Shopify acquires Checkout Blocks, a checkout customization app

Commerce platform Shopify has acquired Checkout Blocks, allowing Shopify Plus merchants to make no-code customizations in their checkout to enhance customer experience and potentially boost sales.  Checkout Blocks, which debuted on Shopify in September 2022, lets merchants customize their checkout by adding things such as AI recommendations, custom content (like information banners, images, headlines, and […]

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eBay adds an AI-powered ‘shop the look’ feature to its iOS app

EBay on Tuesday launched a new generative AI-powered feature to appeal to fashion enthusiasts: a “shop the look” section within its iOS mobile app that will suggest a carousel of images and ideas, based on the customer’s shopping history. The company says its recommendations will be personalized to the end user and will evolve as […]

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Meesho taps micro-entrepreneurs to plug gaps in India’s supply chain network

India is one of the fastest growing economies, yet its supply chain system remains antiquated, operating much as it did decades ago. The logistics sector is highly fragmented, with a majority of small, regional operators lacking scale and efficiency. Regional truckers still rely on brokers and word-of-mouth to secure cargo, while severe truck shortages in […]

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Whop, an online marketplace for digital goods, raises $17M

Amazon might have the monopoly on physical goods sold online. But what about digital ones?

There’s Steam for games and software. Shopify supports some forms of digital goods, like artwork and gig services. But three co-founders, Steven Schwartz, Cameron Zoub and Jack Sharkey, believe that there’s room for competition.

Schwartz, Zoub and Sharkey are the creators of Whop, a marketplace for people to sell access to digital products. Products for sale — and re-sale — run the gamut from sports gambling picks and deals on food, travel and credit cards to tips to “level up your social game.”

“Whop is a comprehensive online platform aimed at connecting sellers and buyers within the digital economy,” Schwartz told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Its mission is to centralize all products on the internet, offering a one-stop solution for anyone looking to participate in the digital economy.”

Zoub and Schwartz met when they were 13 years old in a Facebook group over a shared interest in limited-edition sneakers. Together, they launched one of the first “sneaker bots” — software to get shoes before they sold out — and used the profits to bootstrap the creation of more software to sell online.

After teaming up with Sharkey, a software developer, to build products for small businesses, Zoub and Schwartz created a makeshift marketplace where people could buy software — and sell their own — for free. But scammers overran it.

“It was trash,” Schwartz said bluntly. “People had to make forum posts and often got scammed, a middleman was required and pricing for the software wasn’t clear.”

So Schwartz, Zoub and Sharkey began working on an improved version of the marketplace, which became Whop.

“We’re creating a new economy, giving people new things to sell,” Schwartz said. “We see ourselves as competing with social media, where people have traditionally gone to sell their software, but suffer through an incredibly suboptimal experience.”


Whop’s online marketplace for digital goods and services selling.

Given the countless goods and services marketplaces out there, one might wonder what makes Whop — besides the amusing name — different. (This writer did.) Schwartz claims that Whop is differentiated by its selling experience and product discovery engine.

Sellers on Whop get a dashboard with promotion and customer relationship management tools as well as analytics for business insights. As for buyers, they’re treated to a recommendation algorithm, visualizations for discovering new products and a portal for managing their purchases.

Sound par for the course? Perhaps. But Whop’s going after a different audience than your typical marketplace: influencers and content creators.

“People are selling sponsorships or ad space on traditional social channels, but now they can use Whop to offer their audience a real, living and breathing product that they can collect a recurring, stable income stream on,” Schwartz said. “If someone has a million followers, they think they’re better off continuing to post content, but in reality, someone who has 20,000 followers with a real product is actually making more money than them.”

Is there truth to that last statement? Perhaps. What does appear to be a trend is that buyers are more likely to buy a product that’s recommended to them by an influencer they trust. According to one source, 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations, while 40% say that they’re likely to purchase something after seeing it on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

In my cursory browsing, a lot of Whop’s listings seem to revolve around sports betting, crypto and general wealth-growing strategies. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. But I wonder if it all has staying power — and how carefully it’s moderated.


Whop provides analytics to sellers on the backend.

As with all marketplaces, there’s a risk, also, that bad actors manipulate the platform to drive sales to scammy products — whether through fake reviews or dubious SEO practices. Whop says that it takes steps to mitigate this, but it’s tough to know how extensive those steps are, particularly considering Whop’s small team (20 people).

But investors see potential in what Whop’s doing. The company today announced that it raised $17 million in a Series A round with participation from Insight Partners, The Chainsmokers, Peter Thiel and others. The tranche values the startup at over $100 million — a healthy valuation for a marketplace of around a million customers and 3,000 sellers that’s done $100 million in transactions to date.

“We have loads of runway,” Schwartz said. “The pandemic and slowdown in tech have been incredible for us; the slowdown in venture in particular has resulted in numerous small-scale, cash-focused products, which is exactly what our product supports.”

The quest for better AI recommendation engines

Switch on your streaming service of choice or open up the website for your preferred department store and a recommendation system is sure to kick in.

“You liked this TV series, so we think you’ll like this one!” Or: “As you’re looking at a pink linen skirt, think about buying these cream espadrilles to go with it!” They are key commerce drivers because they help customers see the products that they’re most likely to purchase. But they don’t fit neatly into existing machine-learning toolchains.

Some of the best-known recommendation engines are for content. YouTube’s eerie sense of what you might like to watch next is one example, and the ultimate champion of this game is TikTok: It’s deliciously addictive, precisely because the algorithms know what your little heart desires.

In some cases, however, there is more to a recommendation. For an online shop, there may be different margins for different product lines, and it has information that the engine itself does not; for example, people might not be buying ski gear now, but they damn sure will later in the year. Rubber Ducky Labs, a San Francisco-based startup, is looking to make it easier for teams to debug, analyze and improve their recommendation systems. 

The team is working in a space that has a deeper trend: How do you know that the AIs are delivering good work? Increasingly, the algorithms do things that humans don’t fully understand – and without a feedback loop, it can get tricky.

The quest for better AI recommendation engines by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

Walmart to drop plastic mailers, let customers bring their own bags to order pickup

Walmart announced this morning it will be reducing plastic across its e-commerce operations in a number of ways, including shifting from plastic mailers to recyclable paper bag mailers and allowing customers to decline the use of plastic shopping bags for their online pickup orders, among other things. It will also introduce an option for customers shopping online to request their items be consolidated into fewer boxes, to reduce waste.

E-commerce rival Amazon introduced a similar option back in 2019, with its Amazon Day Delivery, which allows shoppers to pick a single day per week to receive their Amazon orders.

Image Credits: Walmart

Walmart estimates the changes to the mailers alone will eliminate 65 million plastic bag mailers or more than 2,000 tons of plastic from circulation in the U.S. by the end of the current fiscal year. However, this initiative only applies to orders shipped with Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS). Third-party sellers on Walmart’s Marketplace have the option to use WFS, but are not required to. Plus, Walmart isn’t committing to a total shift, instead saying that it will impact “nearly all orders shipped in plastic mailers” from its fulfillment centers, stores, and marketplace items shipped with WFS — but not “all orders.”

In addition, Walmart will no longer require customers to accept their pickup orders in single-use plastic grocery bags, following earlier tests. Based on early adoption, the retailer believes this option will lead to the elimination of millions of single-use bags from circulation each year. The option will roll out across the U.S. throughout 2023 with an expected completion by year-end.

Image Credits: Walmart

Ahead of this change, Walmart had been working to reduce its use of single-use bags, recently expanding to four more regions in line with local regulations, including Delaware, Oregon, Washington D.C., and Washington state. In these markets, Walmart stores won’t offer single-use bags at the frontend or at pickup, bringing the total number of states where bags were eliminated to 10. Including Walmart Canada and Mexico, the company said it anticipated avoiding the use of nearly 2 billion single-use bags every year.

While any improvement is welcome here, the reality is that much stricter steps or tougher regulations would be needed to truly solve the problem of the overuse of plastic. The convenience of e-commerce and online grocery means there is more plastic in circulation than would be necessary if customers went to the store with their own bags, rather than having items shipped to their homes in boxes or mailers or items picked up in plastic bags.

In addition, some of these changes are optional for the customer — they have to choose to reduce their deliveries or decline single-use bags at pickup by bringing their own. That again puts more of the burden on the consumer who has to remember to make the sustainable choice.

Walmart says it’s also working to reduce cardboard in shipments by transitioning to right-size packaging, which is rolling out to roughly half its fulfillment network, using technologies that reduce the need for filler by 60%. And it’s working with AI technologies to identify when items can be fulfilled from stores instead of fulfillment centers, reducing the number of miles that need to be driven. These efforts are ongoing and were highlighted as other examples of where Walmart is looking toward sustainability.

Walmart to drop plastic mailers, let customers bring their own bags to order pickup by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

‘Ted Lasso’ and other Apple TV+ merch could arrive in the Apple Store, report says

The Apple Store could be expanding beyond tech products. As the company continues to invest in its original Apple TV+ content, a recent Bloomberg report indicates that Apple plans to introduce a new product category for its online store– merchandise tied to its popular TV shows. This includes “Ted Lasso” merch, which is rounding out its third — and possibly last — season.

The potential addition of Apple TV+ merch on the Apple Store could mark the first time the company has sold these types of products directly to customers, reported Bloomberg. Apple will roll out the apparel early next month, the publication noted, and its retail stores will promote a QR code that directs shoppers to the new collection.

Apple was not immediately available to comment to TechCrunch.

Warner Bros. has offered “Ted Lasso” merch through its online shop for quite some time, including the recently launched special edition Monopoly and UNO board games, as well as figurines, mugs, stationary, soccer balls and clothing.

In March, Apple partnered with Nike to release official “Ted Lasso” apparel, such as AFC Richmond jerseys, hoodies, scarves and more. The Nike items will be the first to appear on the Apple Store, according to Bloomberg, and prices will range from $35 and up.

If the report turns out to be true, it’s likely that Apple would further capitalize on the success of the hit show as well as other popular Apple TV+ titles like “Shrinking,” “For All Mankind” and “Mythic Quest,” among others.

Severance” is another successful series that has its own merch. In November 2022, Apple TV+ teamed up with the online store Mando to sell vinyl records with the “Severance” soundtrack.

Last year, Disney+ tested out a shopping experience to promote its popular shows. The experiment allowed Disney+ subscribers to shop exclusive merchandise from brands such as Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar.

‘Ted Lasso’ and other Apple TV+ merch could arrive in the Apple Store, report says by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

Retail media targeting on the AI maturity curve

As the retail sector grows increasingly reliant and focused on data and artificial intelligence (AI), it’s essential that retailers understand exactly how first-party data analysis can be crystalized into insights on customer behavior – and, in turn, a tangible competitive advantage.

To that end, consider the chart below, dubbed the “Data & AI Maturity Curve.”

The data + AI maturity curve

The data + AI maturity curve. Image Credits: Zitcha/Databricks

This is a simplified view of how a retailer’s data and AI capabilities (charted on the x-axis) directly correlate with the competitive advantage of its retail media network (charted on the y-axis). A general strategic approach following this curve will see retailers making incremental steps towards sophistication, inching ever closer to the vaunted “predictive analysis” that will allow them to anticipate customer needs and deliver finely tuned, personalized experiences.

This is all far easier said than done, however, and some steps are more important than others when it comes to intelligent targeting. Let’s look at the three most important milestones along the road to predictive analysis in the retail media context.

Clean, accepted data

The “on-ramp” to this curve for any retailer looking to harness the power of data and AI begins with a full view of clean and accepted data across all customer interactions and media placements, whether physical or digital, owned or rented. This data is crucial for understanding the opportunity, managing yield, and accurately measuring campaign performance.

As technology formalizes retail media as a category, the chance to lead on metric integrity and data quality is significant. Understanding the unique count of customers along the journey through physical and digital touch points is also crucial, as duplicating customer counts to inflate the value of the media network is a risk to both trust and budget growth in the long term.

Let’s look at the three most important milestones along the road to predictive analysis in the retail media context.

Data is, ideally, streamed to a behavioral data platform (BDP) and stored in a secure, cloud-hosted data lake. Data from SaaS systems updates the BDP via a server-to-server connector. Data is then modeled and enriched by the BDP, where every customer interaction is unified to a single, holistic view of the customer.

This provides a single profile with an event history with thousands of records for each customer. While certainly a critical step, this really is the ground floor when it comes to media targeting – once this foundation is established, maturity can begin to build up.


Predictiveness/complexity. Image Credits: Zitcha/Snowplow

Contextual targeting

The first level of true media targeting capability is delivering a message to a surface – a specific platform or device facing a target audience – based on its context. This is the most fundamental form of targeting and a crucial basis for all other targeting capabilities. The role of data at this stage is to forecast the inventory of placements available by placement type and location, which is key for retailers to manage their media network and optimize yield. Message relevance and brand safety are also dependent on this capability.

Retail media targeting on the AI maturity curve by Walter Thompson originally published on TechCrunch

Praktis lands $20M to help Indonesian D2C brands handle their supply chains

Small to medium-sized enterprises contribute 60% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. But companies in the D2C space still struggle to compete against bigger brands. Praktis wants to put them on a more level playing field.

The startup, which handles everything from raw material purchases to order fulfillment for D2C brands and suppliers, announced today it has raised $20 million in Series A funding. The round was led by East Ventures (Growth fund), with participation from Triputra Groiup and SMDV.

Praktis co-founder and chief executive officer Adrian Gilrandy told TechCrunch that even though 60% of Indonesia’s GDP comes from SMEs, many experience difficulties while scaling up their business operations. These include finding reliable suppliers, getting fair pricing, the cost of labor and high exposure to fixed costs.

Praktis' team

Praktis’ team

Through its platform, Praktis’ customers are able to manage this business operations, including raw material purchases, production, fulfillment and logistics. Gilrandy said Praktis also aggregates purchasing and processing for economies of scale. This leaves D2C brands free to focus on other parts of their business, including brand building and marketing.

The startup plans to scale up by growing alongside the D2C brands it serves. Gilrandy said its ecosystem can easily be applied to other verticals—for example, it started in fashion before moving on to the beauty industry. Praktis claimed 12x growth year-on-year from 2020 to 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated adoption of its services, and 4x growth year-on-year from 2021 to 2022.

Praktis will use its new funding for technology development for both brands and suppliers, building its team and expanding its end-to-end supply chain ecosystem.

The startup also announced today it has appointed Leonard Pontoh as its chief financial officer. Pontoh is also joining its board of directors.

In a statement, East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Willson Cuaca said, “We are thrilled to double down our investment to Praktis as they strive to empower D2C brands in Indonesia and hit profitability much faster than we expected.”

Praktis lands $20M to help Indonesian D2C brands handle their supply chains by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

eBay appoints new head of emerging markets, covering regions like Southeast Asia and India

eBay announced today that it has appointed Vidmay Naini as its general manager for global emerging markets, a role that covers the company’s growth in Southeast Asia, India, Eastern Europe, Israel, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Before his new position, Naini led eBay’s Southeast Asia and India businesses.

Naini has been with eBay for 18 years and his previous projects include eBay’s strategic investment in Flipkart.

In a statement, Naini said, “the digital economy is exponentially growing in these markets, with small and medium-sized businesses propelling its growth. Global e-commerce platforms such as eBay can revolutionize export opportunities and expand the reach these businesses can achieve.”

In its announcement about Naini’s appointment, eBay highlighted its 2022 Southeast Asia Small Online Business Trade Report, which found that 99% of all small businesses on eBay currently export items to an average of 25 different international markets on an annual basis.

In Southeast Asia in particular, 68% of “eBay-enabled small businesses” in six countries—Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore—export to 10 or more international markets.

Naini told Tech Wire Asia last July that he expects to see strong growth in Southeast Asia and that eBay’s business in the region was just beginning to take hold. “We’ve seen significant growth in our business, especially with the SMBs selling from this region to the world. The truth is, we are just scratching the surface because we see eBay as a very nascent business here still, and we expect it to grow multifold.”

eBay appoints new head of emerging markets, covering regions like Southeast Asia and India by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch