Toys R Us relaunches its website where online sales are powered by Target

Toys R Us is back online, thanks to a new deal with Target. Tru Kids, the parent company that acquired the defunct toy chain following its bankruptcy, has announced the relaunch of the ToysRUs.com website as it begins the process of opening its retail stores across the U.S. As a part of its comeback strategy, the Toys R Us website’s product pages will redirect to Target.com when consumers click the “buy” button to make an online purchase.

The retailers didn’t discuss the terms of the deal, but a revenue-sharing agreement is clearly involved in a scenario like this, given the mutual benefits. Toys R Us would be able to quickly establish cash flow from the still top-ranked, well-established domain name toysrus.com, while Target could get an influx of new sales from shoppers who visited ToysRUs.com, unaware of the toy chain’s bankruptcy and relaunch.

In addition to redirecting online shoppers to Target, the new website also features articles and videos about the latest toy trends and hot brands, plus in-depth product reviews, hot toy lists, and other brand experiences. These will be available on the ToysRUs website itself. Only when a customer is ready to make a purchase will they be sent over to Target for checkout.

The site’s “Buy” button is also clearly labeled so there’s no confusion at checkout. In Target’s red-and-white brand colors, it reads “buy now at [target].com” where the word “Target” is replaced with the Target logo icon.

Target shoppers sent to ToysRUs get the same benefits they would if shopping directly — meaning, they can place orders for delivery, curbside or store order pickup, and can earn loyalty points with Target Circle, or get 5% by paying with a Target REDcard.

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The new partnership between the retailers isn’t only focused on redirecting consumers’ traditional e-commerce product sales, however.

Target says it will also fulfill online sales when Toys R Us opens up its first experiential retail stores later this fall in Houston, Texas and Paramus, New Jersey.

Tru Kids had previously announced a deal with tech startup b8ta to create a modernized toy store experience featuring things like STEAM workshops, a treehouse for kids to play in, theaters for movies and games, and a way for brands to showcase their products in a more interactive environment.

At these stores, guests who want to purchase items that aren’t available in the store itself will be able to place their order with a store associate that gets fulfilled through Target.com.

“Target’s leadership in toys, digital and fulfillment are an unbeatable platform for ToysRUs to reconnect with their fans while we introduce them to the ease and convenience of shopping at Target,” said Nikhil Nayar, senior vice president of merchandising at Target, in a statement. “By applying our capabilities in a new way with ToysRUs, we can serve even more toy shoppers, drive new growth, and build on our toy leadership,” Nayar added.

The new deal with Toys R Us isn’t the only significant toy-related partnership Target has made in recent weeks. At the end of August, the retailer announced an agreement with Disney that sees it opening mini Disney stores within its retail stores, where shoppers can buy toys, apparel, collectibles, home items, and more. Twenty-five Disney “shop-in-shops” are open now and dozens more are planned for 2020.

“Our U.S. strategy is to bring back the ToysRUs brand in a modern way through a strong experiential and content-rich omnichannel concept,” Tru Kids CEO Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us exec, in a statement about the Target partnership.

“The foundation of that strategy requires the help of a retail industry leader and Target is the ideal retailer to support a new ToysRUs shopping experience, which is designed to provide families with endless ways to discover, play and enjoy toys. Target will help us deliver on that experience with its toy assortment, digital strength and ability to deliver orders to shoppers in a matter of hours,” he said.

 

Report: Amazon Prime Day 2019 will push US e-commerce sales to over $2 billion

A report from Adobe’s analytics arm predicts Amazon’s Prime Day 2019 sales event, which began today, to have another sizable impact on the U.S. e-commerce market. The company expects a revenue lift for top retailers — those with over $1 billion in online sales — to reach 79% this year, up from the 60% lift they saw during Prime Day 2018. And it says that Prime Day will become the third time outside the holiday season that U.S. e-commerce spending will top $2 billion, as it previously did on Labor Day 2018 and Memorial Day 2019.

“We attribute this growth in sales to the fact that the big e-commerce competitors have become better at reaping the benefits of this artificial holiday,” said Taylor Schreiner, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Insights (ADI). “After all, they’ve now had almost five years of practice in converting Prime Day traffic.”

The $2 billion figure includes Amazon, Adobe says, but is limited to U.S. e-commerce sales.

However, Prime Day itself now runs across a number of international markets, including, for the first time, the United Arab Emirates, alongside the U.K., Spain, Singapore, Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria and Australia.

Top Amazon rivals like Walmart, Target, eBay, Best Buy and others are running their own sales today, as are many e-commerce retailers. In fact, an earlier report from RetailMeNot predicted that this year, 250 retailers will compete with Amazon on Prime Day. That’s up from 194 last year and up from just seven on the first Prime Day in 2015.

EBay, in particular, went a little dirty with its counter-sale, calling it a “Crash Sale” — a reference to how Amazon.com tanked on Prime Day 2018.

But that branding has paid off — according to the latest from website monitoring firm Catchpoint, Amazon has not had stability issues as of yet. The firm has been tracking Amazon’s desktop and mobile websites since 3 AM ET today, and as of 10 AM ET reports no problems. It even found that the average website load times are just as fast as last week when there was no sale.

That either speaks to big improvements to site stability to address last year’s issues, or perhaps a decline in consumer interest in Prime Day 2019 — perhaps because one of Prime Day 2018’s top-sellers, the Echo Dot, had a huge price cut before Prime Day began, to $24.99. (Now it’s $22 for Prime Day.) We won’t know until the reports roll in later in the day, and after the sales event wraps.

Walmart announces next-day delivery on 200K+ items in select markets

This month, Amazon announced it’s investing $800 million in its warehouses and delivery infrastructure in order to double the speed of Prime shipping by reducing it to only one day. Now Walmart is following suit with a one-day shipping announcement of its own. The rival retailer says it will begin to offer free, NextDay delivery on select Walmart .com orders over $35 — without a membership fee.

This offer will initially be available to customers only in Phoenix and Las Vegas beginning on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, and will then expand to customers in Southern California over the next few days. The rollout will then continue “gradually” over the months ahead, with a goal of reaching 75% of the U.S. population — including 40 of the top 50 U.S. metros — by year-end.

Today, Amazon Prime covers more than 100 million items, which are available for two-day shipping to Prime’s more than 100 million subscribers. To make an inventory of that size available for one-day shipping is a massive investment on Amazon’s part.

Walmart, on the other hand, is starting smaller. Its NexDay delivery will be available as a standalone, curated shopping experience where customers can browse up to 220,000 of the most frequently purchased items.

This includes things like diapers, electronics, toys and household needs, and soon more. Everything in the cart has to be NextDay-eligible and total more than $35 to qualify. The cut-off times for the order will vary by location, Walmart says. Orders will be delivered primarily by national carriers, and in some cases, regional carriers.

This more limited focus in terms of inventory (for now at least) makes NextDay more of a competitor to Target’s Restock than to Amazon one-day Prime ambitions, as — like Restock — it requires a $35 minimum order. Restock, though, has customers “filling a box” with items and is largely focused on day-to-day shopping. Meanwhile, Walmart’s NextDay selection is wider than Restock’s some 35,000 items. (However, ahead of Walmart’s announcement, Target pushed out news that its same-day “Drive Up” curbside service had now expanded to over 1,250 U.S. stores.)

Walmart’s focus on matching Amazon’s efforts — but with a different set of conditions and “without a membership fee” — is now par for the course.

For example, Walmart in early 2017 first announced it would begin to offer free, two-day shopping on more than 2 million items with no need for a membership — as long as orders totaled $35.00 or more. The retailer had been trialing such a sped-up shipping system for years — starting with a test of its answer to Prime back in 2015. Dubbed ShippingPass at the time, the program initially began with 1 million items and three-day delivery, then was lowered to two days while the number of eligible items doubled. 

This past October, Walmart expanded two-day shipping to its Marketplace sellers, as well.

Now, it’s focused on one-day. Walmart says this is not in response to Amazon’s news, but rather had plans already in progress.

“We can offer fast, convenient shipping options because we’ve built a network of fulfillment assets that are strategically located across the U.S. We’ve also done extensive work to ensure we have the right products in the right fulfillment centers based on where customers are located and what they’re ordering,” said president and CEO of Walmart E-Commerce, Marc Lore.

Lore had sold his e-commerce startup Jet.com to Walmart for $3 billion in 2016. While it lives on as a more urban-focused delivery service, its influence on Walmart’s broader e-commerce efforts — particularly around delivery logistics — is seen in these expanded efforts to improve delivery times that also reduce costs while keeping prices low for consumers. Jet, for example, had offered credits to consumers who bought their items from the same nearby warehouse. That’s not entirely different from what Walmart NextDay is doing.

As Lore explains, NextDay is affordable for Walmart.

“Our new NextDay delivery isn’t just great for customers, it also makes good business sense. Contrary to what you might think, it will cost us less – not more – to deliver orders the next day,” he says. “That’s because eligible items come from a single fulfillment center located closest to the customer. This means the order ships in one box, or as few as possible, and it travels a shorter distance via inexpensive ground shipping. That’s in contrast to online orders that come in multiple boxes from multiple locations, which can be quite costly.”

Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali suggests a bit more caution. She agrees that having another place to get overnight shipping is a win for consumers, but there could still be challenges.

“I think that makes sense theoretically, but whether or not they can make the economics work depends on the quality of the assortment and how many people actually use it. Also, I don’t know how easily it scales,” she says.

Amazon’s one-two punch: How traditional retailers can fight back

If you think physical retail is dead, you couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the explosion in e-commerce, we’re still buying plenty of stuff in offline stores. In 2017, U.S. retail sales totaled $3.49 trillion, of which only 13 percent (about $435 billion) were e-commerce sales. True, e-commerce is growing at a much faster annual pace. But we’re still very far from the tipping point.

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, is playing an even longer game than everyone thinks. The company already dominates online retail — Amazon accounted for almost 50 percent of all U.S. e-commerce dollars spent in 2018. But now Amazon is eyeing the much bigger prize: modernizing and dominating retail sales in physical locations, mainly through the use of sophisticated data analysis. The recent reports of Amazon launching its own chain of grocery stores in several U.S. cities — separate from its recent Whole Foods acquisition — is just one example of how this could play out.

You can think of this as the Amazon one-two punch: The company’s vast power in e-commerce is only the initial, quick jab to an opponent’s face. Data-focused innovations in offline retail will be Amazon’s second, much heavier cross. Traditional retailers too focused on the jab aren’t seeing the cross coming. But we think canny retailers can fight back — and avoid getting KO’d. Here’s how.

The e-commerce jab starts with warehousing

Physical storage of goods has long been crucial to advances in commerce. Innovations here range from Henry Ford’s conveyor belt assembly line in 1910, to IBM’s universal product code (the “barcode”) in the early 1970s, to J.C. Penney’s implementation of the first warehouse management system in 1975. Intelligrated (Honeywell), Dematic (KION), Unitronics, Siemens and others further optimized and modernized the traditional warehouse. But then came Amazon.

After expanding from books to a multi-product offering, Amazon Prime launched in 2005. Then, the company’s operational focus turned to enabling scalable two-day shipping. With hundreds of millions of product SKUs, the challenge was how to get your pocket 3-layer suture pad (to cite a super-specific product Amazon now sells) from the back of the warehouse and into the shippers’ hands as quickly as possible.

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable.

Amazon met this challenge at a time when automated warehouses still had massive physical footprints and capital-intensive costs. Amazon bought Kiva Systems in 2012, which ushered in the era of Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), or robots that quickly ferried products from the warehouse’s depths to static human packers.

Since the Kiva acquisition, retailers have scrambled to adopt technology to match Amazon’s warehouse efficiencies.  These technologies range from warehouse management software (made by LogFire, acquired by Oracle; other companies here include Fishbowl and Temando) to warehouse robotics (Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Magazino). Some of these companies’ technologies even incorporate wearables (e.g. ProGlove, GetVu) for warehouse workers. We’ve also seen more general-purpose projects in this area, such as Google Robotics. The main adopters of these new technologies are those companies that feel Amazon’s burn most harshly, namely operators of fulfillment centers serving e-commerce.

The schematic below gives a broad picture of their operations and a partial list of warehouse/inventory management technologies they can adopt:

It’s impossible to say what optimizations Amazon will bring to warehousing beyond these, but that may be less important to predict than retailers realize.

The cross: Modernizing the physical retail environment

Amazon has made several recent forays into offline shopping. These range from Amazon Books (physical book stores), Amazon Go (fast retail where consumers skip the cashier entirely) and Amazon 4-Star (stores featuring only products ranked four-stars or higher). Amazon Live is even bringing brick-and-mortar-style shopping streaming to your phone with a home-shopping concept à la QVC. Perhaps most prominently, Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods gave the company an entrée into grocery shopping and a nationwide chain of physical stores.

Most retail-watchers have dismissed these projects as dabbling, or — in the case of Whole Foods — focused too narrowly on a particular vertical. But we think they’re missing Bezos’ longer-term strategic aim. Watch that cross: Amazon is mastering how physical retail works today, so it can do offline what it already does incredibly well online, which is harness data to help retailers sell much more intelligently. Amazon recognizes certain products lend themselves better to offline shopping — groceries and children’s clothing are just a few examples.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive.

Those shopping experiences are unlikely to disappear. But traditional retailers (and Amazon offline) can understand much, much more about the data points between shopping and purchase. Which path did shoppers take through the store? Which products did they touch and which did they put into a cart? Which items did they try on, and which products did they abandon? Did they ask for different sizes? How does product location within the store influence consumers’ willingness to buy? What product correlations can inform timely marketing offers — for instance, if women often buy hats and sunglasses together in springtime, can a well-timed coupon prompt an additional purchase? Amazon already knows answers to most of these questions online. They want to bring that same intelligence to offline retail.

Obviously, customer privacy will be a crucial concern in this brave new future. But customers have come to expect online data-tracking and now often welcome the more informed recommendations and the convenience this data can bring. Why couldn’t a similar mindset-shift happen in offline retail?

How can retailers fight back?

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable. But remember how important the element of surprise is. Too many venture capitalists underestimate physical retail’s importance and pooh-pooh startups focused on this sector. That’s extremely short-sighted.

Does the fact that Amazon is developing computer vision for Amazon Go mean that alternative self-checkout companies (e.g. Trigo, AiFi) are at a disadvantage? I’d argue that this validation is actually an accelerant as traditional retail struggles to keep up.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive. Don’t wait for Amazon to show you what the next best-practice in retail should be. There’s plenty of exciting technology you can adopt today to beat Jeff Bezos to the punch. Take Relex, a Finnish startup using AI and machine learning to help brick-and-mortar and e-commerce companies make better forecasts of how products will sell. Or companies like Memomi or Mirow that are creating solutions for a more immersive and interactive offline shopping experience.

Amazon’s one-two punch strategy seems to be working. Traditional retailers are largely blinded by the behemoth’s warehousing innovations, just as they are about to be hit with an in-store innovation blow. New technologies are emerging to help traditional retail rally. The only question is whether they’ll implement the solutions fast enough to stay relevant.

China’s grocery delivery battle heats up with Meituan’s entry

Fast, affordable food delivery service has been life-changing for many working Chinese, but some still prefer to whip up their own meals. These people may not have the time to pick up fresh ingredients from brick-and-mortar stores, so China’s startups and large companies are trying to make home-cooked meals more effortless for busy workers by sending vegetables and meats to apartment doors.

The fresh grocery sector in China recorded 4.93 trillion yuan ($730 billion) in total sales last year, growing steadily from 3.37 trillion yuan in 2012 according to data collected by Euromonitor and Hua Chuang Securities. Most of these transactions still happen inside wet markets and supermarkets, leaving online retail, which accounted for only 3 percent of total grocery sales in 2016, much room for growth.

Ecommerce leaders Alibaba and JD.com have already added grocery to their comprehensive online shopping malls, nestling in the market with more focused players like Tencent-backed MissFresh (每日优鲜), which has raised $1.4 billion to date. The field has just grown a little more crowded with new entrant Meituan, the Tencent-backed food delivery and hotel booking giant that raised $4.2 billion through a Hong Kong listing last year.

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Screenshots of the Meituan Maicai app / Image: Meituan Maicai

The service, which comes in a new app called “Meituan Maicai” or Meituan grocery shopping that’s separate from the company’s all-in-one app, set out in Shanghai in January before it muscled into Beijing last week. The move follows Meituan’s announcement in its mid-2018 financial report to get in on grocery delivery.

Meituan’s solution to take grocery the last mile is not too different from those of its peers. Users pick from its 1,500 stock keeping units ranging from yogurt to pork loin, fill their in-app shopping carts and pay via their phones, the firm told TechCrunch. Meituan then dispatches its delivery fleets to people’s doors in as little as 30 minutes.

The instant delivery is made possible by a satellite of physical “service stations” across neighborhoods that serve warehousing, packaging and delivering purposes. Placing offline hubs alongside customers also allows data-driven internet firms to optimize warehouse stocking based on local user preferences. For instance, people from an upscale residential area probably eat and shop differently from those in other parts of the city.

Meituan’s foray into grocery shopping further intensifies its battle with Alibaba to control how Chinese people eat. Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket has been running on a similar setup that uses its neighborhood stores as warehouses and fulfillment centers to facilitate 30-minute delivery within a three-kilometer radius. For years, Meituan’s food delivery arm has been going neck-and-neck with Ele.me, which Alibaba scooped up last year. More recently, Alibaba and Meituan are racing to get restaurants to sign up for their proprietary software, which can supposedly give owners more insights into diners and beef up customer engagement.

As part of its goal to be an “everything” app, Meituan has tried out many new initiatives in the lead-up to its initial public offering but was also quick to put them on hold. The firm acquired bike-sharing service Mobike last April only to shutter its operations across Asia in less than a year for cost-saving. Meituan also paused expansion on its much-anticipated ride-hailing business.

But grocery delivery appears to be closer to Meituan’s heart, the “eating” business, to put in its own words. Meituan is tapping its existing infrastructure to get the job done, for example, by summoning its food delivery drivers to serve the grocery service during peak hours. As the company noted in its earnings report last year, the grocery segment could leverage its “massive user base and existing world’s largest intra-city on-demand delivery network.”

African e-commerce startup Jumia files for IPO on NYSE

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange today, per SEC documents and confirmation from CEO Sacha Poignonnec to TechCrunch.

The valuation, share price and timeline for public stock sales will be determined over the coming weeks for the Nigeria-headquartered company.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African tech startup to list on a major global exchange.

Poignonnec would not pinpoint a date for the actual IPO, but noted the minimum SEC timeline for beginning sales activities (such as road shows) is 15 days after submitting first documents. Lead adviser on the listing is Morgan Stanley .

There have been numerous press reports on an anticipated Jumia IPO, but none of them confirmed by Jumia execs or an actual SEC, S-1 filing until today.

Jumia’s move to go public comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have faltered in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup development on the continent. Konga.com, an early Jumia competitor in the race to wire African online retail, was sold in a distressed acquisition in 2018.

With the imminent IPO capital, Jumia will double down on its current strategy and regional focus.

“You’ll see in the prospectus that last year Jumia had 4 million consumers in countries that cover the vast majority of Africa. We’re really focused on growing our existing business, leadership position, number of sellers and consumer adoption in those markets,” Poignonnec said.

The pending IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The venture became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a $326 funding round that included Goldman Sachs, AXA and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries, spanning Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Egypt. Goods and services lines include Jumia Food (an online takeout service), Jumia Flights (for travel bookings) and Jumia Deals (for classifieds). Jumia processed more than 13 million packages in 2018, according to company data.

Starting in Nigeria, the company created many of the components for its digital sales operations. This includes its JumiaPay payment platform and a delivery service of trucks and motorbikes that have become ubiquitous with the Lagos landscape.

Jumia has also opened itself up to traders and SMEs by allowing local merchants to harness Jumia to sell online. “There are over 81,000 active sellers on our platform. There’s a dedicated sellers page where they can sign-up and have access to our payment and delivery network, data, and analytic services,” Jumia Nigeria CEO Juliet Anammah told TechCrunch.

The most popular goods on Jumia’s shopping mall site include smartphones (priced in the $80 to $100 range), washing machines, fashion items, women’s hair care products and 32-inch TVs, according to Anammah.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

Jumia has not yet turned a profit, but a snapshot of the company’s performance from shareholder Rocket Internet’s latest annual report shows an improving revenue profile. The company generated €93.8 million in revenues in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016, though its losses widened (with a negative EBITDA of €120 million). Rocket Internet is set to release full 2018 results (with updated Jumia figures) April 4, 2019.

Jumia’s move to list on the NYSE comes during an up and down period for B2C digital commerce in Nigeria. The distressed acquisition of Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors, such as South African media, internet and investment company Naspers .

In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down. And TechCrunch reported this week that consumer-focused venture Gloo.ng has dropped B2C e-commerce altogether to pivot to e-procurement. The CEO cited better unit economics from B2B sales.

As demonstrated in other global startup markets, consumer-focused online retail can be a game of capital attrition to outpace competitors and reach critical mass before turning a profit. With its unicorn status and pending windfall from an NYSE listing, Jumia could be better positioned than any venture to win on e-commerce at scale in Africa.

Nigeria’s Gloo.ng drops consumer e-commerce, pivots to e-procurement

Nigerian startup Gloo.ng is dropping consumer online retail and pivoting to B2B e-procurement with Gloopro as its new name.

The Lagos based venture has called it quits on e-commerce grocery services, shifting to a product that supplies large and medium corporates with everything from desks to toilet paper.

Gloopro’s new platform will generate revenues on a monthly fee structure and a percentage on goods delivered, according to Gloopro CEO D. O. Olusanya.

Gloopro, which raised around $1 million in seed capital as Gloo.ng, is also in the process of raising its Series A round. The startup looks to expand outside of Nigeria on that raise, “before the end of next year,” Olusanya told TechCrunch.

Gloopro’s move away from B2C comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have failed to launch in Nigeria—Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s highest number of online shoppers, per a recent UNCTAD report.

The country is home to the continent’s first e-commerce startup unicorn, Jumia, and serves as an unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup activity in Africa.

Gloo.ng’s shift to B2B electronic commerce was prompted by Nigeria’s 2016 economic slump and a customer request, according Olusanya.

“When the recession hit it affected all consumer e-commerce negatively. We saw it was going to take a longer time to get to sustainability and profitability,” he told TechCrunch.

Then an existing client, Unilever, requested an e-procurement solution in 2017. “We observed that the unit economics of that business was far better than consumer e-commerce,” said Olusanya.

Gloopro dubs itself as a “secure cloud based enterprise e-procurement and commerce platform…[for]…corporate purchasing,” per a company description.

“The old brand Gloo.ng, is going to be rested and shut down completely. The corporate name will be PayMente Limited with the brand name Gloopro,” Olusanya said.

From the Gloopro interface customers can order, pay for, and coordinate delivery of office supplies across multiple locations. The product also produces procurement analytics and allows companies to designate users and permissions.

 

Olusanya touts the product’s benefits at improving transparency and efficiency in the purchasing process.

“It makes procurement transparent and secure. A lot of companies in Nigeria still use paper invoices and there are some shenanigans,” he said.

Gloopro began offering the service in beta and building a customer base prior to winding down its Gloo.ng grocery service.

In addition to Unilever, Gloopro clients include Uber Nigeria, Cars45, and industrial equipment company LaFarge. Cars45 CEO Etop Ikpe and a spokesperson for Uber Nigeria confirmed their client status to TechCrunch.

Gloopro CEO D. O. Olusanya believes the company can compete with other global e-procurement providers, such as SAP Ariba and GT-Nexus by “leveraging our sourcing and last-mile delivery experience in Nigeria” and expertise working around local requirements in Africa.

Gloopro expects to hit $4 million in revenue by the end of the year and the company could reach $100 million over the course of its international expansion into countries like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, and the Ivory Coast, according to Olusanya. A seed investor briefed on Gloo.ng’s estimates confirmed the company’s revenue expectations with TechCrunch.

Gloo.ng’s pivot to Gloopro and e-procurement comes during an up and down period for B2C online retail in Nigeria, home of Africa’s largest economy.

Last year, e-commerce startup Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, was sold in a distressed acquisition, at a loss to investors, including Naspers. In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shutdown.

On the possible upside, several outlets reported this year that Jumia—Africa’s largest e-commerce site and first unicorn headquartered in Nigeria—is pursuing an IPO. But that information is unconfirmed based on a February 8, Bloomberg story without named sources. Jumia has declined to comment.

 

 

Africa’s agtech wave gets $10 million richer as Twiga Foods raises more capital

Kenya’s Twiga Foods has raised $10 million from investors led by the International Finance Corporation to add processed food and fast moving consumer goods to its product line-up.

The startup has built a B2B platform to improve the supply chain from farmers to markets. Twiga Foods now aims to scale additional merchandise on its digital network that coordinates pricing, payment, quality control, and logistics across sellers and vendors.

CEO and co-founder Grant Brooke sees “a growth horizon…to build a B2B Amazon,” with produce as the base.

“If we can build a business around fresh fruit and vegetables, everything else after that is much simpler to add on,” he told TechCrunch.

“Fresh food and vegetables gives you clients that are ordering every two days, and now that’s paying for access to vendors and a proper way to be on every street,” said Brooke.

“It’s now much easier to lay things over that that would have been very expensive to get to end retailers.” In addition to the processed food FMCG it will add now, CEO Grant Brooke named household goods, such as light-bulbs that stock and sell in lower volumes than produce, as something the startup could include in the future.     

The $10 million IFC led investment—co-led by TLcom Capital—comes in the form of convertible notes, available later as equity, according to Wale Ayeni, regional head of IFC’s Africa VC practice. As part of the deal, Ayeni will join Twiga Foods’ board.

Of the decision to fund the startup, Ayeni indicated IFC likes what the company’s already done in “figuring out a way to service a mass market with a digital platform focused on food in a sector that’s not really been touched,” he said. Another factor was Twiga’s prospects to create additional revenue by improving B2B supply chain for FMCG and other consumer products.

Co-founded in Nairobi in 2014 by Brooke and Kenyan Peter Njonjo, Twiga Foods serves around 2000 outlets a day with produce through a network of 13,000 farmers and 6000 vendors. Parties can coordinate goods exchanges via mobile app using M-Pesa mobile money for payment.

The company has reduced typical post-harvest losses in Kenya from 30 percent to 4 percent for produce brought to market on the Twiga network, according to Brooke.

“That’s savings we can offer the outlets and better pricing we can offer the farmers,” he said.

Twiga Foods generates revenues from margins on the products it buys and sells. As an example, the company could buy bananas at around 19 Schillings ($.19) a kilo and sell at 34 ($.34) Schillings a kilo.

“Our margin is how efficient we are at moving products between those two elements” and the company purchases from farmers at roughly 10 percent higher than Kenya’s traditional produce middle-men, according to Brooke.

Agtech has become a prominent startup sector in Africa. A number of companies, such as Ghana’s Agrocenta and Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, have raised VC for apps that coordinate payments, logistics, and working capital across the continent’s farmers and food markets.

In 2017 Twiga Foods raised a $10.3 million Series A round lead by Wamda Capital. Earlier this year the startup partnered with IBM Africa to introduce a blockchain enabled finance working capital platform to its network of vendors.

With the new investment and product expansion, Twiga Foods will explore offering additional financial services to its client network. The startup doesn’t divulge revenue information but “profitability is on the horizon for us,” said Brooke.

Twiga Foods will maintain its focus primarily on Kenya, but “we’re starting to research and dabble in Tanzania,” according to Brooke.

The startup doesn’t plan to move beyond B2B to direct online retail. “I don’t think B2C e-commerce is viable on the continent once you factor in job size and cost of acquisition versus lifetime value,” said Brooke. He also named the high cost of marketing: “In B2C e-commerce space you really have to be in the advertising space. Our clients are ordering every two days with no marketing budget,” said Brooke.

So for the time being, Twiga Foods aims to stick with improving the supply chain for products between Kenya’s buyers and sellers.

UK to probe fairness of personalized pricing practices in online retail

The UK government has announced an investigation into personalized pricing practices in online retail following growing concerns that vulnerable consumers are at risk of price discrimination through the use of ecommerce technologies that vary prices for products such as cars, holidays and household goods via the use of personal data points.

The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) will also be involved in the research, which was announced yesterday.

The government-commissioned research is intended to investigate how widespread the practice of personalized online pricing is; how businesses are applying it through different mediums like search engines, apps or comparison tools; and the extent to which it is preventing shoppers getting the best deals, the CMA said.

Commenting in a statement, business secretary Greg Clark said: “UK businesses are leading the way in harnessing the power of new technologies and new ways of doing business, benefitting consumers and helping them save money. But we are clear that companies should not be abusing this technology and customer data to treat consumers, particularly vulnerable ones, unfairly.

“The research we are undertaking will help us better understand how we can ensure businesses work in a way that is fair to consumers.”

“Ensuring markets work fairly and in the interests of consumers is a cornerstone of our modern Industrial Strategy, and I am proud to say that our consumer protection regime is among the strongest in the world,” he added.

In another supporting statement, CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, added: “With more of us shopping online, it’s important that we understand how advances in technology impact consumers. This personalised pricing research will help us stay at the forefront of emerging technology, so we can understand how best to protect people from unfair practices where they exist. We will also use the results of the research as part of our ongoing efforts to help vulnerable consumers.”

In September, UK consumer advice charity Citizens Advice filed a super complaint to the CMA calling for it to tackle the loyalty penalty in essential markets such as mortgages and mobiles which it said it resulting in excessive prices being charged to disengaged consumers.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has also announced it will be investigating personalised pricing for car and home insurance policies — after finding hidden discrimination between customers.

At the end of last month the FCA said its initial work had identified a number of areas of potential consumer harm — announcing a market study to take a closer look at the outcomes from general insurance pricing practices and make a determination on whether and if so how it should intervene to improve the market.

That market study is focused on: the consumer outcomes from pricing practices; the fairness of outcomes from pricing practices; the impact of pricing practices on competition; and remedies to address any harm that the FCA finds.

Lolli launches to give you free Bitcoin while you shop

Bitcoin has had tremendous success as a cryptocurrency, with millions of people around the world having traded the currency through command lines and wallets like Coinbase. Yet, for all of the excitement in the space, BTC remains largely the province of technically-sophisticated finance and software junkies and their Uber drivers. How can everyone in the world use crypto?

For Alex Adelman, that challenge proved an enigma. Partnering with Matt Senter, he had previously founded Cosmic Cart, a “universal shopping cart” that would allow companies to sell their goods anywhere online. The company was eventually acquired by POPSUGAR, and acquired a second time by Ebates, a Rakuten-owned affiliate marketing platform. Adelman wanted to get into the blockchain world, but didn’t want to leave behind his network in the retail world.

After reconnecting and exploring, Adelman and Senter realized that scaling consumer demand for Bitcoin is the critical challenge for widespread adoption of the technology, and that retail rewards and loyalty could represent a port of entry for consumers new to cryptocurrencies.

Out of that thinking was born Lolli. Lolli is a rewards platform that offers users BTC when they shop at participating online retailers. Consumers install a browser extension or start from Lolli’s website to discover retailers offering crypto rewards (smartphone and tablet apps are “coming soon”). Each retailer sets their own “cashback” (cryptoback?) rate, and that BTC reward is then moved into a Lolli wallet.

Lolli allows users to receive Bitcoin for their online purchases

The company’s name is inspired by the lollipops that Adelman received as a kid when visiting his bank. The dream is to massively expand the number of consumers who have Bitcoin wallets, while also educating them on what cryptocurrency is and how to use it.

What makes Lolli compelling though isn’t the concept — loyalty in the crypto space isn’t particularly unknown nor are airdrops — but rather the deep bench of online retailers that are included right from the startup’s launch. Adelman told me that users can already shop at more than 500 retailers, including Jet, Forever21, Bloomingdales, and ClassPass, avoiding the chicken and egg problem endemic to many rewards startups.

As with all rewards and loyalty programs, there is a two-sided marketplace component that can make these challenging to scale. One interesting dynamic though is that retailers are increasingly looking for ways to engage with cryptocurrencies. Adelman explained to me that the retailers he has been talking to have been surprised at the wide excitement among consumers around crypto and what it means, and they want to use that excitement to engage with potential new customers.

Lolli’s browser extension allows users to find retailers who offer free Bitcoin for purchases

While many retailers have flitted back and forth about whether to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a valid payment method, there is less concern on the rewards side about the volatility of cryptocurrencies. Plus, connecting with consumers around the technology can give retailers an early look into how consumers think about their wallets, and how they might change their online shopping behaviors in the future.

In many ways, Lolli is symmetrical to another recently launched loyalty app called Bumped. Bumped partners with retailers to drive loyalty, but instead of handing out BTC, it hands out free shares (or microshares) of the stock of the company a consumer just shopped at. The idea there, as with Lolli, is that few consumers own stock these days, and rewards and loyalty can be a mechanism to drive shopping behavior while also providing an initial financial portfolio for consumers.

While gross transaction volume and user engagement are valuable themselves, what really drives the valuations of these companies is the wallet or brokerage accounts behind them. Investors highly value these sorts of gateway financial products, which is one reason why Robinhood is valued at $5.6 billion with just more than 4 million accounts. Lolli’s bet is that it can become the de facto wallet for millions of consumers.

Lolli only supports Bitcoin at launch, and Adelman is certainly a strong proponent of the view that Bitcoin is likely the one cryptocurrency to rule them all. With many more consumers potentially getting their first satoshis though, Lollis’ dream, and the dream of many crypto investors, may well have a chance to come to pass.