All posts in “e-commerce”

Y Combinator-backed VIDA turns artwork into fashion, accessories and more

VIDA, an e-commerce startup that allows artists to upload their designs to be printed on real-world materials – like fabric, leather, metal and more – which are then sold as unique products, has grown its community of artists to over 100,000 members since its launch a few years ago. The company is now participating in startup accelerator Y Combinator, following its recent collaborations with big names, including Cher, Steve Madden, Warner Bros. and others.

The idea for VIDA comes from founder Umaimah Mendhro, originally from Pakistan, a Harvard Business School grad who has worked in the past at Microsoft and San Francisco-based market accelerator West.

Mendhro had once wanted to be an artist, having taught herself to cut, sketch, sew, stitch, screen print, paint, and more. But she was worried that she couldn’t make a living by way of art alone, which eventually led her to take another path.

With VIDA, Mendhro merges her interests in art and technology by offering a platform where artists can submit their designs, which then become clothing through VIDA’s use of direct-to-fabric digital printing and, more recently, other methods to expand printing to harder materials.

With the digital printing technique, the process of transferring a design to fabric is quicker than traditional methods. This allows VIDA to print items on demand at scale, instead of holding inventory. It’s also now using 3D printing to design the molds for its jewelry collections, and plans to soon move into other areas, like 3D knitting and laser cutting.

Once printed, VIDA creates a branded page for its artists which they can promote however they see fit. The artists recoup 10 percent of the net sales of all their products sold on VIDA, as VIDA handles everything else associated with the manufacturing and sale of those items beyond the design.

When it first launched, VIDA had only a couple of types of products available – silk tops and a few styles of scarves.

Today, the company has branched out to numerous areas – tops, bottoms, wraps, bags, scarves, items for the home like pillows and tapestries, pocket squares, bags, jewelry, and more. It has also grown its community to over 100,000 artists and creatives from over 150 countries worldwide. The site hosts over 2 million individual SKUs, and is adding around 5,000 more daily.

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VIDA isn’t sharing customer numbers or sales figures, but it worked with Cher this year, in a collaboration with HSN. It also worked with Warner Bros. on a collection of Wonder Woman-inspired items, also for HSN.

While VIDA’s larger vision is about making a platform where any idea can become a product, Mendhro says it also appeals to a new kind of consumer.

“We’re rejecting the standardized, mass-produced goods that have been dominating in the retail industry. We want something that’s unique, that tells a story, that has a part of us in there, and something that feels authentic and genuine,” she says.

Despite the custom-made nature of the products, many are surprisingly affordable. For example, the custom bags are in the $40 to $50 range – lower than a new Nine West purse or other mass market brand.

The company also appeals to the socially conscious shopper, as it gives back to those manufacturing its goods in factories through initiatives like its literacy programs and women’s empowerment programs in Pakistan, India and Turkey.

The team of just over a dozen is based in San Francisco, and plans to raise additional funds following Y Combinator’s Demo Day to expand beyond fabrics and further scale the business.

The startup is backed by $5.5 million in funding from Google Ventures, Azure Capital, and Slow Ventures. This is a continuation of the $1.3 million seed round TechCrunch previously reported in 2014, when VIDA was in an earlier stage.

Yelp partners with Curbside to add order pickup to its app for CVS, Pizza Hut and more

Curbside, a startup powering same-day shopping experiences for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, including CVS, is today announcing a new partnership with Yelp that will allow consumers to shop in Yelp’s app, then pick up their items locally. For shoppers, the idea is that they’ll be able to browse area businesses’ products and promotions in Yelp, then drive to the store to pick up their order – without even having to get out of their car to retrieve it.

The startup already had a relationship with CVS, which invested in Curbside last year. At the time, CVS said it planned to roll out this new curbside pickup option to its 9,600 retail pharmacy locations, which would take advantage of Curbside’s technology to power this experience.

This partnership also allowed CVS to introduce an in-app feature called “CVS Express” on mobile, which was available at 350 retail locations across the U.S. as of August, 2016. That rollout has continued at a fairly rapid pace, and has now reached 4,000 retail stores.

The “CVS Express” experience allows customers to shop from nearly 10,000 SKUs in the CVS app. When their order is received and filled, an alert is sent to the customer’s phone, telling them the order is ready for pickup. Curbside’s geo-location technology then alerts store staff when the customer arrives, and they bring the order – already bagged – out to the car.

This same experience is now coming to Yelp.

Even if customers don’t have the CVS mobile app installed, they can shop from CVS via Yelp – an app that is, in many cases, more likely to have a presence on users’ smartphones. The CVS integration in Yelp has the same footprint as to what’s available through CVS’s own app and website, it’s just a different means of accessing the pickup feature.

But to be clear, this feature is something that Curbside is providing to its customers – not Yelp. Curbside today works with a number of stores beyond CVS, including through partnerships with Sephora, Westfield malls, and others. But because it requires an inventory feed, Curbside works well for restaurants with fixed menus and larger retailers – not mom-and-pops – on the retail side.

In addition to CVS, this pickup option is also available for Curbside customer Pizza Hut, which is live now in the Bay Area on Yelp.

Other stores and quick serve restaurants will be added in the future, Curbside tells us. It’s working with a handful of restaurant chains – those that are regional or national – which will add pickups to Yelp in the months ahead.

For Curbside, going live on Yelp makes sense because it gives its customers the ability to reach customers on a larger platform, and reach customers who may not have the business’s app installed.

“The way things are going, consumers are spending time on properties like Yelp,” says Curbside CEO Jaron Waldman. “It’s more cost-effective and a better customer experience to be reaching them in the context of where they’re living, essentially,” he explains.

The timing of the Curbside partnership is interesting, too, given that Yelp just exited its food delivery business. Earlier this month, the company said it was selling Eat24 to GrubHub for $287.5 million, and reported solid earnings.

The original plan with Eat24 was that people searching for a restaurant on Yelp would then take the next step to just order their food, too. But Yelp’s core competency was not in food delivery – a space that now has a ton of competition, including from Uber and Amazon, in addition to others like Seamless/GrubHub.

With Curbside, however, the option to move customers forward to the pointing of shopping and ordering becomes a possibility again, but without Yelp having to get involved in the logistics of handling those orders. Plus, Curbside can offload orders to delivery partners, like Uber, if the customer desires.

Yelp is also participating in a revenue sharing agreement with Curbside for the transactions occurring on its platform, but the companies declined to disclose the specifics of their deal.

Curbside’s integration on Yelp is live today.

CommonSense Robotics raises $6M seed round to make on-demand logistics affordable for all retailers

As e-commerce giants like Amazon continue expanding their on-demand offerings, retailers are struggling to keep up. CommonSense Robotics wants to make near-instantaneous deliveries accessible to smaller businesses with micro-fulfillment centers that can be built inside existing retail spaces. The company announced today that it has raised $6 million in seed funding from Aleph VC and Innovation Endeavors.

CommonSense Robotics was founded by Eyal Goren, Ori Avraham, Shay Cohen and Elram Goren after they became curious about why more grocery stores don’t offer online shipping and on-demand delivery. They discovered that it’s just not economically sustainable for most supermarkets (or even well-funded startups for that matter, as the recent flurry of consolidation in the food delivery space shows). The team decided to work on ways for retailers to be able to deliver orders within an hour and keep margins the same as it would be in their brick-and-mortar stores, but without having to charge fees or higher prices.

CommonSense Robotics is now getting ready to deploy its micro-fulfillment centers for the first time and is not giving away a lot of details until they start operating. Each one combines robotics and artificial intelligence to automate the preparation of orders, including receiving inventory, picking orders and packing them. Then deliveries are carried out by the retailers themselves or third-party services. Building micro-fulfillment centers into stores means retailers can save on overhead and sell more things to their existing customers.

“Retailers that use our platform aren’t just catching up to leaders, they are positioning themselves to set new standards for the industry,” says Goren.

Gas pump card skimmer now phones home

In an unsurprising move by credit card thieves, police have found a new credit card skimmer that sends stolen data via SMS. By tearing apart cheap phones, crooks are able to send credit card information to their location instantly without having to access the skimmer physically or rely on an open Bluetooth connection.

Brian Krebs received images of the skimmer from an unnamed source. They were found at a gas station in the Northeast.

This skimmer connected to the internals of the pump and received power from the pump itself, meaning there was no need to worry about the battery failing. It’s unclear how this model worked but most likely it intercepts the credit card data as it’s being swiped. There’s still hope, however, because gas stations are trying to fight back.

“Many filling stations are upgrading their pumps to include more physical security — such as custom locks and security cameras. In addition, newer pumps can accommodate more secure chip-based payment cards that are already in use by all other G20 nations,” wrote Krebs.

He also recommends not using debit cards at all at gas stations and, obviously, protecting your PIN from prying eyes or cameras.

Amazon launches Spark, a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members

Amazon today is launching Amazon Spark, a new feature aimed at improving product discovery, which is seemingly inspired by Instagram and its use of shoppable photos. Similarly, Amazon Spark users are encouraged to post stories, ideas and images of products they love, which others can react to with comments and “smiles” – Amazon’s own version of the Like or Favorite button.

The retailer has been quietly testing Amazon Spark in beta for a few months before today’s launch to consumers in the U.S. The goal with the new program is to shift some of the social activity around products taking place off-site back to Amazon, where product inspiration can translate directly into purchases with a click of a button.

In this way, Amazon Spark could be seen as something of a Pinterest competitor, as well, but the actual format for the service is a feed-style interface – which is why the comparison with Instagram seems more apt.

To get started with Amazon Spark, you have to use the Amazon mobile app, as the feature is not designed for desktop use at this time.

When you first join Spark – it’s available through the “Programs & Features” menu option in the app’s navigation – you’re asked to select at least five interests you want to follow. Using this information, Amazon Spark will create a customized feed of products, imagery and ideas that will relate to the sort of things you like to shop for, or learn more about.

You can select more than five interests, but you can’t proceed until you’ve chosen a minimum of five categories.

These interests vary, and generally tend to match up with Amazon’s own popular merchandise categories, like “Books,” “Style & Fashion,” “Technology,” “Home Décor,” “Music,” “Fitness,” “Toys & Games,” and many more. But there are also a number of niche categories like “TV Bingewatching,” “Cats,” “Internet of Things,” “BBQ” and others that are much more specific and narrowly focused.

Once you’ve completed the setup – which also includes entering your name and optionally enabling notifications for updates to your Spark posts and responses to comments – you’ll then be presented with an image-heavy feed of product ideas and other stories. In some cases, these posts will read more like a product review – someone detailing their personal experience with an item, for example.

Other times, you might just see a beautiful photo, where the product being sold is less obvious – similar to the sort of fashion inspiration photos you’d come across on Instagram.

When a photo contains a product Amazon sells, there will be a shopping bag icon in the bottom right corner with a number that indicates how many items from the photo can be shopped on Amazon’s site.

For example, in the below photo of a woman watching the sunset at Yosemite, a click on the shopping bag icon will take you to the product detail page for the hat she’s wearing.

In addition to lifestyle imagery, Spark posts can also contain product photos, text, links or polls.

The ability to shop the photos on Amazon’s site is a much more seamless experience than on Instagram, where often the fashion labels’ Instagram handles are tagged in the photos, but you’re not provided with a way to go directly to product pages themselves for the numerous pieces of clothing and accessories tagged.

Or, if you manage to hunt the product in question down, you sometimes find it’s no longer sold or out of stock. That shouldn’t happen on Amazon Spark, thanks to the way the product images are connected with Amazon inventory.

To some extent, the retailer sees Amazon Spark as a new frontier for product reviews. With Spark, Amazon is moving away from rewarding “Top Reviewers” who write up their thoughts and rate items, and is rather embracing a new system that rewards those who are “Enthusiasts” instead.

Enthusiasts will also receive a badge, which appears when they post to Spark or write product reviews.

Anyone can become an Enthusiast by contributing to Spark, but there’s a catch – to post, you have to be an Amazon Prime member. Non-Prime members can browse Spark’s feed, but can’t post or comment.

Encouraging product discovery is a newer focus for Amazon, which has also been steadily upgrading its curated shop of product ideas, “Interesting Finds,” with personalized suggestions based on users’ activity and shopping patterns, through a feature called “My Mix.” It also quietly began testing its own invite-only influencer program, which allows consumers to connect with Amazon products via influencer posts across social media.

Amazon Spark isn’t directly connected with either of those earlier programs, but it does have a similar goal of helping people more serendipitously discover new things they might like to buy.

It also lays the groundwork for a social network that lives right on Amazon, as customers’ user profiles – which have been around for years, but aren’t really well known – now become a much more prominent part of the Amazon experience.

In the future, one could imagine that users will also be able to generate some sort of income via their Spark postings. Making money from product suggestions posted to Spark is not an aspect to this program Amazon is prepared to discuss today. But an influencer-courting service like this will eventually need to nail down a monetization angle if it truly wants to challenge Instagram – a place where the most-followed users can make five or six figures for their posted photos and campaigns.

In the near-term, however, Amazon will focus on helping seed Spark with more content. On July 30, it will begin to allow users to share their previously written product reviews from their profile to Spark, for example.

Amazon Spark is available today in the U.S., only in the Amazon iPhone application.