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

By Hendrik Laubscher

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African ecommerce – 2014 year in review

2014 was a very interesting year for ecommerce on the African continent. There was acquisitions, mergers and overall lots of movement. Lets be honest for a moment – African ecommerce is not on the front pages of TechCrunch or on the radar of most investors. It is a long term ecosystem filled with the challenges such as logistics, low credit card penetration and most importantly customer distrust. When I wrote my year in review post, I wrote on regions which got lots of media coverage in 2014.

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An ecommerce year in Review: 2014

It is the beginning of 2015. I believe that 2014 contained some clues to the new year and the future of ecommerce. There were some stories that made us all go wow – (The Alibaba IPO) and also some interesting developments across the globe. Global ecommerce is a topic that interests me and it is clearly visible in all ecommerce markets (both developed and emerging). The year contained plenty of stories that could make an appearance in the following post but the following was what caught my attention consistently.

IPO’s (Initial Public Offerings)

We saw 4 ecommerce specific IPO’s. Alibaba, Zulily, Rocket Internet and Wayfair. Three of these IPO’s occurred in the US and Rocket Internet listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. The biggest surprise is without a doubt Zulily – they are the anti-Amazon. Delivery is a longer than normal process and they are a niche based business. Alibaba – well what has not been said. The biggest IPO in history, Billions raised and now the next phase of their lifecycle starts. Investment into ecommerce businesses. Rocket Internet went public and have been told by market what they feel about their operation. Generally – the growth has been negative and their businesses continue to raise millions of Dollars. Wayfair had a quiet post IPO and I believe will be a business to watch in 2015.

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Google and Product Search

I have been reading and thinking about the latest edition of the ecommerce cold war between Google and Amazon.

Google Inc. plans to push deeper into online commerce by enhancing its Google Shopping service with features that more directly challenge Amazon.com Inc.

Google has approached retailers about creating a “buy” button for its online shopping site that would be similar to Amazon’s popular “one-click ordering” feature, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Google has serious concerns over the ambitions and dominance of Amazon in product search.  Bill Gurley made a very interesting point in a recent interview on Bloomberg (video) where he said that Eric Schmidt said the following when asked about their biggest competitor:

If you are looking to buy something, perhaps a tent for camping, you might go to Google or Bing or Yahoo or Qwant, the new French search engine. But more likely you’ll go directly to Zalando or Amazon, where you can research models and prices, get reviews, and pay for your purchase all at once. Research by the Forrester group found that last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon — that’s more than twice the number who went straight to Google.

For one thing, these companies are each others’ biggest competitors, because in tech competition isn’t always like-for-like. Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon. They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.

The context is important here – Schmidt was talking to a European audience at a time when he was defending Google’s business to European legislators whom are currently looking at Antitrust cases for Google’s various businesses. The point is that Amazon was until this conversation never publicly mentioned as a search competitor for Google huge search index.

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[Housekeeping] A change and a newsletter

When I traveled through the US in October, I went to visit businesses that inspire me and to think about this blog amongst 22000 miles of travel.  You would have noticed (my 5 readers) that for the month of October and November that I went radio silent. I was on holiday in the US and came back into peak online shopping season in South Africa.

While I traveled from New York to San Francisco I realised that my weekly recap posts were leading to no real value. I met readers in New York at the Gilt Groupe that solidified my point. The recap posts were great but after reading them – they go into the back of readers minds or are shared to teams.

After a long thought period I have decided that from this coming Sunday (evening CAT time) – I will be doing an ecommerce newsletter. I will continue to curate news that is relevant but it will be moved off my blog into the newly created newsletter.  The original purpose of this blog was to be the place where I can share my thoughts with you my reader on topics that will effect your business and the ecommerce landscape.

Currently (and sadly I might add) I am the only user signed up for my newsletter – so sign up and join me in a new place but still with the news that you need to know.

Amazon starts ringing the cost changes, eBay upsets users – eCommerce news of the week

We are 2 weeks away from Christmas day which will be the crescendo of all online shopping globally. Did planning in earlier quarters return value? How many satisfied customers did your business have? The point is the month of November and December is when business weaknesses or strength are shown to the world. Amazon has been making changes all over the place – I suspect their change in pricing for AmazonFresh users in Seattle is going to lead to a lot of new subscribers for Instacart. Also Amazon seems to be taking a lot more control this year with regards to shipping than previous years. I wonder how UPS feels about that change? Bezos is at the moment showing that the Kiva purchase is adding a lot of speed and optimisation to the sorting and shipping at various Amazon warehouses.  However Amazon has made some uncharacteristic errors with fulfillment in the UK and I have to wonder whether the robots have anything to do with that.

On the otherside of the equation in ecommerce is eBay. First rumors first broke by the WSJ on a move to cut 3000 (10%) of the marketplace workforce. It seems that John Donahoe current eBay CEO will be leaving the marketplace board and only joining PayPal’s board in 2015. I am not buying the fact that he wants to provide Devin Wenig the room to do what he seems fit. Would this be case if eBay’s marketplace business was in a strong / dominant position? I tend to doubt that.

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