WhatsApp broadens in-app business directory and search features

WhatsApp is introducing new Yellow Pages-like features to help users find businesses from within the instant messaging app, part of the Meta-owned platform’s growing attempts to make deeper inroads with e-commerce.

The encrypted messaging service, used by over 2 billion users worldwide, said on Thursday that it’s expanding a feature called ‘Directory’ to all users in the key overseas market of Brazil to help them browse and discover local small businesses in their neighborhoods. The nationwide rollout follows WhatsApp testing the directory feature in Sao Paulo last year.

WhatsApp is also introducing the ability to find larger businesses from within the app. The feature – rolling out in several markets (Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico and the U.K.), a spokesperson told TechCrunch – will allow users to browse businesses by category such as banking, food and drink and travel as well as by their names.

The feature, called ‘Business Search,’ aims to help individuals avoid having to spend time looking for phone numbers of businesses from their websites and keying in and saving those details to their phone contacts, the company said at a WhatsApp-focused business summit in Brazil.

The new features underscore WhatsApp’s growing attempts to turn the behemoth messaging app into a commerce engine, one of its largest bets to generate revenue from the otherwise free service. The company disclosed in the quarterly earnings last month that the click-to-WhatsApp ads business had grown 80% year-over-year and was on track to generate $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

“We want to make it easier for people to get more done on WhatsApp,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the summit. “Part of that is building better ways to engage with businesses. And while millions of businesses in Brazil use it for chat, we haven’t made it easy to discover businesses or buy from them, so people end up having to use work-arounds. The ultimate goal here is to make it so you can find, message and buy from a business all in the same WhatsApp chat.”

Brazil, the most populous nation in Latin America, is a key region for WhatsApp. The platform, which has amassed over 120 million users in Brazil, has chosen the South American market for testing several new business offerings.

WhatsApp last year introduced a payments-to-merchant service in Brazil, in what was briefly a world-first feature for WhatsApp. It rolled back the functionality shortly afterwards following the local central bank stating that adequate risk and regulatory tests were needed to be undertaken first.

Brazil’s monetary authority said at the time that its decision would “preserve an adequate competitive environment, that ensures the functioning of a payment system that’s interchangeable, fast, secure, transparent, open and cheap.”

The encrypted messaging platform, which received the approval to operate peer-to-peer payments in the nation last year, said it’s still waiting for the regulatory clearance on merchant payments. But that’s not stopping it from continuing some development work.

Payments giant Cielo, multinational Fiserv, merchants acquirer Getnet, payments platform Mercado Pago and credit and debit cards player Rede have built the technical integration with WhatsApp and many of them are participating in production testing, Meta-owned unit said.

“If you run a business in Brazil, that means people will be able to find you, contact you and purchase from you all in one WhatsApp chat, and we’re working to bring this experience to more countries in the coming months too,” Zuckerberg said. “This is the next step for business messaging and I’m looking forward to hearing about the opportunities this unlocks for all of you.”

WhatsApp broadens in-app business directory and search features by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Zest wants to make buying and sending gifts online ‘delightful’

While e-commerce was on the rise before the pandemic, the massive shift to digital supercharged the online shopping industry — bringing entirely new categories of products (and shoppers) to the web. According to Adobe, Americans have spent a record $1.7 trillion online over the last two years, a 55% uptick from two years before the pandemic.

A fair number of those online purchases are gifts as revealed by search trends — from 2019 to 2020, there was an 80% increase in searches for “online gifting” on Google Search. But despite the fact that hundreds of billions of people now regularly turn to digital channels (e.g. Amazon) to gift, the gifting experience remains subpar. That’s the opinion of Alex Ingram, at least, who co-founded a startup — Zest — that’s focused on e-commerce gifting flows. 

Zest is Ingram’s second company after Sunlight Health, which sought to make brand-name and specialty prescription medications affordable for patients with chronic conditions. He met Zest’s second co-founder, Jeremy Feinstein, while working at Flatiron Health, where they helped to develop cancer center software.

“After Flatiron’s sale to Roche, we both felt it was time for something new,” Ingram told TechCrunch via email. “Obviously, e-commerce is worlds away from oncology. But we wanted to build something that could really help small- and medium-sized businesses to succeed in an increasingly challenging environment.”

Zest

Image Credits: Zest

With Zest, Ingram says that the goal was to make the experience of online gifting “delightful.” How? By allowing e-commerce brands to embed a “send as a gift” button on their product or cart pages and letting givers choose a digital greeting card, add their own message, pay through Shopify and deliver the gift to the recipient via text or email. With gifts gifted through Zest, recipients — who can opt into shipping notifications — can add their own mailing address or customize the gift’s attributes (like size or color) and optionally send a thank-you note to the sender. 

There’s certainly something to affording recipients some choice in their online gifts. While it might ruin the surprise, a 2015 survey from Loop Commerce (now GiftNow) found that buying the wrong size and the hassle of online returns were some of the top reasons people were reluctant to buy gifts online.

Ingram is well aware that Zest isn’t the only online gifting tool out there. There’s Goody, which has raised millions in venture capital for its mobile app that lets users send gifts via text. Givingli, an online gifting service that lets users customize digital greetings and send gifts to anyone, recently closed a $10 million equity round. GiftNow is perhaps Zest’s closest competitor, offering a checkout technology that lets customers buy gifts without having to worry about product details like size, color and shipping addresses.

But Ingram argues that Zest uniquely takes a “brand-first” approach, helping brands grow by building direct relationships with their customers.

“With some of the other gifting tools out there, the brands are almost an afterthought,” Ingram said. “Zest makes sending a gift a convenient and easy experience for shoppers, who never have to leave their favorite brand’s website — it’s as intuitive as clicking ‘Add to Cart’ or ‘Buy It Now.’ There are lots of e-gift card apps too, but we don’t believe e-gift cards are the future of gifting. They feel transactional and impersonal. They’re so forgettable that billions of dollars of gift cards go unused every year in the U.S. And many brands don’t like to deal with the accounting headaches that come with the long-standing liabilities of unused gift cards.”

Zest

Image Credits: Zest

The future of e-gift cards aside — to Ingram’s point, consumers seem to prefer physical gift cards over digital — Zest is evidently beating back rivals to gain a toehold in the gifting space, with about 50 customers across categories like food and beverage, apparel and flowers. Ingram wouldn’t disclose revenue figures. But he revealed that Zest has raised $4 million in seed funding led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) with participation from BoxGroup, Character, Operator Partners, Bungalow Capital and Company Ventures.

“E-commerce and gifting exploded during the pandemic,” Ingram said. “People wanted to send more gifts to friends and family to help bridge the literal gap between them and loved ones. And while that growth rate has slowed, it’s a behavior that’s here to stay. [But] it’s never been harder for direct-to-consumer brands to acquire and retain customers. That’s partly due to the sheer number of direct-to-consumer brands out there today … For brands, the value we’re providing is first and foremost an elevated gifting experience for their customers. When it’s so easy and natural to send a gift directly from a product or cart page, these brands will sell more gifts and reach more people.”

Zest wants to make buying and sending gifts online ‘delightful’ by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Alibaba eyes logistics growth in LatAm as China commerce slows

Cainiao, the logistics arm of Alibaba, is traveling far from home to seek expansion for its business. The company recently launched its first parcel distribution center in Brazil, adding to its regional network of sorting centers in Mexico and Chile, it said Monday.

Alibaba’s e-commerce business in China has been hurt by a combination of a cooling economy and aggressive rivals like Pinduoduo. For the first time, the firm didn’t disclose the sales tally for its annual “Singles Day” shopping festival, which fell on November 11 and used to come with a Super Bowl-like gala featuring pop idols and Jack Ma himself.

Cainiao has been following AliExpress abroad, helping the Alibaba-owned cross-border marketplace deliver Chinese goods to consumers around the world. But it’s now ramping up domestic services in some countries, hoping to turn local retailers into its clients. Earlier this year, the logistics giant began providing express courier service in Brazil, which now spans over 1,000 cities.

The new facility in Brazil is slated to further boost Cainiao’s presence in the country. The plan is to open nine more distribution centers in seven states and set up 1,000 “smart lockers” across ten cities over the next three years.

Smart lockers, which let customers pick up their e-commerce packages, have become a common sight in China. It saves couriers from running up and down buildings to deliver to people’s doorstep and helps reduce human contact during COVID-19 times. In Brazil, Cainiao aims to use the infrastructure for intra-city and cross-border logistics services as well as food delivery in the future. One of Cainiao’s smart locker clients is Piticas, a retail franchise focused on geek and pop culture products.

“Our consumers can shop online and receive their parcels in a few days. In the future, we look forward to cooperating with Cainiao to utilize its smart lockers, which gives our customers more options for pick-up, as well as imports from China to Brazil, further increasing the efficiency of our supply chain,” said Vinicius Rossetti, CEO of Piticas, in a statement.

Cainiao also wants to help Brazilian merchants export goods like coffee, nuts, and propolis to China, reversing the traditional trade route. The company currently operates eight weekly chartered flights between China and Brazil and plans to add more air and sea routes between the countries.

In July, Cainiao opened its sorting center in Israel, bringing the number of its overseas sorting centers in use to ten at the time. As of June, Cainiao had more than 7,700 smart lockers in operation in Europe. The logistics unit accounted for roughly 5.6% of Alibaba’s revenues in the three months ended June.

Alibaba eyes logistics growth in LatAm as China commerce slows by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Etsy begins rolling out visual search, starting with iOS users

Etsy is launching a new image search feature that is designed to help users find what they’re looking for faster. Up until now, the only way to search on Etsy was through keywords. Now, users on iOS can tap the new camera icon in the search bar and upload or take a photo, after which Etsy will surface items that are visually similar to the image the user shared. Etsy didn’t say when it plans to launch the feature on Android, but TechCrunch has reached out to learn more.

The company says the new feature aims to help users discover items when they have trouble finding the right words to define a specific product. For example, say you’re looking for a mug in your favorite color, but don’t know how to describe the exact shade you want. Or, you see a unique piece of furniture and want to find a small business that can hand-make something similar for you. The new image search feature should help you find what you’re looking for in instances like these.

Etsy image search feature

Image Credits: Etsy

“With more than 100 million items in our marketplace, odds are that if you can dream it — or snap a photo of it — you’ll find something you love on Etsy,” the company said in a blog post. “We’re always investing in our marketplace to make it easier for sellers to grow their businesses. We’re excited for this new, innovative feature to make it easier for sellers to get discovered and connect with our built-in base of nearly 90 million buyers around the world.”

Etsy says the new feature was developed as part of CodeMosaic, which is an annual Etsy Hackathon that gives engineers opportunities to try out new skills while building creative solutions.

The launch of Etsy’s new feature comes as platforms like Google and Pinterest have had image search capabilities for quite some time now. Google recently added updates to its multisearch feature that lets users combine a photo and text to craft custom searches, initially around shopping. The search giant also added its Lens image search right into its home page this week, letting users access the advanced image recognition tool directly from the search box.

Etsy released its third-quarter earnings on Wednesday and reported a revenue bump of 11.7% over the same quarter of 2021, to $594.5 million. The bump was likely partially due to the platform’s increased transaction fee from 5% to 6.5%. The change saw sellers go on strike earlier this year after the fee increase was announced. Etsy had noted on its website that the increased fee supported its plans to make “significant investments in marketing, seller tools and creating a world-class customer experience.”

Etsy begins rolling out visual search, starting with iOS users by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

Dropit picks up $25M to digitize brick-and-mortar stores and unify inventories

Dropit, a retail technology platform that bridges the digital divide by unifying merchants’ online and in-store inventories, has raised $25 million in a Series C round of funding.

Founded in 2014, London-based Dropit counts retail brands including L’Occitane, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Estee Lauder as customers, in addition to shopping malls. At its core, Dropit is all about enabling brands to sell their in-store inventory online, essentially converting brick-and-mortar outlets into something akin to a local distribution hub — customers buy their goods digitally, with Dropit’s “smart sourcing” technology finding the nearest physical location to the customer that the goods are located, and dispatching accordingly.

So even if a brand or outlet already has online inventory for specific goods, Dropit brings their offline inventory into the mix and joins all the dots to expedite delivery and minimize the impact of shipping goods from further afield.

On top of that, a major selling point for retailers in shopping malls is that Dropit can also aggregate a mall’s entire brand network into a single online marketplace. This is particularly important at a time when shopping mall foot traffic has yet to fully rebound post-pandemic, as it means the mall stores can generate sales round-the-clock regardless of in-person visits, while also allowing customers to purchase from multiple outlets simultaneously.

Dropit: Aggregating shopping mall stores into a single marketplace

Integrated

At the heart of Dropit’s platform are integrations — it can connect to any point in the sales or fulfilment chain, which is one of the reasons Dropit founder and CEO Karin Cabili says that it’s not in direct competition with any other in-house or external retail system, whether it’s Shopify or some other ecommerce platform.

“Dropit has set out to solve a macro problem created by the retail industry’s duplication of inventory and lack of ability to combine local store presence with last-mile delivery,” Cabili told TechCrunch. “One of our key strengths is unifying data and systems. In this effort, we have built integrations with many systems, including Shopify, which has done a fantastic job in the realm of ecommerce, creating a user-friendly platform that is recommended for SMBs.”

Through integrations with multiple third-party couriers, Dropit allows brands and malls to offer same-day or next-day shipping spanning in-store and online transactions, though curbside pickup is offered too. It also allows merchants to consolidate their deliveries and pickups to minimize split shipments.

“Dropit’s mission is to solve a core problem of efficient optimization for the retail industry, while taking care not to harm the level of service provided to the customer,” Cabili added.

The Dropit platform showing courier options

By way of example, a retailer wanting to use Dropit as part of its existing tech stack could deploy Dropit in between the order, warehouse, point-of-sale (POS), and ecommerce (e.g. Shopify) systems on one side, and the checkouts, payments, and couriers on the other. The retailer can decide for themselves what value they want to extract from Dropit, for example they may simply want fulfilment and capacity for pick-and-pack at a store, and curbside pickup or courier delivery.

“Dropit connects to existing systems to fill gaps without the need to invest any additional capital or technological resources,” Cabilit explained.

It’s worth noting that in addition to powering the backend for retailers and malls, Dropit also offers a consumer-facing mobile app for shoppers that like to shop in person, but don’t want to carry bags around with them. So they basically search for participating stores through the app, shop as normal, but when they get to the (physical) checkout, they scan a little Dropit QR code at the outlet and select where they want their bags delivered to.

Dropit’s consumer app

Expansion

Since its launch six years ago, Dropit has been gaining steady traction across Europe and North America. And last year it was enlisted by Primaris in Canada to power Primarché, touted as the “world’s first first multi-mall, multi-brand marketplace” — essentially, it brings Primaris’ national mall network into a single online entity. This separates Dropit from something like Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, Minnesota, which has created a similar online marketplace but for stores in a single mall.

Dropit had previously raised $25 million across two hitherto undisclosed rounds of funding in 2016 and 2018, and with a fresh $25 million in the bank, the company is well-financed to expand in its existing markets with plans to grow specifically in the U.S. where it already has an office in Austin, Texas.

Dropit’s Series C round was led by Vault Investments, with participation from Tiga Investments, Axentia, Sugarbee, and others including former Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, who sits on Dropit’s board of directors.

Dropit picks up $25M to digitize brick-and-mortar stores and unify inventories by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

Accel backs startup offering ‘Amazon-grade’ commerce engine to online sellers around the world

Accel has backed a startup named Mason based in India and the U.S. that has built a commerce engine for sellers around the world to help them sell products online without paying the exorbitant ‘Amazon tax.’

The California-based startup, which has its R&D headquarters in Bengaluru, is claimed to allow sellers to have their D2C storefront ready with a 50% uplift in their margins from day one. It offers a no-code, plug-and-play solution to let sellers offer products online without requiring a large engineering team.

Founded by Barada Sahu and Kausambi Manjita in 2020, Mason claims to have more than 1,000 customers and powers over 8,000 brands worldwide. While North America has been one of the strongest markets for the startup, it also serves clients in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Japan and India.

“People are stuck with having forced to sell on Amazon. Ideally, as a brand, you want your own presence, but you’re unable to do that because it’s very hard. It almost feels like a technology problem,” Manjita said in an interview with TechCrunch.

Mason product dashboard

Mason’s product dashboard

Sahu and Manjita decided to build their offering for online stores while working at Walmart-owned Myntra. While developing a custom engine at the fashion e-commerce company, the duo realized the need for bespoke store engines to run online stores selling various products successfully. That brought Mason to its reality.

Manjita is heading Mason’s product and customer experience, while Sahu looks after its revenues and growth.

The startup is aimed at small and medium businesses that already sell products online but are looking to upgrade their stores. Although Amazon can help in such cases, Sahu and Manjita say the commission charged by the e-commerce giant restricts entrepreneurs’ earnings.

Manson charges 1% of its customers’ total sales to offer its platform. But it is significantly less than the 30% charge Amazon puts on every sale through its platform, Sahu said.

By switching to Mason, Manjita said that a store improves average order value by 23% in 30 days and improves its session time by 17% and sell-through by 35% in 60 days.

In addition to its flagship commerce engine, Mason offers a Shopify plugin called ModeMagic. It is designed for brands getting started and basically deep diving into the Shopify ecosystem, Sahu said.

By offering its standalone platform and Shopify plugin, the startup essentially wants to cater to both types of entrepreneurs and businesses — the ones that are not relying on a particular platform and the others that use Shopify as their backend.

Mason has raised a total of $7.5 million in a seed round led by Accel and Ideaspring Capital, with participation from Lightspeed India Partners as well as Mana VC, Gaingels, Core91 and VH Capital.

“In order to build a truly scalable outcome, the team is on the journey to create a self-serve platform wherein e-commerce brand owners could use it to create, communicate and grow,” said Subrata Mitra, Partner at Accel, in a prepared statement.

Manjita said that Mason will utilize the fresh funding to set up its marketing, sales, customer success and partnerships teams — to bring the product to more and more customers. The startup also plans to create better and more content for entrepreneurs to help them learn about solving challenges in their e-commerce journey.

Mason currently has around 40 people in its team, including close to 30 working toward product technology and design operations. A large part of its workforce is based out of Bengaluru, though it has its early go-to-market teams in Toronto and advisors in San Diego and New York. It is also setting up its customer success, early marketing and growth and partnerships teams in North America.

Accel backs startup offering ‘Amazon-grade’ commerce engine to online sellers around the world by Jagmeet Singh originally published on TechCrunch

Poppin’ bottles: VCs continue to pour millions into independent beverage startups

After seeing a ton of venture capital investment flow into independent beverage startups recently, it was time to take a step back and see if this kind of company actually made sense as a venture investment.

For one, the competition for space on grocery store shelves is fierce, eclipsed only by the fact people are finicky. The U.S. Beverage Manufacturing and Filling Locations Database contains nearly 2,500 alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverage manufacturers making everything from beer and soft drinks to coffee and 10,000 flavors of fizzy water.

Within the whole beverage sector, functional beverages grew in popularity over the past five years as consumers sought out better-for-you drinks. Most of them include add-ins like vitamins, probiotics and electrolytes and boast lower sugar content and more natural ingredients.

This market is also growing fast: Precedence Research estimated the global functional beverages market was valued at $129.3 billion in 2021 and would grow nearly 9% annually through 2030, when it’s forecast to be worth $279.4 billion.

These companies don’t usually go public, but often sell to another entity, perhaps a soda conglomerate or even an alcoholic beverage company looking to get into the nonalcoholic space.

Opening a fresh can of capital

If the amount of capital going into this area is any indication, investment into the sector makes sense. Venture capital firms pumped over $170 million into functional beverage companies in 2018, up $111 million from 2017, according to PitchBook.

Poppin’ bottles: VCs continue to pour millions into independent beverage startups by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

Advances in fit technology could minimize those onerous online returns

If you’ve watched even one episode of “Project Runway,” you’ve noted that clothing designers use a “fit model” as the basis for creating their garments. That same method is used by clothing brands all over the world.

However, everyone’s body shape is different, and very few of us are built like a fit model, so how the outfit looks on the person modeling the clothes online and how it fits an individual person can also be radically different.

Startups and big retailers have jumped in with technology to help brands better manage returns, but they’re also attempting to tackle the root cause — the fit itself.

However, Bessemer Venture Partners partner Kent Bennett said not enough attention is being focused on fit technology.

“This is an area that people are not covering as closely as they should be,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s such a huge part of our lives, but one where I think the tech has gotten a little older and dusty, and I do think there’s potential for a revolution here.”

Advances in fit technology could minimize those onerous online returns by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

Shein owner fined $1.9M for failing to notify 39M users of data breach

A data breach from 2018 is putting Shein under the spotlight as the ultra-fast fashion e-commerce platform continues to conquer Gen-Z markets across the world.

Zoetop, the firm that owns Shein and its sister brand Romwe, has been fined $1.9 million by New York for failing to properly handle a security incident, according to a notice from the state’s Attorney General office this week. New York doesn’t publicly release data breach notifications like Maine, New Hampshire, California, or other states, which is why the AG came so much later than when the cyberattack happened.

Shein, which was founded in China and recently moved its core assets to Singapore, saw explosive growth during the pandemic as the virus prevention pushed consumers to shop online. Its jaw-dropping affordability and vast clothing options have made it one of the fastest-growing consumer internet platforms worldwide in the past two years.

The firm’s meteoric rise puts the once low-key fashion exporter from China on the spot. It went from having no dedicated PR personnel just a few years ago to now scrambling to handle mounting media inquiries about supply chain transparency and alleged design theft as it further grows and gears up for an IPO.

The data breach brings it yet another PR problem. The company claims it’s significantly stepped up its security measures since.

“We have fully cooperated with the New York Attorney General and are pleased to have resolved this matter. Protecting our customers’ data and maintaining their trust is a top priority, especially with ongoing cyber threats posed to businesses around the world. Since the data breach, which occurred in 2018, we have taken significant steps to further strengthen our cybersecurity posture and we remain vigilant,” Shein says in a statement.

What happened?

A cybersecurity attack that originated in 2018 resulted in the theft of 39 million Shein account credentials, including those of more than 375,000 New York residents, according to the AG’s announcement. An investigation by the AG’s office found that Zoetop only contacted “a fraction” of the 39 million compromised accounts, and for the vast majority of the users impacted, the firm failed to even alert them that their login credentials had been stolen.

The AG’s office also concluded that Zoetop’s public statements about the data breach were misleading. In one instance, the firm falsely stated that only 6.42 million consumers had been impacted and that it was in the process of informing all the impacted users.

A lot has changed since 2018. Shein has risen from an up-and-coming online fast fashion seller at the time to an all-encompassing e-commerce platform that is threatening Amazon. In the second quarter of this year, the app’s U.S. downloads surpassed Amazon’s for the first time. The data breach might be dated, but keep in mind that Shein has been operating since 2008, so four years is quite recent in the firm’s history of existence. Cost-saving, trend-seeking Gen-Z consumers might continue to shop on Shein despite its publicity issues, but to win the trust of regulators and the general public, there’s still much to be done.

Shein owner fined $1.9M for failing to notify 39M users of data breach by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Target.com is latest retailer to add support for SNAP payments for online shoppers

Target is the latest national retailer to roll out the ability for customers to pay with their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits when shopping for groceries online. While the payment method has long been accepted in stores, online grocery retailers offering curbside pickup and delivery programs have only more recently begun to support the payment type in their online offerings.

That was also true for Target, where customers who wanted to pay with SNAP could only do so in-store. Now, the retailer says customers will be able to pay for SNAP-eligible grocery items on Target.com. Soon, it will also introduce mobile payment options for digital orders in the Target app. These changes will allow customers to use SNAP to buy groceries for same-day pickup through Target’s Order Pickup and Drive Up services, both of which don’t have minimum order requirements or subscription fees.

Customers can also apply Target Circle discounts to their food items, when available, or shop the grocery deals in the retailer’s weekly ads.

To get started, customers will first need to log into their Target.com account and add their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) account number as a new card under “Payments.” They can then add SNAP-eligible items to their online cart and pay using their EBT payment method at checkout, confirming their purchase with the PIN.

“Food and beverage is an incredibly important part of our guests’ lives, especially as we head into the holiday season,” said Rick Gomez, Target’s chief food and beverage officer, in a statement. “I’m proud that we’re adding new digital payment options for grocery shopping so we can make the entire Target experience more accessible to all families,” he added.

Target had announced earlier this year it would soon accept SNAP for online food purchases, and then began pilot-testing the option in select states this year, including Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas after first testing the feature earlier this summer in Minnesota alone. With this week’s announcement, the SNAP payment option is available in all U.S. states except Alaska, Target says.

As many retailers have already explained, online shopping should no longer be considered a luxury. Lower-income shoppers, including those on SNAP, can often save money by shopping online where they can better compare deals between stores and where they may find discounts they may have otherwise overlooked. In addition, being able to shop for groceries online can be a time-saver — particularly for those who are working long hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet.

In recent years, many major U.S. retailers have introduced support for SNAP to online consumers, including Amazon and Walmart, both of which were participants in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program introduced in 2019 that aimed to open up online grocery shopping to those on public assistance. And with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the following year, the need for the program became even more critical as people looked to avoid indoor shopping to reduce their risk of catching the virus. 

Outside of the retailers, other grocery providers have also been working to help customers on public assistance. Instacart this year has been steadily advancing support for SNAP across various U.S. states, allowing shoppers to use its app to buy groceries from select retailers using their benefits, after initially partnering with ALDI to offer the option back in 2020.

Amazon, too, has been looking to better support lower-income shoppers, having just reorganized its website to introduce a new hub that aggregates its discounts and various assistance programs under one roof. Here, shoppers can find its discounted Prime membership, Amazon Layaway, and information about using Amazon Cash and SNAP EBT payments.

 

Target.com is latest retailer to add support for SNAP payments for online shoppers by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch