17 October 2022
Funded: Fashion dropshipping, web3 shopping, sorting robots
In this week's Dealboard, acquisitions in resale marketplaces, clean beauty and ecommerce software.
In this week's Dealboard, acquisitions in resale marketplaces, clean beauty and ecommerce software.
Welcome to Dealboard. Every week, The Current is providing a look at the mergers, acquisitions and venture capital deals making waves in ecommerce, CPG and retail.
You might’ve already seen this week’s massive M&A news: Kroger is set to acquire Albertsons in a $24.6 billion deal that will bring together the #2 and #4 US grocers. It was such big news that we’ve already covered it (twice, in fact).
However, there are plenty more intriguing developments in ecommerce venture capital and M&A that have crossed our path since, from startups building new models around dropshipping and web3 to a pair of clean beauty luminaries joining forces.
Take a look at the the latest:
Trendsi, the startup behind a popular Shopify fashion dropshipping app, raised $25 million in Series A funding, the company announced in a blog post.
Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round, with participation from Basis Set Ventures, Footwork VC, Peterson Ventures, Sierra Ventures and Liquid 2 Ventures. A group of founders and operators that participated included Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, former Stitch Fix COO Mike Smith, Zola CEO Shan-Lyn Ma, Logitech CEO Bracken Barrell, former Yelp COO Geoff Donaker, former Instacart President Nilam Ganenthiran and Joe Mantana, among others.
Trendsi helps small businesses stand up a fashion ecommerce operation, providing what it says is on-trend inventory to stock stores and supply chain solutions. With a model that is designed to share risk among retailers, Trendsi and manufacturers, the company said it is looking to work with both up-and-coming businesses, as well as established brands.
It is seeking to help brands manage inventory and supply chain risks at a time of rising costs. Trensi partners with brands such as Judy Blue, Sew in Love, White Birch, Kancan Jeans, Hyfve, POL, Zenana, Andree by Unit.
“The partnerships focus on clearing excess inventory for the wholesalers, and broadening the customer base from retailers who can afford to buy bulk inventory, to those who need lower barrier entry to list these designer brands,” the company’s post notes.
Founded two years ago, the company has grown to 105 employees, and is expected to reach 120 by the end of the year. It was spearheaded by CEO Ella Zhang, with cofounders Sherwin Xia, Maddie Davidson, Owen Ma and Wayne Chen. These leaders bring experience from Alibaba, SHEIN, Rakuten, JD and more.
Going forward, Trendsi is looking to expand in categories such as home decor, accessories and beauty. It is also investing in AI-powered technology in areas such as inventory, sales forecasting and unique product curation.
Rye, a web3 shopping platform spearheaded by former Reddit engineer and entrepreneur Arjun Bhargava, raised $14 million in seed funding.
The crypto arm of A16z led the round, with support from the Silicon Valley fund’s cultural leadership fund, and participation from Solana Ventures, GOAT Capital, L Catterton, Electric Ant, Electric Feel Ventures, Andre Iguodala, Javale McGee and James Beshara.
In a blog post, Bhargava detailed 2021 discussions that became the origin of the company with entrepreneurs and cofounders such as Jamie Quint (former Notion Head of Growth) Justin Kan (Twitch), Tikhon Bernstam (Scribd, Parse) and Robin Chan (Operator, Zynga early employee).
The crux is this:
After weeks of researching the market and talking to brands and sellers, my co-founders and I started to sketch together what the future of eCommerce should look like: an open and free network that could hold the collection of all products — where any brand can plug in their inventory, and any seller could pull from. This network should allow sellers to spin up an eCommerce experience in minutes, similar to how Stripe enabled payments in minutes.
Most importantly, it should also be a utility: no central entity should control the network, and it should evolve with the needs of both the merchants and sellers.
The team built an ecommerce API that includes a one-click programmatic checkout, an inventory of Shopify and Amazon product data and connections to affiliate networks that allow developers and publishers to earn rewards.
Looking ahead, Bhargava wrote that the roadmap includes “a unified checkout experience where shoppers can pay for items from different stores all in one cart. We’ll then bring in the web3 components that will eventually be at the heart of the network: email-based wallet creation for shoppers, developers and merchants that will unlock things like USDC cash-back rewards, NFT drops and coupons, and faster shopping reward systems. Finally, we’ll enable merchants to directly connect to the Rye API, which will unlock faster product data and an instant checkout experience.”
The team wants to eventually make the Rye API fully decentralized, built on the Solana blockchain.
With the funding in hand, it is hiring for product and engineering teams to build this out.
Ambi Robotics, which makes AI-powered parcel sorting systems, announced that it raised $32 million in new funding.
The round included participation from existing investors Tiger Global and Bow Capital, as well as Ahren and shipping company Pitney Bowes, which already has a $23 million deployment expansion deal in place with the company to provide robotics for ecommerce fulfillment centers.
The company describes its robots as “full stack sorting solutions,” which perform picking, item analysis and quality control. They are also outfitted with effector devices that are designed to handle boxes, flats, polybags, and other deformable or rigid items. With robots working alongside human employees, the company deploys software called Sim2Real, which teaches the machines to pick and pack millions of unique items.
Ambi will use the funding for additional deployments to meet demand ahead of the holidays and 2023. It says it is completing more than 80 installations. The company will also expand its product portfolio and grow its team in areas including engineering, customer support, operations and supply chain.
VC giant SoftBank sold its stake in British ecommerce group THG to Qatar Investment Authority and THG cofounder Matthew Moulding, according to a regulatory filing. The stake, which was formally held by trading vehicle SB Northstar, was worth £500 million, at the time of initial investment, Bloomberg reported, but had fallen to £36 million as the company's share price dropped. THG sells cosmetics, dietary supplements and luxury goods. SoftBank, which built a reputation by making big investments in companies like Slack and WeWork, invested $1.6 billion into THG as the company planned to build a tech platform called Ingenuity, and gained a 10% stake.
"We at THG extend our thanks to Softbank for their support as a financial and commercial partner, and we will continue to benefit from the relationships formed across their international technology portfolio," Moulding said in a statement.
GOAT Group, which oversees ecommerce platforms for sneakers, apparel and accessories, is set to acquire Grailed, a resale marketplace for men’s streetwear, luxury and vintage fashion.
GOAT Group was originally known as a sneaker platform, then launched apparel and accessories in 2019. Order volume more than doubled in these segments in the last year, the company said. The acquisition of Grailed, which was founded in 2013, will further bolster these areas, the company said. Together, the companies will have over 50 million members across 170 countries.
"With its uncompromising brand identity, GOAT Group is the perfect complement to Grailed's cutting-edge community of fashion enthusiasts," said Arun Gupta, coounder and CEO of Grailed, in a statement. "GOAT Group stands out in the industry as the right partner to help make fashion more accessible to the global style community."
The acquisition follows an investment from GOAT Group that led a $60 million Series B for Grailed in 2021.
Terms of the acquisition, which is subject to customary closing conditions, were not disclosed, but the companies said it was a cash and stock deal.
Clean beauty pioneers are joining forces. Credo Beauty announced the acquisition of Follain, a Boston-based business that operates an ecommerce and brick-and-mortar storefront in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Follain’s skincare line will become part of Credo’s owned brand portfolio, which currently consists of the inclusive makeup brand Exa and the mineral sunscreen collection EleVen by Venus Williams.
The brand’s operation joins a Credo business that includes ecommerce and 10 stores, with another retail location set to open in Los Angeles.
Credo and Follain were founded in close vicinity – Follain in 2013, and Credo in 2014.
"Since inception, Credo and Follain have been on a parallel path, whether related to clean beauty leadership, affecting positive change in the industry or providing a platform for a brand community that is dedicated to conscientious brand creation," said Credo cofounder Annie Jackson, in a statement. "This is an important milestone that furthers our commitment to the health of people and the planet."
Follain founder and CEO Tara Foley will continue as an advisor in the months following the acquisition, then work in consulting with beauty and CPG brands.
SmartCommerce, a provider of AI-assisted SaaS tools for CPG brands, acquired a pair of companies in recent weeks: Myxx Solutions, a provider of ecommerce solutions based around recipes, and Basketful, a provider of in-context ecommerce optimization tools and data-driven insights.
SmartCommerce’s platform, called Click2Cart, enables shoppers to save or add products to a cart from a variety of digital touchpoints, such as ads, social media, emails, and websites. It is connected with over 1,000 retailers. It also takes in data from millions of SKUs, including product availability, location and pricing. In turn, this data powers software solutions for brands. The company was founded by former leaders of Channel Intelligence, which was acquired by Google in 2013. It is backed by growth equity firm Argentum.
With Basketful, SmartCommerce will add reach and visibility tools for marketing.
“Basketful’s mission has always been to make it easier for consumers to find and buy the things they need. Our tools combined with SmartCommerce’s broad reach and deep data capabilities will accelerate fulfillment of that mission,” said Eugene Burd, cofounder of Basketful, in a statement.
Myxx is a platform that connects brands and retailers to consumers through shoppable recipes and personalization technology. It also provides insights that are designed to increase relevance, revenue and reach. The functionality can also be applied to anything that can be bought as a package, including DIY kits, cleaning bundles, outfits and beauty regimens, the companies noted. Myxx CEO Dede Houston will join SmartCommerce with the deal.
“We’re incredibly excited about how Basketful and Myxx technologies extend SmartCommerce capabilities to help our client brands unlock massive short and long-term growth opportunities in this increasingly consumer-centric marketplace,” said SmartCommerce CEO Jennifer Silverberg, in a statement.
Terms of the two deals were not disclosed.
The retailer's marketplace is expanding quickly.
When it comes to ecommerce growth, was the pandemic a blip or a new trendsetter?
As we move further from the height of COVID-related closures, it’s a question that will start to be answered through the lens of history.
So far, the narrative of ecommerce growth in the U.S. from 2019-2022 has gone like this: Ecommerce’s share of overall retail saw a huge spike at the height of the pandemic in 2020-21, when goods in general were in demand and online shopping was necessary to preserve health and safety. Experts looked out and saw a permanent exponential change in the penetration of ecommerce as a share of retail that would last beyond the pandemic. Then, in 2022, everyone went back to stores and the trendline came back to 2019 levels. Growth was no longer exponential. There was still growth, but it was not happening as fast as during the pandemic period.
With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that 2023 is the first year that there likely won’t be a pandemic-influenced swing to influence ecommerce growth. It is also a year where demand has suffered challenges amid inflation and interest rate hikes.
So as we seek to determine the importance of ecommerce to overall retail, it’s worth it to continue taking a close look at what growth trends retailers are seeing now, whether ecommerce is remaining resilient amid consumer pullback and how retailers are preparing for the future.
The latest example arrived this week from Macy’s. It’s a fitting one for the times. Overall, Macy’s is seeing a slowdown as consumers pull back on discretionary purchases, with sales declining 7% in the first quarter versus the same quarter of 2022. Digital sales were down 8%.
Macy’s is particularly susceptible to the macroeconomic headwinds that many brands and retailers are facing, as spending among the middle-income consumers it counts as a primary customer base is particularly softening, said GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders.
But while ecommerce is slowing overall, the importance it gained to Macy’s business during the pandemic is remaining in place.
In 2019, ecommerce made up 25% of Macy’s revenue, CEO Jeff Gennette told analysts on the company’s earnings call. That jumped to a high of 44% in 2020. By 2022, digital reached 33% of sales after the pandemic boom. In the first quarter of 2023, it remained at 33%. So, while the trend line dipped after shoppers returned to stores, ecommerce share still settled in at a higher post-lockdown point than it was before the pandemic.
This came in a quarter in which traffic was “relatively good” across both online and in-store, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said. It was “flattish” online, and slightly up in stores.
“We do expect that this is the reset year with the penetration between them,” Gennette said. “But we do expect more aggressive growth in digital in the future versus stores as we think about '24 and beyond. And that's going to be foisted by a lot of ideas and strategies.
Over the last year, the retailer has made investments in boosting ecommerce, even as shoppers returned to stores. In a bid to boost the assortment of goods available online, Macy’s launched a marketplace in September 2022 that welcomes goods from third-party sellers.
The marketplace had an “outstanding” first quarter, said Macy’s President Tony Spring, who is poised to succeed Gennette as CEO next year. Gross merchandise value increased over 50% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2022, while the average order value and units per order for marketplace customers was 50% above those not shopping at the marketplace.
Macy’s is continuing to build the marketplace even as it racks up sales. The retailer added 450 brands, ending the quarter with 950 brands.
This is helping to draw in new customers, as well as younger existing customers who are buying more items, resulting in increased basket size.
“We're very excited as to how marketplace is really attracting the Gen Z customer, particularly in categories where it was not economically feasible for us to carry in the past,” Gennette said.
In the end, Gennette said a strong digital and social presence is key to attracting younger consumers. That's a different type of shopper than other age groups.
“We know the younger customer starts first online,” Gennette said. That behavior will still be in place as the generation gets older, and gains more buying power in the process.
Going forward, Macy’s is seeking to expand the model to other retail banners in its portfolio. Bloomingdale’s will open a marketplace in the early fall.
The Macy’s ecommerce trajectory isn’t that different from the wider U.S. ecommerce narrative detailed above. With one quarter of 2023 data, there is evidence that ecommerce share settled out at a higher point after the pandemic than where it started before COVID arrived. There is flattening now, but the retailer is taking it not as a sign of a slowdown, or a signal to change course. Rather, it sees changing consumer behavior as a reason to build for the future.