The thing people always talk about first, when they are talking about Net-a-Porter, is the packaging. For a company known for being on the leading edge of online fashion, it is surprisingly anachronistic: The black, beribboned bags that arrive, brimming with tissue paper and the promise of a life-changing ensemble, could just as easily have been delivered by uniformed footman to Eloise’s Plaza as summoned via the internet into the one inhabited by Russian oligarchs. “It’s like getting a present,” the company’s president, Natalie Massenet, likes to say, which sounds whimsical but isn’t. Elaborate packaging is integral to the Net-a-Porter brand. It was central to Massenet’s vision when she started the company in her apartment in 1999, on the premise that good old-fashioned luxury and the utilitarian promise of the internet need not be mutually exclusive, and has remained so even as the company has expanded to become one of the leading players of global e-commerce. ... Back in March, after its parent company, the Swiss luxury retailer Richemont, announced it had struck a deal to merge the site with its rival at a $1.5 billion valuation and in exchange for half of the combined company, Net-a-Porter did its best to make it seem like cause for celebration. ... The Champagne was still fizzing from the last dot-com boom when Massenet launched Net-a-Porter. ... At the time, luxury brands had little interest in selling their wares online. The prevailing sentiment was that designer clothes did not belong in a marketplace known for trafficking primarily in electronics and p~rn. ... It’s a world not unlike a high-end hotel chain, which is the point: “I wanted to make sure that the whole company was unified, like you were opening one door from one office space and then entering another one,” ... The company bends over backward to service Them, providing same-day delivery in Hong Kong, New York, and London, and seasonally in the Hamptons. There are special sales for EIPs (Extremely Important People). Occasional collections are tailored to their needs ... As the CEO of one company who sells merchandise on the site put it to me: “Everyone loves Net-a-Porter. They are great at everything. Except making money.”
Alibaba is the hottest e-commerce company of the past five years, a fusion of eBay and Amazon whose 386 million active users accounted for $394 billion in sales in fiscal 2015—six times the sales volume of its biggest Chinese competitor. The company created a huge marketplace and a sophisticated distribution network just in time to serve a generation of Chinese consumers attaining middle-class prosperity. “We are seeing Chinese consumers adopt new retail formats and online shopping faster than any of their global counterparts,” says Jasmine Xu, president of e-commerce for Procter & Gamble Greater China. Those trends fueled a rise so impressive that even the mighty Amazon became an Alibaba partner ... Today, however, Alibaba looks mortal. Its growth has slowed, hampered by China’s ebbing economy and by competition from a growing crop of rivals like JD.com. Its stock has fallen 26% from its post-IPO highs, from $115 to the mid $80s. To reignite its growth, chairman and founder Jack Ma and CEO Daniel Zhang plan to lean on U.S. companies—brands that hold enormous appeal in China. “This is an incredibly important strategy for the future of Alibaba,” Ma says. ... Alibaba is pitching itself as a shortcut to the world’s most populous market. Alibaba is helping foreign companies with marketing, data analytics, and shipping. And more recently it has sweetened the pot with a newer service, Tmall Global, that lets U.S. brands sidestep many of the taxes, regulatory hurdles, and logistics hassles that trip up foreign companies in China. ... Tmall, went live in 2008 with a business model sharply distinct from Taobao’s. Tmall is Zhang’s brainchild. He positioned it as a marketplace for higher-quality clothing, food, and electronics, with a focus on luxury brands. ... Tmall owes its growth to China’s rapidly expanding, brand-conscious middle class. Currently there are 109 million Chinese people with a net worth between $50,000 and $500,000, according to Credit Suisse, which estimates that those ranks could surpass 500 million by 2022. It’s a demographic that’s very comfortable with e-commerce: 40% of Chinese consumers buy groceries online, for example, compared with only 10% of Americans.
In pulling back the curtains, Amazon, one of the most private public companies in the world, revealed how it is racing to piece together an immensely complex puzzle—much of which it is having to build from scratch, at giant expense and with painstaking attention to the minutiae, as it tosses out assumptions that American customers have taken for granted for decades. In doing so, the company, an upstart here, has thrown itself into a knife fight with two privately owned and much more established Indian competitors—Flipkart Internet Pvt. and Snapdeal, owned by Jasper Infotech Pvt.—as well as a clutch of smaller Indian startups that are nipping at all of their heels. ... It is a fight that Amazon is far from certain of winning, yet one it cannot afford to sit out. The company predicts that India will be its biggest market after the U.S. within a decade and that the Indian e-commerce market as a whole will ultimately be gigantic. ... It is not hard to see why the battle for India is this fierce, nor why Bezos, famously obsessed with analytics, would see it as essential for Amazon’s future. The numbers alone are dizzying. India’s population of 1.25 billion is four times as big as the U.S.’s and more than double Europe’s. And since the median age is 27—a full decade younger than Americans’—the trajectory will be steep. India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country in just seven years, according to the UN. It is now the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and the IMF projects 7.5% growth next year. The roads and railways might be creaking under the strain. Many laws governing business are a confounding tangle, including a law forbidding foreign companies from selling products directly to Indians. That law effectively renders Amazon India a platform for vendors—akin to its “fulfillment by Amazon” program in the U.S. ... Barely one-quarter of India’s population has access to the Internet at home, whether on a smartphone or computer, and only a small fraction of those have ever shopped online. ... By some estimates the company is spending nearly $25 million a month in India already.
This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products--about two billion items each year, all told--and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years--together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are. ... Pharmapacks, notched $31.5 million in revenue in 2014, which made its three-year growth rate 3,035 percent, good enough to earn it the 115th spot on the Inc. 500. By the end of 2015, its annual revenue was $70 million. Vagenas proudly told me the company was on track to do $140 million to $160 million in revenue in 2016, the vast majority coming from those platforms (and around 40 percent from Amazon). ... Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.
Amazon’s CEO has driven his company to all-consuming growth (and even, believe it or not, profits). Today, though, as he deepens his involvement in his media and space ventures, Bezos is becoming a power beyond Amazon. It has forced him to become an even better leader. ... More has gone right for Bezos lately than perhaps at any other time during his two-decade run in the public eye. His company is expanding internationally and spreading its hydra-headed product and service offerings in unexpected new directions. Bezos, too, is evolving. Always a fierce competitor and stern taskmaster, he has begun to show another side. With the Post, he’s taken a seat at the civic-leadership table. And with his various projects Bezos is also becoming known as a visionary on topics beyond dreaming up new ways to gut the profit margins of Amazon’s many foes. ... Bezos is preternaturally consistent. He still preaches customer focus and long-term thinking. Yet of necessity, as Amazon has become massive—and as he has indulged his eclectic and time-consuming pursuits—he has become the sort of leader who empowers others.
In the next 15 years India will see more people come online than any other country. Last year e-commerce sales were about $16 billion; by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley, a bank, the online retail market could be more than seven times larger. Such sales are expected to grow faster in India than in any other market. This has attracted a flood of investment in e-commerce firms, the impact of which may go far beyond just displacing offline retail. ... India’s small businesses have limited access to loans; most of its consumers do not have credit cards, or for that matter credit. The e-commerce companies are investing in logistics, helping merchants borrow and giving consumers new tools to pay for goods. ... Amazon wants to make India its second-biggest market, after America. For the time being, though, with just 12% of the market, it lags behind the home-grown successes, Flipkart (45%) and Snapdeal (26%). All three, as well as some smaller competitors, are spending at a blistering rate. ... The prospect of a second market growing to a near-Chinese size attracts those who made a packet the first time round. ... Indian regulations bar foreign-backed e-commerce firms from owning inventory, and so acting as a straightforward retailer is not an option. As a result India’s top e-commerce companies look much more like Alibaba.
Hundreds of shopping centers across the U.S. are facing obsolescence, abandoned by shoppers who are going online or getting choosier about where they shop. ... in its combination of novelty, technology, and customer pampering, Roosevelt Field embodies the strategy that has helped its owner, Simon Property Group, navigate retail’s crisis to stay on top of the mall world. ... Its U.S. portfolio includes 108 malls, most of them high-grossers like Roosevelt Field, and 72 discount outlet centers. ... including the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, King of Prussia outside Philadelphia, and the huge high-end New York outlet mall Woodbury Common ... The key to that success: constantly adapting to figure out what sells, at a time when many of the businesses that fill its malls—especially department stores and apparel retailers—aren’t selling. ... Simon dominates the so-called A-malls, those with the highest sales per square foot. To win in that category, Simon has been diligent about staying ahead of trends and modernizing its centers, and quick to replace struggling brands with those on the upswing. ... acknowledge the risk posed by the wave of store closings. ... Analysts generally believe America is “overmalled” to begin with: There are 2,353 square feet of space of shopping centers in the U.S. for every 100 Americans, compared with 1,636 in Canada and 458 in Britain ... From the 1960s through the 2000s, developers built hundreds of malls per decade. But since 2010, only nine new ones have been built ... the typical anchor store pays around $4 per square foot in annual rent; the average non-anchor tenant paid $42.22 per square foot a year as of the third quarter of 2016
This first mode of money is public. We might call it ‘state money’. Indeed, we experience cash like a public utility that is ‘just there’. Like other public utilities, it might feel grungy and unsexy – with inefficiencies and avenues for corruption – but it is in principle open-access. It can be passed directly by the richest of society to the poorest of society, or vice versa. ... Alongside this, we have a separate system of digital fiat money, in which our money tokens take the form of ‘data objects’ recorded on a database by an authority – a bank – granted power to ‘keep score’ of them for us. ... This second mode of money is essentially private, running off an infrastructure collectively controlled by profit-seeking commercial banks and a host of private payment intermediaries – like Visa and Mastercard – that work with them. The data inscriptions in your bank account are not state money. Rather, your bank account records private promises issued to you by your bank, promising you access to state money should you wish. ... The cashless society – which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society – is often presented as an inevitability, an outcome of ‘natural progress’. This claim is either naïve or disingenuous. Any future cashless bank-payments society will be the outcome of a deliberate war on cash waged by an alliance of three elite groups with deep interests in seeing it emerge.
- Also: Reuters - Bitcoin Bet < 5min
The company’s e-commerce platform was involved in purchases by more than 100 million individual shoppers in 2016, yet it is invisible by design, enabling the end-to-end operation of its customers, some 400,000 individual retail shops and brands. It proudly operates not from San Francisco or SoHo but from six floors of an inconspicuous office tower in Ottawa ... the company has quietly but aggressively encroached on territory occupied by retail giants like Amazon and eBay to carve out a lucrative niche in e-commerce. ... Lütke’s goal is a lofty one: to make commerce easier for everybody. Just as WordPress made it easy for anyone to set up a blog or content website, Shopify lets anyone set up and run a digital store immediately, without needing any technical prowess.
They were assigned perhaps the most urgent rescue mission in business today: Repurpose Wal-Mart’s historically underachieving internet operation to compete in the age of Amazon. ... Lore cuts an unusual figure at the Bentonville headquarters, which he now visits once a month on a private company plane, and in the geeky hallways of San Bruno and Sunnyvale, Calif., where most of Walmart.com’s engineers work. He’s a former bank risk manager and longtime New Jersey resident who’s a fan of Bruce Springsteen and of figuring out ways to simplify the routines of daily life. He recently ditched his Tesla and uses only Uber, for example, and he visits the same sushi restaurant near his office four times a week, always ordering the salmon sashimi. He also spends time on customer-pleasing contrivances that, in the parlance of Silicon Valley, do not scale. He recently devoted a 12-hour day to recording a thousand variations of a video greeting for new Jet customers. Now when customers sign up, Lore welcomes them by their first name. ... He’d like to extend Jet’s sensibility and business model to Walmart.com, the second-biggest e-commerce destination in the U.S., according to ComScore Inc. ... Wal-Mart has a lot riding on Lore. Last year he received $244 million in pay, 10 times that of his boss, Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart’s CEO. His project could determine the future of Sam Walton’s legacy and the eventual success of McMillon.
- Also: Barron's - The Amazoning of American Retail 5-15min
- Also: Bloomberg - Why the Retail Crisis Could Be Coming to American Groceries < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - The Long, Hard, Unprecedented Fall of Sears < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Mall Owners Fighting Online Stores Turn to Concerts, Food Trucks < 5min
Shopping involves scrolling through an intoxicating admixture of goods: Commodity necessities appear next to fast fashion and knockoff apparel; extraordinarily cheap but on-trend electronics mingle with what I can only describe as global manufacturing overspill. ... These shipments were made in accordance with a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and China that originated in 2010, meant to address the rising tide of cross-border e-commerce. Items up to 4.4 pounds — more than the weight of, for example, a violin and bow — can be shipped as ePackets, at extremely low rates with tracking numbers and delivery confirmation. ... This obscure trade deal has become the quiet conduit for an explosion in a new and underexamined American consumer behavior: buying things directly from their countries of manufacture. ... Because of ePacket, and the decades-old international postal agreements that serve as its foundation, lightweight product shipments from China are heavily subsidized by the U.S.P.S. ... Wish certainly illuminates the peculiarities of international shipping, but it casts a much brighter light on the state of globalized manufacturing and commerce. In fact, it offers a somewhat convincing vision of what they might become in the near future. ... Wish wastes no such effort on concealing its international character. Its product selection feels like a churning, infinite cascade; its lack of any sort of organizing principle is part of the reason it’s so hard to stop scrolling.
Seven years in, however, Stripe’s mission is less to send more books, vacuums, and grooming kits into the world than to “increase the GDP of the internet,” Patrick says. To do this, the company is beginning to move beyond payments by writing software that helps companies retool the way they incorporate, pay workers, and detect fraud. It’s part of an ambitious bid to revamp how online business has been conducted for 20 years and to give anyone with a bright idea a chance to compete. ... With Stripe, all a startup had to do was add seven lines of code to its site to handle payments: What once took weeks was now a cut-and-paste job. Silicon Valley coders spread word of this elegant new architecture. ... Although startups appreciated what Stripe was doing, most potential investors did not. How was a small group of young engineers going to alter the internet’s financial structure? Hadn’t they heard of PayPal?