Despite pandemic, forecasts predict U.S. online holiday sales increase of 20%-30% or more

Strong e-commerce sales are predicted to help lift overall holiday retail spending in the U.S., according to forecasts released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and eMarketer. Both firms expect to see overall retail sales growth during November and December, though the market may be impacted by slowing brick-and-mortar sales.

Of the two, NRF had the more optimistic forecast. It estimates U.S. holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% year-over-year, for a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. That’s compared with a 4% increase in 2019 to $729.1 billion, and an average of a 3.5% increase over the past five years.

Image Credits: NRF

Growth will come from online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, which will increase between 20% and 30% to reach between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion. That’s up from $168.7 billion last year.

NRF’s takeaway is that consumers are willing to spend — perhaps because of the challenging year that 2020 has been, rather than despite it.

“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday,” noted NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season,” he added.

The firm also noted Americans may have reduced their spending in other categories, like personal services, travel and entertainment due to the pandemic, which could increase the money they have for retail spending.

eMarketer, on the other hand, paints a less rosy picture when it comes to overall sales.

The firm predicts that total holiday season retail sales will see the lowest growth rate at just 0.9% year-over-year. This growth will come from the e-commerce sector, which will see its highest growth rate — 35.8% — since the firm began tracking retail sales in 2008. Brick-and-mortar sales, on the other hand, will decline 4.7%.

The discrepancy between these two firms’ estimates have to do with how they calculate “retail sales.”

eMarketer’s estimates include auto and gasoline sales, but exclude restaurants, travel, and event sales. NRF’s figures, on the other hand, exclude auto, gasoline and restaurants.

However, both agree on an e-commerce surge. NRF notes online sales were already up 36.7% year-over-year in the third quarter — in part, due to early holiday shopping. This year, some 42% of consumers had started shopping earlier than usual, it recently found. Plus, retail sales were up 10.6% in October 2020 versus October 2019, in aggregate, its forecast noted.

But whether it’s 20% to 30% growth or 35.8%, depending on the firm, it’s clear e-commerce is saving the day here.

NRF also expects seasonal hiring to be in line with recent years, as retailers hire between 475,000 and 575,000 seasonal workers compared with 562,000 in 2019. Some of that hiring may have already taken place in October, due to early shopping, it said.

Though Black Friday may not see the same levels of in-person shopping as in years past, brick-and-mortar retailers have made it easier to shop digitally, then either have items shipped home, picked up in-store, or even curbside. Outside of Amazon, Walmart and Target have particularly benefited from investments in e-commerce, as both retailers easily beat Wall St. expectations in their latest earnings reports, released just ahead of the holiday quarter.

Online, however, Cyber Monday will continue to rule, however, eMarketer says.

Image Credits: eMarketer

Of the five big online shopping days in 2020, eMarketer says Cyber Monday will again beat out Black Friday in terms of overall e-commerce sales, at $12.89 billion compared with Black Friday’s $10.20 billion. But Thanksgiving Day will see the most year-over-year growth in e-commerce sales, at 49.5%, followed by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Sunday and Cyber Monday.

Image Credits: eMarketer

In a mobile forecast, analytics firm App Annie predicted Americans would spend over 110 million hours in shopping apps on Android devices during the two-week period consisting of Black Friday and Cyber Monday weeks. It noted the pandemic had already accelerated mobile device usage to 4 hours, 20 minutes per day, and Americans spent over 61 million hours shopping during the week of Prime Day.

CVS becomes first national retailer to offer support for PayPal and Venmo QR codes at checkout

PayPal announced this morning that its customers can now use either PayPal or Venmo QR codes when checking out at over 8,200 CVS retail stores across the U.S. This is the first national retailer to integrate PayPal’s QR code checkout technology at point-of-sale, the company noted. The additional checkout option will also expand the number of ways customers can pay “touch-free” at CVS — a way to transact that’s become increasingly popular as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the country.

CVS and PayPal announced their plans to cooperate on a point-of-sale solution back in July. At the time, they pegged the timeframe for the rollout as sometime in Q4 2020.

The QR code checkout process itself will pull the funds needed for the purchase from the customer’s existing PayPal or Venmo account balance, bank account, or from a debit or credit card, just as it would if the transaction was taking place online. Venmo users will additionally have the option to utilize their Venmo Rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

The transaction does not include any fees, PayPal says. Plus, CVS’ ExtraCare Rewards Program members will still be able to redeem and apply savings using their ExtraCare account when using PayPal’s QR code checkout.

The entire transaction can be touch-free, as it involves QR code scanning as opposed to using a card that has to be swiped or inserted into a terminal or numbers punched into a keypad.

The new option arrives at a time when CVS says it’s seeing increased demand for contactless payments.

Since January, CVS has seen a 43% increase in touch-free transactions, according to data from Forrester. In addition, 11% of the U.S. population says they’re now using a digital payment method for the first time as a result of the pandemic, PayPal noted. The company’s own research also indicated that 57% of consumers said merchants’ digital payment offerings impacted their decisions to shop in their stores.

To use the new QR code checkout option, customers will first launch either their PayPal or Venmo app, click the “Scan” button, then select the “show to pay” option.

The new checkout experience was made possible through PayPal’s partnership with payments technology provider InComm, which distributed the PayPal QR code technology through its cloud-based software updates to make the feature available at point-of-sale.

While CVS is the first national retailer to rollout PayPal’s QR code checkout, PayPal said it has 10 other major retailers signed up for a similar rollout, including Nike, Tumi, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Samsonite, among others. It’s in discussions with well over 100 large retailers about the technology, as well.

“The launch of PayPal and Venmo QR codes in CVS Pharmacy stores will not only provide health-conscious customers with a touch-free way to pay at checkout, but also brings the safety and security of PayPal and Venmo transactions into the store with shoppers,” said Jeremy Jonker, PayPal Senior Vice President Head of Consumer In-Store and Digital Commerce, in a statement. “We are thrilled that PayPal and Venmo QR codes will help to maintain the safety of CVS customers and employees, especially in the essential pharmacy retail environment as we go into the winter months.”

In addition to the CVS news, PayPal today also noted that its recently announced “Pay in 4” option for splitting purchases across four installments is now fully live across millions of retailers.

Tiliter bags $7.5M for its ‘plug and play’ cashierless checkout tech

Tiliter, an Australian startup that’s using computer vision to power cashierless checkout tech that replaces the need for barcodes on products, has closed a $7.5 million Series A round of funding led by Investec Emerging Companies.

The 2017-founded company is using AI for retail product recognition — claiming advantages such as removing the need for retail staff to manually identify loose items that don’t have a barcode (e.g. fresh fruit or baked goods), as well as reductions in packaging waste.

It also argues the AI-based product recognition system reduces incorrect product selections (either intentional or accidental).

“Some objects simply don’t have barcodes which causes a slow and poor experience of manual identification,” says co-founder and CEO Martin Karafilis. “This is items like bulk items, fresh produce, bakery pieces, mix and match etc. Sometimes barcodes are not visible or can be damaged.

“Most importantly there is an enormous amount of plastic created in the world for barcodes and identification packaging. With this technology we are able to dramatically decrease and, in some cases, eliminate single use plastic for retailers.”

Currently the team is focused on the supermarket vertical — and claims over 99% accuracy in under one second for its product identification system.

It’s developed hardware that can be added to existing checkouts to run the computer vision system — with the aim of offering retailers a “plug and play” cashierless solution.

Marketing text on its website adds of its AI software: “We use our own data and don’t collect any in-store. It works with bags, and can tell even the hardest sub-categories apart such as Truss, Roma, and Gourmet tomatoes or Red Delicious, Royal Gala and Pink Lady apples. It can also differentiate between organic and non-organic produce [by detecting certain identification indicators that retailers may use for organic items].”

“We use our pre-trained software,” says Karafilis when asked whether there’s a need for a training period to adapt the system to a retailer’s inventory. “We have focused on creating a versatile and scalable software solution that works for all retailers out of the box. In the instance an item isn’t in the software it can be collected by the supermarket in approx 20min and has self-learning capabilities.”

As well as a claim of easy installation, given the hardware can bolt onto existing retail IT, Tiliter touts lower cost than “currently offered autonomous store solutions”. (Amazon is one notable competitor on that front.)

It sells the hardware outright, charging a yearly subscription fee for the software (this includes a pledge of 24/7 global service and support).

“We provide proprietary hardware (camera and processor) that can be retrofitted to any existing checkout, scale or point of sale system at a low cost integrating our vision software with the point of sale,” says Karafilis, adding that the pandemic is driving demand for easy to implement cashierless tech.

The startup cites a 300% increase in ‘scan and go’ adoption in the US over the past year due to COVID-19, as an example, adding that further global growth is expected.

It’s not breaking out customer numbers at this stage — but early adopters for its AI-powered product recognition system include Woolworths in Australia with over 20 live stores; Countdown in New Zealand, and several retail chains in the US such as New York City’s Westside Market.

The Series A funding will go on accelerating expansion across Europe and the US — with “many” supermarkets set to be adopt its tech over the coming months.

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.”

Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

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.

 

LA’s consumer goods rental service, Joymode, sells to the NYC retail investment firm, XRC Labs

After raising $15 million in financing from one of technology’s most successful global investment firms, the Los Angeles-based consumer goods rental company Joymode is selling itself to an early-stage retail investment firm out of New York, XRC Labs.

Joymode’s founder Joe Fernandez will continue on as an advisor to Joymode as the company moves to pivot its business to focus on retail partnerships.

The relationship with XRC Labs’ Pano Anthos began after a small pilot integration between Joymode and Walmart launched in late 2019. “[It] became obvious that we should go all in on retail partnerships,” according to Fernandez. And as the company cast about for partners to pursue the strategy, Anthos and his firm, XRC, kept being mentioned, Fernandez said.

The precise terms of the deal with XRC Labs were undisclosed, but Joymode will become a wholly owned business of XRC and could potentially return to market to raise additional funds from additional investors, according to Fernandez.

“We could never crack growth at the scale we needed,” said Fernandez of the company’s initial business. “From day one, my belief was Joymode was going to be huge or dead. We grew, but given the cost structure of our business it put a lot of pressure on the business to grow exponentially fast. Everyone loved the idea but the actual growth was slower than we needed it to be.”

Though Joymode wasn’t a success, Fernandez said he can’t fault his investors or his team. “We got to iterate through every possible idea we had. Literally every idea we had was exhausted… We failed and that’s a bummer, but we got a fair shot,” he said.

What remains of the company is an inventory management system on the back end and a service that will allow any retailer to get involved in the rental business going forward.

“Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

“I believe that the inventory management system we made was incredible and it will be a standard for retailers doing rentals going forward,” he said. 

 As the company turned to retailers, the rental option became a way to generate revenue through additional products. “All the accessories that made the event even better,” said Fernandez. “Add-ons, try before you buy, experiential things that are just much more complete in a retail environment.”

At Joymode, the problem was that the company was owning the inventory, which created a high fixed cost. “We never felt confident with the growth in LA to justify the expense of opening in another city,” Fernandez said. “If we had cracked user acquisition in LA we would have rolled it out in a bunch of places.”

Ultimately, Joymode members saved $50 million by using Joymode to rent products rather than buying them. In all, the company acquired 2,000 unique products — from beach and camping equipment to video games, virtual reality headsets to cooking appliances. On a given weekend, roughly 30,000 products would ship from the company’s warehouse to locations across Southern California.

At XRC Labs, a firm launched in 2015 to support the consumer goods and brand space, Joymode will complement an accelerator that raises between $6 million and $9 million every two years and manages a growth fund that could reach $50 million in assets under management.

For Anthos, the best corollary to Joymode’s business could be the rental business at Home Depot. “Home Depot’s rental business is over $1 billion per year,” Anthos said. “There’s going to be this enormous component of our society and for them renting will be not just a more sustainable but reasonable option. They’re going to want to rent because they don’t want to own it.”

Joymode was backed by TenOneTen, Wonder, Struck Ventures, Homebrew and Naspers (now Prosus).

Shelf Engine has a plan to reduce food waste at grocery stores, and $12 million in new cash to see i

For the first few months it was operating, Shelf Engine, the Seattle-based company that optimizes the process of stocking store shelves for supermarkets and groceries, didn’t have a name.

Co-founders Stefan Kalb and Bede Jordan were on a ski trip outside of Salt Lake City about four years ago when they began discussing what, exactly, could be done about the problem of food waste in the US.

Kalb is a serial entrepreneur whose first business was a food distribution company called Molly’s, which was sold to a company called HomeGrown back in 2019.

A graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in actuarial science, Kalb says he started his food company to make a difference in the world. While Molly’s did, indeed, promote healthy eating, the problem that Kalb and Bede, a former Microsoft engineer, are tackling at Shelf Engine may have even more of an impact.

Food waste isn’t just bad for its inefficiency in the face of a massive problem in the US with food insecurity for citizens, it’s also bad for the environment.

Shelf Engine proposes to tackle the problem by providing demand forecasting for perishable food items. The idea is to wring inefficiencies out of the ordering system. Typically about a third of food gets thrown out of the bakery section and other highly perishable goods stocked on store shelves. Shelf Engine guarantees use for the store and any items that remain unsold the company will pay for.

Image: OstapenkoOlena/iStock

Shelf Engine gets information about how much sales a store typically sees for particular items and can then predict how much demand for a particular product there will be. The company makes money off of the arbitrage between how much it pays for goods from vendors and how much it sells to grocers.

It allows groceries to lower the food waste and have a broader variety of products on shelves for customers.

Shelf Engine initially went to market with a product that it was hoping to sell to groceries, but found more traction by becoming a marketplace and perfecting its models on how much of a particular item needs to go on store shelves.

The next item on the agenda for Bede and Kalb is to get insights into secondary sources like imperfect produce resellers or other grocery stores that work as an outlet.

The business model is already showing results at around 400 stores in the Northwest, according to Kalb and it now has another $12 million in financing to go to market.

The funds came from Garry Tan’s Initialized and GGV (and GGV managing director Hans Tung has a seat on the company’s board). Other investors in the company include Foundation Capital, Bain Capital, 1984 and Correlation Ventures .

Kalb said the money from the round will be used to scale up the engineering team and its sales and acquisition process.

The investment in Shelf Engine is part of a wave of new technology applications coming to the grocery store, as Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Ventures, wrote in a piece for TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch.

“Grocery margins will always be razor thin, and the difference between a profitable and unprofitable grocer is often just cents on the dollar,” Dhillon wrote. “Thus, as the adoption of e-grocery becomes more commonplace, retailers must not only optimize their fulfillment operations (e.g, MFCs), but also the logistics of delivery to a customer’s doorstep to ensure speed and quality (e.g., darkstores).”

Beyond Dhillon’s version of a delivery only grocery network with mobile fulfillment centers and dark stores, there’s a lot of room for chains with existing real estate and bespoke shopping options to increase their margins on perishable goods as well.

 

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.”  

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.”