A blog on eCommerce, Social Commerce, Comparative Shopping Engines & Business

By Hendrik Laubscher

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Direct to customer startups partnering with Target, Nordstrom and Amazon?

When I compiled my newsletter over the weekend – I added a new section to it. Direct to customer ecommerce is something that stumbled across and have over the last few months looked at in depth. However these direct to customer businesses are now using Target, Nordstrom and Amazon as a channel to reach new customers. This is a double sided agreement as the startups involved (Harry’s, Bevel and now Casper) are providing these older businesses with the opportunity to access a new customer base.

Ecommerce is at a cross roads

If your business is not called Amazon, ecommerce is increasingly becoming more complex as customers demand Amazon like experiences (shipping and customer service) and that requires investment both in people and capital. Investors are also more looking at these direct to customer startups as they are ultimately margin businesses at scale. Instead of spending X on a product and selling it via multiple channels that take their own commissions these business are going straight to the customer and passing on that savings directly to the customer.

After Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever for a billion dollars the signs were clear – niche specific startups with founders that have deep domain experience creating great products are reasonable prices are the future. There is only one giant that can slow down Amazon and that is Walmart due to its scale and potential to invest in providing customers with pricing similar to that seen on Amazon.

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The Ecommerce Briefing – Snapdeal, Amazon.com

Vani Kola resigns from Snapdeal board – The Economic Times

Snapdeal is a cautionary lesson for ecommerce investors and the Indian ecommerce market. Snapdeal was until Amazon entered India in position 2 in the market and through pivots and lack of focus ultimately lost market position. Snapdeal never innovated to provide Indian customers with something that was not seen on Flipkart and Amazon India. The investor lesson is simple – when you have a large investor (Softbank who also went through changes in leadership) earlier investors had little say about their investment. Kalaari Capital was an early supporter of Snapdeal yet this sudden resignation leads to questions. Flipkart gains an investor, Snapdeal founders get more cash and Indian ecommerce loses a competitor for Flipkart and Amazon.


Amazon’s epic 20-year run as a public company, explained in five charts – Recode

Soaring revenue and cash flow, plus intentionally tiny profits is the summary of this once in a generation business. Amazon has consistently disrupted itself to stay relevant and ensured that it remained a customer champion through investment into logistics.



9 Thoughts about ecommerce from 2016

Every year at this time I write a summary of the ecommerce year that has gone by. I can summarise the 9 thoughts in one word – unexpected. Globally the year saw a lot of unexpected mergers and acquisitions, new developments and businesses selling for way below their valuations.

The 9 thoughts in no particular order:

  1. Walmart spending $3.3 billion Dollars to acquire Jet.com. Walmart gained a new demographic (millennials) and most importantly Marc Lore is now the President & CEO of Walmart eCommerce and Founder & CEO of Jet. It is increasingly clear that Walmart has an ecommerce problem. The growth rate is slowing and Amazon is growing at a steady rate. This is something that could be a story line in 2017 as battling Amazon in the US will be long term battle.
  2. Alibaba acquiring Lazada in South East Asia. The latter part of 2016 indicated tough market conditions for investment into ecommerce. Increasingly it looks like sovereign funds and Chinese internet businesses are buying ecommerce businesses at below valuation rates.  Lazada was running out of funding and Alibaba acquiring it for a Billion Dollars makes all the sense in the world. Lazada has become the dominant marketplace in South East Asia through logistics and providing sellers access to the growing part of Asian ecommerce.  Alibaba through Lazada has also acquired Redmart to provide customers in South East Asia with the opportunity to purchase groceries. I suspect that this is a pre-emptive measure on the expected arrival of Amazon.
  3. eBay selling a large part of their MercadoLibre shares. In direct contrast to the entire ecommerce industry eBay made selling a large chunk of their MercadoLibre at a time in which the large ecommerce businesses have added assets to their businesses.  eBay is fighting for its future – that is clear to me. The sale of the shares in MercadoLibre is primarily to provide them with capital for investment into other more important verticals.
  4. 2016 will be remembered as the year in which Amazon made their logistics desires known. It is clear that currently they are in an investment mode. They have via their Chinese subsidiary acquired a shipping license to ensure that they can operate as a freight forwarder. In the US they have rented airplanes to ensure that they can move products between distribution centres. Amazon is also slowly rolling out their Flex programme to ensure that they can provide on demand employment for those wishing to deliver items for them on an hourly rate. As Amazon is famous for re-purposing capital expenditure I believe that in  late 2017 will be providing logistics services to their top tier sellers. If I was a shareholder in UPS, Fedex or any logistics firm I would be concerned.
  5.  Alibaba had a nightmare of a year. Yes, their global shopping festival smashed records but their counterfeit problem and quarterly reporting became issues. Barron’s wrote a hard hitting post regarding concerns over Alibaba’s reporting which was quickly rebuked by Alibaba management. By end of 2016 Taobao was placed back of the US trade representative list for counterfeit sales. Most of the product marketplaces had their issues with this in 2016 but Alibaba’s got way more coverage as the scale of it is larger.
  6. The fashion ecommerce space witnessed one of the largest mergers when Net-a-Porter and Yoox joined to form a new Italian based behemoth. The merger was a story line for me since middle of 2015. The combined business has not shown the same level of innovation but I believe that this merger has still to come full circle. Between Carmen Busquets and Natalie Massenets unhappy departure and the departure of some of the top staff of Net-a-Porter I believe that the fashion ecommerce space is still very much open for serious innovation.
  7. Zalando, a giant in European fashion ecommerce has been making the right noises in the last 9 months. Better margins, better financial performance has seen them become a more vocal part of a vertical looking for a market leader. Zalando has made their intentions clear – they want to become the largest fashion based marketplace and provide brands a place to sell to customers in which they can get more of the transaction. By allowing brands to ship directly to customers they can get products to customers faster and so defend their turf from Amazon.
  8. 2016 will be remembered as the year in which Rocket Internet’s growth stagnated and finding investment for their larger businesses was extremely tough. None of their largest ecommerce businesses are close to profitable, some their investments are holding of going public and their share price is down.
  9. Naspers, Tiger Global, eBay and most venture capital investors used 2016 as a way to ensure that their investments become more capital efficient. Whether it be by way of closure, merging or selling assets the amount of ecommerce startups with high valuations became less as investors became more concerned by burn rates, Amazon and valuations that were way too high.

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The Marketplace model is not for every ecommerce business

Earlier this week Crate and Barrel announced that they have added a marketplace to their business.

Home furnishings retailer Crate and Barrel today announced the launch of its new “Crate and Barrel Exclusive Marketplace”, a highly curated marketplace offering consumers a broader selection of products based on Crate and Barrel’s merchandising expertise. Available via the company’s e-commerce site, crateandbarrel.com, the marketplace now offers customers an extended aisle of unique product. Source

I understand the reasoning for adding a marketplace to any ecommerce business. It provides greater selection to customers. The sourcing of select brands can be done at a lower cost in comparison sourcing it directly from brands / manufacturers. Opportunities to create more revenue are created as your selection is increased.

This makes me think back to what Brian Walker mentioned about Amazon’s decision to add the marketplace:

When Jeff Bezos announced to his Amazon staff his concept for the Amazon Marketplace in November 2000, many people — inside and outside Amazon — thought he was crazy. Amazon was inviting in other sellers — individuals and merchants — to compete against Amazon’s owned inventory on Amazon.com.  As full price merchants were added in categories such as consumer electronics, apparel, and baby products in the early 2000s, the head shaking continued. To paraphrase, Jeff Bezos claimed this was about “the world of perfect information.” Customers are going to find the lowest price online if they really want to, and they should be trained to find it on Amazon. Maybe Amazon could grab a piece of the pie along the way. Forrester

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A few thoughts on the GGV Capital Evolving E Summit

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to attend GGV Capital’s Evolving E 16 Summit in San Francisco. I suspect that in the years ahead this event will become a must attend for anyone in commerce on the West Coast or for that matter the US.


I came across GGV Capital 3 years ago when Amir Erfati from the information mentioned them to me in a conversation. There are plenty of commerce investors out there, but what makes GGV Capital special to me is that  they have a deeper understanding on global commerce than most investors I have researched. Their unique outlook if formed by having 2 offices (US and China) in their 2 markets of interest. They are on the ground and have deeper relationships with their markets and ecosystems than most investors I have come across.

GGV Capital has investments in Wish, Operator, Boxed, OfferUp, AirBNB. They are investors in marketplaces that connect their areas of operation.


The Evolving E Summit was conceived to solve a weakness which they identified. There is not a good consumer commerce event in San Francisco that allows for startups, investors to mingle and share knowledge. It also supplements GGV’s other Summit that is in New York.

I found the one comment from the Summit to be quite refreshing and honest. “Startups that work in Atherton and San Francisco might not scale well in large global markets”. I have paraphrased that but that exemplifies what GGV Capital think and what their investment thesis is.  I should mention that the Evolving E Summit was done in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank which seems to be a longstanding partner of GGV Capital and their portfolio companies.

GGV Capital has been in operation for 16 years, has a team of 55 people across their 2 offices. GGV Capital has invested $300M into businesses that is generating between $10 – $15 Billion in GMV.

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