Product Managers Promote The Vaping Of Vitamins

Product managers are taking a different approach to vaping
Product managers are taking a different approach to vaping
Image Credit: Lindsay Fox

It’s currently a tough time to be a product manager for vaping products in the U.S. right now. Vaping products exploded on the scene a while back and have become very popular. However, there have been a number of serious health-related issues that have started to show up and all of sudden people are starting to view vaping as perhaps being a dangerous thing to do. Some vaping product managers think that they may have a way out of this quandary. They have come up with a new product development definition and a new use for their product: vaping vitamins.

Why Vape Vitamins?

So why would a customer vape vitamins? Product managers are busy promoting the health and wellness benefits of vaping both vitamins and essential oils. These products have gone virtually unnoticed by both regulators and online platforms that have gone after e-cigarettes. There are currently 20 different companies that are promoting vapable vitamins, caffeine, melatonin and essential oils. These products are being promoted as being a healthy alternative to vaping nicotine and THC (the high-inducing chemical in cannabis plants).

The health problems that have swept across the U.S. have caused the government to urge vapers to not use THC vape pens which have played a major role in the health problems. Additionally, the rise in teen vaping has resulted in government officials taking steps to restrict the sales of flavored nicotine vaping products. As of right now, vaporizer products that contain vitamins and essential oils have largely escaped such notice. So far this has been good for product manager resumes. These products are being marked on social media to young people as health products and as a way to quit smoking. Product managers realize that promotions are a key way to introduce any new product. What they are current promising customers are boosts in energy, focus and immune function as well as mood and sleep.

Product managers are saying that their products should not be considered to be e-cigarettes because they don’t contain any nicotine. However, they may be a little bit off here. The vitamin vaping products have many of the same ingredients that are also found in nicotine vapes and the devices do work basically the same way. The vitamin vaping products contain a battery and a coil that both heats and vaporizes a flavored liquid that is then inhaled by the customer.

What The Future Holds For Vaping Vitamins

Right now inhalable vitamins and essential oils are being sold and advertised on some of the biggest online platforms. This includes, Walmart, and Facebook. It’s interesting to note that all of these companies have policies that prohibit them from selling and advertising e-cigarettes.

Currently very little research has been done on the impact on a customer’s health from the byproducts that are created from heating vitamin and essential oil liquids. This is in contrast to the studies that have been done on the edible or ingestible versions of caffeine, vitamin B12, and melatonin. A key point that product managers need to be aware of is that just because something has been found to be safe to ingest has nothing to do with if it is safe to inhale.

There are some concerns that because there is currently no federal regulations that cover the vitamin and essential oil vaping market, there is the possibility that not all of the companies that are making products are taking the necessary precautions that are needed in order to ensure the safety of their customers. The vitamin vaping market has been described as being a bit of a wild west right now. Product managers who want to ensure the long term success of their products need to ensure that they are free of pesticides, heavy metals, and other substances that could be harmful.

What All Of This Means For You

There is a brand new market that has just shown up. This new market is piggybacking on the other brand new market that has just arrived: vaping. The new market has to do with vaping vitamins and essential oils. This is currently an unregulated market and product managers reviewing their product manager job description and are scrambling to find ways to make their new products a success.

Product managers are promoting their new vitamin vaping products as providing a collection of health-related benefits. Right now, vitamin vaping products are not attracting any attention from federal regulators. These new products are being promoted using social media tools. Customers are being promised boosts in energy, focus and immune function as well as mood and sleep. Product managers are saying that their products should not be considered to be e-cigarettes because they don’t contain any nicotine. These products are being promoted on, Walmart, and Facebook. There is currently little research on the health impact of vaping vitamins. Additionally, the firms making the vitamin vaping products have to take responsibility to ensure that their products are safe.

There is no question that vaping is currently very popular. However, the popularity of vaping vitamins and essential oils is still somewhat up in the air. Product managers for these products are going to have to be very careful and not do anything to attract the attention of regulators. If they can keep their products safe and attractive, then perhaps they may have a real success on their hands.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can vitamin vaping product managers prove to their customers that their product is safe to use?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So let’s face it, when the pandemic struck and everyone got locked into their homes, there simply was not a lot to do. What everyone ended up doing was watching a lot of Netflix and eating. Cooking at home which had been dropping off for the past few years experienced a resurgence as people sought ways to both fill their time and their bellies. As vaccines become available and the fear that kept everyone at home starts to ebb, people are now once again starting to venture outside of their homes. What is this going to mean for grocery store product managers and their product development definition?

The post Product Managers Promote The Vaping Of Vitamins appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Amazon is Primed for online domination

We talk about bulls in china shops, but what about bulls running through the streets of entire shopping districts, or other neighborhoods? This morning, Amazon unveiled a new feature that will test just how much of a bull it can be online — beyond its own china shop, so to speak.

Prime — its membership-based scheme that provides free and fast shipping options on a number of products sold on Amazon, alongside a number of other perks like Amazon’s streamed video and music services, used by more than 200 million consumers — is now officially stepping outside of the walls of Amazon itself. Buy with Prime, as the service is officially called, will see Prime members get to extend those Prime benefits — specifically fast and free delivery, free returns, and a seamless checkout experience — to participating third-party merchants on their own sites and apps.

There is no guarantee that this will be a big hit for Amazon. Alexa was huge for the company, and Prime on Amazon itself has been, too. But don’t forget the Fire Phone, or Amazon’s foray into restaurant delivery, or other projects that have been killed over the years.

Be that as it may, there is a giant amount of potential here for the company, so it’s worth spelling out what is going on, some of the context behind this launch (and what that means), and what it’s giving Amazon that it hasn’t had before, and why that matters.

First, the basics

Buy with Prime is starting with merchants that are already using Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) — which, like Amazon Pay, is an Amazon feature that had already been available outside of and merchants use to outsource shipping and logistics.

Amazon said it will be rolling out to these retailers throughout the rest of this year, and as 2022 progresses it will also be extended to those no already using FBA or selling with Amazon on an invitation basis.

Users look for the Prime logo on these other online stores to find and use the service. Merchants meanwhile integrate by signing up, linking in their Amazon Seller Central accounts, Multi-Channel Fulfillment, and Amazon Pay; and then installing a JavaScript widget. Merchants get access to order data — but Amazon does, too (more on that below).

The whole service is run on a similar idea to AWS, based on SaaS pricing covering a service fee, a payment processing fee, a fulfillment fee and a storage fee — all calculated per unit. “Merchants pay only for what they use,” Amazon writes. “Merchants can expand selection or cancel at any time.”

Amazon is playing this as more convenience and another perquisite for Prime subscribers.

“We always aim to exceed Prime members’ expectations by offering more selection, exclusive deals, quality content, and convenient features,” said Jamil Ghani, VP of Amazon Prime, in a canned statement in Amazon’s official announcement. “With the introduction of Buy with Prime, we’re expanding where members can enjoy trusted and convenient Prime shopping benefits beyond Amazon, adding even more value to their membership. Members will have the flexibility to shop from merchants directly, all while enjoying the fast, free delivery, seamless checkout, and easy returns they’ve come to know and love from Amazon.”

It’s also touting it as part of its strategy to build B2B tools, aimed at merchants selling online.

“For over 20 years, we’ve been empowering small and medium-sized businesses with opportunities to grow,” said Peter Larsen, Amazon’s VP of Buy with Prime, in the same announcement. “Allowing merchants to offer Prime shopping benefits on their own direct-to-consumer online stores is an exciting next step in our mission to help merchants of all sizes grow their business—whether on Amazon or beyond. With shoppers purchasing directly from merchants’ online stores, Buy with Prime will allow merchants to build customer relationships and brand loyalty while offering conversion-driving benefits like fast, free shipping.”

Move slow, break things

As with other very slow rollouts we’ve seen at Amazon, the expansion of Prime beyond Amazon’s walled garden has been in the works for years — more than three, in fact.

Back in March 2019 — when the company unveiled a partnership with WorldPay that enabled merchants outside of Amazon to start to accept Amazon Pay as a payment option alongside others like credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay — its VP of Amazon Pay at the time, Patrick Gauthier, got very coy when I asked him about its ambitions to extend Prime in a similar way.

Instead, he pointed me to a small trial it was running with fashion retailer All Saints, which was providing Prime shipping benefits to customers if they were already Prime subscribers.

“It has been very successful in terms of customer conversion and lift, and to capture new customers,” he said. He also noted that it ran a different test during Prime Day in 2018, embedding Prime links with third-party merchants (but linking shoppers back to those merchants’ Amazon-based products) to understand the potential opportunity it might have here. “Yes, we have had interest from merchants if and when we decide to go further with Prime,” he added. (Gauthier has since left Amazon to run Convera, Western Union’s Business Solutions spin-out.)

Prime is Amazon’s Prime agent of change

Amazon is famously vague when it comes to user numbers and revenues for specific products. Its last official numbers are from April 2021, when founder (now) executive chairman CEO Jeff Bezos said it had 200 million members. (It now says it has “over 200 million.”)

Amazon Prime arguably has been the primary agent of change in the Amazon universe: first and foremost, it’s been the company’s chief (prime, even) way of building loyalty among customers, who have found the free and quick shipping options to be a huge lever to lowering the barriers to shopping online. The allure of quick and “free” shipping has been strong enough that Prime members turn first to Prime before considering (let along buying) other products when it comes to browsing and purchasing, a route made easier by Amazon’s search feature to search just for Prime-eligible products.

That’s been shown to be powerful enough that people are even willing to opt for a Prime-based product over one that is less expensive, but might take longer to receive, or have the shipping price spelled out more explicitly in the overall price — usually a combination of the two.

Amazon’s also used Prime to introduce completely different product categories, too, from groceries through to streamed media services. Overall Amazon says that Prime covers thousands of films and shows on Prime Video; 2 million songs, thousands of stations and playlists, and thousands of podcasts on Amazon Music; free games with Prime Gaming; over 3,000 books and magazines on Prime Reading; unlimited photo storage with Amazon Photos; grocery delivery and pickup from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market; same-day and other fast deliver options for 15 million items in the U.S. alone; Amazon Pharmacy and prescription access; and more.

Considering how transformative Prime has been to Amazon itself, it’s fair to wonder if Amazon might try to exercise some of that strategy further afield, too. That is to say, if it starts with the bread and butter of its business now — the Marketplace, and the kinds of products third-party sellers already offer on Amazon itself — does it expand next to offering Prime for subscriptions to magazines and newspapers, or to other kinds of media, or to grocery shopping online?

One of the key issues with Amazon for so many has been that third-party brands haven’t been so keen to fit into the Amazon template when it comes to presenting its products. Amazon has tried to make efforts over the years to address this — for example this partnership with Adobe to help D2C brands using Amazon fulfillment to customize their storefronts — but generally even when a merchant has a storefront that looks “different” to the rest of Amazon on Amazon itself, going any deeper than the front page yields the same cookie-cutter river approach that Amazon has standardized across the whole of

That attitude has driven a lot of business to the likes of Shopify, Commercetools and many others offering “headless” commerce solutions to merchants to build and run storefronts with as little or as much input, and integrating as many third-party solutions including those for logistics and fulfillment, as they are willing to make — a large army of third-party e-commerce technology providers amassing in the name of giving retailers a way to bypass Amazon.

Now, Amazon is playing nice with platforms like BigCommerce. Powering sites on their own terms does away with all of that, and could be a powerful option for a wide swathe of businesses beyond e-commerce, which have a very specific focus on content management.

Move slow, break things

There are many examples of how Amazon has not been the fastest draw when it comes to launching new things. It took Amazon years to add more countries to the Kindle beyond its home market of the U.S. (or really to add much of anything: do a search on TC or Google for the words “kindle” and “finally” to see what I mean). It’s worth wondering whether that drawn-out processes has helped or hindered the growth of e-books, or if it was both and they simply cancelled each other out.

The Kindle is worth looking at when considering how Amazon has done in building products that extend it to new frontiers, as Prime would do. The success of the its home-grown e-reader is undisputed: although Amazon is famously vague when it comes to talking about actual sales numbers, others estimate that its share of e-readers is around 68%.

On the other hand, e-books themselves are still a smaller market compared to the reading market overall, with Pew Research (admittedly using 2019 data) noting that only 7% of respondents said they only read e-books, compared to 37% saying they only read print books (28% read a combination). In other words, changing overall habits may or may not happen, and it will be a slow-burn issue one way or the other. But in the meantime, Amazon itself makes a killing in the market that it has created. That could well be a pattern that gets repeated with Buy with Prime.

Data is Amazon’s oil

Last but not least, there is a fascinating data play here for Amazon, which goes to the heart of how the e-commerce giant is fueling its growth.

Amazon is giving merchants control over aspects of the e-commerce process that would have been out of their hands if they sold through Amazon itself. They can control personalization for shoppers, the algorithms behind what different people are offered and how items get priced, and the wider user interface and experience. But if keep get full control of their data, Amazon now will see it, too.

It’s processing information about its Prime subscribers, key details about their shopping habits, behavior and interests across other kinds of sites that are not designed or run by Amazon — all information that it can in turn use to improve and shape what it sells on

It goes beyond that, though. Amazon has become a major player in online advertising, an area that will also potentially benefit from richer datasets on browsing and shopping habits, which because this concerns Prime subscribers and processing Prime orders, will be first-party data for the company.

It’s also giving Amazon an interesting crack at an even bigger role in the online universe, that of identity management.

Companies like Facebook (Meta), Apple and Google have all made interesting plays at controlling the “log in” across apps and sites, creating social graphs and user graphs across different walled gardens (benefitting those controlling the log-in services), while also providing a way to manage users and profiles across specific apps and sites (benefitting those app and site publishers).

This gives that concept a new twist, and points to just how Amazon really could control it all. If Facebook focused on the social graph, and companies like Apple or Google have made a play to build the identity graph, Amazon has the potential to build the consumer graph, a bigger overall picture of how the internet moves based on purchasing activity.

Amazon to close 68 physical retail locations, including Amazon Books and 4-star stores

Amazon’s physical retail business is suffering a major blow as the company today confirmed to Reuters it will close 68 brick-and-mortar retail stores across the U.S. and U.K. This includes its Amazon Books bookstores, its pop-up shops in various markets, and its 4-star stores where customers could shop popular and highly-rated products across

The retailer, which began its life as an online bookseller, launched its first physical bookstore in Seattle back in 2015, then steadily expanded its brick-and-mortar footprint to include more locations across the U.S. and abroad, including in U.S. states like Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregan, Tennessee, Texas, and of course, its home state of Washington.

The stores didn’t just provide a place for customers to interact with Amazon merchandise in real life, including its hardware devices, they also served as a convenient spot to pick up merchandise bought online or make returns. In later years, Amazon’s retail footprint expanded to include Whole Foods, with the 2017 $13.7 billion acquisition of the grocer, plus its own Amazon Fresh grocery stores. And Amazon has been testing its Just Walk Out cashierless shopping technology at a growing number range of Amazon Go convenience stores, which weren’t a part of this planned shutdown.

The company told Reuters it will alert shoppers to the upcoming closures through in-store signage, as the actual shut down dates may vary by location. It also said it was working to find new roles for employees impacted, when possible, or offer them severance.

The decision to exit so much of its brick-and-mortar business follows a couple of years that have made in-person retail more challenging for everyone, as the Covid pandemic sent more consumers online as foot traffic to local stores declined. But this decision also comes at a time when Amazon retail workers had begun to organize — though in this case, at an Amazon Fresh grocery. The union push saw the retail workers demanding better wages, more flexible attendance policies, longer breaks and other benefits, Insider today reported.

Shutting down dozens of physical stores immediately after such demands seems to send a chilling message to all Amazon retail workers that the company doesn’t value its physical retail business. Amazon, however, said it will continue to work on its cashierless grocery stores and other new concepts, like the recently opened physical clothing store in L.A. called Amazon Style.

Though a small part of its broader retail business, Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores made the company billions. In Q4 2021, the company reported its physical retail business generated $4.68 billion, up from $4.02 billion in the year-ago quarter. It also touted other retail developments in the quarter, in addition to Amazon Style, including the opening of the first Starbucks Pickup with Amazon Go store in New York, and plans for two more such stores in 2022.

Alexa’s new features will let users personalize the A.I. to their own needs

Amazon is preparing to roll out a trio of new features that will allow consumers to further personalize their Alexa experience by helping train the Alexa A.I. using simple tools. In a few months’ time, consumers will be able to teach Alexa to do things like identifying specific sounds in their household, such as a ringing doorbell or instant pot’s chime, for example. Or, for Ring users, the A.I. could notice when something has visually changed — like when a door that’s meant to be closed is now standing open. Plus, consumers will be able to more explicitly direct Alexa to adjust to their personal preferences around things like favorite sports teams, preferred weather app, or food preferences.

The features were introduced today at Amazon’s fall event, where the company is announcing its latest Echo devices and other new hardware.

The new sound identifying feature builds on something Alexa already offers, called Alexa Guard. This feature can identify certain sounds — like glass breaking or a fire or carbon monoxide alarm — which can be helpful for people who are away from home or for those who are hard of hearing or Deaf, as it helps them to know there is a potential emergency taking place. With an upgraded subscription, consumers can even play the sound of a barking dog when a smart camera detects motion outside.

Now, Amazon is thinking of how Alexa’s sound detection capability could be used for things that aren’t necessarily emergencies.

Image Credits: Amazon

With a new feature, consumers will be able to train Alexa to hear a certain type of sound that matters to them. This could be a crock pot’s beeping, the oven timer, a refrigerator that beeps when left open, a garage door opening, a doorbell’s ring, the sound of water running, or anything else that makes a noise that’s easy to identify because it generally sounds the same from time to time.

By providing Alexa with 6 to 10 samples, Alexa will “learn” what this noise is — a big reduction from the thousands of samples Amazon has used in the past to train Alexa about other sounds. Customers will be able teach Alexa a new custom sound directly from their Echo device or through the Alexa mobile app, Amazon says.

However, the enrollment and training process will take place in the cloud. But detection of the sound going forward will happen on the device itself, and Amazon will not send the audio to cloud after enrollment.

Once trained, users can then choose to kick off their own notifications or routines whenever Alexa hears that noise. Again, this could help from an accessibility standpoint or with elder care, as Alexa could display a doorbell notification on their Fire TV, for instance. But it could also just serve as another way to start everyday routines — like when the garage door sounds, Alexa could trigger a personalized “I’m Home” routine that turns on the lights and starts your favorite music.

Amazon says Custom Sound Event Detection will be available next year.

Along similar lines, consumers will also be able to train the A.I. in their Ring cameras to identify a region of interest in the camera feed, then determine if that area has changed. This change has to be fairly binary for now — like a shed door that’s either open or closed. It may not be able to handle something more specific where there is a lot of variation.

This functionality, called “Custom Event Alerts,” will start rolling out to Ring Spotlight Cam Battery customers in the coming months.

Finally, another Alexa feature will allow the smart assistant to learn a user’s preferences related to food, sports, or skill providers. (Skills are the third-party voice apps that run on Alexa devices.) Consumers will be able to say something like, “Alexa, learn my preferences,” to start teaching Alexa. But the learning can be done in subtler ways, too. For instance, if you ask Alexa for nearby restaurants, you could then say something like, “Alexa, some of us are vegetarian” to have steakhouses removed from the suggestions.

Meanwhile, after Alexa learns about your favorite sports teams, the A.I. will include more highlights from the teams you’ve indicated you care about when you ask for sports highlights.

And after you tell Alexa which third-party skill you’d like to use, the A.I. assistant will default to using that skill in the future instead of its own native responses.

For now, though, only third-party weather skills are supported. But Amazon wants to expand this to more skills over time. This could help to address skills’ lower usage, as people can’t remember which skills they want to launch. It would allow for a more “set it and forget it” type of customization, where you find a good skill, set it as your default, then just speak using natural language (e.g. “What’s the weather?”) without having to remember the skill by name going forward.

Amazon says that this preference data is only associated with the customer’s anonymized customer ID, and it can be adjusted. For example, if a vegetarian goes back to meat, they could say “Alexa, I’m not a vegetarian” the next time Alexa returns their restaurant suggestions. The data is not being used to customize shopping suggestions, the company said.

This preference teaching will be available before the end of the year.

Amazon says these features represent further steps towards its goal of bringing what it calls “ambient intelligence” to more people.

Ambient A.I., noted Rohit Prasad, SVP and head scientist for Alexa, “can learn about you and adapt to your needs, instead of you having to conform to it.”

“Alexa, to me, is not just a spoken language service. Instead, it is an ambient intelligence service that is available on many devices around you to understand the state of the environment, and even acts proactively on your behalf,” he said.

Amazon Fall 2021 Hardware Event

Amazon introduces Amazon Glow, an interactive, video calling device for kids and families

Amazon today introduced Amazon Glow, a new, interactive device aimed at families that allows kids to interact with family members and other remote loved ones over video calls. While something of a competitor to Facebook’s line of Portal devices, which are also largely aimed at connecting families over video, Amazon Glow differentiates itself by providing more than just another connected screen experience. It also uses technology to create an interactive, projected space in front of the device to provide a surface for virtual activities — like games, art, puzzles, and more — to give the feeling of an in-person experience,

To do so, Amazon Glow combines immersive projection, sensing technologies, and video into a single device. Unlike other smart screens on the market, the Glow doesn’t look like a tiny TV. Instead, its 8-inch display stands up vertically and a projector creates a 19-inch touch-sensitive space in front of the display for playing virtual games and engaging in other activities with remote family members who are participating on their own tablets.

This gameplay takes place on a special mat, which is also included with the device.

Image Credits: Amazon

With Amazon Glow, kids and their loved ones can play games like Chess, Checkers, Go Fish, or Memory Match. They can pick from thousands of children’s books to read together or draw using digital pencils, crayons, brushes, or spray paint, among other activities. The idea is to make the remote, digital play feel more like the sort of experience you’d have if you were in the same room with the other person.

The Amazon Glow can also do things that combine physical objects and digital play. For example, it can scan the child’s favorite toy then turn it into a custom jigsaw puzzle by projecting the digital scan on the flat surface in front of the device. The child then smashes the digital scan into bits with their hand to turn it into a puzzle. Or they can scan a drawing they made on paper then transform it into a new artwork, with their family member’s help, by digitally drawing on the scanned version.

It also ships with something called “Glow Bits,” which are physical objects designed to work with the new device. The first Glow Bits kit is the Tangram puzzle game, where the child uses the puzzle bits to solve challenges while the remote family member plays along using digital puzzle shapes on their tablet’s screen.

Image Credits: Amazon

At launch, Glow will support special activities from favorites in children’s entertainment, like Anna and Elsa from “Frozen;” Woody and Buzz from Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story;” characters from Mattel’s Barbie and Hot Wheels; Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer; Elmo, Zoe other others from “Sesame Street,” and others.

The device is mainly aimed at families who want to stay in better touch with others from a distance. This could be used with families where one parent travels a lot, with grandparents who live far away, and so on. It could also be helpful during this pandemic era, where families have been spending more time isolated from each other for Covid safety.

Amazon Glow doesn’t allow the child to just call anyone they choose, of course. A parent or guardian will have to first configure the Amazon Glow by providing consent and pre-approving the contacts the child is allowed to call. This way, parents could limit the device only to family members or trusted family friends. And at any time, the parent can disable the cameras and microphone by closing the physical privacy shutter on the device.

Amazon Glow is also not an Alexa device, so no voice or video recordings are collected. It also doesn’t track or save location data or even the drawings that are made.

However, Amazon will retain things like profile preferences and activity history to suggest relevant activities and content available with the included Amazon Kids+ subscription that families may want to try.

Image Credits: Amazon

The device will eventually retail for $299.99, but is launching with a discounted price of $249.99. It comes with the mat, a mat case, the Tangram Bits puzzle game, and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+. (Amazon Kids+ is a paid service that offers unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, games, and premium kids’ skills for Alexa.)

Amazon Glow is not yet broadly available.

Instead, customers will need to request an invitation to join the early access program at The first devices will then ship to U.S. customers in the weeks ahead, said Amazon.

Developers are invited to apply to access the SDK, which will be available in the first half of 2022.

Amazon Fall 2021 Hardware Event

Sendoso nabs $100M as its corporate gifting platform passes 20,000 customers

Corporate gift services have come into their own during the Covid-19 pandemic by standing in as a proxy for other kinds of relationship building activities — office meetings, lunches, and hosting at events — that have traditionally been part and parcel of how people do business, but were no longer feasible during lockdowns, social distancing and offices closing their doors.

Now, Sendoso — a popular “end-to-end” gifting platform offering access to 30,000 products including corporate swag, regular physical gifts, gift cards and more; and then providing services like logistics, packing and sending to get those gifts to the recipients — is announcing $100 million of funding to capitalize on this shift, led by a big new investor.

New backer SoftBank, via its Vision Fund 2, is leading this latest Series C round of funding. Oak HC/FT, Struck Capital, Stage 2 Capital, Craft Ventures, Signia Venture Partners and Felicis Ventures — all previous investors — are also participating.

The company has been on a strong growth trajectory for years now, but it specifically saw a surge of activity as the pandemic kicked off. It now has more than 20,000 businesses signed up and using its services, particularly for sales and marketing outreach, but also to help shore up morale among employees.

“Everyone was stuck at home by themselves, saturated with emails,” said Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO of Sendoso, in an interview. “Having a personal connection to sales prospects, employees and others just meant more.” It has now racked up some 3 million gifts sent since launching in 2016.

Sendoso is not disclosing its valuation, but Rudeegraap hinted that it was four times higher than the startup’s Series B valuation from 2020. PitchBook estimates that to be $160 million, which would make the current valuation $640 million. The company has now raised over $150 million.

Rudeegraap said Sendoso will be using the funds in part to invest in a couple of areas. First, to hire more talent: it has 500 employees now and plans to grow that by 30% by the end of this year. And second, international expansion: it is setting up a European HQ in Dublin, Ireland to complement its main office in San Francisco.

Comcast, Kimpton Hotels, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq and eBay are among its current customers — so this is in part to serve those customers’ global user bases, as well as to sign up new gifters. He estimated that the bigger market for corporate gifting is about $100 billion annually, so there is a lot to play for here.

The company was co-founded by Rudeegraap and Braydan Young (who is its chief alliances officer) on the back of a specific need Rudeegraap identified while working as a sales executive. Gifting is a very standard practice in the world of sales and marketing, but he was finding a lot of traction with potential and current customers by taking a personalized approach to this act.

“I was manually packing boxes, grabbing swag, coming up with handwritten notes,” he recalled. “It was inefficient, but it worked so well. So I dreamed up an idea: why not be able to click a button in Salesforce to do this automatically? Sometimes the best company is one that solves a pain point of your own.”

And this is essentially what Sendoso does. The startup’s platform integrates with a company’s existing marketing, sales and management software — Salesforce, HubSpot, SalesLoft among them — and then lets users use this to organize and order gifts through these channels, for example as part of larger sales, marketing or HR strategies. The gifts are wide-ranging, covering corporate swag, other physical presents, gift cards and more, and there are also integrations you can include to share gifting across teams of salespeople, to analyze the campaigns and more.

The Sendoso platform itself, meanwhile, positions itself as having the “marketplace selection and logistics precision of” But Sendoso also believes it’s better than someone simply using itself since it ultimately takes a more personalized approach in how it presents the gift.

“There are a lot of things we do uniquely in terms of what we have built throughout our software, gifting options and logistics centre. We really personalize our gifts at scale with handwritten notes, special boxing, and more,” something that Amazon cannot do, he added. “We have built a lot of unique technology and logistics software that would make it hard for Amazon to compete.” He said that one of Sendoso’s integrations is actually with Amazon, so Sendoso users can order through there, but then the gift is first routed to Sendoso to be repackaged in a nicer way before being sent out.

At its heart, the startup has built a way of knitting together disparate work practices — some codified in software, and some based on human interactions and significantly more infused with randomness, emotion and ad hoc approaches — and built it all into a technology platform. The ability to scale what feels like an otherwise bespoke level of service is what has helped Sendoso gain traction not just with users, but investors, too:

“We believe Sendoso offers the most comprehensive end-to-end gifting platform in the market,” said Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “Their platform includes a global marketplace of curated vendors, seamless integration with existing tools, global logistics, and deep analytics. As a result, Sendoso serves as the backbone to enterprises’ engagement programs with prospective customers, existing customers, employees and other key stakeholders. We’re excited to lead this Series C round to help Sendoso accelerate its vision.”

Wonder Brands picks up $20M, aims to build marketplace of Latin American e-commerce brands

E-commerce roll-up companies are big in the United States, and Wonder Brands wants to be that for Latin America.

The Mexico-based company closed on $20 million in seed funding, co-led by ALLVP and Mountain Nazca, with participation from CoVenture, Victory Park Capital, GFC, QED (Fontes), Korify Capital and Endeavor Catalyst.

Wonder Brands co-founders Nicolás Gonzalez Luna and Federico Malek came together to start the company in January 2021 to acquire digital brands in the MercadoLibre and Amazon ecosystem. It then leverages its technology to scale their operations and grow sales by taking care of the marketing, analytics, supply chain management and working capital needs of the companies. It focuses on companies in the areas of home and garden, sports and fitness, beauty and personal care.

“MercadoLibre has a larger share, but Amazon is entering the region quickly, so there is not one dominating marketplace. MercadoLibre may have half the market, but then it is more balanced between a number of different platforms,” Gonzalez Luna told TechCrunch. “That diversification means operations here are more complex than the classic Amazon seller. Negotiations take longer and require more discussion about who you are to get the trust in you. That’s why we will be doing fewer, but larger deals than our U.S. counterparts.”

Malek’s background is on the commerce side, having worked at Argentinian insurtech company before founding e-commerce fulfillment company, which was acquired by Groupon in 2010. He then worked as Groupon’s managing director in the region. He knew Gonzalez Luna, whose background includes Goldman Sachs where he focused on M&A.

Michael Breitstein, principal at CoVenture, said his firm has made a variety of investments on the debt and equity sides of e-commerce and believes Malek and Gonzalez Luna provide a “great one-two punch” with their backgrounds, as well as the ability to raise capital and build out a platform.

Though there is a lot of competition to acquire digitally native companies in the $1 million revenue range, Malek said Wonder Brands will focus on larger sellers and operators, with a deal target of at least $5 million in revenue. They are also taking a “buy and build” approach rather than the “buy and consolidate” business model many of the other roll-up companies have, he added.

With its approach, the company’s goal is to enable its acquired companies to sell on multiple channels. It provides support in four areas: category management and brand development, marketing and performance, technology to automate processes like inventory and logistics and operations to manage all of the channels needed. For example, in Latin America, inventory has to be consolidated into one warehouse, but then separated depending on the sales channel, Malek.

Acquiring and scaling companies is big business. London-based Hahnbeck Business Systems, an e-commerce M&A firm that tracks funding to FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) acquirers all over the world, reports that e-commerce roll-up companies raised $7.24 billion in disclosed funding to date.

According to the different sources, reports say Latin American e-commerce company MercadoLibre has a market cap of between $70 billion and $94.billion. Meanwhile, marketplace merchants accounted for 55% of units sold on, according to the retailer. In 2020, that accounted for $300 billion in sales, according to Marketplace Pulse estimates based on Amazon disclosures.

The seed financing enables Wonder Brands to invest in building a team to focus on the four support areas and marketing. The company has 20 employees currently and plans to triple that in the next month. The funding is also complementing larger debt facilities that the company has available to acquire brands. Its target is to make six or seven acquisitions this year.

The company is on target to achieve $55 million in revenue by the end of the year and will then move toward $100 million in revenue in the next 12 months, Malek said. It currently operates in Mexico and plans to begin operations in Brazil by the end of 2021.


Amazon says it will now compensate consumers for defective products sold on its marketplace

Amazon today is making a significant change to its returns policy, known as the A-to-Z guarantee, to address issues with defective products sold through Amazon’s marketplace of third-party sellers. In the past, Amazon directed consumers to the sellers in the case where a defective product caused property damage or personal injury. Now, Amazon says it will directly pay customers for their claims under $1,000, which would cover more than 80% of cases, at no cost to sellers.

It also says it may step in to pay claims for higher amounts if the seller rejects a claim or is unresponsive on a claim Amazon understands to be valid.

For years, Amazon has attempted to skirt responsibility for the products sold through its marketplace, saying it was only the platform that enabled these transactions to take place — not the liable party in the event of defective product claims. Some U.S. courts over the years have agreed, but others have not, complicating matters. Most recently, a California appellate court ruled that Amazon could be sued when consumers were injured by third-party products it sold on its website. The case at hand was a lawsuit over a defective hoverboard a mother bought for her son in 2015, which burned the customer’s hands and started a fire.

Meanwhile, as Amazon’s marketplace has grown, how defective products and consumer complaints are handled has become even more of problem. Today, Amazon’s marketplace has 6.3 million total sellers, 1.5 million of which are currently active, according to estimates from Marketplace Pulse.

This situation recently came to a head, when last month Amazon was sued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which aims to force Amazon to accept responsibility for recalling potentially hazardous products sold on The named products in the complaint included “24,000 faulty carbon monoxide detectors that fail to alarm, numerous children’s sleepwear garments that are in violation of the flammable fabric safety standard risking burn injuries to children, and nearly 400,000 hair dryers sold without the required immersion protection devices that protect consumers against shock and electrocution,” the federal agency said.

As a part of that action, the CPSC also wanted Amazon to step in and issue refunds, naming it as a distributor of these products by way of its FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) program. It pointed out that Amazon stores products at its warehouse, inventories them, and sorts and ships them — and earns fees for doing so. The agency also argued that consumers that consumers who then buy these products may “reasonably believe” they are purchasing from Amazon.

Today, Amazon says it will step in to handle these types of consumer complaints. Instead of telling customers to reach out to the seller, it will allow customers to begin their claims process through Amazon Customer Service.

Starting September 1st, Amazon will take the claim information and notify the seller to help them address the claim. If the seller doesn’t respond, Amazon will step in to address the customer concern at its own cost while it separately tries to pursue the seller. And if the seller rejects a claim that Amazon believes is valid, it will compensate the customer.

The retailer says it will use its existing fraud detection and abuse systems and work with external, independent insurance fraud experts to analyze customers’ claims for validity. This will provide an initial layer of seller protection, as Amazon will stop sellers from having to deal with “unsubstantiated, frivolous, or abusive claims,” Amazon explains. It will also offer product liability insurance to sellers through a new service, Amazon Insurance Accelerator, which will offer a selection of trusted providers to shop from.

Amazon likely believes this new policy will help to head off new regulations that could impact how it runs its marketplace business. In announcing the news, Amazon stated that it’s “going far beyond our legal obligations and what any other marketplace service provider is doing today to protect customers” — a message clearly meant to dissuade further regulation.

The changes will roll out initially in the U.S., Amazon says.

Amazon expands same-day Prime delivery to 6 more U.S. cities

Amazon announced this morning it’s expanding its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on, then receive their orders in only a few hours.

To do so, Amazon invested in what it called “mini-fulfillment centers” closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets, initially in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. Those customers could then shop across a dozen merchandise categories, including Baby, Beauty & Health, Kitchen & Dining, Electronics, Pet Supplies, and more. As the pandemic continued to impact Amazon’s business, in November 2020, Amazon expanded its faster same-day service to more cities, to include Nashville and Washington, D.C.

With today’s expansion, Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12. In these markets, shoppers will be able to place orders online throughout the day then have items on their doorstep in as fast as 5 hours, Amazon says. Customers can also place orders by midnight to have their orders arrive the following morning.

The service continues to be free with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders under $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for non-members. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month or $119 per year.

The time frame commitments for same-day delivery are the same as those Amazon promised last year when it first announced its plans to speed up Prime delivery. Orders placed between midnight and 8 AM will arrive today by 1 PM. Orders placed between 8 AM and 1 PM arrive by 6 PM; those placed between 1 PM and 5 PM will arrive by 10 PM; and those placed between 5 PM and midnight will arrive overnight by 8 AM. That means customers can place orders fairly late and receive their items before they head out of the house the next day.

Faster same-day delivery has been one of the most significant services Amazon has used to challenge rivals like Walmart and Target, who both benefit from having a large brick-and-mortar footprint that allows them to more quickly serve their customers through same-day order pickup, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery services. While Walmart partners with third-parties on its same-day service, Express delivery, largely focused on grocery, Target acquired delivery service Shipt in 2017 to bring its fast delivery services in-house.

In response to the growing competition, Amazon has been recently acquiring smaller warehouse space inside major urban metros, including in these six new markets where it’s now announcing same-day delivery, as well as larger markets, like New York, and even suburban neighborhoods. It also acquired Whole Foods for $137.7 billion in 2017, not only to more fully participate in the online grocery business, but also in part because of its large retail footprint.

As Amazon has sped up the pace of what’s available under “Prime” delivery, it has wound down its older “Prime Now” business, which was retired Aug. 30 and will be fully shut down by year-end. The separate app had allowed customers to shop items that were available in one or two hours for an additional fee.

The news follows Amazon’s earning miss last week, when the retailer fell short of Wall St.’s estimates for revenue, and gave a weaker than-expected outlook for the quarter ahead, which Amazon attributed to difficult comparisons with a time frame that included Covid lockdowns during height of the pandemic in 2020. The company reported $113.08 billion in revenue and earnings of $15.12, versus expectations of $115.2 billion and $12.30.

Amazon aims to inject new life into Alexa with release of developer tools and features

Amazon is giving its Alexa voice platform a shot in the arm after seeing further declines in skill growth over the past year, indicating lagging interest from third-party voice app developers. At the company’s Alexa Live developer event today, the company announced a slew of new features and tools for the developer community — its largest release of new tools to date, in fact. Among the new releases are those to encourage Alexa device owners to discover and engage with Alexa skills, new tools for making money from skills, and other updates that will push customers to again make Alexa more a part of their daily routines.

The retailer’s hopes for Alexa as voice shopping platform may have not panned out as it had hoped, as only a sliver of Alexa customers actually made purchases through the smart speakers. However, the larger Alexa footprint and developer community remains fairly sizable, Amazon said today, noting there are “millions” of Alexa devices used “billions of times” every week, and over 900,000 registered developers who have published over 130,000 Alexa skills.

However, Amazon hasn’t yet solved the challenge of helping customers find and discover skills they want to use — something that’s been historically difficult on voice-only devices. That’s improved somewhat with the launch of Alexa devices with screens, like the Alexa Show, which offers a visual component.

But largely, Alexa device owners continue to use its most basic functions — smart home control, playing music, setting alarms and reminders, making lists, and other simple queries. It has yet to produce what would be considered, by most, a “runaway hit” voice app. 

Image Credits: Amazon

In an attempt to tackle this problem with more features, Amazon says it will introduce a way for developers to create Widgets for their skills which customers can then add to their Echo Show or other Alexa device with a screen sometime later this year. Developers will also be able to build Featured Skill Cards to promote their skills in the home screen rotation.

In other words, Amazon’s solution is to make Alexa more like a mobile device in terms of app discovery. While perhaps useful to those who have Alexa devices with screens, that doesn’t bode well for Alexa’s future as a voice-only platform.

Meanwhile, for voice-only devices, developers will now be able to have their skill suggested when Alexa responds to common requests, like “Alexa, tell me a story,” “Alexa, let’s play a game,” or “Alexa, I need a workout,” among others. And Alexa will begin to offer personalized skill suggestions based on customers’ use of similar skills, while new “contextual discovery” mechanisms that will allow customers to use natural language and phrases to accomplish tasks across skills. Of course, Amazon has tried other ways of suggesting skills before now, but those impacts have been negligible on the larger skill ecosystem. (Some efforts even annoyed users.)

Amazon also said it’s expanding the ways developers can get paid for their skills.

Already, it offers tools like consumables, paid subscriptions and in-skill purchases. Now, it will add support for Paid Skills, a new in-skill purchase that allows customers to pay a one-time fee to access the content a skill provides. It will also now expand in-skill purchases to India and Canada. So far, in-skill purchases have yet to drive significant revenue. A 2019 report found that Alexa skill revenue in the first 10 months of the year was only $1.4 million, far short of Amazon’s $5.5 million target. It’s uncertain that one more way to make a purchase will change that trend.

Amazon didn’t speak to how much its developers made, instead saying only that developer revenue from in-skill purchases had “more than doubled” year-over-year.

Amazon will now attempt to leverage the developer community to drive sales on its retail site, too.

With new “Shopping Actions,” developers can sell Amazon products in their skill. For example, a role-playing game could suggest customers buy the tabletop version, as sci-fi game Starfinder does. Developers can also now earn affiliate revenue on their product referrals.

Music and media skill developers will be able to use new tools for more entertaining experiences, like a Song Request Skill that DJs can use to take song requests via Alexa, which iHeartRadio will adopt. Others will shorten the time it takes for Radio, Podcast and Music providers to launch interactive experiences.

Other new features aim to make skills more practical and useful.

Image Credits: Amazon

For example, restaurants will gain access to a Food Skill API that will allow them to create pickup and delivery order experiences. A new “Send to Phone” feature will allow developers to connect their skill with mobile devices, and new event-based triggers and proactive suggestions will enable new experiences — like a skill that reminds users to lock their home when they are leaving. Amazon-owned Whole Foods will use these features for a curbside pickup experience arriving later this year, the company says.

Alexa replenishment support, which allows customers to reorder common household items like laundry detergent or batteries, will also expand to replacement parts to better tie in with other sorts of household and smart home devices. Thermostat makers Carrier and Resideo will use this to replenish air filters and Bissell will use this with its vacuum cleaners.

Menahile, safety device makers — like smoke, carbon-monoxide, and water leak detectors — will be able to tie into Alexa’s security system, Alexa Guard to send notifications to mobile devices.

Amazon is also introducing a set of new tools that make creating skills easier for developers, including the ability to use Alexa Entities, which is basically Amazon’s own set of general, Wikipedia-like knowledge. They’ll also gain access to new tools to aid with custom pronunciations plus the previously U.S.-only Alexa Conversations nature language feature (now in beta in Germany, developer preview in Japan, and live all English locales). A longer list of tools focus on regional expansions of existing toolkits (i.e. AVS, ACK), and others that enable better interoperability with smart home devices — like those that allow for unique wake words, among others.