Exclusive: E-commerce firm StockX valued at $3.8 billion after new funding round

(Reuters) – E-commerce firm StockX said on Thursday it had raised $255 million in a financing round, valuing the company at more than $3.8 billion.

The all-cash offer was led by Altimeter Capital, with participation from existing investors and new institutional investor Dragoneer.

Business-to-business e-commerce boom only just beginning: DHL

Courier services company DHL Express forecasts the global market for e-commerce between companies will grow by more than 70% to $20.9 trillion by 2027, it said in a study released on Tuesday.

The company, a subsidiary of Deutsche Post, saw its own revenue jump by almost 12% last year to 19.1 billion euros ($22.41 billion) as more companies and consumers switched to e-commerce because of the pandemic.

The trend is now firmly established and will outlive the pandemic, it said.

One factor driving the growth in business-to business (B2B) transactions is the millennial generation, which was already accustomed to using digital platforms for business-to-customer (B2C) transactions.

The millennial generation has grown to account for 73% of all business-to-business (B2B) purchasing decisions, DHL said in the study.

It expects 80% of all transactions between suppliers and business customers to take place on purchasing platforms and other digital channels by 2025, it said but gave no comparative figures for current usage.

($1 = 0.8524 euros)

By: Kwamed2k

Amazon former executive Adam Selipsky to lead AWS

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday named Adam Selipsky, chief of Salesforce.com Inc’s Tableau Software unit, to lead its Amazon Web Services unit.

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday appointed Salesforce.com Inc executive Adam Selipsky to lead its high-margin cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services.

The move comes as AWS’ current lead Andy Jassy is vacating the role to become the chief executive officer of Amazon, after Jeff Bezos announced his exit in February.

AWS, a key part of Amazon’s growth strategy, has raked in record profits for the world’s largest online retailer, and counts scores of startups, big corporations and many government agencies among its clients.

Seattle-based Amazon said Selipsky, one of the first VPs hired in AWS in 2005 who ran the cloud computing division’s sales, marketing, and support for 11 years, will return to AWS on May 17. (bit.ly/3d4k27U)

Selipsky became the CEO of Salesforce.com Inc’s Tableau Software unit in 2016, and under his leadership the value of the division quadrupled in just a few years, Amazon said.

In Southeast Asian internet battle, Sea’s rise sends rivals scrambling

In front of an open-air Jakarta restaurant, delivery drivers clad in the orange colours of Southeast Asia tech group Sea Ltd wait for orders next to the green-jacketed riders of market leaders Gojek and Grab, in what has become the latest battleground for tech supremacy in Southeast Asia.

The humble noodles eatery signed up for Sea’s nascent ShopeeFood service a month ago, but “immediately, there were orders everyday,” said manager M.A Rasyid.

Riding on the success of a cash-generating gaming business, U.S.-listed Sea has invested heavily in its Shopee e-commerce brand and successfully taken on Alibaba’s Lazada and other rivals in recent years. Its share price has risen five-fold over the past year, giving the company a market capitalisation of $111 billion.

Now Singapore-based Sea is muscling into food delivery and financial services in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, posing a new threat to regional rivals including ride-hailing and delivery unicorns Grab and GoJek.

At stake is a slice of the more than 400 million internet users in Southeast Asia’s digital economy, which is estimated to triple to $309 billion by 2025, according to a study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.

Tech giants including Tencent, a major investor in Sea, Alibaba, Google and Softbank Group Corp are big backers of Southeast Asia’s internet champions.

Sources say Sea’s aggressive expansion is one of the key sources driving merger discussions between Gojek and e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The two Indonesian firms aim to create an $18 billion powerhouse to fight off Sea and regional ride-hailing leader Grab.

Meanwhile, Grab and other players, including travel app Traveloka and Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak, are rushing for public listings, hoping to ride the coattails of Sea’s stock rally while defending their turf, according to Reuters interviews with over a dozen people.

“Sea is like Thanos, massive and powerful, and able to take down half of the world, or in this case half the startups,” Willson Cuaca, co-founder of East Ventures and an early backer of Tokopedia, joked as he compared the group to the powerful villain in the Marvel film series.

“Like the Avengers, companies need to band together if they want to ensure their survival and to win the war.”

CASH IS KING

Sea’s stock rally reflects a scarcity of options for investors seeking exposure to the booming Southeast Asia internet sector. It went public in 2017 and has raised some $7 billion in share and debt sales, with early investor Tencent now holding about 20% of the stock.

That investor appetite, combined with a need to raise cash to match Sea’s muscle, is forcing rivals to seek public listings as quickly as they can, bankers and executives familiar with the matter say.

Sources say the Gojek-Tokopedia merger, which is likely to be finalised within weeks, will be followed by a listing in Jakarta in the second half of 2021, then a mega IPO in the United States targeted for 2022.

Grab and Traveloka, for their part, are looking at speeding up the process by merging with special purpose acquisition companies, sources said. Bukalapak is planning the same, after a 2021 Jakarta IPO.

“The market is pretty welcoming for tech stocks. It’s an opportunity for Grab if they are ready for it,” said Jixun Foo, a managing partner at GGV Capital, which has invested in Grab.

COLLISION COURSE

Sea’s success owes much to its online gaming business Garena, whose 2017 title Free Fire became the most downloaded game in the world over the past two years.

It’s using the cash from Garena to repeat its success in e-commerce, food delivery and financial services.

Its Shopee division started off in 2015 as a platform for local sellers and soon gained traction with many merchants regionally. It has now overtaken both Lazada as the top e-commerce player in the region and Tokopedia as the leader in Indonesia, thanks in part to innovations such as adding social features to its service.

Both Gojek and Grab, which have pursued on-again, off-again merger talks with each other for years, believe they can ward off Sea’s move into food delivery thanks to well-honed logistics networks and early-mover advantages.

But they could be hard-pressed to match Sea’s subsidies: in Vietnam, Sea-owned food delivery service Now quietly dominates the sector, according to a January report by advisory firm Momentum Works.

In Indonesia, ShopeeFood is wooing vendors by touting its 80 million-strong user base and promising to subsidise steep discounting.

The next showdown will be in financial services.

Sea has bought Indonesian lender Bank BKE and has hired a veteran of China’s peer-to-peer platforms to head its “SeaMoney” banking efforts.

“SeaMoney can become the Ant Financial of Southeast Asia,” said Daniel Jacobs, managing partner at emerging markets hedge fund Kora, a Sea shareholder.

“After payments, they have the vision and will to grow into adjacent areas, from ‘buy now, pay later’ on the customer side to merchant credit and all sorts of financial services.”

But Gojek and Grab, both of which own part of Indonesian payment app OVO, have similar ambitions. And Sea and Grab are set to square off in Singapore, where both won coveted digital bank licences in December.

Grab is backed by many investors including SoftBank Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

“This is going to be a battle of the titans,” said Patrick Walujo, the co-founder of Indonesian private-equity firm Northstar Group and a Gojek investor.

Cannabis entrepreneurs, celebrity investors light up as legalization blooms

DETROIT/OAKLAND, Calf. (Reuters) – Driven by a surge in cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry entrepreneurs and investors are gearing up for even greater growth as legalization spreads and the economy reopens.

So far, 36 states and the District of Columbia have approved medical use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of them,15 states and D.C. have approved recreational use of pot.

Cannabis technology startups, including those enabling home delivery of pot, got a big boost during the pandemic as more Americans partook, igniting investor interest in companies that provide everything from cultivation management tools to compliance and e-commerce software for an industry that still operates in a legal gray zone at the federal level.

Cannabis entrepreneurs say they have to move quickly and build their brands before full U.S. legalization levels the playing field – a process that many expect to gather steam this year.

“Why are you going to Weedmaps (for listings of cannabis retailers) if you can go to Yelp? Why do you order through this or that system if you can order through DoorDash or Uber Eats?” asks Steve Allan, chief executive of The Parent Company, which has Jay-Z as chief visionary officer and is looking to consolidate smaller players following its January listing through a special purpose acquisition company.

TPCO has built its own e-commerce technology that can handle everything from business management to retail sales, said Allan.

In one of the biggest venture capital deals in the sector to date, Oregon-based e-commerce platform Dutchie on Tuesday announced it raised $200 million in a funding round that values the company at $1.7 billion.

Dutchie’s investors include former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, NBA star Kevin Durant and DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang. The company’s online marketplace connects cannabis dispensaries with consumers, who can order home delivery.

Reuters has identified more than 90 private and public cannabis tech companies in North America, with total private investment in the first quarter at the highest level in 18 months, according to data compiled by PitchBook and Crunchbase.Slideshow ( 4 images )

All told, investors have poured more than $2.5 billion into cannabis tech startups since 2018.

Public investors are piling in too. Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, that target the broader cannabis industry raised at least $4.3 billion through early 2021, with $1.7 billion of that still waiting to be deployed, according to cannabis researcher BDSA.

That interest comes as shares of publicly traded cannabis companies – many of which are listed in Canada because they are barred from U.S. exchanges – have begun to rebound after a brutal sell-off in 2019.

“We’re still in the very early innings” of investing, said Harrison Aaron, an investment analyst with Gotham Green Partners, a New York-based private equity firm with a cannabis-centric portfolio.

U.S. legal cannabis sales for both medicinal and recreational use last year jumped 45%, according to BDSA.

“We don’t necessarily want things to go (fully) legal today because there’s a lot of value in our companies, and we want more time to build,” said Lenore Kopko, managing partner at Gotham Green.

Others believe entry to the cannabis industry may not be quick or easy for many of the big outside players.

“Cannabis legislation, regulations and supply chain flows create complexity that is not built into software made for other industries,” said David Hua, founder and CEO of Meadow, which sells compliance and operating software for cannabis retailers.

CELEBRITIES GALORE

Cannabis startup funding in the sector has been led by a closely knit network of investors that often co-invest with one another. That network includes Liquid 2 Ventures, headed by former NFL quarterback Joe Montana, and Casa Verde Capital, founded by entertainer Snoop Dogg.

Another of those firms, Beverly Hills-based Arcadian Capital, has invested in more than a dozen cannabis tech startups. Boca Raton-based Phyto Partners has funded 10, many of them as a co-investor with Arcadian.

The network occasionally is joined by other high-profile individual investors. DoorDash’s Tang and Twitch co-founder Justin Kan were among those backing Oakland-based Nabis, a cannabis online marketplace for dispensaries that also has a warehouse, delivery service and online financing for retailers.

There is another draw for investors beyond the immediate business opportunity: data on a brand-new industry.

For Arcadian, the torrent of data that is being generated by cannabis tech startups provides “a great mechanism to learn more about the industry,” said Matthew Nordgren, the company’s founder and managing partner.

Industry boosters say technology developed and incubated by the cannabis industry could open new pathways for retail trade in other sectors.

Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Jane Technologies, the Santa Cruz creator of an e-commerce platform that has been funded by Arcadian and Gotham Green, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a tech company to work in partnership with the operators in this space to build and redefine how tech and analog retail work together.”

Walmart Canada to invest over C$500 million on store upgrades

(Reuters) – Walmart Canada said on Monday it plans to invest more than C$500 million ($400.06 million) this year to refurbish its stores.

It would be the largest yearly investment in store upgrades, with more than 60% of outlets benefiting from the plan, the Canadian arm of the world’s largest retailer said.

In July, Walmart Canada announced plans to spend C$3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen its e-commerce business and renovate stores.

Walmart Canada said on Monday the plan was expected to create more than 2,000 construction jobs in the country.

($1 = 1.2498 Canadian dollars)

Ant Group CEO Simon Hu resigns

(Reuters) – China’s Ant Group Chief Executive Officer Simon Hu has unexpectedly resigned amid a regulatory-driven overhaul of the financial technology giant’s business, the first top management exit since a scuppered $37 billion initial public offering.

Hu, who was named chief executive of the Alibaba Group Holding affiliate in 2019, will be replaced by company veteran and Executive Chairman Eric Jing, Ant said in a statement on Friday.

Hu’s exit from the company comes as Ant is working on plans to shift to a financial holding company structure following intense regulatory pressure to subject it to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks.

That pressure abruptly scuttled Ant’s IPO last year, which would have been the world’s biggest.

Hu resigned for personal reasons, Ant said in a statement, without elaborating.

“Following the board’s thorough discussions, we have decided to respect Simon’s personal request and support him fully in his new mission,” Jing said in an internal memo, an excerpt of which was seen by Reuters.

Jing will continue in his current role as chairman, he said.

U.S.-listed shares in billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba dropped as much as 3.9% in the morning trade on Friday.

Hu’s departure is the first major management change since the IPO was scrapped. He was one of the key executives responsible for managing the company’s mega dual-listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

Ma’s business empire has been at the centre of a crackdown following an Oct. 24 speech in which he blasted China’s regulatory system.

Regulators have since been tightening scrutiny of the country’s technology sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat. The regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, disappeared from the public eye for about three months, prompting frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January in a 50-second video appearance.

Ant’s financial holding structure is expected to weigh on its valuation, as the fintech firm was valued as a technology firm in its previous fundraising rounds. Typically, valuations are much higher on technology firms than on financial companies.

The change in management also comes days after some Ant staff expressed frustration on social media for not being able to sell the company shares they own after Chinese regulators abruptly halted the company’s market debut.

Jing told Ant employees that the company would review its staff incentive programmes and roll out some measures starting from April to help solve their financial problems, according to two people who saw the messages.

The listing in November of Ant, whose businesses include consumer lending and insurance products distribution, would have made some of the company’s employees millionaires or billionaires.

Although Ma has stepped down from corporate positions and earnings calls, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant and promotes them globally at business and political events.

Hu joined Ant in 2005 and has worked in various roles in the group as well as at Alibaba, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Jing has been Ant’s executive chairman since 2018 and before that he held various positions at the company including president and chief operating officer, according to his profile on the World Bank website. He joined Alibaba in 2007.

Amazon Fresh till-less grocery store opens in London

Amazon has opened a till-less grocery store in London – its first “just walk out” shop outside the US.

Visitors to Amazon Fresh scan a smartphone app when entering and are automatically billed as they leave.

The store stocks hundreds of own-brand items as well as third-party products, and also serves as a place to collect and return goods bought online.

Campaigners have raised privacy concerns but one retail expert said the opening marked a “watershed moment”.

“Having a physical presence will enable Amazon to address some of its weaknesses, like the mounting cost of deliveries and returns,” said Natalie Berg, an analyst with NBK Retail.

But she said she did not believe it would pose a threat to the major chains in the near term.

“Supermarkets have had a few years now to prepare and test their own checkout-free shopping concepts.”

Amazon’s approach, however, promises a more “frictionless” experience than other retailers.

Amazon Fresh store
image captionVisitors can buy a bag or use their own, and are emailed a copy of their receipt after leaving

Visitors only have to place an item in a bag or otherwise carry it out to be charged by the store, which is located at the street entrance of a shopping centre in the borough of Ealing.

By contrast, retailers including Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s require consumers to scan items into a smartphone or other device.

The US firm is so confident of its tech that it says shoppers are not under any obligation to check all the items were accounted for.

“When you’re finished, you’re free to walk out,” said Matt Birch, director of Amazon Fresh Stores and an ex-Sainsbury’s executive.

Cameras and sensors

The technology involved was pioneered at the firm’s similar Amazon Go stores in the States, which opened to the public in 2018.

However, recent advancements mean the system can now cope with customers selecting from different bouquets of flowers, magazines and greetings cards – it could not distinguish accurately enough between one choice and another before.

It involves the use of hundreds of cameras and depth-sensors, and software developed using deep-learning artificial-intelligence techniques.

However, it does not involve facial recognition.

Amazon Go
image captionAmazon tracks each customer as they move around the shop

Instead, users must identify themselves on arrival by scanning a barcode displayed within their account on the standard Amazon Shopping app.

One civil liberties group has raised concerns.

“[It] offers a dystopian, total-surveillance shopping experience,” said Silkie Carlo, from Big Brother Watch.

“Amazon’s intense tracking of shoppers will create larger personal data footprints than any other retailer. Customers deserve to know how and by whom these records and analytics could be used.”

The company has said it will only associate information collected in-store with a customer’s Amazon account for up to 30 days, and has further details about how it uses the data on its privacy site.

Expansion plans

Amazon said it had sourced many of its own-brand groceries – including milk and eggs – from UK suppliers itself.

In addition, it has launched an “Our Selection” sub-brand for “premium” products including desserts.

Other items come from Morrisons and Booths, supermarkets with whom its has pre-existing ties.

The store also contains a booth where orders can be delivered from its online store.

And customers can return goods by scanning a code without having to repackage or relabel the item.

“Hand the product over and we’ll do the rest for you,” said Mr Birch, adding he plans further stores on some of London other high streets as well as its city centre.

M&S app
image captionMarks & Spencer announced in November it was expanding use of its “scan, pay and go” service to all its UK grocery stores

The Ealing store’s customer area covers about 2,500 sq foot (232 sq m) in total, which is much smaller than a typical supermarket.

Amazon also operates seven Whole Foods Market supermarkets in the UK.

And there have been persistent rumours that it might try to expand further in the sector by buying one of the larger chains.

However, the company is also offering to sell its Just Walk Out technology as a service that can be installed in other companies’ stores.

And ultimately it might decide there is more money to be made pitching this to the established supermarkets than challenging them head-on with bigger stores of its own.

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by Emma Simpson, business correspondent

Amazon has barely made a dent in the overall UK grocery market, but it’s clearly got big ambitions for food. 

It’s been ramping up its online service, with free same-day deliveries for Prime members, putting pressure on rivals. 

The traditional supermarkets have been improving their technology over the past few years and the pandemic has accelerated the changes. 

Sainsbury’s, for instance, has had a huge take-up in its SmartShop system where shoppers can pick up a handset and scan items as they go. 

Amazon technology removes checkouts and friction altogether. 

Amazon Fresh store
image captionUsers must scan a QR barcode on their smartphone as they enter

Moving into bricks and mortar is another milestone for Amazon. 

Its new range of own-branded products is also eye-catching. 

When it comes to convenience stores, being able to grab and go could prove very popular. But location is key. 

And most of the best convenience-store sites in densely populated, urban districts have already been taken. 

This launch won’t pose a big, immediate, threat to the big established grocers but they know only too well that Amazon has the potential to be a hugely disruptive force and has already forced them to up their game.

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Disney to close 60 North American retail stores, focus on e-commerce

Walt Disney Co will close at least 60 Disney retail stores in North America this year as the company revamps its digital shopping platforms to focus on e-commerce, the company said on Wednesday.

Disney also is evaluating a significant reduction of stores in Europe, a spokesperson said, adding that locations in Japan and China will not be affected. The company currently operates roughly 300 Disney stores around the globe.

Disney did not say how many people would lose their jobs as a result of its store closures.

Consumers have been moving to digital shopping over physical locations, and chains including Walmart Inc and Macy’s Inc have shuttered physical stores. The global coronavirus pandemic accelerated that change in behavior when people were forced to stay home.

“While consumer behavior has shifted toward online shopping, the global pandemic has changed what consumers expect from a retailer,” said Stephanie Young, president of Disney’s consumer products, games and publishing.

Over the past few years, Disney has expanded its shops inside other retailers such as Target. Those locations will continue to operate, as well as Disney Parks Stores. Disney-licensed products also will remain widely available through third-party retailers.

“We now plan to create a more flexible, interconnected ecommerce experience that gives consumers easy access to unique, high-quality products across all our franchises,” Young said.

Digital shopping gives Disney a chance to offer a much broader selection and include higher-end products from all of its Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars brands.

New products will be introduced including adult apparel, artist collaborations, streetwear, premium home products and collectibles, the company said.

Disney will revamp its shopDisney apps and websites over the next year.

Disney recently launched new digital marketplaces in Australia, New Zealand and India.

Instacart valuation more than doubles to $39 billion with latest funding round

Instacart has more than doubled its valuation in less than six months to $39 billion with a $265 million fundraising round from existing investors, as the grocery delivery company benefits from a surge in online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The San Francisco start-up, whose transaction volumes surged sixfold last year as doorstep delivery boomed during lockdowns, said on Tuesday it plans to use part of the new funds to increase its corporate headcount by an estimated 50% in 2021.

The company was valued at $17.8 billion in November following the closing of a previous funding round. That same month, Reuters reported Instacart had picked Goldman Sachs Group Inc to lead its initial public offering at around a $30 billion valuation.

Its latest cash injection comes just a few months after California backed a ballot proposal that upheld the status of app-based delivery drivers as independent contractors- a major boost for the likes of Instacart and Uber Technologies Inc, which rely on people to work independently and not as employees.

The new funding round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners, Fidelity Management & Research Co and T. Rowe Price Associates.