FloorFound is bringing online return and resale to direct to consumer furniture businesses

Over the next five years consumers will return an estimated 40 million to 50 million pieces of furniture that more than likely will end up in landfills, creating tons of unnecessary waste, according to Chris Richter, the founder of a new Austin-based furniture startup, FloorFound.

To reduce that waste, and give retailers another option for their used goods, Richter has launched FloorFound. The company is designed to manage furniture returns and resale for online merchants. So far, companies like Floyd Home, Inside Weather, Outer and Feather (the furniture rental company) are using FloorFound’s services.

“We have a very large pipeline and we’ve been operating since April first,” said Richter. “We can pick up in any major metro locally and inspect it locally. We have a platform layer where we can run inspections against those items.”

As consumers look to reduce their environmental footprint, an easy place to start is by buying used items, Richter said, and he expects that most brands will start to incorporate used and new products in their virtual and real showrooms. “Every brand will commingle new items with resale items,” he said. “We are trying to put retailers in the resale business with their own return inventory.” To prove his point, Richter pointed to companies like REI and The Gap, which have partnered with ThredUp to sell used clothes.

To complement its returns business and give online sellers a way to work more seamlessly with local vendors, the company has logistics partnerships with providers including Pilot Freight Services, Metropolitan Warehouse and Delivery and J.B. Hunt Transport.

Working with co-founder Ryan Matthews, the former director of technology for the Austin-based high-end retailer Kendra Scott, Richter has set up a business that can tap into both the demand for better customer service for the return of large items and the growing call for greater sustainability in the furniture industry.

It was an attractive enough proposition to attract a pre-seed investment from Schematic Ventures, a venture fund focused exclusively on technological innovations for supply chain management.

“The broken experience of oversized e-commerce has kept a multi-billion-dollar category offline. It’s not a simple problem: oversized items require coordination of a hyper-fragmented micro carrier network, complex physical processing, and then re-injection into an e-commerce channel that aligns with the brand,” said Julian Counihan, a general partner at Schematic Ventures. “UPS and FedEx just aren’t going to cut it. FloorFound is tackling this challenge with a team tailor-made for the task: Chris Richter, Ryan Matthews and Shannon Hardt have backgrounds spanning supply chain, delivery, e-commerce and enterprise software. FloorFound will be the final push that moves the remaining offline categories, online.” 

Millennial Media’s Paul Palmieri launches Tradeswell, a startup promising to fix e-commerce margins

A new startup called Tradeswell said it’s using artificial intelligence to help direct-to-consumer and e-commerce brands build healthier businesses.

The company is led by Paul Palmieri, who previously took mobile advertising company Millennial Media public and then sold it to TechCrunch’s corporate parent AOL (now Verizon Media). Afterwards, Palmieri founded Grit Capital Partners, but he told me he decided to join Tradeswell as a co-founder and CEO because he was so excited about the vision.

Palmieri said that just as Millennial helped independent app developers get smarter about advertising, Tradeswell gives upstart e-commerce companies the data they need to compete with “the big platform behemoths.”

It’s no secret that a number of direct-to-consumer companies have struggled to make a profit due to challenging unit economics. Palmieri suggested that one reason for this is the fragmentation of their tools and data.

“If you’re selling something like Campbell’s Soup, you want to figure out, how is your tomato soup business and your chicken soup business?” Palmieri said. “Today, brands are saying, ‘How’s my Amazon business? How’s my Shopify business? How’s my Shopify business on Instagram?’ ”

So rather than relying on those platforms for data, Palmieri suggested brands want an independent platform that they trust to bring everything together, “where it’s a combination of a Bloomberg terminal plus a trading platform.”

Tradeswell’s AI focuses in six key areas of an e-commerce business: marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials. Palmieri suggested that in some cases (like ad-buying), Tradeswell will replace existing software, while in other cases it will integrate.

“Think of us as a neural AI layer, where [a brand] might have different platform relationships, which are the fingers, and we’re the AI brain,” he said. “We’re giving brands insights and forecasts: If you make this change, we anticipate XYZ will happen.”

In some cases, like the aforementioned advertising, Tradeswell can also support full automation, so that merchants don’t have to worry about “setting up and tearing down hundreds of campaigns.”

The key, Palmieri said, is that the platform has access to the business’ full financials, so it can optimize for net margins, rather than simply driving the most impressions or clicks or sales.

While Tradeswell is only coming out of stealth mode today, it’s already been working with more than 100 brands. For example, Steve Tracy of Red Monkey Foods and San Francisco Salt Company said in a statement that the startup’s “unique, comprehensive, algorithmic approach has helped us grow sales, identify commercialization opportunities and forecast far more accurately.”

Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels

Instagram this morning announced the global expansion of its Instagram Shopping service across IGTV. The product, which lets you watch a video then check out with a few taps, offers creators and influencers a way to more directly monetize their user base on Instagram, while also giving brands a way to sell merchandise to their followers. Instagram said it would also soon begin testing shopping within its newer feature and TikTok rival, Reels.

Image Credits: Instagram

Shopping has become a larger part of the Instagram experience over the past few years.

Instagram’s Explore section in 2018 gained a personalized Shopping channel filled with the things Instagram believed you’d want the most. It also expanded Shopping tags to Stories. Last year, it launched Checkout, a way to transact within the app when you saw something you wanted to buy. And just this summer, Instagram redesigned its dedicated Shop section, now powered by Facebook Pay.

Today, Instagram users can view products and make purchases across IGTV, Instagram Live and Stories.

On IGTV, users can either complete the purchase via the in-app checkout or they can visit the seller’s website to buy. However, the expectation is that many shoppers will choose to pay for their items without leaving the app, for convenience’s sake. This allows Instagram to collect selling fees on those purchases. At scale, this can produce a new revenue stream for the company — particularly now as consumers shop online more than ever, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s acceleration of e-commerce.

In the future, Instagram says its shoppable IGTV videos will be made discoverable on Instagram Shop, as well.

Given its intention to make shopping a core part of the Instagram platform, it’s not surprising that the company intends to make Reels shoppable, too.

“Digital creators and brands help bring emerging culture to Instagram, and people come to Instagram to get inspired by them. By bringing shopping to IGTV and Reels, we’re making it easy to shop directly from videos. And in turn, helping sellers share their story, reach customers, and make a living,” said Instagram COO Justin Osofsky, in a statement.

Instagram isn’t alone in seeing the potential for shopping inspired by short-form video content. Walmart’s decision to try to acquire a stake in TikTok is tied to the growing “social commerce” trend which mixes together social media and online shopping to create a flurry of demand for new products — like a modern-day QVC aimed at Gen Z and broadcast across smartphones’ small screens.

By comparison, TikTok so far has only dabbled with social commerce. It has run select ad tests, like a partnership with Levi’s during the early days of the pandemic to create influencer-created ads that appeared in users’ feeds and directed users to Levi’s website. It has also experimented with allowing users to add links to e-commerce sites to TikTok profiles and other features.

Instagram didn’t say when Reels would gain shopping features, beyond “later this year.”

 

Online garden shop Bloomscape raises $15M Series B, acquires plant care app Vera

If you thought to invest in more plants or started growing a small garden during 2020’s coronavirus lockdowns, you weren’t alone. According to Bloomscape, a company that ships live plants straight from greenhouses to customers’ homes, a number of people become interested in plants this year, increasing demand for its already growing service. Today, Bloomscape announced it’s expanding its business with the addition of $15 million in Series B funding as well as the acquisition of plant care app Vera.

The new round of financing was led by General Catalyst, and included participation from Annox Capital’s Bob Mylod; former Chairman of Booking Holdings and Home Depot board member Jeff Boyd; former Seventh Generation and Burt’s Bees CEO John Replogle; along with existing investors Revolution Ventures and Ludlow Ventures.

Joel Cutler, co-founder and Managing Director of General Catalyst and Bob Mylod, Managing Partner at Annox Capital Management will join Bloomscape’s Board of Directors as part of the round. To date, Bloomscape has raised $24 million.

Image Credits: Bloomscape, screenshot via TechCrunch

Bloomscape was founded by Michigan designer and entrepreneur Justin Mast and launched in 2018 with the goal of reinventing how plants move about the country and arrive on customers’ doorsteps.

Today, there are other businesses that ship live plants, including home improvement stores and large e-commerce retailers like Amazon. But what makes Bloomscape different are the steps it has made to ensure a better delivery process and its logistics operations behind-the-scenes.

The company has filed a patent on parts of its plant packaging technology, where plants and pots are held securely at the right temperature. It also uses a proprietary soil mix that has a bonding agent that holds the soil together better during shipping and better protects the roots, explains Boomscape CEO Justin Mast.

In addition, because plants are shipped directly to the customer from the greenhouse, they’re healthier upon arrival than those spend, on average, 4 weeks traveling from a greenhouse to a big box store before being sent to a customer’s home.

The company is also now working to refine its regional fulfillment strategy to include localized centers and systems that will shorten transit times even further.

Image Credits: Bloomscape

Mast stresses that Bloomscape’s success to date wasn’t dependent on any one factor, but rather has been a combination of people, processes and systems.

“Key people on our product and supply chain team have decades of experience in shipping plants around the country through couriers and best in class fulfillment processes,” says Mast. “And now internally we have gathered a massive amount of information about which plants ship well during varying conditions. We are now systematizing this information so we can really optimize our product mixes to really ensure healthy plants, more successful plant parents, and ultimately a much better customer experience,” he notes.

Even before the pandemic, Bloomscape was seeing steadily rising growth. Though the company doesn’t share its specific metrics, Mast would say that his business has grown by 4x since last year and it has more than doubled its staff.

Millennials are Bloomscape’s fast-growing segment, including those outside urban centers in the south and mid-Atlantic regions. Many are also new or recent single-family homeowners, as well.

When COVID-19 hit and lockdowns were in force, Bloomscape had to quickly adapt to not just growing consumer demand but also a remote work lifestyle among employees.

“During a time of immeasurable difficulty for so many people, we are very fortunate that the business was not negatively affected by the pandemic. During the first few months of COVID, along with the rest of the world, we saw a lot of things change,” Mast says. “A lot of people found comfort and became interested in plants. We are incredibly grateful that our plants offer that little bit of solace and joy via nature into the home. We were thrilled to be able to bring something so meaningful to people during that time,” he adds.

The accelerated shift to e-commerce prompted by the pandemic will likely continue to benefit Bloomscape even when the health crisis passes. Plus, as Mast points out, once people dip their toe in with plants, they often don’t stop at one.

As a part of the funding news, Bloomscape also acquired plant care app Vera for an undisclosed sum. The deal was for the tech only, not the team who built the app itself, we’re told.

Image Credits: Bloomscape

Vera today provides customers with plant care tips, content, troubleshooting help, watering reminders and more. Bloomscape plans to leverage the app to better connect with customers and integrate its own plant care content and resources, like its existing Talk to Plant Mom plant care assistance service.

In addition to its expansion of plant care offering with Vera, Bloomscape plans to use the new capital to grow its team, refine its regional fulfillment strategy, and launch new products. One such product is its Edible Garden Shop, where customers can buy small tomato, lavender, sweet pepper, hot pepper, kale mix, mint and chamomile plants.

Next year, the company will move into outdoor plants, the company says.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a team that understands a consumer vertical better than Bloomscape does with home gardening,” said Joel Cutler, co-founder and managing director, General Catalyst, in a statement about his firm’s investment. “The team has found not just excellence in the complicated logistics of cultivating and shipping live plants nationwide, but also a strong resonance with today’s consumer who’s looking to green up their living spaces,” he said.

 

Shopify says two support staff stole customer data from sellers

Shopify has confirmed a data breach, in which two “rogue members” of its support team stole customer data from at least 100 merchants.

In a blog post, the online shopping site said that its investigation so far showed that the two employees, who have since been fired, were “engaged in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said it had referred the matter to the FBI.

The employees allegedly stole customer data, including names, postal addresses, and order details, from “less than 200 merchants,” but financial data was unaffected.

Shopify said that it does not have any evidence to suggest that the data was used, but that it had notified affected merchants of the incident.

One merchant shared a copy of Shopify’s email notification with TechCrunch, which said the company first became aware of the breach on September 15, and that the two employees obtained data that was accessible using Shopify’s Orders API, which lets merchants process orders on behalf of their customers. The email also said that the last four-digits of the customers’ payment card was also taken in the incident.

Shopify did not say how many end customers were affected by the theft of data from merchants, but the email sent by Shopify contained the specific number of customer records taken in the breach. In this merchant’s case, over 1.3 million customer records and over 4,900 were accessed.

A spokesperson for Shopify didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Just last month, Instacart admitted two of its third-party support staff improperly accessed the information for shoppers, who deliver grocery orders to customers.

Imran Khan’s Verishop adds Verified Shops, a way for emerging brands to set up shop in its digital mall

Verishop, the Los Angeles online retailer founded by former Snap executive Imran Khan, launched a little over a year ago to change the way people shop online. Now the company is launching a new initiative called “Verified Shops” which looks to change the way that up-and-coming retail brands can sell their wares. 

As direct-to-consumer and upstart brands look for new ways to sell, they’re increasingly turning to online partners to grow their businesses. Chiefly, the concern is that some retailers have been overrun with counterfeit products or unauthorized sellers that undercut pricing and dilute the brand’s value with knock-off products, the company observed.

So Khan set out to change the selling experience for these new companies that want to have a better way to communicate with their potential customers… a way to really tell their story online.

“We started with the big brands,” Khan said. “[Now] we’re launching ‘Verified Shop’ where any DTC brands can sell on our platform. They have to get through an approval process and verify that you’re a real direct to consumer brand you can sell on the platform.”

That pitch appealed to retailers like David Manshoory, the founder of the popular cosmetics brand Alleyoop.

“Right now we don’t work with any other e-commerce retailers,” said Manshoory. “Verishop was the first online-only retail partner, because they’ve got a really large audience of customers that are in our demographic.”

The year-old cosmetics brand went with Verishop because the number of retailers and types of sellers on the platform “seemed very curated,” according to Manshoory. “There are brands in there that we recognized and respected.”

The revenue share program that Verishop has created for the newer, smaller consumer brands that join the platform is also straightforward, Manshoory said. Brands in the Verified Shops channel only pay when they make a sale  and it’s just 10% to 15%, depending on the category, according to the company. 

“Because they’re not buying inventory upfront they take a lower cut… which was a reason why I was attracted to it,” said the cosmetics company founder. “We can get started right off the bat once the integration is up… we have full control over our store.”

Verishop also managed to win over other online direct-to-consumer darlings like Greats (which was recently acquired by Steve Madden), Dagne Dover, Athletic Propulsion Labs, Judy and The Ridge.

“E-commerce still starts in 1990,” said Khan of the traditional shopping experience. “It’s a search-based experience that’s phenomenal if you know what you’re looking for.” However, as brands proliferate and consumers look to identify with particular brands and brand stories more closely, the question becomes how to find those new companies that are selling the types of products that resonate with particular shoppers.

It’s the question that Verishop has set out to solve and the company is hoping that Verified Shops can be the onramp for the newest consumer brands to reach a millennial audience. Think of it as an online mall where a curated shopping ecosystem exists for each brand to develop its own digital storefront and tell its own story.

“Right now we sell fashion and home and beauty, but long-term why can’t you buy a car?” Khan asked. “It’s this virtual mall or virtual shopping strip that you can walk through and discover and learn and hang out. We let the brands tell the story and let the consumers discover the stories.”

Unlike other attempts to create a front-end digital storefront experience for brands, Khan said that Verishop is differentiated by its focus on a back-end e-commerce infrastructure and logistics capabilities that other virtual malls can’t match.

Brands can apply to appear on Verishop and once they’re selected as verified shops they’ll have the chance to tap into a customer base that’s mostly comprised of Gen Z and millennial shoppers.

Imran Khan’s Verishop adds Verified Shops, a way for emerging brands to set up shop in its digital mall

Verishop, the Los Angeles online retailer founded by former Snap executive Imran Khan, launched a little over a year ago to change the way people shop online. Now the company is launching a new initiative called “Verified Shops” which looks to change the way that up-and-coming retail brands can sell their wares. 

As direct-to-consumer and upstart brands look for new ways to sell, they’re increasingly turning to online partners to grow their businesses. Chiefly, the concern is that some retailers have been overrun with counterfeit products or unauthorized sellers that undercut pricing and dilute the brand’s value with knock-off products, the company observed.

So Khan set out to change the selling experience for these new companies that want to have a better way to communicate with their potential customers… a way to really tell their story online.

“We started with the big brands,” Khan said. “[Now] we’re launching ‘Verified Shop’ where any DTC brands can sell on our platform. They have to get through an approval process and verify that you’re a real direct to consumer brand you can sell on the platform.”

That pitch appealed to retailers like David Manshoory, the founder of the popular cosmetics brand Alleyoop.

“Right now we don’t work with any other e-commerce retailers,” said Manshoory. “Verishop was the first online-only retail partner, because they’ve got a really large audience of customers that are in our demographic.”

The year-old cosmetics brand went with Verishop because the number of retailers and types of sellers on the platform “seemed very curated,” according to Manshoory. “There are brands in there that we recognized and respected.”

The revenue share program that Verishop has created for the newer, smaller consumer brands that join the platform is also straightforward, Manshoory said. Brands in the Verified Shops channel only pay when they make a sale  and it’s just 10% to 15%, depending on the category, according to the company. 

“Because they’re not buying inventory upfront they take a lower cut… which was a reason why I was attracted to it,” said the cosmetics company founder. “We can get started right off the bat once the integration is up… we have full control over our store.”

Verishop also managed to win over other online direct-to-consumer darlings like Greats (which was recently acquired by Steve Madden), Dagne Dover, Athletic Propulsion Labs, Judy and The Ridge.

“E-commerce still starts in 1990,” said Khan of the traditional shopping experience. “It’s a search-based experience that’s phenomenal if you know what you’re looking for.” However, as brands proliferate and consumers look to identify with particular brands and brand stories more closely, the question becomes how to find those new companies that are selling the types of products that resonate with particular shoppers.

It’s the question that Verishop has set out to solve and the company is hoping that Verified Shops can be the onramp for the newest consumer brands to reach a millennial audience. Think of it as an online mall where a curated shopping ecosystem exists for each brand to develop its own digital storefront and tell its own story.

“Right now we sell fashion and home and beauty, but long-term why can’t you buy a car?” Khan asked. “It’s this virtual mall or virtual shopping strip that you can walk through and discover and learn and hang out. We let the brands tell the story and let the consumers discover the stories.”

Unlike other attempts to create a front-end digital storefront experience for brands, Khan said that Verishop is differentiated by its focus on a back-end e-commerce infrastructure and logistics capabilities that other virtual malls can’t match.

Brands can apply to appear on Verishop and once they’re selected as verified shops they’ll have the chance to tap into a customer base that’s mostly comprised of Gen Z and millennial shoppers.

Walmart+ launches Sept 15, offering same-day delivery, gas discounts and cashierless checkout for $98/yr

Walmart today officially unveiled its new membership service and Amazon Prime rival, which it’s calling “Walmart+.” The $98 per year service will combine free, unlimited same-day delivery on groceries and thousands of other items, with additional benefits, like fuel discounts and access to a new Scan & Go service, similar to Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, that will allow members to check out at Walmart stores without having to wait in line.

The service will be available starting on September 15, 2020 nationwide, reaching over 4,700 Walmart stores, including 2,700 stores that offer delivery. Members can choose to pay the $98 per year after a 15-day free-trial period, or they can pay $12.95 on a month-to-month basis.

At launch, the new program promises more than 160,000 items for same-day delivery with no per-delivery fee on orders totaling $35 or more. This is the same value proposition that Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” program offers today. With the launch of Walmart+, “Delivery Unlimited” members will be moved to the rebranded and expanded service.

In addition to delivery savings, the new Walmart+ membership will include fuel discounts of up to 5 cents per gallon on any fuel type at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations nationwide. Walmart+ members will enable the discounts by using the Walmart mobile app, either by scanning a QR code or entering a PIN at the pump. Further down the road, the program will expand to include Sam’s Club fuel stations as well.

Image Credits: Walmart

The Scan & Go membership perk, meanwhile, lets Walmart+ members pay without having to wait in checkout lines — a nice perk to have amid a pandemic, where time in store means time exposed to potential carriers of the novel coronavirus. Using the Walmart app, customers scan scan items as they shop, then pay for them using Walmart Pay for a touch-free checkout experience.

Walmart two years ago had tested cashierless Scan & Go technology in its stores, but killed the program due to shopper theft. Arguably, fewer people will use Scan & Go because it’s a paid service, which could help store staff better combat the earlier problems.

Image Credits: Walmart

As with “Delivery Unlimited,” the Walmart+ orders are picked by in-store staff then handed off to partners like Postmates, DoorDash, Roadie and Point Pickup for delivery. Not owning the end-to-end experience can cause issues for consumers, however — especially because a poor delivery experience can damage Walmart’s reputation, or because customer service issues can’t be always dealt with directly when a middleman is involved. Walmart has also seen partners come and go, as delivery services ended their relationship with Walmart over the costs involved.

Walmart claims its new program is not a Prime rival. But it could encourage some number of Prime members to make a switch.

“We’re not launching Walmart+ with the intent to compete with anything else. We’re launching it with the needs of customers in mind,” explained Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside.

“Of course, I hope that brings in more customers and makes them more loyal, but when you’re as big as Walmart is — and serving as many people as we are — this is about really doubling down with the customers that we have and getting more share of wallet and more share of mind,” Whiteside added.

Prime is a much more expansive program. For comparison, Prime offers tens of millions of products for two-day delivery, over 10 million for one-day delivery and over 3 million for same-day delivery on orders of $35 or more. Walmart+ is focused more specifically on same-day delivery, as Walmart.com already offers free one-day or two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more without requiring a membership fee.

Prime today also offers a huge array of other perks — like access to free music, video, audiobooks, Kindle books and more. Walmart+ does not.

Still, for many customers, the value in Prime is rooted in its promise of speedy delivery. But at the same time, Amazon has tested the limits of its customer loyalty by steadily raising Prime’s subscription price over the years to now $119 when paid annually, or $12.99 per month. Walmart+ undercuts Prime at $98 per year or $12.95 per month while largely catering to the online grocery shopper — a target market that has rapidly grown during the pandemic. Walmart recently reported the pandemic helped drive its own e-commerce sales, fueled  by online grocery, up 97% in the past quarter.

Image Credits: Walmart

Meanwhile, Amazon’s grocery strategy since its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods has yet to be streamlined. Amazon today continues to offer two different online grocery services, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, with a varying array of pickup and delivery options, potentially leading to consumer confusion.

That said, the pandemic has led to massive sales increases for Amazon and Walmart, along with other essential retailers like Target, with all involved reporting stellar earnings in recent quarters.

Walmart’s plans for a new subscription program had previously been reported and a placeholder website has also been live for some time. In August, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors on the company’s earnings call that it was readying the launch a membership program that would be centered around delivery. He noted also at the time how Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” subscription, launched last year, would serve a “great base of an offer” for the broader program, but didn’t offer a launch time frame.

Earlier reports said the service would include other perks, like access to more grocery time slots, promotional deals and eventually a Walmart+ credit card. The retailer declined to speak to its plans, only saying that Walmart+ benefits would expand over time.

“As is the case with any great membership offering, these benefits are not intended to be static. We will continue to leverage our assets and scale to bring solutions at unprecedented value, all while holding true to the everyday low prices that customers know they can always expect from Walmart,” Whiteside said. “In the future, we will be leveraging our wide-ranging strengths to add additional benefits for members in a range of both services and offerings,” she added.

Target sets sales record in Q2 as same-day services grow 273%

Following Walmart’s pandemic-fueled earnings beat posted on Tuesday, Target today also handily beat Wall Street expectations to deliver a record-setting quarter across a number of key metrics. The retailer on Wednesday announced its strongest quarter to date for comparable sales, which grew 24.3% in Q2, driving Target’s profit up 80.3% year-over-year to $1.69 billion. Online ordering was particularly popular, Target noted, with digital sales growing 195%. Same-day services like Drive Up, Order Pick Up and Shipt also grew by 273%.

In the quarter, Target topped estimates for revenue, same-store sales, adjusted EPS and gross margin. It reported $23 billion in revenue versus estimates of $19.82 billion. Its record-setting 24.3% increase in comparable sales was well above the expected 5.8%. Earnings per share came in at $3.38 versus the $1.58 forecast. And its GM was 30.9% instead of the expected 28.98%.

The company attributed its sales growth to a number of factors, including its ability to remain open amid the pandemic as an essential business, its customers’ overall trust in the Target brand, its ability to get customers to shop across its product categories, its digital services and most notably, the return of customers to its stores in Q2.

The latter item doesn’t necessarily mean Target shoppers were walking the aisles, however.

Instead, it speaks to the investments Target made ahead of the pandemic in bridging the gap between online ordering and its physical stores. In Q2, Target’s In-store Order Pick Up grew more than 60%, as shoppers headed inside Target to pick up their web orders, for example.

Target’s Drive Up service, which allows customers to shop online then pull up in designated parking spots to have orders brought their car, was up by more than 700% in the quarter.

And Target’s same-day home delivery service Shipt was up 350% over last year.

That means that for much of what Target customers think of as “online shopping,” their sales were actually being fulfilled by Target’s stores. In fact, Target said its stores fulfilled more than 90% of its second-quarter sales.

Image Credits: Target

To build out its digital fulfillment services, Target took a tech company-like approach in leveraging internal engineering teams capable of iterating quickly on new ideas. A team of eight, including four engineers, originally built Drive Up starting back in April 2017, for instance. By summer 2017, Drive Up was being tested internally. It then rolled out to Target’s home market by that fall. And as of August 2019, Target’s Drive Up service was available nationwide.

The retailer has also made key acquisitions to aid its e-commerce operations, including its $550 million deal for Shipt in 2017, and more recently, its acquisition of same-day delivery technology from Deliv back in May. It has also integrated Shipt’s same-day service directly into its own website and app, instead of relying only on Shipt’s dedicated brand to reach Target shoppers.

The results of these efforts are now paying off in a pandemic where customers don’t necessarily want to browse stores’ aisles in person to shop. That has led to Target seeing what Yahoo Finance today described as “tech company-like growth” for its retail business.

Richmond Drive Up

Store opening at Target Houston – Richmond on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 in South Richmond, Texas. Image Credits: Anthony Rathbun/AP Images for Target

Target’s chairman and CEO Brian Cornell additionally noted the company has added $5 billion in market share in the first six months of 2020, during which time it has added 10 million new digital customers.

“Our second-quarter comparable sales growth of 24.3% is the strongest we have ever reported, which is a true testament to the resilience of our team and the durability of our business model. Our stores were the key to this unprecedented growth, with in-store comp sales growing 10.9% and stores enabling more than three-quarters of Target’s digital sales, which rose nearly 200%,” he said. “We also generated outstanding profitability in the quarter, even as we made significant investments in pay and benefits for our team. We remain steadfast in our focus on investing in a safe and convenient shopping experience for our guests, and their trust has resulted in market share gains of $5 billion in the first six months of the year,” Cornell continued.

“With our differentiated merchandising assortment, a comprehensive set of convenient fulfillment options, a strong balance sheet and our deeply dedicated team, we are well-equipped to navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and continue to grow profitably in the years ahead,” he said.

The pandemic has played a role in what customers bought, too. Target said its sales were up across all five of its core merchandise categories. This was led by the strongest sales in electronics, a category that was up 70% year-over-year due to people staying at home for work, school and entertainment, leading to more purchases of things like computers or gaming systems. Electronics were followed by home products, which were up by 30%, then increases of 20% for the beauty, food and beverages, and essentials categories. Apparel even shifted from a 20% decline in Q1 to double-digit growth in Q2. Customer basket size also grew 18.8%, as people shopped for more items on their Target runs.

Like Walmart, Target also saw a boost from government stimulus checks, which will likely taper off next quarter. But Target declined to offer further 2020 guidance, saying that the COVID-19 crisis makes consumer shopping patterns and government policies unpredictable.

 

TradeDepot adds $10 million to add financial services to its supply chain services for African SMBs

Nigeria’s e-commerce startup TradeDepot, which connects international brands to small businesses in Africa, has raised $10 million in a new round of funding to expand its business into financial services and credit offerings for retailers.

First launched in 2016, TradeDepot has built up a network of 40,000 small businesses in Nigeria and connects them to local distributors of global consumer brands like Nestlé, Unilever, GB Foods and Danone, according to a statement.

The initial business model managed to attract a $3 million investment led by Partech back in 2018. And now, as the firm invests from its largest African fund, Partech returned to co-lead TradeDepot’s latest round with the International Finance Corp., Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative and MSA Capital.

TradeDepot’s business depends on making a range of household supplies like milk, soap, and detergent more accessible and affordable for the street-side vendors and small shops that provide goods and services for hundreds of communities in cities like Lagos — where the company is headquartered.

Using the company’s mobile apps on Android or Whatsapp, USSD short code messaging or a toll-free phone number, retailers can place orders and have goods and services delivered through TradeDepot’s fleet of vans and tricycles. They can make payments, order stock, and manage inventory online or through the app as well.

For consumer brands, they have a central hub through which to distribute directly to vendors on the continent, along with data that can help them manage their relationship with these small vendors.

Image Credit: TradeDepot

Africa’s offline retail market is estimated at $1 trillion, and this new investment allows us to capture an even greater segment of that market,” said Onyekachi Izukanne, in a statement. “We will continue to use data to drive efficiencies and provide an easier stock acquisition service for our [over] 40,000 retailers, driving down costs for them by negotiating even better deals with our global manufacturing partners, whilst simultaneously providing a better, faster route to market for our suppliers.”

The company said that a new store comes online to use its services every three minutes and that the company receives an order from retailers every four seconds, on average.

Now, with the new capital, TradeDepot will expand into a suite of financial services and lending products for its retailers. Many of the company’s customers lack a credit rating, but TradeDepot has alternative ways to score credit based on the data it has from its existing trading relationships.

“The founders’ vision to build a digital platform that improves the unit economics of serving the mass market is one we feel privileged to support,” said Wale Ayeni, the head of Africa Venture Capital investment at the IFC.

That support disproportionately goes to helping women entrepreneurs, according to the company. Women account for over 75% of the retailers on the company’s platform. Now, with the help of its new investor We-Fi, TradeDepot will look to offer mentorship opportunities and link these business owners to global markets.

“Women play a pivotal role in driving economies across Africa, but lack of access to capital, limited market linkages, cultural norms and other challenges often prevent them from achieving the success they want,” saiid Hanh Nam Nguyen, who represents the We-Fi initiative with the IFC. “We-Fi financing will incentivize TradeDepot to build stronger women-led small and medium enterprises (SME) retailer and distributor networks, which will support them to become drivers of economic growth in their communities.”