Before we begin, I'd like to welcome eStreamly to the Shopifreaks family as our second official News Partner! 🎉 🥳
eStreamly is video commerce platform that enables D2C brands, marketplaces, and creators to host shoppable videos on their websites, e-mails, SMS, mobile apps, blogs, and social media.
Their platform seamlessly integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, and BigCommerce, allowing customers to make purchases directly within your videos.
It also supports simultaneous live-broadcasting to Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram so that you can stream right to where your audiences are.
On a personal note, I highly believe that shoppable videos are heading to the US in a big way, and that if brands don't begin embracing the channel now, they'll be playing catch up in a few years.
Right now is the golden opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves and standout amongst a crowded landscape of e-commerce stores (over 14M stores in the US today) with shoppable video.
And now onto your regularly scheduled content…
In this week's edition I cover:
- TikTok's big e-commerce plans for the US in 2024
- China's worrisome return policy
- The rise and fall of Etsy
- Logo trends for 2024
- Slowing growth rates for digital advertising, e-commerce, cloud computing, and ride sharing / delivery
- A niche legal industry that popped up for Amazon sellers
- MVNOs having their moment
- Plus an AI search engine that thinks it'll leave Google in the dust?
All this and more in this week's 155th Edition of Shopifreaks. Thanks for subscribing and sharing!
Stat of the Week 📈
The number of e-commerce sites worldwide nearly tripled between 2019 and 2023 from 9.2M to over 26.5M.
The U.S. accounts for 14M of the total e-commerce sites, far ahead of any other country including #2 U.K. with 1.24M and #3 Brazil with 730k e-commerce sites. – According to Marius Kiniulis
1. TikTok plans to 10x its e-commerce
TikTok aims to grow its TikTok Shop platform tenfold in the US this year to $17.5B in gross merchandise value, according to a report by Bloomberg.
The report, which cited inside sources, said the 2024 merchandise volume target was discussed recently in internal meetings. Sources also said that TikTok hopes to expand in Latin America this year, where it plans to bring its e-commerce shop in the months to come.
TikTok denied the news in a statement, saying, “The speculated US merchandise sales figures represented by Bloomberg are inaccurate.”
However the company has historically kept its plans close to the chest, denying rumors on one hand while posting jobs related to said rumors on the other. Plus is doesn't take a Bloomberg report to see that TikTok has huge e-commerce ambitions in the US.
TikTok was on track to hit $20B in global GMV last year, however a majority of those sales were in Southeast Asia. Now the platform has its sights set on the US to take market share from Amazon, Temu, and Shein, which it probably will.
What does TikTok have that those competitors don't? An army of content creators and 150M users in the US who spend an average of 95 minutes per day on the app! In comparison, how many minutes (or should we measure in seconds) do users spend on Amazon's Inspire feed?
Plus new commission structure.
The news comes a day after The Information reported that TikTok will raise commissions on most items from 2% plus 30 cents up to 8% per transaction, which is still considerably lower than Amazon seller fees, which are about 15% for most categories. TikTok also announced that it will be reducing subsidies for merchants in the coming months.
The new referral fees are disclosed on its website:
Starting July 1, 2024, TikTok Shop will increase the referral fee on all qualified transactions to 8% per order. To support you through this transition, TikTok Shop will increase the referral fee in increments. As such, the referral fee will increase to 6% from April 1, 2024 to July 1, 2024 to help you align your approach accordingly.
In other TikTok news, the company is partnering with Peloton to produce TikTok videos of live classes, influencer partnerships, and celebrity collaborations. The content will be branded #TikTokFitness powered by Peloton under Peloton's hub in the TikTok app. The TikTok partnership is the first time Peloton has created custom content for a channel besides its own.
2. China's new refund policy
Douyin, Pinduoduo, Taobao, and JD.com's refund policies have sparked a wave of concern among Chinese sellers. Folks in the US better take note as well.
- Douyin (China's TikTok) made its “express refund” policy mandatory, requiring merchants to instantly refund purchases up to $211 before actually receiving the returned goods. This “feature” used to be optional for merchants.
- Alibaba’s Taobao and JD.com recently started offering refunds without having to return the items to entice customers away from Pinduoduo, which started the trend.
- Pinduoduo (which owns Temu) was the first major player to introduce this type of refunds policy in 2021, allowing customers to get their money back without returning goods that didn't match the product descriptions. This was seen as a major trust-building factor in helping Pinduoduo woo Chinese consumers away from competing platforms.
From the consumer’s perspective, these types of return policies are a win, offering an added layer of protection and confidence when shopping online.
For the merchants, however, there’s a genuine fear that some customers might exploit the policy, which would especially hurt sellers of higher-cost goods. Pinduoduo's original policy stems from its focus on budget-priced goods, whereas the other platforms have historically catered to selling higher cost items.
To mitigate the risk for sellers, Taobao and JD.com have measures in place to safeguard against misuse. For example, refund decisions will factor in the merchant and buyer’s track records. (ie: Does the customer have a history of excessive returns, or does the seller have a history of selling items that are frequently returned?)
Taobao has also provided an appeal option for merchants who feel they have been wronged by the policy. (Maybe they should invoke a jury of customers and sellers to weigh in on the decisions. See story #6 from Edition 151 for details on how that system works.)
Why should sellers in the US take note?
As platforms like Temu, Shein, and TikTok take more market share in the US, their return policies will play a bigger role in consumer expectations.
To compete with these Chinese players, will Amazon, Walmart, eBay, or other American retailers have to match those types of return policies?
Chinese retailers making returns easier and safer for consumers is coming at a time when American retailers are making returns more difficult and costlier for customers to offset the rising costs. Last week I reported that returns totaled $743B in the US last year.
3. The Fall of the House of Etsy
At one point during the pandemic, Etsy was killing it. Share prices hit $296.91 and the biggest concern for investors was that employee perks were too good.
Flash forward a few years, and ETSY sits below $80/share, leaving people asking, “What happened?”
Jason Lalljee of Spy.com says that Etsy “kind of sucks” now and no longer feels like a differentiated and buyer-friendly environment. He spells out several reasons for the change, which I'll recap below:
- Dropshippers are all over the platform, whereas Etsy used to be about selling handcrafted products and bypassing these type of middlemen.
- Counterfeit goods keep rising on the platform. Last year Citron Research claimed Etsy was one of the biggest counterfeit distributors.
- Small sellers are leaving, perhaps unable to compete with the scale and prices of dropshippers selling mass produced goods.
- Large sellers are also leaving, due to Etsy, in 2020, automatically opting sellers who make more than $10k annually into Etsy advertising (which doesn't directly benefit the seller).
- Etsy is no longer unique. It sells the same products as other platforms now, and the platform itself is easily replicable.
- Etsy is eroding trust through delayed payments, and driving away the sellers that actually make quality products.
Lalljee says, “The handmade stuff – hot takes on family reunions and commentary on PTA meetings – started to disappear as the internal ad sales business became a key profit driver. A vicious cycle is created. Etsy consumers buy from lower quality vendors, get bad products, and become skeptical of the whole enterprise.”
Thomaï Serdari, a marketing professor at NYU, blames Etsy going public for its downfall.
He says, “Etsy’s listing on the stock exchange transformed it into a company that needed to grow and grow fast so as to be able to satisfy its shareholders and their expected returns on investment. When there is a push for growth that is not commensurate with the initial values of the company, misalignment is bound to appear.”
I'd also like to add that mom-and-pop sellers are more tech savvy today, while the barrier of entry into running your own website and driving sales through social media has reduced significantly since 2005 when Etsy launched.
In other words, Etsy isn't just competing with other platforms now, it's competing against its own artisan sellers who have their own websites and social presences, and are less reliant on Etsy for bringing customers.
There are also a lot more niche marketplace competitors that have popped up in the past two decades, who are vying for Etsy's sellers including Artisans Cooperative, Bonanza, Folksy, Handmade.com, and even Amazon Handmade which came onto the scene in 2015 (the same year Etsy went public).
Two weeks ago I reported on Michael's new Etsy competitor, Makerplace. (See story #4 in Edition 153.) It's a marketplace I'll be following closely in the coming years.
The week before that I reported that Etsy laid off 225 employees, or around 11% of its staff, in an attempt to cut costs as it deals with “very challenging “economic headwinds.
What are your thoughts on Etsy?
Has it changed for the better or worse since its IPO?
What do you predict will happen with Etsy in the future?
Hit reply and share your thoughts or drop a comment on my LinkedIn post.
4. Logo trends of 2024
2023 saw a range of logo trends, from wide wordmarks to flowing psychedelia to clever use of negative space, but what should we expect in 2024?
Wix predicted nine logo trends to look out for in the year ahead, which I'll recap below.
- Art deco from the 1920s with its bold geometric forms, luxe aesthetics and timeless appeal, is set to make a comeback, signaling a drive towards reinvention. The urge for differentiation in a saturated digital landscape is pushing businesses to explore unconventional design routes and logo shapes.
- Organic and sustainable logos that blend the beauty of nature into their designs, adopting earthy tones that evoke a sense of serenity and eco-consciousness. Brands will attempt to build a connection with consumers who seek eco-friendly products by creating a visual narrative that intertwines natural beauty with their sustainability values.
- Nostalgia but with a twist such as neon colors from the '80s, grunge of the '90s, or the futuristic optimism of Y2K. Nostalgic logos can help highlight old traditions, reinforce heritage, and bring back positive sentiments from the good ol' days.
- Bright, bold and colorful logos that create a contrast against both light and dark backgrounds. Vivid colors will set logos apart whether appearing in digital or print.
- Hybrid logos are on the rise, combining intricate design elements, diverse fonts and bold color combinations to create logos with depth and richness, such as layered letter logos, subtle transparency effects, and contours.
- Less is (still) more when it comes to logo design. Minimalism isn't going anywhere. Clean and simple logos will continue.
- Typographic logos will remain popular, but with a focus on lowercase lettering. When the start of a word is in lowercase, our minds are more likely to remember the word as a whole, rather than just the beginning letter.
- Illustrative typography involving letters to make more complex or detailed shapes is another trend. For example, a company changing the letter “o” in their name to look like a tire or piece of equipment.
- Lastly Wix predicts that logos will be intentionally flawed in 2024, such as in the form of hand drawings. Broken and distorted fonts are also in the rise, as are DIY punk aesthetics, signifying an increasing focus on individuality.
I asked ChatGPT to create a new logo for Shopifreaks based on the above design trends, and for some reason it came up with this:
I think I'll stick with my existing logo for now…
5. Internet business growth is slowing
Internet-based businesses have grown strongly for most of the past two decades, with some sectors experiencing double-digit growth year after year. But now Bernstein Research says we may be entering a new lower-growth phase.
Analysts looked at growth rates for four of the largest Internet sectors including: 1) digital advertising, 2) e-commerce, 3) cloud computing, and 4) ridesharing and delivery, and here's what they found:
- The expected growth rates for these sectors in 2024 are roughly half the pace of 2019.
- In e-commerce, market penetration is now over 20%, excluding food, auto sales, and gas. If the sector tops out at 30-40% of total retail, that means it's already halfway there.
- E-commerce businesses are entering a transition period from new user adoption to retention and re-engagement.
- Consumers are tiring of the core Internet services they've relied on for the past decade and are leaning towards new apps to hit the market.
- Some companies, like Meta and Alphabet, have changed their names and mission statements in the past few years chasing new tech fads such as web3 and the metaverse “with an intensity bordering on desperation.”
- When there's less growth, Big Tech starts to look around at adjacent markets to break into each other's turfs.
- Everyone is chasing generative AI as the next big tech platform opportunity, but they can't all win.
- While percentage growth rates are low, there are more dollars of revenue being added. However, the massive valuations of Big Tech companies are partly supported by expectations of strong future growth, in percentage terms not just dollars.
The “Magnificent Seven” stocks — Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Meta Platforms, and Tesla — account for almost two-thirds of the S&P 500's total return over the last year.
If growth in these sectors slow, and Big Tech stocks take a hit as a result, it might not be the best looking market in 2024.
6. Flipkart co-founder launches OppDoor
Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal launched a new B2B startup called OppDoor to help emerging e-commerce brands expand globally.
Bansal parted ways with Flipkart following its acquisition by Walmart in 2018, personally walking away with over $1B, and this is his first venture since leaving the company.
What is OppDoor?
According to the website of OppDoor, it is a “managed services platform for global expansion” designed to help e-commerce brands by offering them end-to-end services on global markets, customer behavior, taxation and compliance, partnerships and third-party vendors.
OppDoor will provide services related to design, product, human resource, and other backend support to companies looking to expand their businesses to other regions by leveraging network platforms like Amazon and other marketplaces.
What's interesting is that despite Bansal's history with Walmart, the website focuses on launching US Amazon brands into international markets.
The start-up is registered in Singapore, originally called Three State Ventures (the name of Bansal's venture fund), but has now been named OppDoor.
The company currently has presence in 8 countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, the UK, and the US.
7. The legal industry that popped up around Amazon Sellers
Merchants who have been suspended from selling goods on Amazon are turning to specialty lawyers to regain access to their accounts and money, spawning a new niche in the legal industry that caters exclusively to Amazon sellers.
Four e-commerce-focused law firms told the Financial Times that the majority of the cases they took on were complaints brought by aggrieved US Amazon sellers, with each handling hundreds or thousands of cases every year.
Good for lawyers, bad for sellers.
Why should sellers need high priced attorneys to navigate account issues on Amazon? Shouldn't Amazon be transparent with their sellers about why their accounts have been terminated and funds locked, and provide tools for them to resolve issues?
Critics have said that the existence of a growing army of lawyers and consultants to deal with the fallout from Amazon’s actions point to a problem with the way the company treats its sellers. I'd agree with that critique.
Marianne Rowden, chief executive of the E-Merchants Trade Council, said, “If you’re operating a business where the people you’re deriving revenue from feel that they’re being treated in an arbitrary way without due process, that is a problem.”
Sellers on Amazon's marketplace account for more than 60% of its sales, and Amazon records over $100B in commissions each year paid by sellers.
Amazon typically withholds any money in the account of a suspended seller, which it may keep permanently if the account is not reinstated.
More often than not, however, without legal representation, accounts are never reinstated, as Amazon provides sellers very minimal tools to obtain information about why their account was suspended in the first place, make an appeal, or get reinstated.
Lawyers who specialize in Amazon account reinstatement charge thousands of dollar per case and often steer merchants through a costly arbitration process that Amazon requires US sellers to use for most issues, rather than filing lawsuits against it. The forced arbitration can cost sellers hundreds of dollars an hour for arbitrators.
Leo Vaisburg, who left firm Wilson Elser in 2022 to pursue Amazon-related work full time, said, “Quickly, you’re at $25,000 of costs or more.” and that, “Very few cases are worth that kind of money”, especially for small businesses.
8. MVNOs are having a moment
Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs, are on the rise. Brands are becoming MVNOs to build direct relationships with their customers and create recurring revenue streams. Is an MVNO right for your brand?
First, what exactly is a MVNO?
MVNOs are wireless service providers that don't own the wireless network infrastructure they utilize. Instead, MVNOs tap into existing network providers to offer a service on top of a service.
Four recent examples:
- Mint Mobile, the budget wireless service backed by Ryan Reynolds, built an entire mobile service on top of T-Mobile's network, and later sold to T-Mobile for $1.35B.
- Humane, the AI wearable pin backed by Sam Altman, launched a device with a $24/month subscription also on T-Mobile's network.
- Uber launched a MVNO in Mexico last year called Uber Cel, making it cheaper for drivers to access services needed to do their job by offering unlimited access to the Uber app, Google Maps or Waze.
- Zolve, an Indian neobank that helps immigrants set up banking before they arrive in the US, entered the MVNO market last year to help address hurdles that immigrants face such as getting a mobile phone plan.
MVNOs aren't new.
They've been around since the '90s, Virgin Mobile being the first. Today there's an estimated 2,000 MVNOs across 90 countries, with hundreds more to launch.
Google has operated an MVNO — Google Fi — for eight years, but it had the resources to negotiate partnerships and develop much of the needed software in-house.
Smaller entities who don't have that Google-budget and influence can leverage Mobile Virtual Network Enablers, or MVNEs, which serve as a bridge between the MVNO and the carrier, taking care of infrastructure such as SIM card provisioning, billing, user management, customer support, and even front-end consumer apps. Humane, for example, is working with an MVNE partner called Optiva.
There's never been an easier or more affordable way to launch your own MVNO and generate revenue from your company's own hardware or service.
Is your company missing out on revenue by not launching an MVNO? How can your company leverage the technology? Hit reply and let me know.
9. Other e-commerce news of interest
A limited edition pink Stanley tumbler has got customers lining up outside Target and spending the night like it's a new iPhone release. The Cosmo Pink stainless steel tumbler was released on Dec 31st as part of Target's “Galentine's Collection”, and quickly sold out in stores and online, as did their Starbucks collaboration cup. The Stanley brand has been around for over 100 years but recently popped off after finding success with viral TikTok videos.
PYMNTS predicts that 2024 may be the year that third-party aggregators like Instacart, DoorDash, and Uber Eats take over the grocery industry. For grocers that do not have the resources to build out their own e-grocery infrastructures, aggregators present a path to meet the rising digital demand.
Parts ID Inc, an e-commerce retailer that sells automotive parts through various websites, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is moving forward with plans to restructure and reduce debt. The company went public in 2020 through a SPAC, but says that recent economic conditions have impacted spending on automotive parts and accessories. I call BS on that one! If anything, people have been spending more money on car parts in recent years, repairing instead of replacing their vehicles, as the price of new and used cars skyrocketed since the pandemic. This bankruptcy screams mismanagement.
Amazon is recruiting 50 full-time employees and one seasonal recruit in South Africa (that poor solo seasonal worker), ahead of its e-commerce launch this year. Positions advertised include service lead, a B-BBEE senior program manager, a transportation and fulfillment manager, and various roles within vendor and supply chain management.
Faire updated its 0% commission policy to be more clear on how relationships qualify for the zero commission status when a seller brings their existing clients onto the platform. Among other changes, they extended the time frame for ordering customers to qualify for a commission change from two to four years, and created new tools for vendors to capture retailers in person at 0% commission.
The IRS is rolling out a free option for filing federal tax returns this year to some low and moderate-income taxpayers with simple returns.The new direct file service will initially be available in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington State, and Wyoming.
Puck, a US digital media company founded in 2021 that covers Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street, hired Sarah Personette, who quit as Twitter's head of ad sales after Elon Musk bought the company, as their new CEO. The role has been vacant since the exit of Puck co-founder Joe Purzycki in May 2023.
American consumers spent $222.1B online between Nov 1 and Dec 31st last year, a 4.9% increase over 2022, according to new data from Adobe. More than half of that spending happened in November, thanks to a strong Cyber Week, during which shoppers spent $38B. BNPL contributed $16.6B to online spending (up 14%), and mobile shopping outpaced desktop sales for the first year, accounting for 51.1% of sales.
Amazon played a huge role in those online sales numbers this year. In the two weeks leading up to the holidays, Amazon garnered 29% of global volume of online orders, up from 21% during Thanksgiving week.
X rolled out a new $200/month Basic plan for organizations interested in verifying their account with the gold checkmark badge, but who aren't looking to spend $1,000/month for the Full Access plan. In addition to the gold checkmark, the Basic plan includes ad credits, priority support, access to X's hiring platform to post job openings, as well as all the benefits of X Premium+, which is the $8/month subscription for non-organization users. I'll take neither for $0, Elon.
To the surprise of local officials, Walmart decided to put a stop to its plan to open a $100M distribution center in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Canada, which was supposed to be a state of the art delivery hub for online orders in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Walmart said that instead of moving forward with the center, it has decided to accelerate upgrades to their existing network to unlock more omni capabilities to better serve the needs of Quebec customers.
The volume of people in the US cancelling their subscriptions to streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Paramount+, Peacock, and Starz rose to 6.3% in November 2023 from 5.1% a year earlier. 24% of US subscribers canceled at least three of those subscriptions over the past two years, as of November, up 15% from Nov 2021.
Ulta Beauty is refreshing its loyalty program, which has over 42M active members. Its expanded program will launch in January with a new name, Ulta Beauty Rewards, new look and feel, and enhanced birthday gift experience. It also plans to raise loyalty program awareness and engagement through in-store and online initiatives.
Roku is launching a new series of TVs in the US this spring, as well as a new set of AI powered features to all of its TVs. The feature will use AI and machine learning to analyze data from content partners to identify what kind of content is on screen and then automatically adjust the picture for an optimized viewing experience. Will that optimized viewing experience include click-to-purchase ads? LOL.
A senior developer at AWS disclosed in a blog post that he's been “silently sacked” from Amazon, which means stripped of duties and put into a position without defined tasks, with the hopes that the he'll eventually quit so that the company doesn't have to pay severance. (I swear there was an episode of Silicon Valley about that.) Justin Garrison said that AWS teams were lean before 2023, but now they’re emaciated, and to expect a major AWS outage in 2024.
New domain name registrations plummeted by almost 25% since Squarespace acquired Google Domains last September. In August, Google Domains and Squarespace registered a combined 250,324 domains, but in September, they registered just 189,713 new .com domains. Squarespace raising the price of registration from $12 to $20 probably didn't help.
22% of BNPL users in the UK have missed one or more repayments in the past six months, facing late fees and negatively impacting their credit scores, according to a study by the Centre for Financial Capability. A fifth of those users admitted that they were uncertain about the late policies of the lender or the impact on their credit score for falling behind on payments.
UPDATE: Last week I reported that Shopify is rolling out a personal news feed feature that enables users to follow authors and topics they're interested in, as well as tools to encourage users to subscribe to newsletters and monitor and track stocks. However I noted that I could not find any additional sources on that story and asked if you had any insights. I also later reached out to a contact at Shopify who informed me that the story was FALSE. The products that are referenced in the BNN article – personal news reader and financial tracker tool – are not products offered by Shopify. So that ends that rumor.
10. Seed rounds, IPOs, & acquisitions
Perplexity, a San Francisco-based AI search engine with 10M active users that describes itself as “part chatbot and part search engine, offering real-time information and footnotes showing the sources of its answers,” raised $73.6M in a round led by IVP with participation from Jeff Bezos, Nvidia, and Tobias Lütke at a $520M valuation. Perplexity CEO Avarind Srinivas, a former OpenAI researcher, told Reuters, “Google is going to be viewed as something that's legacy and old. Perplexity will be viewed as something that's the next generation and future.” — See my LinkedIn post about Perplexity.
Mobikwik, an Indian digital wallet and payments startup, is seeking to raise $84.2M via an IPO. This is the second time the company has filed paperwork for an IPO, initially seeking to raise $250M in 2021, but it deterred the plans after market conditions worsened.
Exponent Founders Capital, an early-stage venture firm founded by alumni of Plaid, Robinhood and Ramp, raised $75M, which it'll focus on enterprise SaaS, fintech, infrastructure and go to market software companies. The firm previously raised $50M for its first fund in November 2021 and has already seen some exits including Tactic being sold to TaxBit earlier this year.
DG International, a logistics group that offers freight forwarding services, is merging with Pro Carrier, its e-commerce specialist arm that specializes in cross-border fulfillment. The two companies will move forward under the Pro Carrier name.
Agua Security, an Israeli cybersecurity firm that helps companies protect their cloud services, raised $60M in a Series E extension round led by Evolution Equity Partners at a more than $1B valuation, bringing its total amount raised to $325M. The company will use the funds to continue growing its platform which offers services spanning cloud workload protection, security posture management, software supply chain security, malware protection, and more.
Diadem Capital, a NY-based fundraising platform that calls itself a “warm introduction network”, raised $600k in a pre-seed round led by Launch NY. The company will use the funds to grow its company, investor, and lending matching program, which currently boasts over 100 lenders and 800 venture capitalists on its platform
Bumper, a UK-based payment platform for car dealerships that offers a BNPL option for car repair bills, raised $18M in equity and $30M in debt in a Series B round led by Autotech Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to $64M. The company will use the funds to expand its BNPL platform in the UK, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland.
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See you next Monday,
PS: I opened a fortune cookie, but it didn't have a fortune inside. It was unfortunate.