Have you noticed that every social network is starting to look the same lately? Vertical videos of people dancing and mouthing lyrics to songs and skits have taken over my feed on practically every platform — and more coming!
In today's 89th edition of the Shopifreaks E-commerce Newsletter, I cover Twitter's launch of a TikTok-style video feed, Shopify's new mobile POS hardware, TikTok's plans to bring live commerce to the US (again), and Walmart's new virtual reality playgrounds.
I also highlight Google's latest search features and Amazon's upcoming product releases, as well as share research from FedEx that shows that e-commerce opportunities are abundant for SMEs.
All this and more in this week's edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing our newsletter with your friends.
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Stat of the Week
65% consumers with a disability have abandoned their cart due to poor accessibility of the online store. — According to Ecommerce News EU
This is one area where Amazon has outshined smaller online retailers in the past, but now the tech is widely available for retailers who are willing to prioritize it.
Share this week's stat on Twitter & LinkedIn.
1. Tiktok live shopping in the US is back! (maybe)
In July, I reported that TikTok was putting its plans on hold to launch live shopping in the US later this year, and would instead solely focus on making the product a success in the UK for the time being.
A few weeks later, I reported that Facebook coincidentally came to a similar decision about live commerce on its platform, shutting it down on Oct 1 to focus on Reels instead.
I had joked at the time on my LinkedIn, “Do you ever wonder if TikTok is ACTUALLY scaling back its live commerce plans in Europe and the US, or if their announcement was just the ultimate corporate trolling to set Meta back by a few years because TikTok knew they'd bail right after too?”
Well, that joke may have aged like wine, because TikTok is now reportedly launching live shopping in the US again — but this time with a partner.
According to Financial Times, the company has been talking with TalkShopLive, a California-based provider of live commerce tech, to provide the infrastructure for the live shopping features on TikTok.
The partnership will allow creators and brands to sell their wares through videos on the platform with TalkShopLive taking a 10% commission from sellers for providers its services. TikTok is likely to cover that cost for the initial phase of the project.
The terms of the deal haven't finalized yet and there's no info available about when the shopping feature will go live.
TikTok said in a statement to TechCrunch., “When it comes to market expansion for TikTok Shop we are always guided by demand and are constantly exploring new and different options for how we can best serve our Community, Creators and Merchants in markets around the world. These efforts include exploring partnerships that further support a seamless e-commerce experience for merchants, which is an important part of our ecosystem.”
I do find it a little funny that the news was announced on Oct 1st, the day that Facebook shut down its live shopping feature! There's got to be at least a little corporate trolling going on…
2. Twitter launches TikTok copycat feature
Twitter is launching a scrollable TikTok-like video feed on its platform, beginning with iOS users. They did not say when it would be available for Android users. In addition, they are launching a new video carousel within the app's Explore tab, where users will see a new “Videos for you” category that will display popular and trending videos.
Twitter says the purpose of the new immersive media viewer is to make it easier for users to discover engaging videos — which is great in theory, because the video experience on Twitter has historically been terrible. Video on Twitter has always felt like an afterthought.
But now, in a post-Elon buyout world, Twitter needs to reinvent itself by doing literally what everyone else around it is doing. Because just in case you weren't tired of endlessly scrolling through amateur dance videos on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, now you can do it on Twitter too, in between arguing with bots about politics.
Twitter began testing a TikTok copycat feed back in Dec 2021, and it's just starting to rollout to the masses.
Remember back in the days when each social media platform offered a unique experience? Then they all learned how addictive TikTok is and decided that they weren't ready to give up the entertainment portion of our daily attention graph. And it turns out watching amateur dance videos and comedy skits is more entertaining than seeing your friends and family post memes and argue about COVID and politics.
The question I ponder though — do Twitter's users actually want TwitTok? Or is that not why they visit the platform?
TikTok isn't just entertaining because it displays vertical videos in a scrollable feed. It's fun because of the culture. And culture is hard to replicate, as evident by the terrible vertical videos that Facebook shoves down my face in their Reels section, most of which originally came from TikTok anyway. Turns out you can't just syndicate cool.
TikTok's predictive algorithm also plays a huge role in the platform's enjoyment. Replicating TikTok's mix between displaying content of creators you follow and content the algorithm thinks you would enjoy is not something that Facebook has been able to master, nor do I imagine Twitter will be able to.
At least for creators, every platform supporting vertical video will make it easier for us to repurpose our content without having to deal with each platforms specific aspect ratio requirements.
3. Shopify launches new POS hardware
On Tuesday, Shopify launched POS Go, a new handheld tool that looks like a cell phone with a built-in card reader at the bottom.
Shopify has offered a point of sale system since 2013, but it's historically worked via an app on a company's existing desktop, Android, or iOS devices. However with this new standalone POS Go, no additional device is necessary to operate a fully functioning mobile POS terminal.
The POS Go device offers:
- A barcode scanner that lets retailers view detailed product info, customer notes, and purchase history.
- Merchants can build carts in store, and email them to customers to complete later.
- Payment acceptance via built-in card reader that customers can tap, swipe, or insert their chip cards into.
Shopify already sells some branded hardware, including a Tap & Chip Card Reader and a Retail Stand for the iPad, but this is their first device that can work by itself without any other 3rd party devices / screens attached. It is currently available for pre-order for $428 and will ship after Oct 11, 2022.
Is POS Go a gamechanger? Certainly not. But it does catch Shopify up hardware-wise with competitors who also offer fully functional standalone POS devices (as opposed to device attachments), and it's a welcome addition to their POS lineup for storeowners.
4. New Google search & map features
At its annual Search On event last week, Google introduced several new features:
1) Google's new feature called Multisearch Near Me will allow users to find local retailers who offer apparel, home goods, or food. It builds upon Google's AI-powered multisearch feature that was introduced in April, which lets users combine a photo and text to craft custom searches, initially around shopping for apparel.
Users will be able to take pictures with their phone's camera or upload an image to begin the search, which then directs the user to a local retailer, grocer, or restaurant that has the item in stock.
2) A new maps feature called Neighborhood Vibe, which is designed to give users an instant understanding of a specific neighborhood within the Maps app. Neighborhood Vibe surfaces photos and info from Google Maps community members to give users an idea of the most popular and trendy places in a given area including places to eat, parks, attractions, and more. Neighborhood Vibe will roll out globally in the coming months on Android and iOS.
Generalizing an entire neighborhood through photos doesn't sound like it's going to end well for Google. Mark my words… before the year is over, Google's Neighborhood Vibe will be accused of being racist!
3) Google also teased the upcoming launches of two new Maps features called Immersive View, which combines computer vision and AI tech to fuse together Street view and aerial imagery to display weather, traffic, and crowds, and Search with Live View, which lets you use your camera to find shops, ATMs and restaurants.
4) Google unveiled a new visual search experience, which will introduce shortcuts to some of Google's tools, expand upon its list of auto-complete suggestions by providing buttons below the search box that can help users narrow their searches, and Knowledge Panels, where Google will pull in a variety of information from various sources and in a range of formats. This visual update won’t impact all Google Search results, but will begin to appear on search result pages where the visual format would be more helpful, like travel searches.
5) Lastly, Google is revamping its Play Store to help users better discover and install apps to other devices such as watches, tablets, TVs and cars. A search results filter will only include apps and games that are compatible with selected devices
5. E-commerce opportunities set to grow for small and medium sized enterprises
According to research commissioned by FedEx Express, both Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and consumers agree that there's room for further growth in the e-commerce sector.
The What's Next in E-Commerce survey polled SMEs in 11 markets in the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa region (AMEA) to explore the continuing evolution of e-commerce and identify trends that could fuel future growth.
Here are some key findings from the survey:
- Consumers are looking for innovations in personalization, “shoppertainment” and payment options that enhance their experience and make it easier to discover new brands.
- Consumers are looking for more seasonal offers.
- SMEs and consumers agree that the pandemic-driven utilization of e-commerce is here to stay.
- 8 in 10 SMEs believe e-commerce will become more important in their business in the next three years.
- 9 in 10 believe they are well prepared for the challenge.
- 80% of consumers reported that e-commerce had taken a greater share of their total purchases over the past three years while 71% see further increases ahead.
- Deliveries taking too long is the number one pain consumer point (53%) followed by handling returns (42%).
6. Walmart's new product branded VR worlds
Walmart is hoping to meet younger consumers in the metaverse through two new Roblox experiences. For the unfamiliar, Roblox is an online game platform and virtual world that allows users to program games and play games created by other users.
Walmart Land is a colorful amusement park with a Walmart-themed Ferris wheel, slides, beaches, and more. The island is shaped like the Walmart logo, with a circle-shaped center and six branches with different themes and activities. At the center hub, players can redeem tokens for virtual merchandise such as apparel, accessories, and electronics, as well as win prizes.
Universe of Play is for much younger players. It features PAW Patrol and L.O.L. Surprise! toys, and also has a blimp, like Walmart Land. The virtual world offers challenges and activities like hunting for missing dinosaur eggs, helping the PAW Patrol team find Mayor Goodway's pet chicken, hosting fashion shows, and riding Razor scooters on a track in the sky.
Roblox has over 52M daily users and is designed for players aged nine years and older.
Do you like how literally every activity and experience mentioned above is branded? Can y'all show kids anything that they CAN'T buy? LOL. Walmart's imagination in the world of VR is only as limited as what product placement will allow.
7. Instagram tests removing shopping tab from home screen
Instagram is making it harder to find the Shop tab, which used to be on the bottom of the navigation bar, by hiding it within the Settings menu.
Who looks in Settings for the Shop tab? They may as well just remove it altogether.
Some users reported that the Notifications tab replaced the Shop tab, while others found that the Messages tab had taken its place instead. Meta confirmed with TechCrunch that the company is testing different versions.
Instagram launched Shops in 2020 and moved Shop tab to the home screen later that year. In 2021, they introduced ads within the Shop tab.
In recent months, Meta has been dialing back and restructuring its e-commerce efforts. In August, I reported that Instagram was shutting down its affiliate commerce program, and that Facebook was shutting down its live shopping feature.
Could testing the removal of the shopping tab mean that Instagram will be phasing out its Shop in the future? Or have they discovered that users prefer discovering and engaging with products organically and alongside entertainment-driven content within their existing photo and video feeds?
8. Amazon's new devices
Amazon on Wednesday unveiled several new or updated devices at its invite-only, virtual event. Here's what they announced:
- Kindle Scribe – the latest Kindle is a 10.2″ e-ink reader that uses a batteryless EMR stylus.
- Halo Rise – a sunrise alarm clock with sensors that capture info about your and your partner's movement and environment, created as an alternative to Amazon's Halo band for those who prefer not to wear a wristband or smartwatch overnight, but still want to monitor their sleep.
- Echo Dot (5th Gen) – the newest entry-level smart speaker offers better bass output and can display more info on the clock, as well as function as a Wi-Fi extender for the Euro mesh system.
- Echo Studio – all Studios will get a software upgrade with spatial audio and a better optimized frequency range, as well as new glacier white option.
- Echo Auto (2nd Gen) – new, sleeker design with more Alexa capabilities including hands-free messaging, music controls, Whole Foods order notifications, and custom assistance.
- Fire TV Omni QLED TV – upgraded QLED screens with sensors to detect when you're in the room to trigger showing artwork, widgets, or other content. (And soon ads?)
- Fire TV Cube (3rd Gen) – faster and streamlined design offering 4K, an HDMI input with global entertainment device control and upscaling processing to other devices, Wi-Fi 6E support, and an additional USB port.
- Alexa Voice Remote Pro – new ability to locate the device with a voice command, motion-activated backlight and buttons you can program to open specific apps or execute Alexa commands.
- Eero PoE 6 Wi-Fi Router – draws power from an Ethernet connection rather than an outlet.
- Eero PoE Gateway – high-powered hub for devices that draws power over Ethernet and supports speeds up to 10Gbps and PoE energy output of up to 100 watts.
- Blink Wired Floodlight Camera – delivers 2,600 lumens of light whenever it detects motion, and allows you to pull up the feed on a Fire TV or Echo Show smart display using voice controls
- Blink Mini Pan Tilt – a motorized mount for the Blink Mini that allows you to pan left and right and tilt up and down via the app for better remote viewing.
- Ring Spotlight Cam Pro – offers 3D motion detection to view an aerial-style birds-eye view when it detects motion.
- Ring Panic Button 2.0 – an update for Ring Alarm users that activates your home's security alarm and can be configured to trigger assistance specific to medical emergencies or fires.
Many of these items will be available for sale in Amazon's first ever Amazon Prime Early Access Sale on Oct 11 and Oct 12.
9. Other e-commerce news of interest this week
- Starting on January 30, 2023, Meta will no longer support the ability for sellers to create vehicle & real estate / rentals listings using a Facebook business Page. After this change, people on Marketplace can continue to create vehicle & real estate / rentals listings from their personal profile.
- Amazon will spend $1B to increase wages for hourly workers in the US. The starting wage for the majority of front-line warehouse and transportation personnel will be over $19/hr, while fulfillment and other areas will increase to $16/hr. Minimum salary will stay at $15/hr.
- Sky.Garden, Kenya’s Amazon-style marketplace, faces closure after funding fell through. The 2017 startup raised $4M last year and earns an 8% commission on every sale made through its platform. Turns out it takes 15% to keep the lights on.
- On Etsy, you can now set different return policies for each listing in your shop instead of just one return policy for your entire shop. This means you can make it clearer to buyers which items from your shop, if any, can be returned.
- Meta is working on making it easier for users to switch between Facebook and Instagram accounts through a new profile switching tool. At the same time, the company is also making it simpler to create and manage multiple accounts by offering users the ability to create new accounts with an existing Instagram or Facebook login rather than signing up from scratch.
- WhatsApp is rolling out links for video calls which will allow users to share links with family and friends to join the call. If a users sends the link to someone who doesn’t use WhatsApp, they will be redirected to download the app.
- Two and a half years after unveiling Google Stadia, the game streaming service is officially done. Subscribers will have access to the games library through January 18, 2023, after which point, it will shut down for good. In July 2022, Google tweeted that Stadia is not shutting down — a tweet that did not age well.
- WooCommerce released Blocks 8.6.0 with support for a new block that displays cross-sells for products within the customer's cart. The new feature is only available to users in the cart and are curated to be specific to the item in the cart.
- Koji, a link-in-bio platform, announced the launch of Shopify Storefront, a new app that lets creators import and sell their Shopify products inside of their Koji profile. In Nov 2021, I reported that Linktree launched a similar feature.
- Amazon India rolled out a live-streaming video feature for promoting products on its shopping platform, employing a format popular in China of teaming with social media influencers to host live-streams during which they can interact with customers and also offer limited time deals. The platform will host livestreams across several categories including electronics, fashion and beauty, and home décor and will run 15 livestreams a day between 10am to 1am, expecting to produce over 450 hours of content (using the word “content” loosely).
- The Vision Fund, SoftBank's investment arm, has begun cutting at least 30% of its staff, or at least 150 of its 500 workers. Its founder, Masayoshi Son, had foreshadowed cost-cutting this summer after the company posted a $21.6B quarterly loss for the fund.
- Deliveroo is experimenting with opening up its dark stores in Central London to customers. So, like a regular convenience store? Kind of, except the biggest difference is that customers don't pick their own items. They instead use their phones or digital kiosks to order groceries which are then picked and packed off the shelf and handed to the customer a few minutes later.
- An administrative court judge in Italy canceled the €200M retail collusion fine levied against Apple and Amazon in Nov 2021 over accusations that the two cooperated to prevent price cuts from other vendors, in part by preventing the sale of Apple and Beats-branded products by retailers that are not taking part in Apple's official program. At the time, Apple and Amazon rejected the ruling and vowed to appeal, and now the court has scrapped the fines in their entirety.
- Square launched Tap to Pay on iPhone to sellers in the US, available within the Square POS iOS app. In June, I reported that Square began testing the feature with plans to rollout later this year.
- China's Cosco Group and Alibaba logistics unit Cainiao have teamed up to offer an end-to-end intercontinental fulfillment of merchandise sold by Alibaba to European consumers. The initiative is being piloted via shipping vessels, but may extend to rail and air freight if it goes well.
- Iliad, the telecom company owned by French billionaire Xavier Niel, is launching a payment subsidiary called Stancer, which will be focused on lowering transaction fees as much as possible. Stancer currently processes 200k transactions per day and charges 0.7% + €0.15 in processing fees, versus Stripe's 1.4% + €0.25. Stancer is still a work in progress and currently only focuses on the French market.
10. This week in seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions….
- DHL Supply Chain has acquired a majority stake in Monta, a Dutch fulfillment provider. The deal enables DHL to better respond to the needs of SMEs and smaller online stores in the Netherlands, while giving Monta a chance to accelerate its international expansion.
- Flora, a technology-driven sustainable e-commerce platform that acquires and grows sustainable brands, raised $9M from Lux Capital, Correlation Ventures, Climate Capital, and Gokul Rajaram. Flora uses its proprietary tech and algorithms to identify sustainable brands and evaluate their operational and financial performance, sustainability impact, and value creation opportunities to look for brands that offer quality products that are better for the planet at fair prices.
- OPLOG, an Istanbul-based fulfillment company that offers smart warehouses, raised €11M. The company will use the funds to open a warehouse in the U.K. this year and to start using robotics in its fulfillment centers starting next year, with each warehouse using up to 50 robots.
- Satispay, an Italy-based fintech that offers a mobile app for users to pay in stores, exchange money with friends, and pay fines, raised €320 in a round led by Addition, valuing the company at more than €1B. The company hopes to use the funds to become the next leading payment network in Europe, where it has doubled its customer base and expanded into three more countries in the past two years.
- Everstores, a Berlin-based Shopify D2C brand aggregator, raised €8M in equity and €10M in debt. The company has previously acquired three businesses using 100M data points from 500+ Shopify brands that have signed up as potential acquisition candidates. The funds will be used to continue investing in its data science and operational tools, as well as acquire more brands.
- Exponential, a DeFi platform that's remained in beta until now, raised $14M in a seed round led by Paradigm with participation from Haun Ventures, FTX Ventures, Solana Ventures, Polygon, Circle Ventures, plus over 80 angel investors. Exponential currently offers a user rating system for investments and plans to release a custodial wallet. The company will use the funds for hiring, particularly for those in senior roles at Uber, Amazon, PayPal, and Robinhood.
- Juno, an India-based Web3 banking platform that provides checking accounts to crypto users and allows them to take their paychecks in digital tokens, raised $18M in a Series A round led by ParaFi Capital's Growth Fund. The company will use the funds to launch a new loyalty program using an ERC20 token called JCOIN, which will be rewarded to customers based on their usage.
- METAV.RS, a French startup that offers a white label no-code solution for brands entering the metaverse and facilitates the creation and sale of NFTs and customer experiences, raised €3M in a round led by Jsquare. The company will use the funds for recruitment and I.T. training to speed up platform development, templatization, and global expansion.
- Societe Generale, a France-based investment bank, will acquire a majority stake in PayXpert, a U.K.-based payment processor. The deal helps Societe Generale broaden its offering for retail and online merchants and adapt to new consumer behaviors from BNPL and other payment tech.
- Lunio, a startup that attempts to exclude fake web traffic arriving from different channels by analyzing behavior patterns using a combination of data analysis and cybersecurity techniques with algorithms that run client-side, raised $15M in a Series A round led by Smedvig Capital, bringing its total amount raised to $17M. The company has over 1,000 customers covering over 10k individual advertising accounts and plans to use the funds to expand its headcount from 43 employees to around 55 by the end of Q1 2023.
- Una Brands, a Singapore-based e-commerce aggregator focused on brands in the Asia-Pacific region, raised $30M in a Series B round led by White Star Capital and Alpha JWC Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $100M. In the past year the company has acquired more than 20 e-commerce brands in six countries and now has annualized revenue of more than $50M. The company will use the new funding for more acquisitions in home and living, mother and baby, and beauty and personal care categories.
- ServiceUp, an autotech startup that connects customers to advocates who manage their entire car repair process start to finish, raised $14.5M in a Series A round. The company is also working on a suite of machine learning and AI tech to help out with efficiency for logistics, customer service and marketing.
- Strike, a digital payments services that uses Bitcoin's Lightning Network to provide instant payments, raised $80M in a Series B round led by Ten31, Washington University, and University of Wyoming. The company will use the funding will be used to expand current partnerships and build new integrations with payments networks around the world.
What'd I miss?
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Paul E. Drecksler
PS: I once told a joke about macaroni. It was pretty cheesy.
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