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#176 – PayPal Ads, Shopify Minus, & Unskippable Instagram Ads

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Recent Newsletters

Hi Shopifreaks!

Get ready for an exciting edition of Shopifreaks filled to the brim with — ADS?!

No wait! Don't leave! I don't mean that I'm about to shove a bunch of ads down your throat in this edition. I'm talking about new ad networks, ad types, and ad mediums that are soon headed your way from major tech companies. Some you'll love, others you'll hate (*cough* Instagram). 

Before we get started though, let me share my most recent What's Next Interviews where I feature founders of notable startups in our space: 

Thank you to everyone who has participated in my interview series. If your e-commerce tech startup would like to be featured, fill out this short interest form and I'll be in touch.

In this week's edition I cover:

  • PayPal is launching an ad network
  • So is JP Morgan Chase, Visa, Expedia, and Brave
  • TikTok is pausing its EU e-commerce push
  • Shopify is dropping the Plus brand name
  • is mad and Alibaba is turning to soccer
  • Apple is bringing ChatGPT to iOS18
  • The US is cracking down on de minimis abuse
  • Instagram is testing a really annoying ad type
  • Pinterest expanded its creator fund
  • Walmart is entering more homes
  • Facebook Marketplace is e-commerce's sleeping dragon

All this and more in this week's 176th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!

Stat of the Week

One-seventh of the $5 trillion worth of retail goods sold in the United States in 2023 were returned, according to the National Retail Federation. Amanda Mull wrote for The Atlantic last year, the standard way of selling things online—with the blanket promise You can always send it back!—has become unsustainable.

1. PayPal is launching an ad network

PayPal is launching an advertising platform built on the massive troves of customer transaction data it's obtained from its 400M active users, payment processing network, Venmo app, and partner retailers over the past 25 years. 

The company is pitching the offering as a way to help merchants sell more products and services while acting as a discovery engine for consumers.

Diego Scotti, executive VP and GM for PayPal’s consumer business, said in a press release, “Commerce and advertising are deeply connected, and we believe that the advertising platform we are building at PayPal will become a must-use marketing channel for merchants big and small.”

Central to the offering is PayPal's new Advanced Offers platform, which uses AI to analyze nearly half a trillion dollars of transaction data to generate consumer insights and offer personalized deals. With Advanced Offers, merchants only pay for performance (ie: sales) instead of impressions or clicks like traditional ad networks — which could make it an attractive alternative for merchants. 

The company brought on Mark Grether, former VP of Uber Advertising, to lead its advertising efforts. Under his leadership, Uber Advertising grew to a $1B business with more than 500,000 advertisers globally. Before that he led product strategy for Amazon's ad business and was an exec at Sizmek and WPP's Xaxis.

Grether wrote in a LinkedIn post last week, “With nearly 400 million active accounts, and the scale of PayPal’s transaction data, PayPal is uniquely positioned to shape a new era of commerce discovery, help merchants acquire new customers, and reengage existing ones.”

PayPal's not the only one. Everyone's building an ad network: 

  • JP Morgan Chase launched a new digital media business called Chase Media Solutions that also serves ads based on consumer spending data. Similar to PayPal's Advanced Offers, advertisers will only pay when a customer makes a purchase. 
  • Visa is rolling out “data tokens” that allow businesses to request consent from customers to get real-time, personalized offers as they shop. Banks will also receive a token to show where a customer's data has been shared and display it in their mobile app, so that people can decide whether they want to continue sharing data with that merchant or revoke access.
  • Expedia launched an ad network called Expedia Group Media Solutions that combines first-party traveler intent and purchase data with on and offsite ad tools.
  • Brave launched a CPC ad offering called Search Ads in key markets after 18 months of successful testing and feedback. Brave Search is the default search engine in the Brave Browser, which has over 65M monthly active users. 

And that's just news from the past month! In the past year we've seen ad networks launch from Klarna, Marriott, Uber, Lyft, and others. 

Do we need more advertising networks?

The answer is unequivocally — yes, absolutely we do.

Whether you're running a brand new e-commerce store or selling $10M+ per month, every retailer in 2024 is facing the same challenge – where can I affordably acquire new customers? 

There's been a stronghold on the digital advertising business, dominated by a select few tech companies. Launching new advertising networks that leverage consumer transaction data can bring much needed competition to the space, offer affordable alternatives to traditional advertising networks, and ultimately bring down the cost of digital ads. 

2. TikTok pauses its e-commerce push in the EU

TikTok put on hold its plans to launch its e-commerce business across major European markets, with plans to instead focus on growth in the US where it's currently fighting a divest-or-ban law.

ByteDance had previously announced that it would be rolling out its shopping platform across Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and Ireland as soon as July, and to Mexico and Brazil shortly after — but now plans to launch in all those countries are on hold, according to Bloomberg sources.

Instead, company leadership want to concentrate on its most lucrative market with over 170M monthly users, even though that market could be pulled out from under its feet next year.

A TikTok spokesperson said that the company is “guided by demand.” He added, “We've seen the positive impact of TikTok Shop, and we're excited to continue experimenting with this new commerce opportunity.”

TikTok set a goal to grow US merchandise volume tenfold to as much as $17.5B this year. The company recently increased subsidies and other incentives to super-charge its US e-commerce business. It also dropped the threshold for creators looking to join its affiliate program to 1,000 followers from 5,000.

In wake of a potential ban, shouldn't TikTok be retreating from the US?

No way! There is absolutely no reason to retreat. Here's why: 

First of all, ByteDance has no plans of selling TikTok — the company made that very clear (story #2). They are currently moving forward with a lawsuit that challenges the new law that would force the sale or ban of the app based on constitutional grounds.

In the meantime, TikTok hyperfocusing on growing its US commerce presence accomplishes two things: 

  1. It makes the company more valuable — potentially more valuable than any potential acquirer could afford. 
  2. It cements TikTok's position as critical to small businesses and creators in the US. 

Have you ever wanted to create an army of voters who oppose your administration? It's easy — simply go after their wallets. By TikTok leaning into the US market and driving more business and creators into their commerce ecosystem, they're creating a scenario where a ban will make a lot of people upset — which is something that neither party can afford right now.

Bottom line: TikTok isn't going anywhere in the US. 

🔥 Partner News

OpenStore acquired HistoreeTees, a father-son led company that makes history-themed t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, and crewnecks. HistoreeTees was formerly an OpenStore Drive brand, an offering under which founders can transfer management of their business to OpenStore for 12 months, while receiving monthly passive income payments. This is the second OpenStore acquisition for co-founder Chris Heckman, who sold his yoga apparel business, Yogaste, to OpenStore in 2021.

3. Shopify drops the Shopify Plus brand name

In a leaked memo, COO Kaz Nejatian informed fellow Shopifolk that Shopify Plus will continue to be sold as a plan, but it will not be considered a brand with designated teams within the company, according to Business Insider.

He wrote, “Please remove Plus branding from all decks, all signage, all marketing. We build, market, and sell Shopify.”

He added, “Today, Shopify Plus is just a plan. It is not a standalone brand. It is not a product. It is not a team. Shopify Plus will have all the same brand equity as Shopify Advanced or Shopify Basic. I will view any Plus branding in any of our marketing as a bug and will report it as such. We will reach different audiences using different channels. But always with one brand.”

Shopify Plus was first introduced in 2014 as a pseudo-enterprise version of the core Shopify software, which primarily served SMBs.

Personally, I always considered Shopify Plus a plan (not a separate brand), so the transition probably won't be as big of a reveal as the company might think. However the move makes sense.

Last week I shared advice to BigCommerce to combine their marketing websites for Enterprise and SMBs because much of the features & benefits overlapped between the two worlds.

Apparently Shopify feels similar and recognizes that it's best to present the company as one cohesive brand — and not two distinct worlds between SMBs and Enterprise.

E-commerce capabilities have become commoditized and small businesses want access to the same tools that enterprise clients enjoy (and they can have them). Best to start presenting the full offering to both.

4. The new faces of China's e-commerce

Remember when “Chinese e-commerce” meant “Alibaba” or “AliExpress” to most Americans who paid attention to the space? Alibaba used to be synonymous with e-commerce when looking to source or purchase products from China, however, today there are some new faces in the mix and the landscape is changing rapidly. 

Here's what happened in China e-commerce last week: 

  • founder Richard Liu blasted underperforming employees in a company-wide video, where he proclaimed that there is no place for unproductive staff. Liu said that, “[For people who] underperform and don't work hard, the company will not tolerate them and will weed them out.” The message stands in contrast with past comments by Liu, who has repeatedly highlighted comradeship in the company culture by calling staff “my brothers.” However the video comes at a time when is actively looking for ways to compete against its newest rival Pinduoduo (whose parent company PDD Holdings also owns Temu). 
  • A number of high ranking senior executives at Taobao and Tmall Group (owned by Alibaba) retired, paving the way for a younger generation of leaders to take the reins of the company's e-commerce unit. Their exits come several months after Alibaba promoted six young executives to lead key departments of the e-commerce websites, as part of a management reshuffle under CEO Eddie Wu Yongming, who took over last December. Last month Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma made calls for current leadership to “believe in” and “give more power” to young people in an internal memo. 
  • In December, I reported (story #7) that PDD Holdings (owners of Pinduoduo and Temu) overtook Alibaba in market value when PDD saw its market value surge to $188B while Alibaba was simultaneously experiencing a downtrend. PDD since lost the top spot in Q1 2024, but now it reclaimed the position after reporting stellar Q1 results last week, sending its shares surging as high as 7.5% and driving its market cap to $208B. 
  • Despite losing its top dawg position, Alibaba isn't slowing down. Last week the groups international e-commerce platform AliExpress signed soccer star David Beckham in its biggest global brand ambassador partnership to date. AliExpress did not disclose how much it was paying Beckham to be its global ambassador, but experts have estimated the deal to be worth a “buttload.” AliExpress said that it is investing millions in discounts, deals, and engagement during the games, including promotions that include a chance for app users to win tickets to games. 

5. Apple brings ChatGPT into iOS 18

OpenAI secured a deal with Apple to integrate its chatbot into iOS 18, according to The Information. The companies plan to announce the news at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference next week. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is reportedly concerned about how it could conflict with their partnership and held a meeting with Sam Altman to discuss the deal.

Apple previously said that it plans to take a different approach to AI, focusing on tools that ordinary consumers can use in their daily lives, while leaving the more radical features to other companies. The company hopes that it can leverage its huge user base to gain a strong foothold in the AI market.

Here's what's on the AI horizon at Apple: 

  • Project Greymatter is a set of AI tools that Apple will integrate into core apps like Safari, Photos, and Notes.
  • New AI capabilities in the works include the ability to transcribe voice memos, retouch photos, make searches faster and more reliable in the Spotlight feature, improve Safari web search, and automatically suggest replies to e-mails and text messages.
  • Both iOS 18 and macOS 15 will include software that determines whether a task should be handled on the device or via the cloud.
  • Siri will get an upgrade as well, with more natural-sounding interactions based on Apple's own large language models. There's also a more advanced Siri coming to the Apple Watch for on-the-go tasks.
  • Developer tools, including Xcode, are getting AI enhancements too.
  • Apple is developing a feature that can create custom emojis on the fly, based on what users are texting.
  • The iPhone home screen is getting revamped. Users will have the ability to change the color of app icons and put them wherever they want, such as making all your finance-related app icons green and placing them outside the standard grid that has existed since 2007. Finally! Why can't my phone home screen work more like my computer desktop?
  • Smart Recaps is a new feature that will provide users with summaries of their missed notifications and individual text messages, as well as of web pages, news articles, documents, notes, and other media.
  • Apple currently doesn't have an in-house chatbot, but it hopes that the new partnership with OpenAI can fill that void. The challenge will be assuring consumers that its commitment to privacy remains strong while leveraging another company's LLM. The recent privacy controversies surrounding OpenAI won't help that goal. 

Apple has some catching up to do in the AI space, but isn't that typical Apple? 

The company has historically been behind on developing new product categories, but then knocks it out the park when they do enter a vertical. Think about the iPod, iPhone, iPad, as well as Apple Music and Apple TV. Apple wasn't first in any of those markets, but later became the gold standard for many. 

More recent examples are Apple Pay Later, the company's BNPL offering that more than one-fifth of BNPL users tried during its first three months on the market, and Apple Card's high-yield savings account, which received more than $10B in deposits in its first few months on the market.

So while Apple might be late to the AI party, there's a very high probability that their integrated AI tools become some of the most used on the market within months of launch. It wouldn't be atypical of the company to wait to get it right. 

6. US Customs and Border Protection crack down on de minimis abuse

US officials have escalated a crackdown on the controversial customs exemption that Chinese companies like Temu and Shein use to send cheap items from overseas to American shoppers without paying taffics.

The US Customs and Border Protection wrote in a statement: 

“While balancing our economic security and trade facilitation mission with our law enforcement responsibilities, CBP is taking action to ensure compliance and minimize the exploitation of the small package, or de minimis, environment. While the majority of brokers, carriers, and supply chain businesses that participate in CBP’s Entry Type 86 Test are compliant with applicable laws, we are enhancing our enforcement efforts to ensure that all participants are held accountable when they are not.”

The CBP has so far suspended six customs brokers from Entry Type 86, a program that makes it easier and quicker to arrange such shipments, including Seko Logistics, which says that it processes millions of parcels under the rule each month. Seko’s participation in Entry Type 86 was suspended for 90 days, until August 24th.

Seko told The Loadstar that they are “incredibly disappointed by this unfortunate decision” and that the company has had an “exceptionally high, 99.999%, compliance rate” during its participation in the Entry Type 86 Program.

The company added, “Despite our extraordinary compliance rate, we were given less than seven days before the suspension went into effect and no opportunity to address any potential deficiencies.”

Sources familiar with the matter told The Loadstar that a major seizure had been made by the CBP, and that it was related to shipments from Shein.

The next day, after all this went down, it was reported that the CBP began inspecting every single e-commerce shipment coming from mainland China on freighters, leading to airport congestion, delays, and the cancellation or suspension of some flights. 

One source at LAX said, “All freighters coming into LAX from mainland China, many of which are Shein and Temu, are going straight to Customs warehouses for full inspection. And CBP is finding a lot of illegal stuff. There is fentanyl, drug-making equipment, and misdeclarations of value to meet the de minimis threshold.”

The source added, “The US is finally cracking down on every shipment, and this is slowing things down a lot. The customs warehouse is packed full, and it’s causing a huge backlog of ecommerce.”

A charter broker commented that the market was “really nervous.”

It sounds like a lot of customers are going to be receiving that $5 credit from Temu for their packages arriving late…

7. Instagram is testing forced ad breaks

Instagram began testing a new feature called “Ad Breaks,” which are unskippable ads that interrupt the user's browsing and requires them to view an advertisement for at least 3-5 seconds before they can continue scrolling the feed.

Who's horrible idea was that? LOL. Instagram might as well just say, “Use TikTok instead.”

Instagram and Facebook have always relied on sponsored posts that look like regular content. These “soft ads” are designed to keep users engaged without being too pushy. But these Ad Breaks are completely different and a stark reminder that the platform is littered with unwanted advertisements. Is that really something Meta should be bringing more attention to with users?

Meta has not officially communicated the inclusion of Ad Breaks, but users are experiencing them in their feeds and expressing their frustration on Reddit and X.

One commenter called Ad Breaks a “terrible business decision” that could alienate users, while another pointed out the negative impact on user flow and engagement. The user wrote, “Meta has top tier UX designers, did they not do any research on this before pushing it onto the public? It completely disrupts the user's flow. Adding friction like this is probably the worst way to increase engagement on ads.”

While that person is correct, I'd imagine it wasn't the UX designers decisions to create this type of ad!

The ironic part of unskippable ads is that they give the user just enough time to break out of the cycle of endless scrolling, potentially leading more folks to close the app and continue with their day. 

Currently the Ad Breaks appear to be limited to a small group of users, suggesting that Meta is testing the ad type to gauge user reaction and measure its impact on ad revenue. Let's hope for all IG users that they never see the light of day on a massive scale.

8. Pinterest expands its Creator Inclusion Fund with Shopify

Pinterest is evolving its Creator Inclusion Fund to now be called the Pinterest Inclusion Fund. The platform is teaming up with Shopify's Build Black and Build Native programs to now allow small business owners, independent publishers, and boutique creative agencies from underrepresented backgrounds to apply for the fund, which previously only served content creators.

The fund provides a six-week accelerator program that coaches participants on using Pinterest to expand their brands and businesses. Small businesses selected for the program will have access to educational and financial resources, including the ability to connect their Shopify accounts to Pinterest, and training sessions provided by Shopify. Pinterest will also offer mentorship, monetary stipends and paid subscriptions to workplace SaaS.

The new iteration of the program launched in the US and Canada, with plans to expand into other countries soon including Brazil, India, France, and Argentina.

Pinterest started the newly named Inclusion Fund in 2021 to give more opportunities to underrepresented creators, and soon to be small business owners. It has since invested more than $3.3M in the accelerator program and has had more than 150 participants globally. (Wow that's like $22,000 per participant.)

Pinterest reports:

  • There are 1.5B saves per week on its platform by more than half a billion people who are searching, saving, and shopping.
  • 61% of users say they spent more than they expected by shopping on Pinterest.
  • Merchants who upload their catalogs see up to a 90% increase in product saves and 30% increase in attributed checkouts.

9. Other e-commerce news of interest

Walmart is expanding its InHome delivery service to Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, and San Bernardino, which brings the service to more than 50 markets nationwide, covering over 45M homes. The service enables associates to use a one-time access code to complete delivery to inside the customer's home, including placing items inside their refrigerators. A wearable camera records the entire delivery, to which customers have access from their phones for up to a week after each delivery.

The European Union designated Temu as a very large online platform under its new Digital Services Act. The platform now has more than 75M users in the EU, a figure that is well above the 45M threshold for being classified as a VLOP. Temu is now the 24th company to face extra obligations under the DSA, including scrutiny over its use of algorithms, AI, content rankings, and recommendation tools, while also having additional requirements in regards to addressing counterfeit, illegal, or unsafe products on its platform. 

40% of Facebook's 3.07B monthly active users are active on its Marketplace, according to a report from Capital One Shopping. This technically makes it a larger e-commerce platform by number of users than Amazon, which only reports 310M monthly users. However unlike Amazon, most of the transactions on FB Marketplace happen off-platform, so Facebook doesn't see direct revenue from the sales — but it does benefit from users logging in more often and seeing more ads. 

DHL Express Commerce launched a new international returns portal that allows e-commerce companies to set their own returns policies and terms, enabling shoppers to easily initiate returns and generate printing labels. By using the new service, businesses will not be subject to duties and taxes on inbound delivery as they would be if their customers were sending goods independently.

Jeff Bezos sold 1.1M shares of Amazon stock, which equates to around $117M, to fund Day 1 Academies, a tuition-free non-profit chain of Montessori-themed preschools he founded with facilities in Texas, Washington, Florida, and several other states. The preschools offer year-round programming, five days a week, for children 3-5 years old, and admissions prioritizes low income families. 

Adani Group, an Indian conglomerate with businesses centered around energy and trading, is moving into digital payments and e-commerce, as it seeks to diversify its portfolio and compete with Reliance, Amazon, Flipkart, and PhonePe. The Financial Times reported that Adani is considering applying for a license to operate on India's Unified Payments Interface and finalizing plans for a co-branded credit card with banks.

Avenue Z, a public relations and digital media company, partnered with SourceMedium, a data analytics and automation platform, to introduce a new visualization platform that enables brands to see performance from all their marketing channels with customizable views for insights into trend analysis, creative performance, customer LTV, profitability, and more. The new dashboard is designed to be a one-stop shop for DTC teams to see holistic business performance and break down barriers that often exist between different teams. 

Walmart is rolling out seven days of sales and discounts during its second annual Walmart+ Week, which will run from June 17 to 23 exclusively for Walmart+ members. In additional to traditional deals on gas, travel, delivery, and home products, Walmart is introducing its first-ever mystery offer, set to be revealed on June 20th. (SPOILER: It's a free one-year Amazon Prime subscription. LOL)

Klarna called the CFPB's plan to classify BNPL lenders as credit card providers “confusing.” The company wrote in a blog post, “It is baffling that the CFPB fails to acknowledge the fundamental differences between BNPL and credit cards in their guidance and this announcement does nothing to address the $1.15 trillion in credit card debt.” The company added, “Trying to regulate BNPL like a credit card is like comparing apples with oranges.” I expressed similar sentiment in last week's edition (story #6). 

Former OpenAI board member Helen Toner said in a recent interview that the OpenAI board was unaware of the existence of ChatGPT until they saw it on Twitter. She also revealed details about the company's internal dynamics, citing instances of “psychological abuse” and the disbursement of inaccurate information from Altman, with screenshots and documentation to support her claims. Toner said that no-one would speak out against Altman and that employees felt obligated to support his re-hiring in fear of retaliation from the CEO. In response to the interview, current OpenAI board chair Bret Taylor essentially said, “Are you still talking about that?”

Several Amazon execs may be personally liable for tricking users into Prime sign-ups after a US district court refused to dismiss the FTC's lawsuit, which alleges that Amazon forced “consumers intending to cancel to navigate a four-page, six-click, fifteen-option cancellation process.” The judge also denied individual motions to dismiss claims against the individual Amazon executives who oversaw Prime operations at the time. According to the judge, the FTC provided enough evidence that each of the executives knew they were violating consumer protection laws when prioritizing profits over eliminating dark patterns. 

Walmart is running a promotional campaign to encourage third-party sellers to add their best-selling items to its catalog. Sellers who list a recommended item from its Assortment Growth Dashboard get up to 50% off referral fees, depending on the shipping speed offered.

Google's experimental cookie-free ad platform suffered a glitch that disabled APIs, which publishing and advertising vendors use to participate in ad auctions. After the glitch, some publishers reported that ad activity and revenue stopped flowing through Privacy Sandbox for hours, prompting questions about the possibility of future breakdowns. The cookie-less platform is only in the testing phase, but if the APIs become widely adopted and account for a larger share of revenue for publishers, an outage would be a big deal. 

In other Google troubles… a data leak revealed thousands of pages of internal documents that offer an unprecedented look under the hood of how Google Search works. The documents suggest that Google hasn't been entirely truthful about its algorithm for many years, indicating that Google might prioritize certain ranking factors more than it admits. The documents also touch on topics like what kind of data Google collects, how Google handles small websites, and which sites it elevates for sensitive topics like elections or COVID19. 

Walmart ended its agreement with Capital One, which was the exclusive issuer of Walmart consumer credit cards, for being too slow to post transactions to cardholders' accounts and failing to promptly replace lost cards. A federal judge ruled in March that Walmart could end its credit card partnership early because the bank failed to provide the required level of customer service. Although the partnership is dead, cardholders can continue to earn and redeem rewards, and previously accrued rewards will retain their value. Walmart doesn't have another bank lined up to take over the credit card, leading to speculation that the company plans on looking internally to its majority-owned One fintech.

Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski tweeted that the company would save $10M this year due to generative AI allowing them to produce images faster and with a smaller team. He wrote in a since deleted post, “We're spending less on photographers, image banks, and marketing agencies. Our in-house marketing team is HALF the size it was last year but is producing MORE!” His tweet was hit with immediate backlash, with one person replying, “If you still had a bigger marketing team, they probably would've advised you not to post this.”

Navan AI, a Singapore-based generative AI and computer vision solutions company, launched a fashion tech platform called, which enables fashion designers to create design variations or entirely new designs by simply describing their ideas. The tool's visualizing feature lets them get a 360-degree view of the product and try out the design on AI-generated models. 

A Canadian man was scammed out of hundreds of dollars when he called what he thought was a Facebook customer support number after using Meta AI's search tool to verify the number. Meta AI chatbot replied with, “The phone number 1-844-457-0520 is indeed a legitimate Facebook support number.” (NARRATOR: “It's not.”) After giving access to his phone through an app the hacker had him download, the man's PayPal account was used to buy a $500 Apple gift card, and someone tried to buy Bitcoin with his saved payment info, but luckily his bank stopped that transaction. 

10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions

Shopify acquired Checkout Blocks, an app that lets merchants customize their checkout by adding AI recommendations, custom content (banners, images, and headlines), custom fields (gift messages or delivery notes), discounts, e-mail address verification, personalized order status, thank you pages, and more. As part of the deal, the company is making its Starter plan, priced at $99/month, free for all merchants on Shopify Plus. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Faircado, a browser extension that aims to become the discovery layer for pre-owned goods, raised €3M in a round led by World Fund. The extension uses a combination of image and text matching to suggest pre-owned alternatives when you browse products on Amazon, Zalando, Patagonia, and 1,600 other sites across electronics, books, and apparel.

Alibaba is selling its entire stake in Baozun, an e-commerce branding solutions provider, for $21.8M, which represents about 14.4% of the total outstanding shares of the company. The deal is part of Alibaba's corporate restructuring and follows the company's disposal of its Bilibili shares in March.

Forward, an Austin-based payments company that hopes to compete with Stripe by enabling SaaS companies to rent its offerings as a service and collect their own fees, raised $16M in a round led by Commerce Ventures, Elefund, and Fiserv. Forward's software sits within its SaaS customer's software, while it manages authorization, transaction settlement, and money reconciliation. The company started processing payments in Q4 2023 in a beta period and has since done a few million transactions.

Bosso, a Zambian construction e-commerce platform that aims to deliver solutions for the African construction and building sector, raised $400k in a pre-seed round led by Leonard by Vinci, Launch Africa Ventures, and others. The startup launched in 2022 and has so far onboarded over 1,000 hardware stores in Zambia, served over 200 homebuilders with source materials, and delivered construction materials to 40% of the country's provinces. 

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Paul E. Drecksler
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PS: Why are penguins so awkward at parties? Because they can't break the ice.