Google’s Collections feature now pushes people to save recipes & products, using AI

Google is giving an AI upgrade to its Collections feature — basically, Google’s own take on Pinterest, but built into Google Search. Originally a name given to organizing images, the Collections feature that launched in 2018 let you save for later perusal any type of search result — images, bookmarks or map locations — into groups called “Collections.” Starting today, Google will make suggestions about items you can add to Collections based on your Search history across specific activities like cooking, shopping or hobbies.

The idea here is that people often use Google for research but don’t remember to save web pages for easy retrieval. That leads users to dig through their Google Search History in an effort to find the lost page. Google believes that AI smarts can improve the process by helping users build reference collections by starting the process for them.

Here’s how it works. After you’ve visited pages on Google Search in the Google app or on the mobile web, Google will group together similar pages related to things like cooking, shopping and hobbies, then prompt you to save them to suggested Collections.

For example, after an evening of scouring the web for recipes, Google may share a suggested Collection with you titled “Dinner Party,” which is auto-populated with relevant pages from your Search history. You can uncheck any recipes that don’t belong and rename the collection from “Dinner Party” to something else of your choosing, if you want. You then tap the “Create” button to turn this selection from your Search history into a Collection.

These Collections can be found later in the Collections tab in the Google app or through the Google.com side menu on the mobile web. There is an option to turn off this feature in Settings, but it’s enabled by default.

The Pinterest-like feature aims to keep Google users from venturing off Google sites to other places where they can save and organize things they’re interested in — whether that’s a list of recipes they want to add to a pinboard on Pinterest or a list of clothing they want to add to a wish list on Amazon. In particular, retaining e-commerce shoppers from leaving Google for Amazon is something the company is heavily focused on these days. The company recently rolled out a big revamp of its Google Shopping vertical, and just this month launched a way to shop directly from search results.

The issue with sites like Pinterest is that they’re capturing shoppers at an earlier stage in the buying process — during the information-gathering and inspiration-seeking research stage, that is. By saving links to Pinterest’s pinboards, shoppers ready to make a purchase are bypassing Google (and its advertisers) to check out directly with retailers.

Meanwhile, Google is simultaneously losing traffic to Amazon, which now surpasses Google for product searches. Even Instagram, of all places, has become a rival, as it’s now a place to shop. The app’s Shopping feature is funneling users right from its visual ads to a checkout page in the app. PayPal, catching wind of this trend, recently spent $4 billion to buy Honey in order to capture shoppers earlier in their journey.

For users, Google Collections is just about encouraging you to put your searches into groups for later access. But for Google, it’s also about getting people to shop on Google and stay on Google, no matter what they’re researching. Suggested Collections may lure you in as an easy way to organize recipes, but ultimately this feature will be about getting users to develop a habit of saving their searches to Google — and particularly their product searches.

Once you have a Collection set up, Google can point you to other related items, including websites, images  and more. Most importantly, this will serve as a new way to get users to perform more product searches, too, as it can send users to other product pages without the user having to type in an explicit search query.

The update also comes with an often-requested collaboration feature, which means you can now share a collection with others for either viewing or editing.

Sharing and related content suggestions are live worldwide.

The AI-powered suggested collections are live in the U.S. for English users starting today and will reach more markets in time.

Glovo exits the Middle East and drops two LatAm markets in latest food delivery crunch

The new year isn’t even a month old and the food delivery crunch is already taking big bites. Spain’s Glovo has today announced it’s exiting four markets — which it says is part of a goal of pushing for profitability by 2021.

Also today, Uber confirmed rumors late last year by announcing it’s offloading its Indian Eats business to local rival Zomato — which will see it take a 9.99% stake in the Indian startup.

In other recent news Latin America focused on-demand delivery app Rappi announced 6% staff layoffs.

On-demand food delivery apps may be great at filling the bellies of hungry consumers fast but startups in this space have yet to figure out how to deliver push-button convenience without haemorrhaging money at scale.

So the question even some investors are asking is how they can make their model profitable?

Middle East exit

The four markets Glovo is leaving are Turkey, Egypt, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.

The exits mean its app footprint is shrinking to 22 markets, still with a focus on South America, South West Europe, and Eastern Europe and Africa.

Interestingly, Glovo is here essentially saying goodbye to the Middle East — despite its recent late stage financing round being led by Abu Dhabi state investment company, Mubadala. (It told us last month that regional expansion was not part of Mubadala’s investment thesis.)

Commenting on the exits in a statement, Glovo co-founder and CEO, Oscar Pierre, said: “This has been a very tough decision to take but our strategy has always been to focus on markets where we can grow and establish ourselves among the top two delivery players while providing a first-class user experience and value for our Glovers, customers and partners.”

Last month Pierre told us the Middle East looks too competitive for Glovo to expand further.

In the event it’s opted for a full exit — given both Egypt and Turkey are being dropped (despite the latter being touted as one of Glovo’s fastest growing markets just over a year ago, at the time of its Series D).

“Leaving these four markets will help us to further strengthen our leadership position in South West and Eastern Europe, LatAm and other African markets, and reach our profitability targets by early 2021,” Pierre added.

Glovo said its app will continue to function in the four markets “for a few weeks” after today — adding that it’s offering “support and advice to couriers, customers and partners throughout this transition”.

“I want to place on record our thanks to all of our Glovers, customers and partners in the markets from which we’re withdrawing for their hard work, dedication, commitment and ongoing support,” Pierre added.

The exits sum to Glovo withdrawing from eight out of a total 306 cities.

It also said the eight cities collectively generated 1.7% of its gross sales in 2019 — so it’s signalling the move doesn’t amount to a major revenue hit.

The startup disclosed a $166M Series E raise last month — which pushed the business past a unicorn valuation. Pierre told us then that the new financing would be used to achieve profitability “as early as 2021”, foreshadowing today’s announcement of a clutch of market exits.

Glovo has said its goal is to become the leading or second delivery platform in all the markets where it operates — underlining the challenges of turning a profit in such a hyper competitive, thin margin space which also involves major logistical complexities with so many moving parts (and people) involved in each transaction.

As food delivery players reconfigure their regional footprints — via market exits and consolidation — better financed platforms will be hoping they’ll be left standing with a profitable business to shout about (and the chance to grow again by gobbling up less profitable rivals or else be consumed themselves). So something of a new race is on.

Back in November in an on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Uber Eats and Glovo discussed the challenges of turning a profit — with Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud telling us he expects further consolidation in the on-demand delivery space. (Though the pair claimed there had been no acquisition talks between Uber and Glovo.)

Michaud said then that Glovo is profitable on a per unit economics basis in “some countries” — but admitted it “varies a lot country by country”.

Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo, he also told us, confirming it generates operating profit there. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he predicted.

Glovo’s exit from Egypt actually marks the end of a second act in the market.

The startup first announced it was pulling the plug on Egypt in April 2019 — but returned last summer, at the behest of its investor Delivery Hero (a rival food delivery startup which has a stake in Glovo), according to Michaud’s explanation on stage.

However there was also an intervention by Egypt’s competition watchdog. And local press reported the watchdog had ordered Glovo to resume operations — accusing it and its investor of colluding to restrict competition in the market (Delivery Hero having previously acquired Egyptian food delivery rival, Otlob).

What the watchdog makes of today’s announcement of a final bow out could thus be an interesting wrinkle.

Asked about Egypt, a Glovo spokesperson told us: “Egypt has been a very complex market for us, we were sad to leave the first time and excited to return when we did so last summer. However, our strategy has always been to be among the top two delivery players in every market we enter and have a clear path to profitability. Unfortunately, in Egypt there is not a clear path to profitability.”

Whither profitability?

So what does a clear path to profitability in the on-demand delivery space look like?

Market maturity/density appears to be key, with Glovo only operating in one city apiece in the other two markets it’s leaving, Uruguay and Puerto Rico, for example — compared to hundreds across its best markets, Spain and Italy, where it says it’s operating out of the red.

This suggests that other markets in South America — where Glovo similarly has just a toe-hold, of a single or handful of cities, and less time on the ground, such as Honduras or Panama — could be vulnerable to further future exits as the company reconfigures to try to hit full profitability in just around a year’s time.

But there are likely lots of factors involved in making the unit economics stack up so it’s tricky to predict.

Food delivered on-demand makes up the majority of Glovo’s orders per market but its app also touts being able to deliver ‘anything’ — from groceries to pharmaceuticals to the house keys you left at home — which it claims as a differentiating factor vs rival food-delivery-only apps.

A degree of variety also looks to be a key ingredient in becoming a sustainable on-demand delivery business — as scale and cross selling appear to where the unit economics can work.

Groceries are certainly a growing focus for Glovo which has been investing in setting up networks of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience style groceries as well as ready-to-eat food — thereby expanding opportunities for cross-selling to its convenience-loving food junkies at the point of appetite-driven (but likely loss-making) lunch and dinner orders.

Last year Michaud told us that market “maturity” supports profitability. “At the end of the day the more orders we have the better the whole ecosystem works,” he said.

While Uber Eats’ general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Charity Safford, also pointed to “scale” as the secret sauce for still elusive profits.

“Where we start to see more and more trips happening this is definitely where we see the unit economics improving — so our job is really to figure out all of the use cases we can put into people’s hands to get that application used as much as possible,” she said.

It’s instructive that Uber is shifting towards a ‘superapp’ model — revealing its intent last year to fold previously separate lines of business, such as rides and Eats, into a single one-stop-shop app which it began rolling out last year. So it’s also able to deliver or serve an increasing number of things (and/or services).

The tech giant has also been testing subscription passes which combine access to a range of its offerings under one regular payment.

In some markets Glovo also has a ‘Prime’ monthly subscription, offering unlimited deliveries of anything its couriers can bike to your door, for a fixed monthly cost — which it launched back in 2018.

When it comes to the quest for on-demand profitability all roads seem to lead to trying to become the bit of Amazon’s business that Amazon hasn’t already built out and swiped.

Amazon partners with thousands of mom-and-pop stores in India

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in sharpening their algorithms prowess and intense focus on consumer delights. So now, Amazon is beginning to embrace them.

Amazon said on Saturday it has partnered with thousands of neighborhood stores — locally known as kirana stores — across India to use them as delivery points for goods.

The company said it’s a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. “It’s good for customers, and it helps the shop owners earn additional income,” tweeted Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos .

Bezos’ announcement today, as he concludes his fourth India trip, underscores just how vital neighborhood stores remain for shoppers in the country despite the world’s largest e-commerce giant’s major push into the country and an emergence of heavily backed ecosystem of shopping startups.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous (there are more than 10 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates), no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics is often better than most. E-commerce is still at an early stage in India, accounting for just 3% of total retail sales, according to industry estimates.

Walmart -owned Flipkart has also arrived at the same conclusion. Last month, it invested $30 million in four-year-old Bangalore-based startup ShadowFax, which works with neighborhood stores in 300 cities to use their real estate to store inventory, and utilize their large network of freelancers for the delivery.

Any alliance with neighborhood stores would come in handy to Amazon India and Flipkart as a new contender readies its e-commerce play. India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani late last month started signing up customers for a soft launch of JioMart in suburban Mumbai.

JioMart is a joint venture between Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which reshaped the country’s telecom market with ultra-cheap mobile data, and his Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retail chain with over 10,000 outlets in 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

The new venture is courting shopkeepers in many parts of India to use a handheld Jio terminal to help them better manage their inventory and order new stock from Reliance’s network of wholesalers. (Amazon, on its part, is slowly deepening its partnership with Future Retail, the second largest retailer in India.)

“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani said last year.

Today’s announcement marks what could easily be one of the most remarkable weeks for Amazon. Earlier this week, India’s anti-trust watchdog announced a probe into alleged predatory practices by Amazon India and Flipkart.

It was followed by Bezos’ arrival in India. At an event in New Delhi, he announced the company was investing a fresh $1 billion to its India operations and said it would work to help millions of small merchants come online for the first time.

Not far from the event venue, dozens of merchants assembled to protest the alleged anticompetitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart. On top of that, India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal chimed in on Amazon’s new investment to India, and said the investment was not a big favor to the nation. A day later, he backtracked on his comment.

On Friday, Amazon said it would create a million jobs in India by 2025, and ran a letter signed by Bezos on Amazon India website and app. Bezos had also sought to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a request that was not met.

Marijuana delivery giant Eaze may go up in smoke

The first cannabis startup to raise big money in Silicon Valley is in danger of burning out. TechCrunch has learned that pot delivery middleman Eaze has seen unannounced layoffs, and its depleted cash reserves threaten its ability to make payroll or settle its AWS bill. Eaze was forced to raise a bridge round to keep the lights on as it prepares to attempt major pivot to ‘touching the plant’ by selling its own marijuana brands through its own depots.

If Eaze fails, it could highlight serious growing pains amid the ‘green rush’ of startups into the marijuana business.

Eaze, the startup backed by some $166 million in funding that once positioned itself as the “Uber of pot” — a marketplace selling pot and other cannabis products from dispensaries and delivering it to customers — has recently closed a $15 million bridge round, according to multiple source. The fund was meant to keep the lights on as Eaze struggles to raise its next round of funding amid problems with making decent margins on its current business model, lawsuits, payment processing issues, and internal disorganization.

 

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company is low on cash. Sources tell us that the company, which laid off some 30 people last summer, is preparing another round of cuts in the meantime. The spokesperson refused to discuss personnel issues but noted that there have been layoffs at many late stage startups as investors want to see companies cut costs and become more efficient.

From what we understand, Eaze is currently trying to raise a $35 million Series D round according to its pitch deck. The $15 million bridge round came from unnamed current investors. (Previous backers of the company include 500 Startups, DCM Ventures, Slow Ventures, Great Oaks, FJ Labs, the Winklevoss brothers, and a number of others.) Originally, Eaze had tried to raise a $50 million Series D, but the investor that was looking at the deal, Athos Capital, is said to have walked away at the eleventh hour.

Eaze is going into the fundraising with an enterprise value of $388 million, according to company documents reviewed by TechCrunch. It’s not clear what valuation it’s aiming for in the next round.

An Eaze spokesperson declined to discuss fundraising efforts but told TechCrunch, “The company is going through a very important transition right now, moving to becoming a plant-touching company through acquisitions of former retail partners that will hopefully allow us to more efficiently run the business and continue to provide good service to customers.

Desperate to grow margins

The news comes as Eaze is hoping to pull off a “verticalization” pivot, moving beyond online storefront and delivery of third-party products (rolled joints, flower, vaping products and edibles) and into sourcing, branding and dispensing the product directly. Instead of just moving other company’s marijuana brands between third-party dispensaries and customers, it wants to sell its own in-house brands through its own delivery depots to earn a higher margin. With a number of other cannabis companies struggling, the hope is that it will be able to acquire brands in areas like marijuana flower, pre-rolled joints, vaporizer cartridges, or edibles at low prices.

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company plans to announce the pivot in the coming days, telling TechCrunch that it’s “a pretty significant change from provider of services to operating in that fashion but also operating a depot directly ourselves.”

The startup is already making moves in this direction, and is in the process of acquiring some of the assets of a bankrupt cannabis business out of Canada called Dionymed — which had initially been a partner of Eaze’s, then became a competitor, and then sued it over payment disputes, before finally selling part of its business. These assets are said to include Oakland dispensary Hometown Heart, which it acquired in an all-share transaction (“Eaze effectively bought the lawsuit,” is how one source described the sale). This will become Eaze’s first owned delivery depot.

In a recent presentation deck that Eaze has been using when pitching to investors — which has been obtained by TechCrunch — the company describes itself as the largest direct-to-consumer cannabis retailer in California. It has completed more than 5 million deliveries, served 600,000 customers and tallied up an average transaction value of $85. 

To date, Eaze has only expanded to one other state beyond California, Oregon. Its aim is to add five more states this year, and another three in 2021. But the company appears to have expected more states to legalize recreational marijuana sooner, which would have provided geographic expansion. Eaze seems to have overextended itself too early in hopes of capturing market share as soon as it became available.

An employee at the company tells us that on a good day Eaze can bring in between $800,000 and $1 million in net revenue, which sounds great, except that this is total merchandise value, before any cuts to suppliers and others are made. Eaze makes only a fraction of that amount, one reason why it’s now looking to verticatlize into more of a primary role in the ecosystem. And that’s before considering all of the costs associated with running the business. 

Eaze is suffering from a problem rampant in the marijuana industry: a lack of working capital. Since banks often won’t issue working capital loans to weed-related business, deliverers like Eaze can experience delays in paying back vendors. A source says late payments have pushed some brands to stop selling through Eaze.

Another drain on its finances have been its marketing efforts. A source said out-of-home ads (billboards and the like) allegedly were a significant expense at one point. It has to compete with other pot purchasing options like visiting retail stores in person, using dispensaries’ in-house delivery services, or buying via startups like Meadow that act as aggregated online points of sale for multiple dispensaries.

Indeed, Eaze claims that its pivot into verticalization will bring it $204 million in revenues on gross transactions of $300 million. It notes in the presentation that it makes $9.04 on an average sale of $85, which will go up to $18.31 if it successfully brings in ‘private label’ products and has more depot control.

Selling weed isn’t eazy

The poor margins are only one of the problems with Eaze’s current business model, which the company admits in its presentation have led to an inconsistent customer experience and poor customer affinity with its brand — especially in the face of competition from a number of other delivery businesses.  

Playing on the on-demand, delivery-of-everything theme, it connected with two customer bases. First, existing cannabis consumers already using some form of delivery service for their supply; and a newer, more mainstream audience with disposable income that had become more interested in cannabis-related products but might feel less comfortable walking into a dispensary, or buying from a black market dealer.

It is not the only startup that has been chasing that audience. Other competitors in the wider market for cannabis discovery, distribution and sales include Weedmaps, Puffy, Blackbird, Chill (a brand from Dionymed that it founded after ending its earlier relationship with Eaze), and Meadow, with the wider industry estimated to be worth some $11.9 billion in 2018 and projected to grow to $63 billion by 2025.

Eaze was founded on the premise that the gradual decriminalisation of pot — first making it legal to buy for medicinal use, and gradually for recreational use — would spread across the US and make the consumption of cannabis-related products much more ubiquitous, presenting a big opportunity for Eaze and other startups like it. 

It found a willing audience among consumers, but also tech workers in the Bay Area, a tight market for recruitment. 

“I was excited for the opportunity to join the cannabis industry,” one source said. “It has for the most part has gotten a bad rap, and I saw Eaze’s mission as a noble thing, and the team seemed like good people.”

Eaze CEO Ro Choy

That impression was not to last. The company, this employee was told when joining, had plenty of funding with more on the way. The newer funding never materialised, and as Eaze sought to figure out the best way forward, the company cycled through different ideas and leadership: former Yammer executive Keith McCarty, who cofounded the company with Roie Edery (both are now founders at another Cannabis startup, Wayv), left, and the CEO role was given to another ex-Yammer executive, Jim Patterson, who was then replaced by Ro Choy, who is the current CEO. 

“I personally lost trust in the ability to execute on some of the vision once I got there,” the ex-employee said. “I thought that on one hand a picture was painted that wasn’t the truth. As we got closer and as I’d been there longer and we had issues with funding, the story around why we were having issues kept changing.” Several sources familiar with its business performance and culture referred to Eaze as a “shitshow”.

No ‘Push For Kush’

The quick shifts in strategy were a recurring pattern that started well before the company got tight financial straits. 

One employee recalled an acquisition Eaze made several years ago of a startup called Push for Pizza. Founded by five young friends in Brooklyn, Push for Pizza had gone viral over a simple concept: you set up your favourite pizza order in the app, and when you want it, you pushed a single button to order it. (Does that sound silly? Don’t forget, this was also the era of Yo, which was either a low point for innovation, or a high point for cynicism when it came to average consumer intelligence… maybe both.)

Eaze’s idea, the employee said, was to take the basics of Push for Pizza and turn it into a weed app, Push for Kush. In it, customers could craft their favourite mix and, at the touch of a button, order it, lowering the procurement barrier even more.

The company was very excited about the deal and the prospect of the new app. They planned a big campaign to spread the word, and held an internal event to excite staff about the new app and business line. 

“They had even made a movie of some kind that they showed us, featuring a caricature of Jim” — the CEO at a the time — “hanging out of the sunroof of a limo.” (I’ve been able to find the opening segment of this video online, and the Twitter and Instagram accounts that had been created for Push for Kush, but no more than that.)

Then just one week later, the whole plan was scrapped, and the founders of Push for Pizza fired. “It was just brushed under the carpet,” the former employee said. “No one could get anything out of management about what had happened.”

Something had happened, though: the company had been taking payments by card when it made the acquisition, but the process was never stable and by then it had recently gone back to the cash-only model. Push for Kush by cash was less appealing. “They didn’t think it would work,” the person said, adding that this was the normal course of business at the startup. “Big initiatives would just die in favor of pushing out whatever new thing was on the product team’s radar.” 

Eaze’s spokesperson confirmed that “we did acquire Push For Pizza . . but ultimately didn’t choose to pursue [launching Push For Kush].”

Payments were a recurring issue for the startup. Eaze started out taking payments only in cash — but as the business grew, that became increasingly problematic. The company found itself kicked off the credit card networks and was stuck with a less traceable, more open to error (and theft) cash-only model at a time when one employee estimated it was bringing in between $800,000 and $1 million per day in sales. 

Eventually, it moved to cards, but not smoothly: Visa specifically did not want Eaze on its platform. Eaze found a workaround, employees say, but it was never above board, which became the subject of the lawsuit between Eaze and Dionymed. Currently the company appear to only take payments via debit cards, ACH transfer, and cash, not credit card.

Another incident sheds light on how the company viewed and handled security issues. 

Can Eaze rise from the ashes?

At one point, employees allegedly discovered that Eaze was essentially storing all of its customer data — including users’ signatures and other personal information — in an Azure bucket that was not secured, meaning that if anyone was nosing around, it could be easily discovered and exploited.

The vulnerability was brought to the company’s attention. It was something that was up to product to fix, but the job was pushed down the list. It ultimately took seven months to patch this up. “I just kept seeing things with all these huge holes in them, just not ready for prime time,” one ex-employee said of the state of products. “No one was listening to engineers, and no one seemed to be looking for viable products.” Eaze’s spokesperson confirms a vulnerability was discovered but claims it was promptly resolved.

Today, the issue is a more pressing financial one: the company is running out of money. Employees have been told the company may not make its next payroll, and AWS will shut down its servers in two days if it doesn’t pay up. 

Eaze’s spokesperson tried to remain optimistic while admitting the dire situation the company faces. “Eaze is going to continue doing everything we can to support customers and the overall legal cannabis industry. We’re excited about the future and acknowledge the challenges that the entire community is facing.”

As medicinal and recreational marijuana access became legal in some states in the latter 2010s, entrepreneurs and investors flocked to the market. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on the end of a major prohibition — a once in a lifetime event. But high government taxes, enduring black markets, intense competition, and a lack of financial infrastructure willing to deal with any legal haziness have caused major setbacks.

While the pot business might sound chill, operations like Eaze depend on coordinating high-stress logistics with thin margins and little room for error. Plenty of food delivery startups from Sprig to Munchery went under after running into similar struggles, and at least banks and payment processors would work with them. With the odds stacked against it, Eaze has a tough road ahead.

Salesforce announces new tools to boost developer experience on Commerce Cloud

Salesforce announced some new developer tools today, designed to make it easier for programmers to build applications on top of Commerce Cloud in what is known in industry parlance as a “headless” system.

What that means is that developers can separate the content from the design and management of the site, allowing companies to change either component independently.

To help with this goal, Salesforce announced some new and enhanced APIs that enable developers take advantage of features built into the Commerce Cloud platform without having to build them from scratch. For instance, they could take advantage of Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform, to add elements like next-best actions to the site, the kind of intelligent functionality that would typically be out of reach of most developers.

Developers also often need to connect to other enterprise systems from their eCommerce site to share data with these tools. To fill that need, Salesforce is taking advantage of Mulesoft, the company it purchased almost two years ago for $6.5 billion. Using Mulesoft’s integration technology, Salesforce can help connect to other systems like ERP financial systems or product management tools and exchange information between the two systems.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, whose experience with Salesforce goes back to its earliest days, says this about helping give developers the tools that they need to create the same kind of integrated shopping experiences consumers have grown to expect from Amazon.

“These tools give developers real-time insights delivered at the “moment of truth” to optimize conversion opportunities, and automate processes to improve ordering and fulfillment efficiencies. This should give developers in the Salesforce ecosystem what they need to deliver Amazon-like experiences while having to compete with them.” he said.

To help get customers comfortable with these tools, the company also announced a new Commerce Cloud Development Center to access a community of developers who can discuss and share solutions with one another, an SDK with code samples and Trailhead education resources.

Salesforce made these announcement as part of the National Retail Foundation (NRF) Conference taking place in New York City this week.

India orders investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices by Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

India ordered a large-scale investigation into Flipkart and Amazon India on Monday after a retail trade group alleged that the e-commerce giants were indulging in anti-competitive practices to gain foothold in the country.

Competition Commission of India (CCI), the local antitrust body, noted four concerns including the arrangements between smartphone vendors and e-commerce platforms to sell certain handsets exclusively online, and e-commerce firms apparently giving preferential treatment to certain sellers, and said these allegations merit an investigation.

The CCI also ordered Director General to investigate whether Amazon India and Walmart are offering deep discounts on their marketplaces and promoting their own private labels.

A Flipkart spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company was reviewing the document. “The Flipkart group is fully compliant with all applicable laws and FDI regulations. We take pride in democratising e-commerce in India and giving market access to lakhs of MSMEs, sellers, artisans and small businesses, making quality and affordable goods available to consumers through our transparent and efficient marketplace while creating lakhs of jobs,” the spokesperson added.

We have reached out to Amazon India for comment. Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh, a group representing micro and medium-sized businesses, brought the matter to CCI.

The decision to investigate Amazon India and Flipkart would add to the headache of both the e-commerce firms that faced a major regulatory hurdle last year. The direction comes days before Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos is expected to kickstart an event focused on small businesses in New Delhi.

An investigation into the alleged anti-competitive practices by Amazon and Flipkart is the “first concrete long awaited step” in recognizing the disadvantages small traders face today, said Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of Confederation of All India Traders — a body that represents 70 million traders and 40,000 trade associations in India.

The Director General has been ordered to complete the investigation and submit the report within a period of 60 days.

Amazon partners with India’s second largest retailer to sell its goods online

Amazon is deepening its relationship with India’s second largest retail chain, Future Retail, as the e-commerce giant widens its footprint in one of its key overseas markets.

The two said on Monday that they have entered into a long-term business agreement to expand the reach of Future Retail’s stores through Amazon India marketplace. Future Retail operates more than 1,500 stores across India, but until now, it has not aggressively explored sales online.

As part of the agreement, Amazon India will become the authorized online sales channel for Future Retail stores including department and grocery stores chain Big Bazaar and lifestyle food superstore Foodhall, the two said. Additionally, India’s second largest retail chain, which attracts over 350 million footfalls a year across its network, will list its items on Amazon’s two-hour delivery platform Prime Now, which is currently operational in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.

The two giants said that they have agreed to focus on grocery — a category that Amazon has been working in India for awhile — general merchandize, fashion and apparel, and beauty products.

Future Retail will “augment its existing store-infrastructure” at its retail outlets for facilitating seamless packaging and pickup of products ordered online. The two have already launched this service across 22 stores and the early results have been “encouraging,” they said.

Future Consumer, which is also a part of Future Retail, has also formed a long-term partnership with Amazon to secure an online distribution through the Amazon India marketplace.

Future Consumer offers a wide-range of food, home care, personal care, and beauty products and has built a number of in-house brands such as Tasty Treat for snacks, Voom for fabric care, Dreamery for dairy, Karmiq for dry fruits, Mother Earth for organic staples, Kara for personal care, and CleanMate for household cleaning.

Kishore Biyani, Chairman and Managing Director of Future Retail, said the partnership will “allow us to build upon each other’s strengths in the physical and digital space so that customers benefit from the best services, products, assortment and price.”

The announcement today comes months after Amazon bought stakes in Future Retail’s Future Coupons — that effectively gave it a 3.58% stake in the retail chain group’s India business — and days after India’s largest retail chain, Reliance Retail, began its e-commerce venture.

“Future Retail’s national footprint of stores offering thousands of products across fashion, appliances, home, kitchen and grocery will now be available to millions of customers shopping on Amazon.in, in hours across 25+ cities,” said Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Head of Amazon India, in a statement.

According to research firm Technopak Advisors, retail in India is estimated to be a $188 billion business in next three years, up from about $79 billion in 2018. Online sales still account for less than 5% of overall retail.

Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

India’s richest man is ready to take on Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

As Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart spend billions to make a dent in India’s retail market, the two companies have stumbled upon a new challenge: Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio, two subsidiaries of Ambani’s Reliance Industries, said they have soft launched JioMart, their e-commerce venture, in parts of the state of Maharashtra — Mumbai, Kalyan and Thane.

The e-commerce venture, which is being marketed as “Desh Ki Nayi Dukaan” (Hindi for new store for the country), currently offers a catalog of 50,000 grocery items and promises “free and express delivery.”

In an email to employees, accessed by TechCrunch, the two aforementioned subsidiaries that are working together on the e-commerce venture, said they plan to expand the service to many parts of India in coming months. A Reliance spokesperson declined to comment.

The soft launch this week comes months after Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries — India’s largest industrial house — said that he wants to service tens of millions of retailers and store owners across the country.

If there is anyone in India who is positioned to compete with heavily-backed Amazon and Walmart, it’s him. Reliance Retail, which was founded in 2006, is the largest retailer in the country by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

Reliance Jio is the largest telecom operator in India with more than 350 million subscribers. The 4G-only carrier, which launched commercial operations in the second half of 2016, disrupted the incumbent telecom operation in the country by offering bulk of data and voice calls at little to no charge for an extended period of time.

In a speech in January, Ambani, an ally of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, invoked Mahatama Gandhi and said like Gandhi, who led a movement against political colonization of India, “we have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India – in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian.” Modi was among the attendees.

More to follow…

SoftBank Vision Fund invests $275M in India’s Lenskart

Lenskart, an omni-channel retailer in India that sells eyewear products, said on Friday that it has raised $275 million in a new financing round from SoftBank Vision Fund as it looks to expand its business in the nation.

The nine-year-old startup said as part of the new financing round, Series G, some of its existing investors are selling their stake, said Peyush Bansal, founder and chief executive Lenskart, in a statement.

SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment pushes Lenskart’s all-time raise to $456 million. A person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the new round values Lenskart at over $1.5 billion.

The nine-year-old startup, which began as an e-commerce service to sell spectacles, contact lenses and eye care products, has expanded to brick and mortar stores in recent years. Today, the startup has presence in over 500 stores across more than 100 cities in India, it said.

Bansal said the startup will use the fresh capital to improve its technology infrastructure and supply chain. “We are thrilled to have Softbank Vision Fund with us in our journey. Their understanding of consumer and technology will help us build the next edition of Lenskart,” he said.

According to industry estimates, more than half a billion people in India are affected by poor vision and need eyeglasses, but only 170 million of them have opted to get their vision corrected. Lenskart said it sees immense potential in reaching out these people in the coming years.

More to follow…