All posts in “retail”

Job Today gets a $16M top up as it preps for Brexit bump

Accel-backed mobile-first jobs app Job Today has pulled in another $16M — an expansion to its November 2016 $20M Series B round. It raised a $10M Series A in January of the same year.

The 2015 founded startup offers a mobile app for job seekers that does away with the need for a CV.

Instead job seekers create a profile in the app and can apply to relevant jobs. Employers can then triage potential applicants via the app and chat to any they like the look of via its messaging platform.

The approach has been especially popular with fast turnover jobs in the service industry, such as hospitality and retail.

Job Today says it has more than five million job seekers registered on its platform, and claims to have delivered more than 100 million candidate applications to the 400,000+ predominantly small businesses posting jobs via the app to date (with 1M+ jobs posted). It currently operates in two markets: Spain and the UK.

The additional funding will be put towards expanding its presence in the UK market — where it says it’s seen “significant growth” in both job postings and candidate applications.

It says the overall volume of applications has increased by 46% year-on-year in the market, with the number of applications per candidate growing by 32% in the same period. The likes of Costa Coffee, Pret A Manger and Eat are named as among its “regular hirers”.

It’s also envisaging a Brexit bump for the local casual job market, as the UK’s decision to leave the European Union looks set to impact the supply of labor for employers…

Commenting in a statement, CEO Eugene Mizin, said: “The casual job market is often the first to experience the effects from macro-economic forces and Brexit will mean that many non-skilled and non-British workers will leave the UK. This will create a demand to fill casual jobs and create new opportunities for the less-skilled school, college and university leavers entering the workforce for the first time in 2019.”

The Series B expansion funds are coming from New York based investor 14W.

Job Today says it got additional growth uplift after integrating with Google Jobs — aka Google search’s built in AI-powered jobs engine. This launched in the UK in July 2018, and Job Today said it saw 101% growth in users in the first month of integration.

Uppercase raises $3.5M to help e-tailers open brick-and-mortar stores

People like to say that brick-and-mortar retail is dead, but direct-to-consumer businesses continue to dabble with physical stores all the same.

Why? Because brick-and-mortar retail provides businesses with benefits an online shopping platform can’t, namely consumer experiences that create and sustain shopper’s relationships with brands. 

To help the next generation of digitally native stores expand into the physical world, Uppercase, formerly known as thisopenspace, is launching out of stealth with $3.5 million in venture capital funding. Lerer Hippeau has led the round, with participation from CRV and SV Angels.

Uppercase works with real estate agents, architects and designers to build stores for online brands in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto.

Co-founder and CEO Yashar Nejati started the company after noticing that online brands were experimenting with pop-up shops then establishing permanent storefronts.

Men’s retailer Frank & Oak, which picked up a $16 million Series C this year, is a great example of that trend. The company began as an internet retailer and now has several stores throughout Canada. Luggage startup Away, trendy shoe company Allbirds and Emily Weiss’ makeup company Glossier have done the same.

“Anyone can launch an online brand,” Nejati told TechCrunch. “Brands truly stand out from the crowd once they grow beyond digital — we’re seeing this with Warby Parker, Casper and Indochino, who will have over 350 stores by the end of 2018. Uppercase is part of a modern growth strategy, providing tech-enabled flexible retail stores for brands to launch, analyze, and grow their retail presence.”

So far, Uppercase has built stores for furniture company Joybird and Venus et Fleur, which sells artfully arranged roses.

Early-stage investor Lerer Hippeau has backed a number of direct-to-consumer brands, including the aforementioned Allbirds and Casper.

“We’ve seen the importance of an omnichannel strategy as companies scale,” Lerer Hippeau Graham Brown told TechCrunch. “Uppercase is the perfect partner for brands born online looking to expand into the physical world.”

Shelf Engine uses machine learning to stop food waste from eating into store margins

Shelf Engine’s team

While running Molly’s, the Seattle-based ready meal wholesaler he founded, Stefan Kalb was upset about its 28% food wastage rate. Feeling that the amount was “astronomical,” he began researching how to lower it—and was shocked to discovered Molly’s was actually outperforming the industry average. Confronted by the sheer amount of food wasted by American retailers, Kalb and Bede Jordan, then a Microsoft engineer, began working on an order prediction engine.

The project quickly brought Molly’s percentage of wasted food down to the mid-teens. “It was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my career,” Kalb told TechCrunch in an interview. Driven by its success, Kalb and Jordan launched Shelf Engine in 2016 to make the technology available to other companies. Currently participating in Y Combinator, the startup has already raised $800,000 in seed funding from Initialized Capital, the venture capital firm founded by Alexis Ohanian and Gerry Tan, and is now used at over 180 retail points by clients including WeWork, Bartell Drugs, Natural Grocers and StockBox.

Shelf Engine’s order prediction engine analyzes historical order and sales data and makes recommendations about how much retailers should order to minimize waste and increase margins. The more retailers use Shelf Engine, the more accurate its machine learning model becomes. The system also helps suppliers, because many operate on guaranteed sales, or scan-based trading, which means they agree to take back and refund the purchase price of any products that don’t sell by their expiration date. While running Molly’s, Kalb learned what a huge pain point this is for suppliers. To alleviate that, Shelf Engine itself buys back unsold inventory from the retailers it works with, taking the risk away from their suppliers.

Kalb, Shelf Engine’s CEO, claims the startup’s customers are able to increase their gross margins by 25% and reduce food waste from an industry average of 30% to about 16% to 18% for items that expire within one to five days. (For items with a shelf life of up to 45 days, the longest that Shelf Engine manages, it can reduce waste to as little as 3% to 4%).

The food industry operates on notoriously tight margins and Shelf Engine wants to relieve some of the pressure. Running Molly’s, which supplies corporate campuses including Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon, gave Kalb a firsthand look at the paradox faced by retail managers. Even though a lot of food is wasted, items are also frequently out of stock at stores, annoying customers. Then there is the social and environmental impact of food waste—not only does it raise prices, food rotting in landfills is a major contributor to methane emissions.

A store manager may need to make ordering decisions about thousands of products, leaving little time for analysis. Though there are enterprise resource planning software products for food retail, Kalb says that during store visits he realized a surprisingly high number still rely on Excel spreadsheets or pen and paper to manage reoccurring orders. The process is also highly subjective, with managers ordering products based on their personal preferences, a customer’s suggestion or what they’ve noticed does well at other stores. Sometimes retailers get stuck in a cycle of overcorrecting, because if customers complain about missing out on something, managers order more inventory, only to end up with wastage and scale back their next order, and so on.

“Americans want selection at all times, we get furious when a product is sold out, but it’s a really hard decision to make about how much challah bread to stock on a Monday,” says Kalb. “Yet we are doing that ad hoc.”

When retailers use Shelf Engine’s prediction engine, it decides how many units they need and then submits those orders to their suppliers. After products reach their sell-by dates, the retailer reports back to Shelf Engine, which only charges them for units they sold, but still pays suppliers for the full order. As time passes, Shelf Engine can make more granular predictions (for example, how precipitation correlates with the sale of specific items like juice or bread).

In addition to providing the impetus for the creation of Shelf Engine, Molly’s also helped Kalb and Jordan, its CTO, build the startup’s distribution network. Kalb says Shelf Engine has benefited from the network effect, because when a retailer signs up, their suppliers will often mention it to other retailers that they serve. Kalb says the startup is currently hiring more engineers and salespeople to help Shelf Engine leverage that and spread through the food retail industry.

“It’s a world I got to know and I came into the world fascinated with healthy food and making delicious grab-and-go meals,” says Kalb. “It turned into a fascination with this crazy market, which is so massive and still has so many opportunities to be maximized.”

b8ta raises $19 million Series B led by Macy’s

b8ta, the retail-as-a-service startup, has closed a $19 million Series B round led by Macy’s with participation from Sound Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, Capitaland, Graphene Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Plug and Play Ventures. This round brings b8ta’s total funding to $39 million.

Macy’s decision to lead this round comes in light of its recent partnership with b8ta to enhance the retailer’s experiential-based concept called The Market. Macy’s is also expanding its partnership with b8ta to launch The Market in a larger space, entirely powered by Built by b8ta, which functions as a retail-as-a-service platform for brands that want a physical presence. b8ta’s software solution includes checkout, inventory, point of sale, inventory management, staff scheduling services and more.

“Testing a shop with them in their store and having really good success made us feel bullish that this model would work well for them,” b8ta CEO Vibhu Norby told TechCrunch.

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To the outsider, there’s this idea that Macy’s is struggling — in light of a bunch of store closures. That was a conversation b8ta had internally, Norby said.

“As an example, our board was initially not certain we should do something with them but I felt like it was worth a shot,” Norby told me. “For us to get comfortable, we spent a lot of time trying to understand their business. What we found was that perception in the media didn’t really meet the reality for us. The reality is Macy’s is one of the most important companies in the country.”

Macy’s, Norby said, is also one of the largest real estate company’s in the world and owns “so much real estate in all of the best places.”

He added, “it’s not that retail itself is dying, it’s just that it’s changing. The way people want to shop is changing and we have a shared alignment on bringing that next generation of a company into the space.”

In addition to the expanded partnership with Macy’s, b8ta is opening up new flagship stores in Chicago and Tysons Corner, Va. b8ta currently has more than 78 flagship stores across the country to let consumers experience tech gadgets in real life.

Online shopping is about to get more expensive

Image: Getty Images/Westend61

Gird your (digital) wallets!

The Supreme Court has ruled that states can charge online retailers sales tax, even if they don’t have a physical presence in the state. That means that some of the biggest online retailers — including Wayfair, Overstock.com, and Newegg, who were named in the suit against the state of South Dakota — may soon have to pass on that additional cost to consumers.

“Each year, the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” Justice Kennedy wrote in his Court Opinion.

How does this affect the gargantuan elephant in the room, Amazon? Amazon actually already charges sales taxes on the goods that it sells directly. But the third party sellers on Amazon do not. So you might have to start paying sales tax alongside those non-Prime shipping charges. Ouch.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of South Dakota. It overturned a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that established that online retailers didn’t have to pay sales tax, which the New York Times says helped fuel the rise of online shopping.

Bloomberg reported that the stocks of Amazon, Wayfair, Etsy, and eBay all fell following the ruling.

It’s clear that the court’s decision will mean extra cash for states. But that money is likely to come out of the pockets of consumers. And may make it harder for shopping startups to break through.

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