Is WooCommerce becoming more like Shopify every year?
Is TikTok Shop losing credibility with buyers?
What was all that chatter yesterday about Facebook ads?
Have tech companies overspent on acquisitions during the past few years?
I've got answers to these questions and more in this week's 118th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!
PS: I shared a review link a few weeks ago and asked you to write a Google review for Shopifreaks. Turns out that link didn't work on everyone's browsers, so here's a simple way to reach my Google Business Profile and write a review. If you've gotten value from subscribing to this newsletter, I'd really appreciate you taking the time to do so. Thank you!
Google Review Link: https://www.google.com/search?q=shopifreaks+e-commerce+newsletter
Poll of the Week 🗳️
😎 Do you have confidence in your purchase when buying products you discover on TikTok or other social media?
Last Weeks Poll Results: Last week I asked if you would support an online delivery tax to offset carbon emissions associated with order fulfillment. Only 12.7% indicated that they'd support an online delivery tax, but another 21.1% said that it depends on how it's spent. While a majority 66.2% said, “No way, never!” [View Poll]
Stat of the Week 📈
Only 0.3% of grocery shoppers surveyed had paid for their most recent grocery purchase with BNPL options, down 50% year over year from the 0.6% who said the same in March 2022.
31% had instead used a credit card on their most recent grocery purchase. – According to PYMNTS
1. WooCommerce becomes a little more Shopify-esque
WooCommerce launched a new managed hosting solution called Woo Express, which relieves store owners of the responsibilities of hosting and maintaining their websites and stores.
Automattic soft-launched Woo Express in early March with a small group of merchants, and the service is now opened to the public.
Woo Express offers an Essential plan for $40/month ($25/month annually) which includes:
- Their hosted e-commerce platform
- Live chat and e-mail support
- Unlimited staff accounts
- Premium themes
- Automated backups
- Malware and security scans
- Google and social media connections
- Live shipping rates
- Automated tax calculation
- A mobile app for admin
- SSL certificate
- 50GB storage for product images and media
The Performance plan for $70/month ($45/month annually) includes:
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Event-based e-mail marketing
- Discounted shipping rates
- Product recommendations with upselling and cross-selling
- Automatic back-in-stock notifications
- Personalized product bundles
- Ability to specify the minimum or maximum product quantities per order
The Performance plan is priced the same as the Commerce Plan on WordPress.com, which has offered e-commerce hosting for quite some time. Automattic said that their old Commerce Plan was the foundation they are using to develop their new Woo Plans.
GoDaddy, WPEngine, Cloudways, Bluehost, LiquidWeb, and a million other hosts have offered “managed WooCommerce hosting” for quite some time now. The difference between those solutions and Woo Express is that the hosting is provided directly by Automattic using WordPress.com servers, support is from WooCommerce staff, and Woo Express includes premium Woo plugins that would otherwise cost extra on other hosts.
Matt Mullenweg said in October, “I just wanted to make it clear that Woo’s hosting ‘package' will be open to any host who wants to partner with them and offer it, including GD, Bluehost, Liquidweb, etc,” but no further information has been made public about what white labeling the package would look like.
Woo Express vs Shopify
By launching WooCommerce Payments in 2020 and now their own supported hosting platform, is Automattic essentially saying that Shopify got it right? Is there simply not enough money in developing and managing an entire e-commerce ecosystem by only selling WooCommerce extensions? Are payments and hosting an essential part of what an e-commerce solution needs to offer in order to prosper and grow?
Or is this simply a rebrand of WordPress.com's existing Commerce plan, to try and separate the “WordPress” from the “WooCommerce” in the eyes of would-be shop owners?
I'm a big fan of WordPress and WooCommerce and the direct control it gives me over my shops, website, hosting directories, and databases. Historically I've found that I'm able to create a more seamless experience for my visitors between my website / blog content and my shop with WordPress / Woo than I am with Shopify.
However control is a double-edged sword, as it comes with the headache and responsibility of maintenance.
Automattic is hoping to provide the best of both worlds with its new Woo Express plans by offering merchants more control over their shops without the responsibilities of maintenance. For some stores, I think it'll be a perfect solution.
The only thing I'm not a fan of is the name “Woo Express” as I feel it's unrepresentative of the value-packed service Automattic is bringing to the table. (It's also easy to confuse the new e-commerce service with this Chinese and Sushi takeout restaurant in Boca Raton.) I would've gone with something like “Woo Power” or “Woo Universal”, but that's just me.
What are your thoughts about Woo Express? Hit reply and let me know.
2. A welcome partnership for Wix & Square customers
Wix and Square created an integration that allows restaurant owners to sync their Wix Restaurants site with their Square account to streamline online ordering.
Restaurant owners who use Square for Restaurants or Square POS platforms can now manage their catalogs directly from Wix's platform, avoiding having to input the same information into multiple systems.
Orders placed through Wix can be sent directly to Square's system, avoiding the need for separate tablets, and sales reports are also automatically consolidated from the two systems.
The new integration is available to Wix Restaurant users based in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, and Australia.
This is a great example of two competing companies putting their customers first!
Wix offers a service called Wix Restuarants which allows restaurant owners to build websites, accept online orders, and integrate with delivery companies.
Square could lock their customers into only using their website builder and online ordering system. Alternatively Wix could only partner with POS systems that don't offer competing website builders. But instead the two companies are providing their users with the ability to pick and choose the tools that work best for their needs. Bravo to both.
Note: Wix also integrates with Square as a payment processor.
3. BigCommerce News (Sponsored)
BigCommerce brand marketing manager Leah Spector joined Impact.com CMO Cristy Garcia last Wednesday to discuss how the influencer industry has evolved and where it's going in the future. If you missed it live, you can watch a recap of the event here.
Learn how Coldwater Creek is working with BigCommerce to enhance their online journey, improve omnichannel customer touchpoints and scale their D2C business. Coldwater Creek’s modernization of its e-commerce infrastructure will drive brand growth, deliver a leading-edge customer experience, and allow its e-commerce and customer care teams to leverage new marketing tools and third-party solutions to scale operations and grow revenue. The new Coldwater Creek site launch is planned to launch in Q3 2023.
Watch how the co-founder of ildecimo uses BigCommerce's headless API to pull product data into their Sanity.io CMS and leverage GROQ queries for a seamless customer experience. This short video shows just how fast the integration can be.
4. TikTok's counterfeit problem
TikTok is under heat for profiting from the sale of illegal and potentially dangerous beauty products on its platform, including counterfeit cosmetics and prescription-only skin creams.
The company has claimed to take a “zero tolerance” approach to rogue sellers, all while counterfeit versions of Dior perfumes, Vaseline lip balms, Maybelline mascaras, and other products are still being sold by third-party sellers in its marketplace.
Skin-whitening lotions containing banned ingredients and prescription-only acne creams are also being openly advertised.
The products are being sold via TikTok Shop and promoted by influencers on the platform. TikTok takes a 5% commission on sales.
Although TikTok has rules in place to prevent these types of products from being sold on its platform, analysis suggests the rules are not being effectively enforced.
The Guardian reported that last week, nine out of the first 12 results shown to users searching “perfume” in the TikTok Shop section of the app appeared to be counterfeit.
Aside from the dangers of allowing the sale of counterfeit cosmetics on their platform, many of which are made in China and contain toxic levels of arsenic, mercury, and lead, TikTok shoppers are also being left holding the bag on these illegitimate sales. Buyers are being told that they will not be issued a refund because they've opened the product, which was of course necessary to determine that it was a counterfeit, and TikTok isn't intervening.
TikTok better get a fast and firm grip on this issue, or buyers will lose confidence in making purchases through its shop.
Do you have confidence in your purchase when buying products you discover on TikTok or other social media? Take this week's Twitter Poll.
5. Facebook's costly ad glitch
Facebook's advertising system went rogue around 2am on Sunday morning, charging advertisers for ads that no-one saw. Some advertisers were charged more than double what they agreed to pay, ranging from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Facebook's system ate up entire advertising budgets in a matter of hours, which may not have been so bad if the results were on par, but the ads weren't being shown to more people or driving clicks.
The problem happened just days after Meta began its third round of layoffs in six months, which may or may not have been related.
Meta confirmed the bug and promised to follow its “normal refund process”, but shared very little about what went wrong, only offering that the glitch affected ad delivery only on Facebook and did not affect Instagram or Meta's other properties.
I was reading live tweets about the issue while it was happening yesterday, and advertisers were very confused as to what was going on. They weren't sure whether to pause their ad campaigns or stay the course and trust that Meta would make things right. For all they know, it could've been a reporting error instead of an actual ad spend issue.
Barry Holt, a long-time advertising consultant who’s managed Facebook ad campaigns, said, “Meta is extremely opaque, and it always has been. All we get is a generic explanation that ‘we are aware of an issue.’ That’s better than nothing, but it’s not enough.”
Although Meta offered a refund, Holt said that actually obtaining a refund is a slow and complicated process that can burn hours and resources, while the restitution comes months later.
6. Top 100 Retail Technology Influencers
Retail Tech Innovation Hub released their Top 100 Retail Technology Influencers List, a comprehensive list of people and trends that shape the industry and help drive it forward. You can view the PDF version here.
Names include Sebastian Siemiatkowski (co-founder & CEO of Klarna), Danielle Vermeer (co-founder & CEO at Teleport), Cas Paton (founder & CEO of OnBuy.com), Tobias Lütke (CEO of Shopify), and many others that you're probably familiar with.
These are folks who RTIH consider to have made a splash in 2022 and are “set for a barnstorming 2023”.
RTIH stressed that these names were in no particular order.
All of these Top 100 Influencers have presences on LinkedIn, so I took the time to curate links to their profiles to help you follow along with their posts. I had to divide it up into four posts since LinkedIn limits how many tags you can include in a single post:
I hope those lists above help make your LinkedIn feed a little bit more interesting!
7. Bed, Bath, & Beyond files for bankruptcy
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New Jersey with plans to shut down. The jobs of thousands of employees — and their retirement savings and severance pay — are on the line.
BB&B will use the court process to begin liquidating its 360 Bed Bath & Beyond stores and 120 Buy Buy Baby locations, while also searching for a buyer for its estimated $4.4B in assets, which are shadowed by its $5.2B in debt.
The company's current CFO, Holly Etlin, will serve as chief restructuring officer to manage the bankruptcy.
A quick look back at the events that led to this bankruptcy filing:
- BB&B received a last-minute $1B lifeline from Hudson Bay Capital Management, but failed to meet stock-price minimums, and the deal was terminated.
- A unit of Sixth Street Partners is providing the company with a $240M loan to help it fund itself in bankruptcy.
- In 2022 the company attempted a turnaround that gave it a $375M rescue loan, shut down some stores, and cut 20% of its workforce.
- In 2019, shareholders forced a revamp of the company's board and removed its CEO, while activist Ryan Cohen launched a campaign in March that saw another CEO ousted.
- Under longtime CEO Steve Temares, the company spent too much money acquiring companies like Cost Plus World Market in 2012 and Decorist in 2017, which flopped.
- Temares also spent too much money buying back shares.
- The company didn't invest enough in improving its online and logistics operations, putting it at a disadvantage against Target, Walmart, Lowes, and other competitors.
- In 2019, former Target exec Mark Tritton tried to correct the company's losing market share by producing more products in-house, but the strategy ended up filling stores with too many unknown private-label products at the expense of well-known national brands.
- The company announced a last ditch effort at the end of March to sell $300M in shares directly to investors, who were largely uninterested, causing the stock price to continue spiraling downward.
Please, please, please take care of your employees during this bankruptcy! Don't let all the remaining cash go towards executive bonuses while leaving employees in the dust in regards to their retirement savings and severance pay.
8. List of losing startup acquisitions
Crunchbase updated its “List of Big, Losing Startup Acquisitions”, many of which you are familiar with. Here's a recap of their updated list:
- Uber agreed to sell over half of its stake in ride-hailing platform and “super app” Careem to Emirates Telecommunication Group for $400M, after paying $3.1B to acquire the company three years ago.
- Walmart sold Bonobos to WHP Global and Express for $75M, after paying $310M for the men's fashion company in 2017. (And today in section #10 I report that Walmart is also selling Eloquii, a plus-size fashion brand that it acquired in 2018 for $100M, to FullBeauty Brands, for an undisclosed price, but probably not a great one.)
- Teladoc Health, a virtual care provider that went public in 2015, agreed to acquire Livongo, a tech platform for managing diabetes and chronic conditions, for $18.5B in cash and stock in Aug 2020. Since then Teladoc shares are down over 90% from their 2021 peak, with a current market cap of around $4.2B.
- Block paid $29B in stock to acquire Afterpay in Aug 2021, back when its stock price was trading at over 4x its current share price. Now Block's market cap is around $38B. Per its 10-K, the Afterpay acquisition ended up closing in early 2022 for only $13.8B, less than anticipated but still a ridiculous sum given that Afterpay had never been profitable. Everyone saw that one coming though! I would've only charged them $1B to tell them how bad of an idea that acquisition was.
- Just Eat Takeaway, a European food delivery service, announced its plans to acquire Grubhub in mid-2020 for $7.3B, which in hindsight turned out to be a ridiculous overpay. Today the combined company has a market cap of around $3.5B, and it's also not profitable.
- Carvana, an e-commerce seller of cars known for its tall, cylindrical vehicle towers, announced a $2.2B acquisition of the car auction service Adesa a year ago. Today Carvana's market cap of $1.6B is less than the initial cost of the deal.
What other bad acquisitions would you add to that list? Hit reply and let me know.
9. Other e-commerce news of interest
Meesho, the Facebook-backed Indian e-commerce startup that launched in 2015, is on track to turn a profit earlier than its international competitors like Flipkart and Amazon, even though its average monthly active user count is roughly 55% of the two. The company offers the lowest seller commission among e-commerce marketplaces in India, making it the preferred platform for sellers and customers comparing prices of products across marketplaces.
40% of 50 top UK-selling brands still have two-day (or slower) as their fastest delivery option at checkout. 14% of those brands don't state the delivery speed at checkout.
Amazon launched an Anti-Counterfeting Exchange (ACX) aimed at tackling counterfeit goods on its platform. The program will allow retail stores and marketplace sellers to track and label counterfeit products using a third-party database. (Maybe they should share that tech with TikTok.)
eBay sellers have noticed that since the fall, ads for other sellers' stores have been prominently placed on their listings. Sellers are upset about the misleading verbiage of the ads, which label the stores as “Related Stores” on their listing.
Ikea is planning to spend $2.2B on opening eight new full-sized stores, nine smaller-format stores, and 900 pickup locations across the US over the next three years. The investment is the largest Ikea has made in its four-decade history of operating in the US and will also include enhancing its distribution and last-mile delivery networks to reduce delivery costs for customers.
Whole Foods is laying off several hundred workers, primarily affecting global supports teams and employees who manage their regional operations. The layoffs are part of a reorganization that will take place over the next two months and will affect less than half a percent of their global workforce.
Apple's high-yield savings account in partnership with Goldman Sachs is now available to the public, offering a 4.15% APY with no fees, no minimum deposits, and no minimum balance requirements. I first reported on Apple's new high-yield savings account in Oct 2022, which at the time was expected to launch in the “coming months”.
In other Apple news, the company brought its Tap to Pay feature to Taiwan, allowing businesses to use their iPhones to accept contactless payments. The feature first launched in the US last year and Apple is slowing bringing it abroad. In the same week, GoDaddy began offering Tap to Pay on iOS in the US.
Katie Mullen, previously J.C. Penney’s chief digital officer, is pivoting to become chief customer officer. She will now lead efforts to deliver an end-to-end integrated shopping experience while continuing to oversee e-commerce strategy and omnichannel development. Just don't get rid of the discounts! Someone from JCP already tried that once and it didn't end well…
Intellect launched eMACH.ai, its new open financed-based core banking platform, which it claims is the largest of its kind in the world and comes with a pre-integrated marketplace for UK and Europe. Financial institutions can leverage the platform to create their own custom products using AI via its 285 “ready to use microservices” such as BNPL and other credit services.
Lydia Davis, award-winning author and translator, is boycotting Amazon with her new collection of short stories, choosing to only sell her book in bookstores and selected online retailers. She wrote in a statement, “We value small businesses, yet we give too much of our business to the large and the powerful—and often, increasingly, we have hardly any choice.”
LinkedIn released its list of top 25 workplaces in India, which it bases on “eight pillars that have been shown to lead career progression, such as the ability to advance.” Top of the list was Tata Consultancy Services, Amazon, and Morgan Stanley.
Square began offering Tap to Pay on Android for sellers in the US, UK, Australia, Ireland, France, and Spain, allowing them to accept contactless payments with a compatible Android device. The feature is compatible with Square's POS, Restaurants, and mobile app.
Geodis, a global designer and operator of logistics chain management models, expanded its D2C cross-border delivery service with two new airport facilities in the US located at JFK and LAX. The locations were opened to meet e-commerce volume growth at Geodis' MyParcel business, which offers small parcel delivery to 27 European countries and Canada.
The Amazon Kindle Unlimited app was being used by some young users to view pornographic material, raising concerns at Google and Apple who urged Amazon to strengthen its content moderation policies to prevent inappropriate material from being accessed by minors. (That'll stop teenage boys!) Both companies warned Amazon that the Kindle app could be removed from their app stores if the issue is not resolved.
Apple opened its first retail store in India, where its phones currently assume less than 5% of the country's smartphone market. The company is stepping up its battle against Samsung over the luxury smartphone market in India, while also ramping up its manufacturing drive in the country.
Zalando is launching a fashion assistant powered by ChatGPT on its website and app, starting with a beta version in Germany, Ireland, UK and Austria. The assistant will help customers navigate its online marketplace using their own words or fashion terms. Hopefully it won't work like, “Zalando, what's the latest fashion trends?” / “Sorry, I have limited knowledge of world events after 2021.”
Each day, 250M of Snapchat's users summon its AR lenses to transform themselves with new virtual hairstyles, baby faces, face tattoos, sunglasses, shoes, and clothing. Now the company has launched a new business called AR Enterprise Services (ARES) to help other companies sell their products with AR.
10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions
Rally, a US-based headless one-click checkout solution, raised $12M in a Series A round led by March Capital. The company will use the funds to expand its team, penetrate enterprise and international markets, and expand integrations beyond Swell and BigCommerce with other platforms including Salesforce.
Walmart is selling Eloquii, a plus-size fashion brand that it acquired in 2018 for $100M, to FullBeauty Brands, for an undisclosed price. Last week I reported that Walmart sold its menswear brand Bonobos to WHP Global for $75M just a few years after purchasing the company for $310M in 2017.
Coro, a one-stop shop AI-based cybersecurity platform, raised $75M from a single investor, Energy Impact Partners, at a $575M valuation, just a year after raising $60M in a Series C at a $500M valuation. The company's goal is to provide a cloud-based SaaS offering to cover all of a business's cybersecurity software needs with an emphasis on device monitoring, tools for overseeing activity across email, networks, and data, and remediating malicious activity when it's identified.
Goldman Sachs is mulling the potential sale of GreenSky, a BNPL fintech lender it acquired in Sep 2021 for $2.24B when it was looking to furnish its Marcus banking app with BNPL. The company has since shifted its focus away from retail banking and instead focus on trading and investment banking, asset and wealth management, and transaction banking including partnerships with other companies like Apple.
The Storage Place Ltd, a carbon-neutral fulfillment company with over 500k sq.ft. of warehouse space across the UK, raised £400k in a round co-led by Maven Capital Partners and The Finance Durham Fund. The investment will enable the business to open a new facility and double its capacity.
Floodlight, a UK-based e-commerce platform that offers a smart business account where merchants can connect all their financial platforms and manage and optimize their finances from a single dashboard, raised $6.4M in a round led by Aleph and 73 North. The startup aims to fill the gap between banks and accountants for SMEs with a focus on e-commerce.
Autotech Ventures raised $230M for its new mobility fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility. Fintech, logistics, supply chain, and the circular economy are at the top of the list.
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.
💖 Thanks for being a Shopifreak!
If you found this newsletter valuable, please leave a review on Google and share the newsletter with your friends and colleagues to help us grow. (Don't forget to use your referral link!)
See you next Monday,
Paul E. Drecksler
PS: Why did the browser get glasses? It wanted to improve its website.