All posts in “eCommerce”

FB QVC? Facebook tries Live video shopping

Want to run your own home shopping network? Facebook is now testing a Live video feature for merchants that lets them demo and describe their items for viewers. Customers can screenshot something they want to buy and use Messenger to send it to the seller, who can then request payment right through the chat app.

Facebook confirms the new shopping feature is currently in testing with a limited set of Pages in Thailand, which has been a testbed for shopping features. The option was first spotted by social media and reputation manager Jeff Higgins, and re-shared by Matt Navarra and Social Media Today. But now Facebook is confirming the test’s existence and providing additional details.

The company tells me it had heard feedback from the community in Thailand that Live video helped sellers demonstrate how items could be used or worn, and provided richer understanding than just using photos. Users also told Facebook that Live’s interactivity let customers instantly ask questions and get answers about product specifications and details. Facebook has looked to Thailand to test new commerce experiences like home rentals in Marketplace, as the country’s citizens were quick to prove how Facebook Groups could be used for peer-to-peer shopping. “Thailand is one of our most active Marketplace communities” says Mayank Yadav, Facebook Product Manager for Marketplace.

Now it’s running the Live shopping test, which allows Pages to notify fans that they’re going broadcasting to “showcase products and connect with your customers”. Merchants can take reservations and request payments through Messenger.  Facebook tells me it doesn’t currently have plans to add new partners or expand the feature. But some sellers without access are being invited to join a waitlist for the feature. It also says it’s working closely with its test partners to gather feedback and iterate on the live video shopping experience, which would seem to indicate it’s interested in opening the feature more widely if it performs well.

Facebook doesn’t take a cut of payments through Messenger, but the feature could still help earn the company money at a time when it’s seeking revenue streams beyond News Feed ads as it runs out of space their, Stories take over as the top media form, and user growth plateaus. Hooking people on video viewing helps Facebook show lucrative video ads. The more that Facebook can train users to buy and sell things on its app, the better the conversion rates will be for businesses, and the more they’ll be willing to spend on ads. Facebook could also convince sellers who broadcast Live to buy its new Marketplace ad units to promote their wares. And Facebook is happy to snatch any use case from the rest of the internet, whether it’s long-form video viewing or job applications or shopping to boost time on site and subsequent ad views.

Increasingly, Facebook is setting its sights on Craigslist, Etsy, and eBay. Those commerce platforms have failed to keep up with new technologies like video and lack the trust generated by Facebook’s real name policy and social graph. A few years ago, selling something online meant typing up a generic description and maybe uploading a photo. Soon it could mean starring in your own infomercial.

Uber Eats test lets restaurants trade discounts for ranking boost

Uber Eats has effectively invented its own native ad unit. Uber confirmed to TechCrunch that a test quietly running in markets around India allows restaurants to bundle several food items together and sell them at a discounted price in exchange for promoted placement by Uber Eats in a featured section of local “Specials”. In some cases, restaurants foot the cost of the discount, while in others Uber pays for the discounts.

The Uber Specials feature demonstrates the massive leverage awarded to food delivery apps that aggregate restaurants. Users often come to Uber Eats and its competitors without a specific restaurant in mind. Uber can then point those customers to whichever food supplier it prefers. The suppliers in turn will increasingly compete for the favor the aggregators — not just in terms of food quality, speed, and review scores, but also in terms of discounts. The aggregators will win users if they offer the best deals, creating a network effect makes restaurants more keen to play ball.

TechCrunch first learned of Uber’s ambitions in the space from a mock-up of the Promoted Items Value Section feature spotted in its app by mobile researcher and frequent TC tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The fictional food items included “Best Beer” that “is made from only the finest gutter swill” and “Weird Fries” that “will so utterly decimate your sense of good food that you will be permanently reduced to a whimpering shell of your former self!” This jokey text that seemingly was never meant for public viewing also noted that the fries are so good you should “throw all your other food in the garbage right now!” Uber assured us these weren’t real.

But what it did confirm is that the discounts for promoted placement test is live in India. “We’re always experimenting with ways to make it easier to find your favorite foods on Uber Eats”, according to a statement provided by an Uber spokesperson.

The feature allows restaurants to create a bundled meal at certain price point, such as a chicken sandwich, french fries, and a drink at a price that’s less than the sum of its parts. The company tells me the goal is to take the friction out of ordering by giving people pre-set meals at a better price prominently available in the app. Attracting more customers that have plenty of other options could offset the discount. Businesses could also use it to bundle high margin items like soft drinks in with meals, or to get rid of overstock.

Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory describes how power accrues to aggregators that match supply with demand

It’s already common for restaurants to make ‘specials’ out of food they have too much of. That butternut squash ravioli might only be featured because they can’t get rid of it. In that sense, you could think of Uber Specials as the inverse of surge pricing. When supply is too high, restaurants can offer discounts to gain more demand. It’s also not far off from Google Search’s keyword ads where business pay for more visibility.

Uber wouldn’t discuss whether it plans to bring the strategy to other markets, but it makes sense to assume it’s considering expansion. Done wrong, it could look a bit like Uber Eats is pressuring restaurants to surrender discounts if they want to be discoverable inside its app. If restaurants within Uber Eats get into heated competition to offer discounts, it could drive down their profits. But done right, Specials could look like a triple-win. Restaurants can offload surplus and bundle in high margin items while scoring new customers from enhanced placement, customers get cheaper food options, and Uber Eats becomes people’s go-to app for easy-to-order discounted meals.

Quip raises another $40 million for dental care products and services

Quip, the dental care startup that got its start selling electric toothbrushes directly to consumers, has raised $40 million. The money comes in the form of equity and debt financing, with about half of the funding coming in an equity deal lead by Sherpa Capital and the other half in debt financing from Triplepoint Capital.

“I think the mix of debt and equity is a great thing for us,” Quip CEO Simon Enever told TechCrunch. “It’s more attractive than ever to get alternative types of financing.”

Alternative types of financing, for example, enable founders to potentially avoid terms that are not founder-friendly, as well as raise additional funds that they were unable to secure from traditional investors.

This comes a couple of months after Quip partnered with Target to sell its products, and about six months after Quip raised $10 million from Silicon Valley Bank and acquired Afora, a New York-based startup that offers an alternative to traditional dental insurance.

“It’s been another big year of growth in general for us,” Enever said. “We recently passed a big milestone — our one-millionth brusher.”

With the new funding in hand, Quip has a lot of product and services launches ahead of it, Enever said. He wouldn’t get into details, but Enever said now that the company has executed on phase one — electric toothbrushes and toothpaste — it’s time to expand into additional offerings.

“We’re excited to start offering members more products and services, and in the new year, you’ll see a few new physical products that expand daily at-home care,” he said.

Again, details are limited, but one could envision products like floss, teeth whiteners, mouthwash and chewing gum. Given Quip’s relationships with dental providers, Enever says customers have also asked for cheaper dental visits.

“For patients, we want to help them with everything — that full-service oral hygiene routine,” Enever said. “On the flip side, for providers, the attraction to Quip is we’ve built this large digital platform full of eager patients. We started Quip because people were not invested in their oral health, or were only visiting the dentist when a tooth was falling out or in pain.”

This week, Quip is launching a practice program for dental service providers to offer a low-cost way to offer Quip’s products to their patients. Quip also plans to use the funding to expand its headcount and grow its subscriber base.

Black Friday drove half a million new users to the top shopping apps

More U.S. consumers were shopping on mobile devices on Black Friday this year, with $2.1 billion in sales coming from smartphones. This trend was also reflected across the U.S. App Store. According to new data from Sensor Tower out this morning, the top 10 shopping apps on the App Store added half a million first-time users on Black Friday. That’s up 16.3 percent from the same day in 2017, the firm found.

Overall, new shopping app installs grew 9 percent over last year to reach approximately 1.8 million. To be clear, this number is new downloads, not re-downloads from someone who previously had the app installed on their device, but deleted it at some point. (Of course, those consumers may have already been customers on the web.)

Not surprisingly, Amazon’s app was the most installed, as it has been in years past. But Walmart’s app gained steam as it saw more significant year-over-year growth, the report said.

This year, Amazon added around 115,000 new app users, up 11.7 percent from 2017. Walmart, however, added 95,000 first-time users, up 39.7 percent over last year. Target’s app, which was the third most installed this year, grew 3.3 percent from 2017 with around 62,000 new users.

The rest of the top 10 was rounded out by Wish, Best Buy, eBay, Offer Up, Fashion Nova, Macy’s and JCPenney. This includes both brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

In terms of online-only retailers, the list looked a little different. Amazon was still in the lead, but was then followed by Wish, eBay, Offer Up, Fashion Nova, GOAT, Poshmark, Letgo, Zaful, and Shein.

Walmart, meanwhile, was the most-downloaded app out of all the brick-and-mortar retailers, followed by Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, JCPenney, Nike, Ulta, Forever 21, Hollister, and Sephora.

Overall, new downloads from the brick-and-mortar apps were up 24.7 percent over last year’s Black Friday, while the online-only apps grew around 20 percent.

Of these, Best Buy also had a good year in terms of new installs, the firm said. Around 34.5 percent new users installed its app for the first time, with about 39,000 new downloads in 2018 compared to 29,000 in 2017.

Sensor Tower wasn’t the only App Store intelligence firm predicting a boost in mobile shopping for this year’s Black Friday. App Annie had also forecast the sales holiday in 2018 would break new records.

In the two-week period including Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, App Annie was predicting a 25 percent increase in time spent in shopping apps on Android devices – nearly double from the four years prior.

However, the Google Play numbers aren’t in yet because there’s a 3-plus day delay on Google Play between downloads and chart ranking changes. That means we won’t have accurate Android app store’s numbers until later in the week.

Move over Le Creuset? A new cookware startup founded by and for millennials is getting down to business

Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine a product or industry that a new e-commerce startup hasn’t tried to remake already, from slippers to mattresses, from luggage to lipstick.

Yet two childhood friends in New York have seemingly struck on a fresh idea: taking on the stodgy and often expensive world of cookware, where one’s options out of college are usually limited to a few pieces of Calphalon or Farberware or, in the best-case scenario, some Le Creuset, the premium French cookware manufacturer founded back in 1925 and known for its vibrant colors, including Marseille, Cerise, and Soleil.

In fact, what the pair are building with their 10-month-old startup, Great Jones, appears to be a Le Creuset for the next generation: a handful of cookware items, including a cast-iron Dutch oven, that come in an array of colorful, if comparatively more muted, tones. Think Broccoli and Mustard.

The cookware is also more affordable than Le Crueset, which charges upward of $300 for a similar Dutch oven, compared with $145 for Great Jones’s new product. In fact, Great Jones’s full collection, which also includes a stainless steel stock pot, a stainless sauce pot, a stainless deep saute and a ceramic nonstick skillet, retails for $395.

Cookware is a smart sector to chase. According to the market consultancy IBIS World, the so-called “kitchen and cookware stores” industry has been growing steadily, reaching revenue of $17 billion last year.

One of the big questions for Great Jones will be whether its offerings hold up, and whether its customers find them compelling enough to recommend to others. After all, the old adage tends to hold up that you get what you pay for. And most new products take off because of favorable word of mouth, not merely because they’re Instagrammable.

Great Jones’s 28-year-old founders — Sierra Tishgart, previously a food editor at New York Magazine, and Maddy Moelis, who worked in customer insights and product management at a variety of e-commerce companies, including Warby Parker and Zola — seem to have thought these things through. Indeed, in a recent Forbes profile, they say they conducted extensive interviews with chefs and cookbook authors in their network in order to establish, for example, how to design a comfortable handle.

They also smartly made certain that their introductory offerings come in a range of metals. As even so-so cooks know, stainless steel is ideal for browning and braising; durable nonstick coatings make preparing delicate foods, including eggs and pancakes, less nightmarish.

In the meantime, Great Jones has easily captured the press’s imagination with what they are cooking up — a sign, perhaps, that the industry is ready for a refresh. In addition to Forbes, Great Jones also received recent coverage in The New York Times and Vogue — valuable real estate that most months-old startups can only dream of landing.

Great Jones has also raised outside funding already, including $2.75 million that it closed on last month led by venture capital firm General Catalyst, with participation from numerous individual investors.

Now the company just needs to convince its target demographic that it should ditch the older, established brands that may not feel particularly modern but are known to be durable, easy to clean, dishwasher safe and not insanely heavy (among the other things that keep people from throwing their pots in the garbage).

Great Jones also has plenty of newer competition to elbow out of the way if it’s going to succeed.

As the Times piece about the company notes, just a few of the other startups that are suddenly chasing the same opportunity include Potluck, a five-month-old, New York-based startup that sells a $270 “essentials bundle” that features 22 pieces, including utensils; Misen, a four-year-old, Brooklyn-based startup that sells cookware and chefs knives; and Milo, a year-old, L.A.-based startup that’s solely focused on Dutch ovens, to start.

According to Crunchbase, Misen has raised $2 million, including through a crowdfunding campaign; Milo has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding.