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In this week's 81st edition of Shopifreaks, I share news about Meta shutting down e-commerce features before they had time to take off, and I go on a rant about how shortsighted the company is being in regards to unlocking e-commerce potential on their platforms.
I also report on Shopify choosing a winner in the e-mail marketing category, and Amazon's robotic acquisition. Plus some insight into “anywhere commerce” including the benefits, risks, and inevitabilities of the trend.
All this and more in this week's edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for being a subscriber!
PS: Do you have e-commerce news to share with the Shopifreaks community? Feel free to post on r/shopifreaks throughout the week. Our subreddit recently broke 100 members and growing.
Stat of the Week
77% of consumers buy meaningful brands that match their values. By making the world a better place, those brands outperform the stock market by 134%. — According to Havas Research.
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1. Instagram is shutting down its affiliate commerce program
In July 2021, Instagram started testing an affiliate program for creators that enabled participating users to add product tags to their Instagram posts and receive a commission when peopled tapped to view a product and subsequently purchased.
The program was an absolute flop and here's why:
- No-one really knew about it. I polled members of my Travel is Life Creators group and 93% of the responses checked, “Never knew it existed.”
- There were too many steps and requirements to get set up. The other 7% of my group checked, “Knew about it, but didn't have access.”
- There were too many limitations to participation. For example, once a user got started, they were no longer able to tag products that were not included in the program.
- It wasn't needed. Creators had already gotten around Instagram's tagging / linking limitations that stifled affiliate marketing on the platform by using trackable discount codes and link-in-bio tools.
The affiliate commerce program will be shut down on Aug 31st.
Creating an internally run affiliate program was never needed. It was created because Instagram wanted a piece of the transactions, however in doing so, limited the size of the affiliate marketplace to a negligible size.
The easiest solution to bring affiliate marketing into Instagram is to let users add links to posts / tags. The solution has been evident for years. Users want it. They've always wanted it (and have historically had to create link-in-bio workarounds). So let them have it.
Allowing creators to add links to their post descriptions and product tags would be the ultimate way to support those creators — but Instagram only wants to support creators in ways that the platform can earn from. And allowing affiliate links to 3rd party sites doesn't facilitate that. Or so they think…
I think that supporting creators by allowing them to link / tag to products using affiliate links would create an overall BIGGER commerce pie on Instagram. More creators would start publishing commerce related content (because they'd be financially incentivized to do so in more ways than they are now), and in turn, brands would start to gravitate towards the network for finding and working with influencers. This effect is good for Instagram's overall advertising and engagement-based revenue model.
It would also open the door to partner with existing affiliate networks like CJ, Share-A-Sale, Impact, Shopify / Dovetale, etc, of which they could eventually get a piece of the transaction. But it's a chick and egg situation. They can't get a piece of the transaction if there are no transactions. Support creators first and foremost by giving them tools / features to earn through their existing affiliate relationships, slowly build the overall number of affiliate transactions on your network, and monetize those transactions later through integrations and/or serving as the payment provider for the purchase. But it'll never happen because Meta is focused on short term results and changes course before creators, businesses, and users have time to catch up. More on that below…
2. Facebook is shutting down its Live Shopping
Facebook announced that its shutting down its live shopping feature on Oct 1 to focus instead on Reels. You will still be able to use Facebook Live to broadcast live events, but you won’t be able to create product playlists or tag products in your Facebook Live videos.
Live Shopping on Instagram, however, will still be supported for users who run a shop with checkout (meaning that customers can complete checkout within the IG app).
In July I reported that TikTok put its plans on hold to launch its e-commerce Shop marketplace to the US and to other countries in the EU, so that it could focus on making the product a success in the UK first.
So Facebook responded by saying, “Well if they're not going to do it. What are we supposed to copy??”
Kidding. They actually wrote, “As consumers’ viewing behaviors are shifting to short-form video, we are shifting our focus to Reels on Facebook and Instagram, Meta’s short-form video product. If you want to reach and engage people through video, try experimenting with Reels and Reels ads on Facebook and Instagram. You can also tag products in Reels on Instagram to enable deeper discovery and consideration.”
I feel like I have no idea what's going on with Instagram and Facebook anymore — and I follow e-commerce as closely as one can!
So if I feel that way, imagine how users must feel. And it's not our fault. It's 100% Meta's fault. They launch copycat features with little fanfare, tell no-one about them, put too many hoops in between getting started, watch them fail, and then take them away. It's the same pattern over and over again. And Creators — who are now the most valuable content medium on the planet — are getting tired of it.
What does Facebook want me to do when I login? View posts from friends and family? Watch stories? Watch regular videos? Watch live videos? Browse upcoming events? Play games? Listen to podcasts (nope, killed that)? Enter a VR world? Online date? Chat with friends? Should my company start a Page or a Group? Or would I be a Professional Creator profile instead? Should my fans Like or Follow me?
Same with Instagram… should I post a Story, Video, or Reel? Which one can I do more than 60 seconds on again?
Is Meta trying to be TikTok, Snapchat, or Tinder now-a-days? Are they best friends with Shopify or competitors? Are they a social network, content discovery platform, or e-commerce marketplace?
In my lifetime, I've never seen a company try to be so many places at the same time and fail so miserably at all of them. The Meta Graveyard is starting to rival the Google Graveyard, and that's saying a lot.
It's all so short sighted. In 2014, Twitter launched its first official Buy button in partnership with Stripe, Gumroad, Musictoday, and Fancy, before later expanding to a network of partners including Shopify, BigCommerce, Demandware, and Best Buy. A few years later in 2017, the Buy button was officially phased out.
Can you imagine where Twitter would've been right now if they had continued down the path of e-commerce? If instead of quitting early, they had allowed businesses and merchants to catch up and integrate their commerce features into their ecosystem and created additional tools for merchants that positioned Twitter as the center of conversation around product releases, reliable reviews, and social payments?
Jack Dorsey's e-commerce faux pas with Twitter is how I look at what's happening with Meta right now in regards to social commerce, the creator economy, and live shopping. Meta's not giving businesses, creators, or users enough time to catch up or adopt new habits, and they're going to find that they quit too early (just like Twitter in 2017), only later to play catch up after consumer habits shift.
3. BigCommerce News (Sponsored)
- Gap Inc. Chief Growth Transformation Officer Sally Gilligan and The Container Store Chief Executive Officer Satish Malhotra joined the BigCommerce Board of Directors. Both accomplished leaders bring extensive e-commerce and digital experience along with strong track records of driving innovation and growth.
- Reminder to register free for the Make it Big Conference, a two-day virtual event on September 13-14, 2022 featuring panels, workshops, and interviews about cryptocurrency, NFTs, Web3, metaverse, headless commerce, and more. Level up your e-commerce knowledge and explore the latest retail trends at BigCommerce's free, virtual conference with speakers including Seth Godin (best selling author), John Mackey (co-founder of Whole Foods Market), Jenny Fleiss (co-founder of Rent the Runway), and other leaders in our industry. I'll see you there!
4. The era of anywhere commerce
I often joke in this newsletter that if 2010s are remembered as the decade of social media, then 2020s will be remembered as the era when it became incredibly (and some might say “unfortunately”) easy to buy things anywhere, anytime, and in practically any currency (fiat and crypto alike).
This year in 2022 especially, social networks, apps, and messaging platforms are actively incorporating ways for you to make purchases without leaving their platform. TV and streaming services are building ways for you to seamlessly purchase products you encounter while watching shows. Smart fridges are looking to re-order food before you run out.
PMNTS.com calls the phenomenon “Anywhere Commerce” — but I think a more accurate description is to call it “Everywhere Commerce” because we already had a form of “anywhere” commerce with our mobile phones. “Everywhere” more accurately describes WHERE companies want you to start shopping. (Although either name does the trick.)
Last week the conversational commerce platform, Attentive, announced the launch of a text-to-buy solution with Shop Pay, that enables consumers to make purchases directly from an SMS conversation. Users can now purchase directly in response to a promotional text message from a brand, without having to navigate a website or a checkout page, using their saved shopping info from Shop Pay.
Attentive’s text-to-buy is currently being used by brands for:
- Replenishment – to remind customers to repurchase when they are running low on a product.
- Inventory drops – to inform customers when a new or limited edition product drops so that they can complete their purchase before it sells out.
- Upsells & Cross Sells – to promote products based on a shopper's individual browsing or purchase history
I make jokes about “anywhere commerce” because I hate the idea of EVERY medium turning into a commerce platform. It can be dangerous for consumers.
Mix “anywhere commerce” with BNPL, and you've created an environment where consumers have absolutely no idea where, when, or how much they're spending. It's a recipe for disaster.
Certainly one could argue that fiscal responsibility and personal accountability should play a role in controlling consumer spending — but consumer protection laws weren't designed to help protect people with either.
These types of frictionless automated spending also open the door to exploitations. How is a consumer supposed to know whether or not a text message or video prompt is leading them to the right product or merchant? By removing trust factors that let users know they're shopping in the right place (like visible domain name, product reviews, product specs, etc), it's easy to get confused and purchase the wrong product. It's a counterfeiter's biggest dream!
It also opens the door for tremendous price discrepancies. Anywhere commerce will draw a thicker line between price conscious consumers and those who value convenience — the latter being willing to spend more to avoid scouring the Internet for the best price.
However aside from my bias and concerns against anywhere commerce, it's coming whether I like it or not, and I definitely see the convenience. Assuming that we'll eventually create new standards for consumer protection, and to ensure that we're actually buying the product we think we're buying, I'm a fan of minimizing the amount of clicks it takes me to do something — including making a purchase.
UPDATE 8-10-2022: Mindy from Postscript provided some additional info to one of the stories I covered this week:
The announcement from Attentive on Text to Buy, was also announced by all of the major players in the SMS space (us here at Postscript, Klaviyo, Yotpo/SMSBump, Emotive and Attentive). Probably worth noting that both Klaviyo & Yotpo/SMSBump announced it as coming soon while Emotive has a landing page but didn't make a formal announcement.
In case it’s helpful here are those landing pages & announcements
Postscript landing page: https://postscript.io/text-to-buy
Postscript blog: https://postscript.io/blog/announcing-text-to-buy
Attentive landing page: https://www.attentive.com/payments
Attentive blog: https://www.attentive.com/blog/text-to-buy
Emotive landing page: https://emotive.io/text-to-pay
Klaviyo landing page: https://www.klaviyo.com/sms-marketing/text-to-buy
Yotpo/SMSBump landing page: https://www.yotpo.com/text-to-buy-waitlist/
Yotpo blog post: https://www.yotpo.com/blog/announcing-text-to-buy/
5. Shopify makes $100M investment in Klaviyo
Shopify has made a $100M investment in the e-mail marketing platform Klaviyo, according to documents filed with the SEC.
The disclosure coincided with the announcement that the two companies will strengthen their existing partnership by making Klaviyo the recommended e-mail product for Shopify Plus, while granting Klaviyo early access to in-development Shopify features.
Klaviyo has over 100k paying customers and over 1k employees. It's raised around $775M and was valued at $9.5B by investors in May 2021.
This is a topic that comes up often in my newsletter — Shopify picking winners. In Sep 2021, I reported on Shopify's investment and multi-year partnership in Yotpo (review platform), and in April of this year I reported on their acquisition of Dovetale (affiliate marketing).
These strategic partnerships and investments give advantages to particular apps in their marketplace — ultimately picking winners — which at some point (if it hasn't already) could dissuade developers from wanting to enter the ecosystem.
I compare it to Amazon creating their own private labels and/or investing in 3rd party merchants, which they then have more incentive to promote. It's a well known “joke” with Amazon merchants that you want to create a product that's popular enough to make you money, but not so popular that Amazon knocks you off.
By investing in apps and creating strategic partnerships that give advantages, it degrades the openness and fairness of the marketplace. Why can't every app developer have access to the same in-development Shopify features and data to work with their apps? An all or nothing, everyone or no-one, kind of environment.
It's hard to balance the priorities of merchants, developers, and investors — each which play a crucial role in the ecosystem. What's best for one often conflicts with another.
As an investor, I see the value in Shopify conglomerating. I think it's how they'll survive as a business. The ways in which they make money (subscriptions and transaction fees) are a race to the bottom. Whereas getting into fulfillment, marketing/advertising, and ancillary services, and ultimately spreading themselves wider, turns them into a sleeping giant.
I try to look at things objectively since I'm outside the Shopify world other than I use them for some client stores. I'd imagine if I were a developer of a competing email system, or affiliate app, or review app, I'd have some bones to pick with them though.
What are your thoughts on the Shopify + Klaviyo partnership? Hit reply and let me know.
6. Introducing Amazon Roomba
Amazon has signed an agreement to acquire iRobot, makers of Roomba robot vacuums for $61 per share in an all-cash deal valued at $1.7B. Looks like Astra and Alexa are getting new friends!
Amazon didn't lay out exact plans for iRobot, but the synergies between their products and Amazon's other smart home products make sense.
Ron Knox, a senior researcher and writer for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said that the deal “may be the most dangerous, threatening acquisition in the company's history.”
What's his problem? Well, Knox feels that the acquisition will give Amazon direct access into your home via a little robot who spies on the layout of your house.
He told Business Insider, “When people buy a Roomba, it's because they want clean floors. They don't buy a Roomba to have a little robot inside of your house spying on the layout of your home and whether or not you have a crib in your house or whether or not there are pet toys and a pet bed in a room of your house. So then it can funnel that information to Amazon, and Amazon can push whatever dog-toy ads to you the next time you log on.”
I think Knox underestimates how much data Amazon already has on your home! For all we know, Amazon Echo devices use ultrasonic waves that bounce off your walls and furniture to create a blueprint of your home and everything / everyone on it. (Think Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight. “When you're finished, type in your name.”)
I think that the iRobot acquisition opens doors for both companies, and I will be curious to see what comes next in regards to product development.
7. Pinterest is also trying to figure it out…
So far in this week's edition, I've talked about Meta and TikTok still figuring things out in the world of e-commerce. Well, Pinterest, like every platform, is still trying to figure it out too.
A few week's ago, I reported that Pinterest’s co-founder, Ben Silbermann, was stepping down from his role as CEO, and the company was replacing him with Bill Ready, a former Google commerce executive with extensive e-commerce experience.
A week after that, I reported on 4 new e-commerce features that the company released including Shopping API, Product Tagging, Video in Catalog, and Shop Tabs on Business Profiles.
Pinterest's e-commerce efforts are starting to pay off. Earlier this week, the company reported that revenue from shoppable ads is growing twice as fast as overall revenue and 1B shoppable products are now in their system. Their Q2 results showed slower total revenue growth and a declining user base globally in the U.S. and Canada, but average revenue per user increased 17% globally.
Some critics say that Pinterest is behind in its entry into social commerce, but their chief revenue officer Bill Watkins is unfazed. He told DigiDay in an interview last month, “If it’s a core product experience or an ad product experience, I need to make sure that we’re building to facilitate for those two things. Because if not, then we’re not building the best experience for our users and we’re not building the best products for advertisers.”
Although Pinterest is playing catch-up in some areas, it's been ahead of the game in others. For example, Pinterest launched buyable pins back in 2015, and then in 2020 began letting Shopify merchants turn products into shoppable pins.
Pinterest launched Idea Pins (multi-page video pins) last year to keep up with the shifting trend towards videos, however, in the company’s most recent quarterly filing, it said the video pins are so engaging that users spend less time searching or browsing the platform which could adversely affect their revenue.
Quite the dilemma to have a feature so engaging that it makes you less money!
8. Squarespace launches Invoicing tools
Squarespace is adding invoicing tools to their Scheduling portal to help customers manage the invoicing process and get paid for their time.
In 2019, Squarespace acquired Acuity Scheduling, and in 2020, they launched Squarespace Scheduling, which offers basically all the same features as Acuity, but is built-in to Squarespace accounts. Invoices is the latest addition to the Squarespace portal. The tool will allow customers to create and send custom invoices, manage and track invoices, and accept secure payments.
Other features include tools to auto-fill appointment types, create custom line items, and write personalized messages. Users can view, save, and duplicate invoices for future uses.
A recent survey run by PYMNTS and Plastiq found that 45% of small and medium businesses cited manual invoice review as a problem when making payments, with 19% saying it was their top issue and another 26% saying it was among the problems they experience.
Great addition to their feature lineup. When it comes to service businesses, not everything fits into a standard package. The new invoicing feature will allow Squarespace users to bill for custom or one-off services, as well as allow for net payment terms. It might also be a great alternative to PayPal Invoices for businesses looking to get off PayPal.
9. Other e-commerce news of interest this week
- Alibaba terminated 9,241 of its 245,700 employees to cut expenses amid sluggish sales and a slowing economy in China after reporting a 50% drop in net income in the June quarter. CEO Daniel Zhang Yong said the company will add 6,000 fresh university graduates to its headcount this year. (Why? So they can pay the new grads less than the experienced employees they fired?)
- Clearco, a Canadian e-commerce investing firm which has funded 7k businesses with over €3B to date, is cutting 25% of its staff (around 125 employees), just months after expanding to Germany and Ireland, pointing to the current macroeconomic environment including rising interest rates, inflation and currency swings as their reason for the cuts.
- eBay had a glitch which displayed “free shipping” on sellers' listings where they didn't offer it. Some sellers panicked after noticing that all their recent Solds had free shipping attached.
- FLOURYSH, a marketplace for discovering black brands, partnered with Shopify to elevate one million black-owned businesses. The partnership gives black business owners access to a 120-day free trial during which the companies will collectively provide educational programming, tools, and expert tips.
- Marcho Partners, an investment firm that bet big on tech stocks like Shopify, Cazoo, and Spotify and used leverage to amplify their gains/losses, was up over 146% in 2020, but saw an 84% decline in the first half of 2022. In January 2022, the firm's losses reached 36% and continued to pile up every month until June.
- Squarespace expanded their board of directors with the appointment of Neela Montgomery, who brings 20 years of global retail and consumer leadership experience, having previously served as Executive VP of CVS Health and President of CVS Pharmacy among other notable positions.
- Salesforce is looking to shut down its Hong Kong office as it expands its customer relationship management software in China. The company is accelerating its strategic partnership with Alibaba and as a result, is changing their business structure to better serve China.
- Grubhub was behind Uber Eats and DoorDash in USA market share, but that could shift this year while the service is free for Prime customers. The company has seen orders accelerate since the offer went live for Amazon Prime subscribers.
- DoorDash, however, isn't sitting idly by and letting that happen. The company reported $1.6B in Q2, up 30% from the same period a year ago. They also reported that total orders it delivered grew 23% YoY to 426M, marking a record high.
- Gadget, a tech startup founded by two former Shopify execs, announced a new product called Connections, which is designed to help app makers connect their software to the APIs of third-party platforms, starting with Shopify's app store. Developers can automated tasks like API authentication and fetching and securely storing data.
- Hundreds of Amazon workers at several UK warehouses are holding protests after being given a 42 cents an hour pay raise, despite soaring inflation. One warehouse operative told Business Insider, “Managers treat staff like slaves. It's stressful, I can't sleep or eat properly.”
- Splitit, a US-based BNPL service, partnered with letus, a Canada-based payments platform, to integrate its Installments-as-a-Service for the property rental market. The collaboration brings new payment options to property managers and owners, allowing tenants to spread the cost of expenses such as rent or security deposits over several monthly installments on their preferred credit cards with no additional interest charges.
- Google simplified its reusable tag design to improve data quality. The new system relies on one reusable tag build on a global site tag, which lets advertisers send event data to Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Google Marketing Platform to help measure impact. The tag will rollout this week.
10. This week in seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions….
- VMG Catalyst, a venture capital firm that's invested in 22 companies including Attentive, Weee! Grocery, Shogun, Swell, and others, announced the closing of Fund II at its target of $400M, bringing the total amount raised to $650M across both funds. The company sees opportunity at the intersection of retail and technology and will use the funds to back companies focused on powering the next generation of consumer businesses.
- Omnivio, an India-based e-commerce and omni-logistics platform for enterprises, raised $400k in a round led by Supermorpheus, Dexter Angels, and 91 Ventures. The company will use the funds to extend product features and grow their client base.
- Joe Youngblood SEO & Digital Marketing Consulting, a Dallas-based Shopify SEO agency, acquired Jump Links, a Shopify app that provides an automated table of contents to Shopify websites that write long-form content on their blog. The purchase will help the agency move deeper into Shopify app development as they work to improve the marketing experience for e-commerce merchants using the platform.
- Plastiq Inc, a fintech platform that enables businesses to make supplier payments, track expenses, and access short-term financing, announced plans to go public by merging with a SPAC firm called Colonnade Acquisition Corp. The merger sets Plastiq to go public at an implied value of $480M, adding about $320M to its balance sheet through the transaction.
- Kontempo, a BNPL firm serving Latin America, raised $30M in a seed round. The company currently has 26 merchant partner in Mexico and will use the capital to grow its team, develop its merchant network, and improve its tech.
- Halliday, a Web3 gaming platform with a play now, pay later option, raised $6M in a seed round led by Andreesen Horowitz. The platform is launching its beta with a blockchain game called “League of Kingdoms” in the coming weeks, with the official roll out later this year.
- Combonation, a Delhi-based startup that helps companies prevent pricing discrepancies when combining products, raised $2M in a funding round from an undisclosed group of investors. The company will use the funds to expand their team and client ands and further develop their tech.
- Beaumanior Group wants to acquire Sarenza, a fashion retailer owned by Monoprix for an undisclosed amount. The company hopes that the acquisition will strengthen the omnichannel dimension of the group and its partners.
- Clutch, a people-first creator economy platform that connects individuals to businesses looking for marketing and content creation, raised $1.2M in a seed round led by Precursor Ventures. The company has more than 200 creators on the platform, of which 75% are people of color, and a 3,000 person waitlist. Along with the fundraising, the company announced its open beta launch.
- Aisera, a startup developing an AI-driven support ticketing system that learns to resolve issues through a combination of language-analyzing AI and robotic process automation, raised $90M in a Series D round led by Goldman Sachs. The funds will be put toward market expansion, product development, R&D, and sales and marketing.
- Tabby, a Dubai-based BNPL startup, raised $150M in secured debt financing from Atalaya Capital Management and Partners for Growth, bringing its total amount raised to $275M. The funds will help the company sustain its growth in transaction volumes and product expansion.
- Bluecopa, an Indian startup that's building a finance operations automation platform for high-volume companies, raised $2.3M in a seed round led by Blume Ventures, at an undisclosed valuation estimated to be upwards of $10M. The company will use the funds to hire additional talent, grow its consumer base and enhance the platform.
- Openull, a South Korea-based fintech who created the first Korean BNPL platform, raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-series A round led by Shinhan Capital, Infobank, and Block Crafters. The funds will be used to launch their mobile app, expand their team, developer technology, and grow their user base.
- Bounty, an online service that helps TikTok creators monetize brand reviews and recommendations, raised $4.7M in a seed round led by M13, bringing their total amount raised to $6.7M. The company will use the funds to onboard brands from their waitlist of more than 750.
- MarqVision Inc, the developer of an AI platform that detects counterfeit NFTs and physical goods, raised $20M in a Series A round led by DST Global and Atinum Investments, bringing their total amount raised to $25M. The company will use the funding to create an intellectual property management system for brands that allows partners to detect and remove counterfeits from over 1,500 online marketplaces and thousands of rogue websites.
- Vetted, a product search engine that uses AI to help online shoppers find products that are the most highly-recommended by other users, raised $14M in a Series A round led by Insight Partners. More than 330k online shoppers have used Vetted, and the company reports that users buy the products recommended 70% of the time. The company will use the funds to expand its product and retailer coverage to other areas.
- Lami Technologies, developers of an end-to-end digital insurance platform and API that allow businesses to create tailored insurance solutions, raised $3.7M in a seed extension round led by Harlem Capital. The company will use the funds to develop additional insurance product lines and continue their entry into Egypt and Nigeria.
- OneOf, a music-focused energy-efficient NFT marketplace for artists and bands to connect with fans, raised $8.4M in a funding round led by Amex Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to more than $72M. As part of the deal ,American Express will host a pop-up event in Turkey where cardholders who attend will receive a free OneOf NFT designed by Turkish artist Selay Karasu.
What'd I miss?
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Paul E. Drecksler
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