It is the time of year when summaries are written about what happened during the year past. 2015 was a fascinating year full of intrigue. I cant remember any year in which fluctuations occurred in a specific market. To summarise ecommerce in a few thoughts is very difficult as the industry is large but through observations, conversations I have come to the following 15 points:
tldr; Amazon was dominant, Alibaba wrote a lot of checques and ecommerce made a dent in global percentage of retail.
Mobile classifieds got a lot of investment as many startups feel they can disrupt Craigslist. Spain became the place to start a mobile classifieds startups. Wallapop and Letgo are both based in Barcelona. Close5, VarageSale and OfferUp all believe that they take significant marketshare away from Craigslist. My own thoughts on this is that Wallapop (Accel Partners), Close5 (eBay), Letgo (Naspers) and OfferUp (Andreessen Horowitz) are all going to spend millions on customer acquisition and might also in the long run lead to acquisitions between the startups as the level of attrition will be high. Also I have to question whether due diligence was done properly as this seems to be a relatively high amount of startups that are going to battle Craigslist. I am aware that Craigslist has a terrible UI etc but why would Craigslist users go to one of these startups?
Amazon had a mega year in which they all but sealed off the US market to competitors. Amazon Prime remained their driver of new customers but Amazon Prime Now launched in at least 20 markets inside 12 months. Thus if you want an item and am willing to pay a bit more for shipping – Amazon Prime Now is the solution. However not all went well as AmazonFresh went into subscription mode and users left in droves due to excessive costs. I suspect that 2016 will be an investment year for Amazon as AWS will be adding 3 more data centres across the globe and Amazon will also be entering the logistics / transport business. These are both capital intensive yet 2015 showed Wall Street that Amazon can make profit (all be it mostly from AWS).
Naspers changed their ecommerce investment strategy. In 2015 Naspers sold a lot of assets: Net Retail, Heureka, Trova Prezzi, Ricardo, PriceCheck , Korbitec in 2015. The emerging market investor has doubled down on classifieds; led a $100M Series A for Letgo, bought a larger part of Avito and is even talking about investing into Bay Area startups in the US. Naspers has also invested heavily into ShowMax their competitor to Netflix. Naspers went to the markets late in 2015 in order to raise funding for the purchase of Avito shares. I expect that in 2016 further classifieds and on demand businesses will be invested in.
Alibaba focused on investments and a record 11.11 day. Alibaba learnt in 2015 that going into the the US is difficult and thus retracted their share in 11Main. Alibaba mostly focused on Chinese ecommerce and invested into Didi-Dache (a mega Chinese competitor for Uber in 2016). They also assisted in the merging of Meitung-Dianping (think Yelp meets Groupon) and then inside a quarter put their share in the building for sale. Alibaba played hardball with their partners to ensure that deep discounts were seen on 11.11 which lead to a single day selling record for ecommerce. Alibaba is also also flexing their muscles in India via an investment in Paytm which will make life hard for Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon.in.
Rocket Internet had a pretty eventful 2015. They formed a few businesses that basically would provide partners with more options – Global Fashion Group and Global Online Takeaway group. The market has not provided positive feedback via there share price since they IPO’d. Hellofood also moved out their IPO day as the market deemed their valuation to be over priced. Rocket Internet will be a developing story in 2016.
MercadoLibre had a pretty solid year in Latin America. Having to deal with currency devaluation in Venezuela and Argentina impacted their share price. Their main shareholder eBay still has a complicated relationship with them. Their payment solution MercadoPago and logistics solution ensured that they were the most dominant marketplace in Latin America. I suspect 2016 will be tough for them as the continent is going through financial pressures and new legislation.
Rakuten and Amazon bit the bullet and joined Chinese marketplaces to gain more exposure. Rakuten joined JD.com to boost their beauty business in China. Amazon China joined Tmall for more exposure as well. What this highlights is how difficult it is for non-Chinese headquartered business to gain any foothold in ecommerce in China.
Uber launched a food delivery service via a new app in Toronto. Uber will have an effect on ecommerce and by doing this seperate app the intention is pretty clear. I find the move by Bill Gurley to depart the Seamless board a confirmation of the importance of this business. Gurley has had to battle conflict of interest in the latter part of 2015 and by departing boards he has placed his attention more on Uber. UberEATS will continue to roll out in more markets and go head to head with Amazon’s Prime Now business.
Flipkart did not go app only as they said they would. 2015 will be remembered as the year in which Flipkart tried too many things. The Binsals wanted to go app only but the market lead them to abort the decision. They have used their leaderships connections with Google to build a Flipkart lite website. I believe this coupled with the addition to messaging to their mobile app has conveniently opened the market for Amazon to dominate more. Indian ecommerce will see consolidation and contraction in terms of funding in 2016 but Amazon and Alibaba will back their businesses with huge budgets.
Carl Icahn got what he wanted. eBay and PayPal split their businesses and affected eBay more than PayPal. The clue to the trouble was when eBay CEO John Donahoe made it clear that we would be joining the PayPal board once the split. I believe that the eBay marketplace is in a really bad position and am not gaining any ground since the split.
Yoox and Net-a-Porter merged to create a super large fashion business aptly called Yoox Net-a-Porter. A few interesting things happened – once the sale was completed the CEO of Yoox became the CEO of the new business formed. Natalie Massenets departure highlighted the impact that personalities have in ecommerce and her departure highlighted the difficulty that mergers pose. I for one am keeping my eyes on what Massenet and angel investor Carmen Busquets does next as I believe that they feel they have unfinished business. I hope I am wrong but I think this could be a story that goes the wrong way in 2016.
Google flexed its muscles in 2015 regarding ecommerce. The mobile friendly index change hurt many ecommerce businesses. Google made lots of revenue with Shopping extensions over the festive season and I continue to believe that the Mountainview business wants to be a player in ecommerce. I suspect further moves in Insurance, Flight bookings, services are to be expected.
Walmart bailed on their payments consortium MCX to create its own mobile payments competitor for Apple Pay. Walmart Pay I think could be the sign that more retailers globally will be joining the mobile payments space. US customers will have their pick of payments solutions in 2016.
What was the most buzzy ecommerce startup in 2015? Jet. The New Jersey based startup lead by Marc Lore has been making headlines via PR and not being able to fulfill orders. I suspect that they will try to raise more funding in middle 2016 and depending on market feedback either go hard against Amazon or look to be acquired.
The ecommerce startup that I found most interesting in 2015 was wish.com. Wish has remained pretty quiet and has already said no to acquisitions by Amazon and Alibaba. When TechCrunch mentioned that DST Global invested in the last round of funding I knew they were doing a huge run rate. I suspect that 2016 is going to be a year in which Wish proves naysayers wrong.
As ecommerce keeps evolving it will become more personal. I suspect that we are seeing this with mobile commerce currently and it is still a lot of trial an error. 2015 was a year in which a lot happened and I expect 2016 to be interesting..