual 2022 BigCommerce Partner Awards, which recognizes top-performing partners among BigCommerce’s global network of agency and technology partners.

5. Uber is coming for Instacart

Since launching its Instacart competitor, Shop and Pay, last year, Uber says nearly 200k couriers are actively doing shopping trips each month in the US.

Now the company has launched additional features to the service to better compete with Instacart: 

  • Out of Stock Items – Now when a shopper tells the app they can't find the requested item, Uber will show the customer a list of suggested substitutions to speed up the decision making process. This avoids timely back-and-forth between the shopper and customer.
  • Digital Payments – Historically Uber has given its drivers a physical credit card that's pre-authorized to cover the costs of orders, but the cards would often get declined. Now shoppers can activate a digital card on their phones using Apple or Google Pay.
  • Item Visibility – Uber is giving drivers more clarity about an order before accepting it, with visibility into the number of unique items in an order, as opposed to just the total number of items. Soon the app will also give shoppers info about the order like whether it contains large, heavy, or fragile items.

Instacart offers variations of all three services above. 

Seems like everyone is coming for Instacart lately. In October I reported that the company is facing more competition, including internally from their own partners, as retailers build out their own logistics operations.

And last week, Grocerist launched a solution for grocers on Shopify to break reliance on Instacart. The app powers order management, product data libraries, order picking and delivery, and digital marketing services. The app expands upon Shopify's basic add to cart and checkout capabilities with functions specific to grocers like order batching, product substitutions, weight-based pricing adjustments and easy bag label printing.

6. Europe's fastest growing companies

Every year for the past seven years, the Financial Times and Statista rank Europe's fastest growing companies in what it calls the FT-1000.

Last week they released the seventh edition, which ranks EU companies based on revenue growth between 2018 and 2021. Due to the window of time, the ranking consequently shows which businesses thrived despite the pandemic — or, in many cases, because of it.

A few highlights from the edition: 

  • 95 are e-commerce businesses — the majority (41) from Germany.
  • Netherlands takes 3 of the top 5 companies e-commerce including: #2 Returnista, #3 Stoov Heating Cushions, and #5 Matt Sleeps
  • 67 are fintech companies. 
  • UK-based Tripledot Studio topped the list with a compound annual growth rate of 794.7%.
  • Marshmallow, a UK Insure-tech business, came second with 659.8% CAGR.
  • Lithium battery maker WeCo of Italy came in third place with a 433.1%.
  • Venture capital investment fell 16% YoY in 2022 to €91.6B.
  • 356 of the companies featured were also ranked last year, and 125 have been in the list for three consecutive years.
  • UK remains the third most-represented country with 155 fast-growing companies, behind Italy with 260, and Germany with 217.

7. Bumpy road ahead for BNPL firms

Zip, the Australia-based BNPL provider, is reversing its expansion plans, either by selling or winding down operations in 10 of the 14 global markets it operates in.

The company is gearing up to exit India, the Philippines, Turkey, Czech Republic, South Africa and Poland, after announcing last year that they had plans to exit the UK, Singapore, Mexico and the Middle East in the wake of a $701.3M loss.

In July, I reported that Zip called off its acquisition of Sezzle, a BNPL firm in the US. 

2022 / 2023 has proven already to be a transitional time for the industry:

  • Klarna reported a $1B loss for 2022, following the $680M loss it recorded in 2021. Despite the losses, the firm says it is edging towards profitability thanks to growth in its GMV of 22% YoY and that most of its losses were due to its expansion efforts.
  • Sezzle reported fourth-quarter revenue of $38M, up from $32M the year prior, with net income of $500k, as opposed to a $26M loss in Q4 2021. The company recently laid off more than 25% of its staff and said that it projects an additional $10M in revenue in the next 18 months from its “pay anywhere” card.
  • Affirm recently laid of about 20% of its staff. The company reported revenue of $400M, up from $361M a year earlier, but less than analysts' expectations of $416M.
  • Openpay froze its operations shortly after posting record results while simultaneously burning through all its available cash.

Will we see BNPL firms consolidate this year? Or simply watch more firms crash and burn and have their debt and assets scooped up by rivals?

8. Shopify changes compensation model

Shopify is altering how it views and pays its managers, and being a manager now has no effect on compensation. 

Under the new compensation model, employees will be labelled as either a “manager” or a “crafter” and evaluated on either their capacity to manage direct reports or deliver on products and projects.

Shopify claims the distinctions will eliminate confusion, create clear responsibilities, and lead to “unlimited growth potential for crafters.”

A Shopify spokesperson told BetaKit, “Management shouldn’t be a thing you have to do just to get ahead. Our new talent approach flips this antiquated management thinking on its head.”

Previously, Shopify said that the only way to grow your career at the company was to move into a lead role — ie: becoming a manager. Now, by removing the burden of management, crafters can “focus on what they and we value most – shipping products – while at the same time having a path to advance and grow their careers.”

I'm confused though. Don't other companies offer the ability for “crafters” to become “lead” or “senior” developers? Management can't be the only way to advance in the corporate tech world, right?

Johnathan Nightingale, co-founder of Raw Signal Group, said that the compensation model was actually fairly common. “Nearly every major tech employer develops a senior technical track for staff who want career and salary growth without people management responsibilities.”

Folks who work at Shopify, what do you think of the changes? Hit reply and let me know. 

Folks who work at Shopify, what do you think of the change? Is there something new and unique about the new crafter vs manager structure that I'm not understanding? Hit reply and let me know. 

9. Other e-commerce news of interest

Amazon is closing down eight cashier-less Go stores between New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco, as well as pausing construction on its second headquarters in Virginia — often referred to as HQ2. Metropolitan Park (phase one) is set to be completed and open to as many as 8,000 workers by June, but the second phase, called PenPlace, is being delayed, which throws the company’s plan to employ 25,000 people at the completed HQ2 project into flux.


Yoox is adding a secondhand category on its marketplace with almost 2,000 luxury items available under the label ‘Yoox pre-owned’ — currently available in 30 European countries and soon to launch in the US and Middle East. Yoox is part of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, which also recently launched resale options on its other platforms Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet last year.


India's central bank is fining Amazon Pay over $373k for non-compliance with local guidelines surrounding know your customer and prepaid payment instruments norms, but did not elaborate on which rules were violated. 


Buddy, a budgeting app for young people, partnered with Klarna Kosma, Klarna's open platform for banking, to enable users to connect their bank accounts and automatically track expenses, gain insights into their spending habits, and control their finances. The integration will also allow Buddy users to check their account balance in real time, monitor spending, and set up payment reminders within the app.


Koji, the link-in-bio platform that offers creators a digital storefront on social media platforms, launched a new e-book tool that lets users sell e-books and audiobooks (of which the company takes a 10% cut), as well as make custom add-ons and shareable previews. Customers can download their purchase and view it in Koji's native reader and audio player or in their preferred readers / audio players.


Amazon is removing books by independent publishers from Kindle Unlimited for breaching an exclusivity agreement after having their books pirated! LOL, what? That's not fair! A Change.org petition launched in response has collected nearly 35,000 signatures to date, with new ones still coming in.


Argonne researchers found that in the Chicago metropolitan area, direct delivery drones required about the same energy as electric vehicles on an average day, and up to 15% more than diesel trucks on a very windy day. The research noted that ideal drone deployment could be in tandem with other vehicles — for example, drones released from a truck’s roof for the last mile delivery with algorithms evaluating wind impact to identify optimal release locations.


DoorDash is launching its first-ever credit card in partnership with Chase. The DoorDash Rewards Mastercard will offer cardholders 4% cash back on DoorDash and Caviar orders, 3% on dining, 2% on grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases.


Shopify is partnering with Thirdweb to launch a project called Commercekit, which will provide developers with resources to create Web3 projects that serve the e-commerce industry. The platform will allow investors to interact with customers, as well as allow merchants to launch product campaigns and issue NFTs to customers. 


FedEx is cutting global officer and director jobs by more than 10% and consolidating some teams and functions in an effort to become more efficient. The changes follow a worldwide slump in the parcels industry and a reduced demand for package delivery from e-commerce.


Wix announced a partnership with Stripe to bring Tap to Pay on iPhone to US-based Wix merchants. Last week I reported that Stripe merchants can now accept Tap to Pay on transactions on Android devices as well, so I'd imagine that the feature will come soon to Wix and other partners soon. 

10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions

Wunderkind, a NY-based marketing platform that enables brands to target web visitors through emails, texts and other digital advertising formats (formerly known as BounceX), raised $76M in a Series C round led by Neuberger Berman, bringing its total amount raised to $151.9M. The funds will be put towards investing in product development, hiring, and ongoing market expansion. 


Crstl, a San Francisco-based provider of a SaaS application that enables no-code EDI workflow automation so brands can transact with the large retailers and distributors, raised $4.4M in a round led by Mastry Ventures. The round, which closed a year ago but went unannounced until now, is being used for additional hiring and commercialization. 


Pagos, a payment intelligence infrastructure startup that turns disparate digital payments data into actional insights, raised $34M in a Series A round led by Arbor Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $44M. The company will put the funds towards new hires in engineering, product development, and faster customer implementation.


Una Brands, a Singapore-based e-commerce aggregator, raised $30M of equity and debt in a pre-Series C financing just five months after its $30M Series B round, from Northstar Group, bringing its total amount raised to $100M. The aggregator, which focuses on Asian brands, will use the funds to continue developing its platform and acquiring more D2C brands in categories like home and living, baby, beauty, and personal care.


Indent, a Seoul-based startup that offers merchants a chatbot review marketing tool called VREVIEW, raised $8.1M in a Series A round led by SV Investment, bringing its total amount raised to $13.7M. The company will use the funds to continue developing its AI-powered video platform.


Attio Ltd, a London-based startup that competes with Salesforce in the CRM market, raised $23.5M in a Series A round led by Redpoint Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $31.2M. The company, which recently launched its platform into general availability following more than a year of testing, will use the funds to grow its market presence beyond its initial 2,000 customers.


Amazon Web Services plans to invest $6B in Malaysia by 2023, making it the largest international investment in the country to date. As part of the investment, AWS will be launching an infrastructure region in the country that will enable customers who prefer to keep their data in Malaysia to do so securely.


Cashfree Payments, an India-based payments and API banking company, acquired Zecpe, a one-click checkout company, which will now operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. With the acquisition, Cashfree Payments hopes to enhance its D2C checkout capabilities and give its merchants an elevated end-to-end checkout and payment experience.


Velotric, a one-year-old startup that makes premium electric bicycles for commutes and off-road adventures for less than $2,000, raised $7.4M in a Series A round, bringing its total amount raised to $12M. The company plans to double down its efforts in the US and expand its number of retail partners from 144 to 600 by year end.

What'd I miss?

Shopifreaks is a community effort and I appreciate your contributions to help keep the rest of our readers in the know with the latest happenings in e-commerce. Whenever you have news to share, you can e-mail [email protected] or hit reply to any of my newsletters.

You can also mention @shopifreaks on Twitter or submit posts to r/Shopifreaks on Reddit, and I'll curate the best submissions each week for inclusion in the newsletter. 

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See you next Monday,

PAUL

Paul E. Drecksler
www.shopifreaks.com
[email protected]

PS: At his 103rd birthday party, a man was asked if he thought he'd be around for his 104th birthday. “I certainly do,” he replied. “Statistics show that very few people die between the ages of 103 and 104.”

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