The Top 5 Solution Vendors in Omnichannel Retail

Achieving clarity in Omnichannel Retail is no easy task. Retailers, especially large ones, need to get all departments, all sales channels, suppliers and fulfillment operations on the same page.

And that’s just the first step. Then comes the IT integration where legacy systems are connected to a central management tool that handles at least inventory transparency, CRM and order management across channels.

Omnichannel Retail is not mainstream right now. It is still in its infancy. Sure, some are more advanced than others and some companies are building the future faster than others. But the truth is omnichannel is a need to be fulfilled for most retailers.

And here come the knights in shiny digital armor to rescue the day. The following 5 vendors have built omnichannel retail capabilities ready to be plugged into existing retail ecosystems. They are now the go-to elite for large retailers in need of upgrading their IT infrastructure.

5. Shopatron

Shopatron was founded in September 2000 by Ed Stevens and Sean Collier. Since then, it has evolved into an integrated SaaS platform that connects offline and online orders management, making it easier for customers to purchase from retailers.

shopatron

The company offers specific omnichannel solutions, most important being:

  1. in-store pick-up
  2. ship from store
  3. inventory lookup
  4. vendor dropship

Shopatron targets midsize retailers and its main benefit is the advanced order routing. The platform combines online and offline sales and claims inventory visibility across channels.

Pros:

  • great fit for midsize companies
  • regular updates without setup costs (the platform runs as SaaS)
  • good fit for larger retailers that look for a quick roll-out for the solutions listed above
  • can connect multiple sales channels and direct orders to the right fulfillment point
  • works with both retailers and brand manufacturers
  • reduced costs and quick roll out

Cons:

  • the company is not known for its transparency in terms of product road map
  • smallest entry on this list, making it a target for future acquisitions
  • no clear option of on-premise setup

4. NetSuite

NetSuite was already rocking a great SaaS ERP product and a fully flavored ecommerce solution when it acquired OrderMotion in 2013. Now the company can provide inventory management across channels, a single customer view, business intelligence data and omnichannel order management.

netsuite

The company, among the first to bet on SaaS platforms, is now one of the fastest growing companies in the field, closing 2013 with $414 million in revenue. The revenue is up 34%, which is a big win for the company initially backed by Larry Ellison.

NetSuite started as NetLedger, envisioned as an online accounting tool, that later turned to an wider array of company management tools.

The past two years have been very active for NetSuite in terms of omnichannel related acquisitions. In 2013 it acquired Retail Anywhere, a POS solutions company. In 2014 it acquired both Venda, an ecommerce SaaS company, and eBizNet Solutions, a company focused on WMS (warehouse management system) solutions.

Netsuite has decided omnichannel is a perfect mix when it connects companies focused o separate blocks in the retail chain.

Pros:

  • extensive know how of retail operations management
  • integrated SaaS solutions
  • great record of acquisitions
  • single view of customer
  • cross channel inventory view and order management
  • extensive list of customers
  • great uptime

Cons:

  • NetSuite is “broadly focused”: its solutions work with healthcare, finance, manufacturing and many, many others. That leaves little room for actual retail innovation
  • the recent acquisition will probably work together but many steps have to be taken until full integration is achieved
  • implementations aren’t always all that seamless
  • complex pricing and licensing structure

3. eBay Enterprise

PayPal is not the only jewel in eBay’s pocket as it seems. eBay Enterprise (formerly known as GSI Commerce) is one of the fastest growing and biggest companies providing technology and consultancy for omnichannel retail.

ebay-enterprise

eBay Enterprise interfaces and tools

eBay Enterprise interfaces and tools

The company delivers four big solutions to its customer base:

  • commerce technologies
  • retail order management
  • operations
  • marketing solutions

Unlike the other companies on the list, eBay Enterprise goes beyond software integration and into marketing and operations. In terms of retail solutions, eBay Enterprise provides support for commerce integration across channels. The company integrates the main sales touch points, with the help of its omnichannel tools:

  1. web
  2. smartphones and tablets
  3. store associates
  4. interactive kiosks
  5. customer service

The omnichannel operations tools cover a lot of ground and can be used in fulfillment operations, customer care and store based fulfillment.

Pros:

  • provides great tools for online retail, offline retail, fulfillment as well as cross-channel operations
  • best-of-breed order management solutions
  • strong fulfillment and customer care solutions
  • multiple sales interfaces to channels
  • wide array of large retailers and vast experience
  • flexible pricing structure, based on sales commission

Cons:

  • eBay Enterprise is pretty picky when it comes to customers. So unless you’re not a large retailer, chances are you won’t be working with their tools

2. IBM

ibm-commerce

IBM stands for a lot of things and among them it had to be omnichannel retail also. The tech giant offers technology to retailers in need of:

  • content management,
  • supply chain management,
  • order management,
  • inventory management,
  • business intelligence,
  • CRM and
  • interactive kiosks.

Its Websphere Commerce solution connects both online and offline sales through its different versions. It handles cross-channels inventory visibility, distributed order management and scales as you would expect from IBM.

At the core of IBM’s order management and inventory tools you’ll find components IBM acquired in 2010, when it purchased Sterling commerce. The transaction cost IBM $1.4 billion but brought in 18.000 global customers.

The Websphere commerce is a great fit for large companies and powers some very well known brands, but it is somewhat a not so great fit or  midsize retailers.

Pros

  • scalable solution
  • works across channels
  • integrates all retail chain components
  • great omnichannel inventory and order management
  • large user base

Cons

  • expensive setup
  • complex setup process
  • outdated interface controls and architecture
  • hard to implement by midsize retailers

1. Hybris

Hybris, now a part of SAP, is probably the best fit for omnichannel retailing. Hybris is a dynamic company focused on growth and delivers constantly on market needs.

hybris

The omnichannel solution is scalable and built on a modern and flexible architecture, that allows interaction with all interfaces. Its order management solution, inventory and commerce application are built to work together seamless and easily connect with other systems.

Hybris’ solutions work both B2B and B2C and can handle inputs from multiple inventory sources and outputs on multiple sales channels. Moreover, the solution features a central content management system that enables retailers to push content across a multitude of interfaces.

As of 2013, Hybris is a part of SAP, making it a global powerhouse connected to the world’s most popular (well, at least used) ERP.

Pros

  • scalable solution
  • feature packed
  • fully integrated solutions
  • works B2B and B2C
  • modern architecture
  • supports multiple interfaces
  • works online, offline and on multiple other channels
  • flexible enough to work with open source technologies

Cons

  • training may be expensive
  • professionals able to implement and train are hard to find, due to an increase of platform demand
  • customization and setup can be time and resource consuming

So that’s it – these are the best of breed. Of course, there are more out there that deliver great products and I could name Intershop, Demandware or even Oracle. They, however are less inclined to omnichannel or have a really new found love for omnichannel retail. The vendors mentioned above are leading the pack in omnichannel retail implementation, especially for large customers.

Driverless Trucks Will Change Logistics

Amazon is testing drones and Google is building self-driving cars. At the same time Mercedes and Volvo are each developing its own solution for moving goods by truck in a driver-less manner.

Daimler's Future Truck 2025

Daimler’s Future Truck 2025

Building driver-less trucks or at least improving the truck’s autonomy in a way to improve the driver’s performance could be huge for logistics.

How big? Well, in 2012, the US logistics industry totaled $1.33 trillion, 8.5% of national GDP. In that year, truckers moved 9.4 billion tones of freight, 68.5% of all freight transported in the US (source). To say that trucking is big is really an understatement. The trucking industry is backbone of global logistics. Without it, there would be no retail as we know it.

But moving billions of tones of freight is no easy task. To do so, truckers need to eat, rest and be alert during the whole trip. The trip itself has to be as fast and as cheap as possible. Otherwise, logistics would become useless or too dangerous to drivers.

Volvo, Mercedes and others are tackling a very difficult task: how could one improve the trucking industry in a way that can replace drivers in the future, but be met with joy by said drivers. Technology may replace truckers one day but today, they are the one in charge so truck makers need to make their job as easy as possible without making it useless.

The road train

Volvo has joined European backed project SARTRE that aims to make highway driving safer with the help of road trains. Simply put, car and truck drivers can join a group lead by a professional driver. While in this highway group they can relax and the cars will do most of the work by just mimicking the leader car.

This will mean fuel efficiency, safer roads and of course longer trips which logistics companies could really use. The video below shows a demonstration on how cars can connect through wireless technology and copy the leader car movements. The technology could hit the roads as soon as 2020, if legislation is in place.

The self driving truck from Daimler

It never gets tired. It’s always 100 percent and sharp. It’s never angry; it’s never distracted” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses.

This year Daimler launched a truck prototype dubbed “The Future Truck 2025″. The truck can accelerate, steer and stop by itself. It can also go up to 85 km/hour (52 miles/hour), it navigates with the help of a built in GPS system and looks a bit like a starship. The driver needs to get the truck on the highway, merge with incoming traffic and hit the “Highway Pilot” setting. From that point on, the truck driver can recline in his comfortable chair and take a break. At any point, the system can be overridden by the driver.

However, The Future Truck 2025 won’t be joining our highways for a few years from now. Legislation for self-driving cars or trucks is not yet in place but Daimler is patient enough to get us and legislators prepared for it.

Once these trucks will hit the market, drivers will be ready to carry more freight, ship orders safer and farther. Logistics companies will improve costs and will be able to increase their reach. In the end – technology will do what it has always done: make everything faster, better and cheaper.

The 6 Key Factors in Implementing Omnichannel Fulfillment

Ecommerce is growing at double digits and people are spending more and more online. US Customers, for example, have spent $322 billion online in 2013 and figures add up to even more this year.

So why not bet everything on ecommerce? Why change direction again and include those “old” brick and mortar stores, and warehouses and such? Why build omnichannel retail facilities?

Short answer: because the customer is not a robot. The customer does not have to shop online. It will shop online when it feels better.

Only 2% of retailers believe their companies are highly competent in managing omnichannel retail. Source.

Only 2% of retailers believe their companies are highly competent in managing omnichannel retail. Source.

Ecommerce is indeed a revolution in the way we do business and indeed it has changed the retail landscape but consumers still exist in the physical world. Consumers do spend time online but they also walk by store fronts, they like to touch the products they buy and they like to see how fashion items, for example, look like in real life.

That means that real life stores will continue to exist. But so will online stores, sales call centers, interactive kiosks and marketplace outlets.

Retailers need to figure out how to connect all these channels. This new wave of customer centric retail is called omnichannel retail. The term means that no matter the sales channel, everything behind the scenes is connected. The inventory is universally available to all stores. The customer info is available on all channels also, so he or she can be instantly recognized and offers personalized. Product info is also available cross channels but most important – Fulfillment can be managed on all possible points so as to serve the customer in the timeliest and most effective manner.

Managing Omnichannel Fulfillment

One of the biggest challenges in omnichannel retail is fulfilling orders cross channels. Today, retailers that deal with both online and offline sales have to split fulfillment in two separate areas, each with specific operations.

Customer service is the top priority in omnichannel fulfillment. Surce.

Customer service is the top priority in omnichannel fulfillment. Source.

The first is offline fulfillment, namely what happens in brick and mortar stores. Offline sales have been optimized to run on a pretty specific supply chain, not very flexible. It starts with the manufacturer, continues with forwarding merchandise to the wholesale buyer and then products end up stored in the retailer’s warehouses and stores.

Because ecommerce came as an addition to existing sales channels, it was added to the existing supply chain as a type of extra store, with its own specific operations.

However things got complicated when the web store had to split into the mobile store, the interactive kiosk, the marketplace outlet and others. Then customers wanted to buy online and pick up offline. But they didn’t stop here: they wanted to order in the store and receive home, ask for inventory info in the offline store and more. Pretty soon they started demanding it so now omnichannel retail is a question of customer service.

Retailers realized that what the retail world is facing is both a huge challenge in terms of customer demands and a huge opportunity. Those companies shifting their business strategies to fit the new, empowered consumer, will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Macy's has developed great omnichannel retail policies.

Macy’s has developed great omnichannel retail policies.

But to do that, retailers need to develop new order management software hubs. These order management hubs need to connect all fulfillment options to all sales channels. That means that all stores, all warehouses, all suppliers, all drop shippers need to be connected and managed by an order management tool that filters orders from all stores, both online and offline, interactive kiosks, call centers, mobile apps and others.

Some companies are handling omnichannel orders just great. Others need to improve their policies and most of all their IT infrastructure. To do that they have to figure out what factors need to be taken into account when fulfilling orders. Here are the top 6 most important:

Most important factors in omnichannel fulfillment

1. Proximity to customer – this obvious indicator will track which is the closest fulfillment outlet that can ship orders to customers.

2. Inventory levels across all fulfillment outlets – that includes inventory levels in the warehouses, stores, goods in consignment, drop shippers or even supplier and manufacturers. Yes, sometimes it can be more effective to ship directly from the manufacturer or the supplier than it would if the goods were shipped from the store or the warehouse.

3. Order split costs – orders that have more than one product per customer sometimes need to be split to multiple locations that have the products in stock. Products can be shipped individually or shipped to a single fulfillment facility (store or warehouse) and then shipped to the customer. Ideally, orders are fulfilled from the same point but sometimes that is not possible. In this case, the order management software should recommend the most efficient route products should take to the customer.

4. Information on customer history – fulfillment has to factor in the customer previous purchases and behavior. Retailers have loyalty programs that offer better costs and features to more loyal customer. A speedy fulfillment, complimentary gifts or just a thank you note may be outputs from the customer history.

5. Fulfillment capacity per location – estimating the maximum fulfillment load for each location can help prevent overload situations where store associates have too much orders to fulfill and can’t manage their day-to-day tasks. It can also prevent overloading several warehouses and leave others with zero workload, just because a specific area has placed more orders.

6. Seasonal fluctuations – stores get really crowded on holidays and store associates are way better answering customer questions than they are packing orders. Seasonal fluctuations need to be taken into account when implementing omnichannel retail.

 

 

 

4 Companies That are Disrupting Logistics

There is no shortage of logistics needs in the world. As the world gets smaller, more products have to be moved. Recent changes in consumer behavior helped increase the volume of moved goods. Almost $19 trillion worth of goods were imported and exported in 2013, 5 times as much as in 1990.

This 19 trillion market is stuck for the moment with two very big problems leading to ineffectiveness. The first one is technology infrastructure. As goods move to and from very different countries and cultures, there is no unified backbone for making shipments happen. As such, logistics are somewhat slow, compared to other areas in the commerce landscape.

The second big problem is the last-mile delivery. The likes of FedEx and UPS are great at moving goods from New York to Shanghai and the other way around. They’re not really that great at building local delivery networks, able to ship goods fast and cheap. As you might notice, this is a bit of a problem for ambitious retail companies such as Amazon, Walmart or Alibaba, aiming for global dominance.

But worry not.

Investors have picked up on the opportunity to disrupt the $19 trillion market and have turned their investments to logistics companies. According to Crunchbase, investments in logistics startups went from 0.1% of total investments in 2012, to 1.37% in 2014. The total amount invested in 2014 in logistics startups ($1.8 billions) means an increase of 1370%. That is a sure sign that something big is really just around the corner.

As the market is ripe for disruption and investors are generously tapping into logistics, a lot of companies will be showing up on the logistics radar.

Among all these, here are 5 companies that might be the model these investors are looking for:

No.4: Amazon is trying to ship goods with drones

Amazon Fresh, one of the companies logistics challenges.

Amazon Fresh, one of the companies logistics challenges.

After Jeff Bezos announced Amazon is building a drone-delivery service, a lot of people (me included) were questioning whether this could be real or just a PR stunt. It seems that not only is Amazon serious about the drones, but it is also very focused on building the model for the next generation of logistics operations. It has invested more than $14 billions since 2010 in its warehouses.

It has invested in robotic fulfillment operations, purchasing and integrating Kiva Systems. Becoming one of the most automated fulfillment and shipping company, it leads the way in large scale ecommerce logistics. As a result, the company is improved its operations vastly. In 2012 it managed to ship 10 million products per day, leading to 1.05 billion products shipped in the last quarter of 2012.

No. 3: Freightos takes a shot at a trillion dollar market: the cargo industry

The Freightos network

The Freightos network

It may come a shock to those reading this but the cargo industry is really in need of some technology updating. A lot of work in the freight (cargo) industry is done with the help of emails, spreadsheets and … fax machines.

Freightos aims to change all that with a SaaS product that connects those in need and those offering freight services. Unlike the previous way of managing shipping costs, Freightos provides a cloud application that can allow for real-time responses.

No.2: GoGoVan connects vans, delivers the last mile

gogovan

Remember the thing about the last mile the likes of FedEx just can’t handle? It turns out they really don’t want to handle that last mile. Large logistics companies in Hong Kong outsource 70% of their local operations, estimates Gabriel Fong, CEO of Hong Kong GoGoVan.

The company employs Uber’s taxi-hailing model to connect van drivers and those in need of moving goods. They basically replace the old and ineffective call center with a mobile app.

GoGoVan estimated that 35 000 of Hong Kong’s vans are owned by freelancers. These freelancers usually subscribe to a call center which can forward requests and lease radio communication equipment. It’s usually ineffective for both the van-driver and the customer so GoGoVan decided there is a market there.

Right now GoGoVan has 18 000 vans registered with their service so things are going great.

No.1: Uber has transformed the cab industry, it can go further

uber

Uber started as a car-sharing service but soon turned into a multi-billion company, available in 45 countries and 200 cities. It has done that by allowing those with an acceptable vehicle play cab-driver for anyone willing to pay.

The company so far successfully dodged cab regulations and managed to change the way people move in the urban environment.

Lately they have figured out that if they can move people from point A to point B they can also do that with merchandise. After experimenting with a fast delivery service called UberRUSH, trying on a Corner Store service and shipping Christmas Trees, Uber got it: It can do logistics.

Specifically – urban logistics. After all – it really is not that hard to adapt the model to minivans (see GoGoVan above).

I can’t wait to get my online orders delivered in a black luxury sedan. Hear that, Uber?

 

 

 

Macy’s Strategy for Omnichannel Success

Think about this – is there actually such a thing as an online customer? Or an offline customer? Or even a mobile customer? Definitely not. Consumers like to skip sales channels and fulfill their goals in the best way possible. Your customer can research for products online, ask friends for references on social media, test them in the brick and mortar shop and finally purchase in the web store. So it makes no sense treating customers as stuck in a sales channel. The Omnichannel experience, where every consumer can use given sales outlets as she sees fit, is now pretty close to utopia for many retailers.

macysBut others are dedicated to making omnichannel a reality for their customers.

Meet Macy’s.

“Our goal remains to help our customers shop whenever, wherever and however they prefer, and to use the entire inventory of the company to satisfy demand,” Terry Lundgren, Macy’s CEO

As other retailers are facing declining sales and decrease in customer loyalty, Macy’s seems to be thriving. The company has seen recent increase in sales overall and a sharp increase in online sales (48% in 2013).

How did they do it?

Improve customer experience with technology

Macy’s has lots of experience in customer service but the digital revolution took most retailers by surprise. Macy’s has dedicated a large portion of its yearly budget to improving customer experience through technology.

Macy's Flagship store in New York

Macy’s Flagship store in New York

The company’s cost of sales rose to $139 million in 2014 second quarter. This increase was caused by “omnichannel business and the resultant impact of free shipping” which means Macy’s is betting big on its customers’ experience.

The results are great. Just short after Apple Pay was announced, Macy’s announced it will implement the technology in all stores. The company already allowed customers to store their coupons on the Mobile Wallet, that could be accessed anywhere – online, on mobile devices or in store.

Macy's mobile wallet

Macy’s mobile wallet

Using shopBeacon in-store

Using shopBeacon in-store

Macy’s also partnered with Shopkick to increase brick and mortar traffic in its New York and San Francisco stores and now the company is rolling out the shopBeacon technology. The beacons give retailers the ability to push information directly to the consumer’s mobile device. It can welcome shoppers as they walk inside Macy’s stores, send out specific deals and recommendations and can be used as a way to redeem loyalty rewards.

Macy's Beauty Spot kiosk

Macy’s Beauty Spot kiosk

Interactive kiosks were used to improve customer experience throughout brick and mortar stores. The kiosks vary in size and complexity, ranging from simple browse and order applications to more complex features. The “Beauty spot” kiosk, for example, improves Macy’s cosmetics section with an electronic make-up consultant. The system advises potential buyers on makeup and skin products that are best fitted for their needs.

Even store associates are empowered when answering customer needs. The company is now testing mobile and tablet POS that can connect to real-time inventory and offer quick responses to customer needs.

And if we’re talking about real-time inventory, you should know that Macy’s has been working hard at improving cross-channel operations:

Improve fulfillment and inventory management

In 2010 Macy’s piloted a store-fulfillment program in 10 stores. The idea was that if the company can connect inventory from individual stores, it can manage inventory better. As merchandise was sold sold online, stores would be able to ship orders directly, depending on their inventory levels or allow for in-store pick-up.

The program was a success and the company increased the number of stores that could ship orders. 13 more stores were added to the program in 2011. In 2012, 292 stores were shipping orders. In 2013 – roughly 500. The process will be finally completed in 2014 when all 800 stores will be able to fulfill customer orders.

In-store fulfillment increased rapidly since 2012.

In-store fulfillment increased rapidly since 2012.

As these stores began fulfilling orders two things happened. First – orders could be shipped faster, with the ultimate goal of same day delivery, thus improving customer experience. The second big change in Macy’s fulfillment was that using stores meant inventory turnover greatly improved.

With store associates empowered with real-time inventory data, orders began to increase. The store associates could locate items in other stores, and ship that item from that point, directly to the consumer’s requested address.

Macy’s discovered that the nearest store may not always be the best choice to ship the product. Sometimes a product sold in point A could have a really slow turnover so it should be shipped whenever possible. On the other hand, the same product could be in high demand at point B, closer to the customer.

The company didn’t stop here. With stores able to fulfill orders, the Order Online / Pick Up in Store program began in 2013. It was first tested in 10 stores during fall 2013 and began rolling out to all stores in 2014.

It’s not just the stores that improved their fulfillment functions. Macy’s is now expanding its direct-to-consumer fulfillment center in Goodyear to a mega-facility of 960 000 square feet which will be soon followed by an even bigger fulfillment center in Tulsa, in 2015.

So Macy’s is quick to implement omnichannel policies but is it worth it?

Macy’s is winning the retail game

It’s worth it, all right. As you can see in the chart below, Macy’s revenue has been steadily rising, as opposed to some of its main competitors. It seems that 2010 was a real turning point for the company. And what year is that? Right, the year the company began to implementing omnichannel retail.

Macy's growth versus JC Penney and Sears. Source.

Macy’s growth versus JC Penney and Sears. Source.

 

 

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Fab.com: A Cautionary Tale for Every Entrepreneur

Fab.com is dying.

fab-broken-heartThe ex-gay Yelp, ex-gay Social Network, ex-gay Amazon, ex-Design Flash Sales site struggles on its death bed. The company’s spectacular rise and fall is a lesson in how to go from rags to riches and back to rags again. It is a story on how growth can sometimes make investors, founders and management oblivious to threats.

I was never a big fan of the concept of flash sales. I covered it, I studied it but I didn’t like it. It is short-sighted way of running online retail operations. It is a great way to create market demand. It may even be a good way to develop customer base. But it will not handle growth forever.

Flash sales need three things to function: good-to-great products, relatively low prices and consumers willing to try overpriced merchandise at a discount. All of these factors come at the expense of two very “un-scalable” variables:

  1. a people based supply chain. To make products available at a discount, someone has to find great products, has to estimate demand for those products and then negotiate purchasing. This is a tricky bit because these guys have to take into account a price that is relatively small but helps the flash sale site turn a profit and and allows the manufacturer to actually ship the product. This is very, very hard work and can be done only by skilled individuals who can evaluate demand, find products, negotiate prices and make sure merchandise is delivered.
  2. a demand based on human wants, not needs. No one needs designer shoes or designer furniture. People need shoes and furniture. Sometimes they want designer shoes because we live in a shallow society that makes people feel that objects buy them happiness. And most business pray on these wants. Flash sales sites promise products that say “I am a successful individual”. They promise brands and designer items at a low(er) cost. As a novelty – it will work for a while (for Fab that meant about 2 years). But customers will eventually want new products, at lower costs.
Jason Goldberg on product curation.

Jason Goldberg on product curation.

None of these variables scale very well, because they are human-based. Fab and especially founder Jason Goldberg, the one taking most of the heat have learned this the hard way.

Of course, it easy for me and other bloggers to watch events unfold and point fingers at who done what and why the business model was wrong. It was a bit harder when Fab.com was getting millions and millions in financing and customers were anxious to find new products and buy on Fab in 2012. 

But this post is not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking beyond the failure, at what lies ahead for Fab.

Fab.com: the road so far

Fab started as a gay community service that reviewed local business. In 2011 it pivoted and went on to offer daily discounts to its users, later on connecting users in a form of social network. As the model didn’t really took off, founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer decided they need to pivot yet again and rethink their market.

As it seems, the duo thought the company was great at a very specific thing and decided to focus on that: design. Specifically: interior design. They re-positioned Fab.com as a source for inspiration and sales of design-related products.

The rise

One can of course notice the stereotypical positioning (being a former gay community) but it nevertheless worked. The response to this new pivot was great. The number of registered users went form 175 000 in June 2011 to 350 000 in just a month. In just 12 days the company sold more than $600k worth of merchandise.

The new Fab.com was available by invite only and when it opened more than 125 000 had already registered to receive offers. The reviews were awesome and in just a short month after the Fab relaunched, Menlo Ventures invested $8 million in the company.

Fab’s usage of social networking and social-shopping features further increased the number of users and sales for the company. In just 5 months since launch (nov. 2011) the company boasted over 1 million registered members. Then came the holiday shopping season and sales skyrocketed. As a result of fabulous sales and increasing media traction, Andreessen Horowitz invested … wait for it … $40 million.

In 2011-2012 Fab was just killing it. Sales reached $100 million

In 2011-2012 Fab was just killing it. Sales reached $100 million

After just 7 months since relaunch, on Dec. 7, legendary Andreessen Horowitz VC’s are chosen by Fab.com founders from 15 willing investors.

At the end of 2012 numbers are in and they show a spectacular growth fueled what went from a 4 people company to a 140 employee design force.

CEO Jason Goldberg then posted on its now gone blog “Betashop” a slideshow detailing the successful year his company had. It shows the brave startup growing from a small yet promising group of passionate people to a company selling in 26 countries, with 10 million members.

In 2012 Fab sold over 4.3 million products. During the holidays that meant a rate of 17 products sold per minute. While other companies still try to cope with the idea of mobile commerce, Fab’s sales in 2012 had 33% of all sales coming from mobile. During holidays, 56% of sales came from smartphones and tablets.

The customer lifetime was great and two out of three purchases came from repeat customers. In 2012 sales grew 600% over 2011 and Goldberg boasted that Fab’s 15.000 products were 33% more than IKEA’s. Fab was the largest design store.

Jason Goldberg's statement on Fab, 2012. Source.

Jason Goldberg’s statement on Fab, 2012. Source.

The fall

In hindsight, past the astonishing numbers, some statements showed something was not exactly right. There was a sense of too much pride: everything Fab was doing was absolutely great and everybody else was just the loser left behind. Jason felt like Fab was the only company with the right attitude and operations. Even Amazon and IKEA didn’t seem like a match for them.

The company was so incredibly self-assuring that it was doing everything internally. In 2012 it employed more than 600 people across the world, it built and operated its IT systems in-house, it even built its own warehouse. How ’bout renting, man?

The 2012 presentation goes on and on about the greatness of Fab, about superstar employees, about the huge vision ahead, about how Fab has to beat IKEA and Amazon at design and deliver more than $30 billion in sales. In the end Jason shows a 6 point plan on how they’ll achieve that:

  1. Have personality
  2. Sell stuff they don’t
  3. Lead on mobile
  4. Lead on social
  5. [Be] global
  6. Be the best company to work for

These 6 points up there - these are the reason Fab failed. What they leave untapped is just what matters. They are all great for rallying the troops but they lack substance. Amazon and IKEA’s steady growth happens from the ground up. The infrastructure these companies rely on to build, handle, ship and sell products – these are their secret weapons.

Marketing is just the illusory panacea startups reach for when hoping it would suffice in their struggle against the big guys. It doesn’t. That’s where they get their smaller competitors.

Retail, even if it happens online, is a logistics game. Walmart, IKEA and Amazon manage to stay on top with a lot of help from their supply chain. Everything moves smoothly behind the scenes and that’s what Fab failed to acknowledge. By spending too much time on social media, mobile and interviews, the management failed to see the large logistic wall that suddenly halted their growth.

In 2013 things got from great to bad and then to awful. The company did raise an additional $150 million in venture capital in July 2013 but as CEO Jason Goldberg these were definitely not great news:

“What a lot people don’t know is that we set out to raise $300 million. […] And when you set out to raise $300 million, and you raise $150 million, you have to change your business plan. And that’s what we did.”

Jason Goldberg

The change of business plan meant a lot of things that hurt the company’s credibility. Layoffs throughout its offices left employees unhappy. The company had to reconsider its position. At the turning point it was burning through $14 million each month and still not reaching sales projections.

Fab.com traffic dropped abruptly. Source

Fab.com traffic dropped abruptly. Source

The job cuts took Fab from more than 750 employees to less than 380 at the end of 2013. It started in Europe and than spread through its offices. Every office was restructured to help the company reach a balance point. It didn’t. Even C-level executives had to take a hit. It’s unclear if they left willingly or have been laid off but Co-founder Bradford Shellhammer and COO Beth Ferreira left the company.

Meanwhile traffic came down abruptly and so did sales. The company was heavily relying on ad spending to reach customers. Its 2012 marketing costs were $40 million. In 2013, the figure dropped to $30 million. But as the chart on the right shows – that was not the only factor that lead to the drop in traffic and sales. People were just not interested in Fab’s products anymore. Buzzwords and social media didn’t cut it anymore.

Fab.com's traffic dropped both on the web and mobile. Source.

Fab.com’s traffic dropped both on the web and mobile. Source.

Hem.com – The rebirth?

hemAll these bad news took the company by storm. A lot of people took shots directly at Goldberg for shifting focus, delaying layoffs and generally the could-be death of Fab.com. It was not surprising: he was the one taking the spotlight when Fab was growing, he would be the one taking the heat for the fall.

The media took turns at hitting Fab.com whenever it could and it was obviously an easy task. There were plenty of laid-off employees out there to leak inside info about how bad the company was being ran. They were jobless, pissed-off and needed someone to take the blame.

How could a company with $336 million in funding fail so bad? Where did the company on everyone’s lips go? What happened with all that value investors just …  lost?

All these questions left out some seemingly uninteresting investments Fab was running in Europe. While dealing with layoffs, decreased sales, management layoffs and media hits, Fab acquired custom furniture companies MassivKonzept and One Nordic Furniture Co..

By doing so the company combined the MassivKonzept’s mass customization tools and One Nordic Furniture Co.’s talent and technology. The new company took over Fab’s sales in Europe and now leverages Fab’s customer base, experience and of course – cash.

jason-goldberg-techFab’s European venture received the name Hem (Swedish for “Home”) and now employs 150 employees in Berlin, Helsinki, Warsaw and Stockholm. Some of them are previous Fab employees, some are new hires.

Hem is a designer, manufacturer and retailer and it is an integrated company. It is the technology company that Jason Goldberg wanted to build for a long time.

But most importantly, Hem is something Fab never was: its own company. An unique organization that goes beyond comparing itself to others. It is not the Amazon of Europe or the IKEA of online. It is Hem. It allows its customers to build custom, beautiful furniture and products for the home and it can now deliver on this promise. It seems to be a company that may lack sales and the buzz Fab had but it has something more important: purpose and substance.

It seems that a more mature Jason Goldberg has finally decided to leave marketing and PR aside and focus on building a real company. An unique company that goes beyond buzzwords and solves real problems, in a real environment, where the team is not made of superstars but rather a group of passionate people that put the product ahead of their own egos. And it started with its leader.

I believe Hem has a bright future, unlike Fab. It is built to last, just like its products. I must say that when I set out to write this post, it was going to be yet another bashful take on Fab’s fall. But the more I read about it, the more I found about Jason and his company and the more personal it felt. And a lot of it resonated through this interview he gave at TC Disrupt. A sense of grit and humility echoed through this talk. As an entrepreneur I know what it feels to fail. I too made mistakes and I too delayed laying off people. I too mistook marketing for product and company development. I too believed sky was no limit and failed. So there is a lot of Jason’s actions that I get from being in a similar, yet smaller scale, place.

Yes, Fab is dying and it’s a great thing. Hem now takes its place and it has the potential to be a far better company. In the end this might be not a cautionary tale of entrepreneurship gone bad but a lesson in resilience and willingness to adapt.

Jason Goldberg took some courageous steps into transforming the company he’s built and it will probably pay off in the future. After all, he runs a company that is pretty close to break even, with $120 million in the bank and a large customer base. And now it has a real business model. How hard can it be?

The Fascinating World of Amazon Logistics

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

Word’s out that Amazon is planning on opening its first brick and mortar shop. With such news the retail world is now buzzing with questions:

Is Amazon really going head to head with mainly brick-and-mortar retailers? Should the likes of Walmart be paying attention to such tactics? Could this mean a new way of doing business for Amazon?

The answer is no.

First of all Amazon is not opening actual stores. It’s opening pop-up stores. The big difference is pop-up stores are available for just a limited amount of time. They pop-up and then they pop-off. For example the two stores Amazon is now opening will be in San Francisco and Sacramento and will be open just for the holidays.

Amazon will use these stores to showcase its proprietary mobile devices (tablets, ebook readers, the smartphone). Once the holidays are over – puff – they disappear.

There is, however, one report from the Wall Street Journal, not yet confirmed by Amazon, saying the company would actually be looking for more. This report points to a New York location in Midtown Manhattan that would serve as a permanent physical presence. Again, this won’t be your typical store but rather a location designed to respond to specific Amazon needs.

Such needs would include testing Amazon products, order pick-up, returns and local delivery. Maybe even a drone helipad. Who knows?

Seriously now – with the store working as a mini-warehouse, the company could easily offer same-day delivery to near-by customers. That’s a great way to compete with Google’s same day delivery. These type of operations (pop-up shops and drop-shops) could become mainstream in the future as retailers need to bridge the gap in omnichannel retail AND provide faster shipping.

However, Amazon’s offline presence should be scanned from a different perspective:

Amazon is not moving offline. It is already there.

There are no Amazon stores just yet. Except for a few Amazon lockers and the occasional pop-up stores, the largest online retailer remains a pretty digital presence.

Except for its logistics.

Beneath the magic of Amazon’s online retail presence lays an well-oiled logistics machine. Amazon combines advanced IT systems, human operations, robots, huge warehouses and a complex shipping operation to fulfill its daily orders. And some underpaid workers but that’s another thing.

Inside one of Amazon's Warehouses. Source: Wired

Inside one of Amazon’s Warehouses. Source: Wired

How many products does Amazon ship? Billions.

In 2012 Amazon sold and shipped more than 10 million products each day. The total number of products shipped in the last quarter of 2012 was 1.05 billion. Yes, that is a Billion with a B and it is reportedly the first time in the company’s history when it sold more than 1 billion products in just one quarter.

The number of listed products is also huge. Its top 5 markets all list more than 100 million products, with the US totaling a whooping 253 millions, as reported by Export-X:

The total number of products listed on Amazon's top markets. See more here.

The total number of products listed on Amazon’s top markets. See more here.

Amazon Fulfillment: 83 million square feet of storage and fulfillment centers

You’ve probably guessed that shipping 1 billion products per quarter to more than 200 million customers worldwide requires a bit of work. What you probably don’t know is that such a large-scale operation uses 50 million square feet of storage in the US and 33 million square feet of storage outside US (source).

There is no other ecommerce competitor with such storage and fulfillment potential. Its dominant position allowed for two interesting business models to evolve: The Amazon Marketplace and Fulfillment by Amazon.

To reach sales as those shown above, Amazon lists and sells both its own products and those from 3P (Third Party) merchants. Merchants can join its Fulfillment By Amazon program, ship the product to Amazon’s Fulfillment centers and than leverage Amazon’s Logistics.

This means the company can count on its sales AND influence to shape the future of retail. Its logistics are probably the most useful and under rated tool in expanding globally. While everyone wonders if Amazon will set foot in the offline world, the company has already laid the foundations to what will probably be the future of retail.

Of course, the numbers listed above can only show a small bit of what is required to keep Amazon moving and growing. The operational tools Amazon employs and the processes behind this amazing machine will be uncovered in an upcoming ebook. Until then – check out “Understanding Omnichannel Retail” – a comprehensive report on how online and offline sales are now connecting.