Chewy Acquired by PetSmart

In a deal announced by the best ecommerce reporter, Jason Del Rey, Chewy.com has been acquired by PetsSmart for over $3 billion. Yes, billion. Similar to the recent Walmart purchase of Jet.com, is this nuts?

Forbes recently wrote about the company, of particular interest:

One pet industry veteran, who says he knows three people who are familiar with Chewy’s finances, doubts the company will reach profitability. He says Chewy’s average sale is $75, its average margin after discounts 30% and its average cost of delivery–which Chewy offers for free on orders of more than $49–around $12. A competitor estimates that Chewy’s customer-acquisition cost could run as high as $200 per first sale, given that the company pays to appear at the top of Google searches for each of the hundreds of brands it carries. “The bottom line is that Chewy is incredibly predatory, and they’re willing to lose money to grow their volume,” says the industry veteran.

So, it’s likely Chewy, like Jet, is unprofitable and will be for some time if not ever. But co-founder Ryan Cohen says he is convinced that e-commerce will eventually take at least 50% of total pet product sales and that Chewy will log more than $5 billion in revenue by 2020.

Potential. That’s the price paid by PetSmart and others for what perhaps the future of ecommerce and retail will look like in a few years.

Yup, Ecommerce is Hard

WSJ reports Walmart is in talks with Jet.com, the barely one year old ecommerce startup:

For Jet, a takeover by an old-line retailer would demonstrate the challenges of attempting to go it alone in the hypercompetitive e-commerce market.

This business is capital intensive, heavily reliant on brand and a massive slice of luck..

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Dollar Shave Club

Stratechery has a nice piece on the Unilever Dollar Shave Club purchase. Noting something we also discussed with respect to FMCG:

I suspect this sort of disruption will not be a one-off: the Internet (and e-commerce) has so profoundly changed the economics of business that it is only a matter of time before other product categories are impacted, with all the second order effects that entails.

Read the piece here.

Offcourse whilst it’s a good deal for founders and investors, it does raise concern as to why another pure-play ecommerce company could not reach the public markets.

The World is Flat…and Fast

The Economist has a good piece on why the world is getting flatter and faster. This is to the detriment of large companies, particularly those in the FMCG space. They note:

Yet these advantages are not what they once were. Consolidating factories has made companies more vulnerable to the swing of a particular currency, points out Nik Modi of RBC Capital Markets, a bank. The impact of television adverts is fading, as consumers learn about products on social media and from online reviews. At the same time, barriers to entry are falling for small firms. They can outsource production and advertise online. Distribution is getting easier, too: a young brand may prove itself with online sales, then move into big stores. Financing mirrors the same trend: last year investors poured $3.3 billion into private CPG firms, according to CB Insights, a data firm—up by 58% from 2014 and a whopping 638% since 2011.

If you’ve got a good product, it’s never been easier to get it out there.

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Etsy IPO and What We Can All Learn

Etsy’s long awaited IPO is finally happening with the release of their S1 filing today. Surprisingly, unlike many of the classic ‘marketplace’ ecommerce companies like Ebay, the company is loss making:

The company registered a $4.9 million net loss on $108.7 million in revenue in 2014. The prior year, Etsy was actually closer to profitability, with a $796,000 loss

That aside, there are a couple of pieces of information related to marketing and loyalty that I’d like to point out and may be useful to you running an ecommerce business. First up, marketing:

We believe that the rapid growth of our marketplace is a testament to our compelling value proposition for Etsy sellers and Etsy buyers. Etsy sellers and Etsy buyers have been our best marketers, and the majority of our visits have come from direct and organic channels. Historically, we have invested relatively small amounts in marketing. We spent only $10.9 million on marketing in 2012 and only $17.9 million in 2013. In 2014, we began increasing our brand and digital marketing efforts and spent $39.7 million in marketing, up 122% from 2013.

In essence, let our customers market our company and our products. Easier said than done right? But it’s absolutely the right strategy to compete in today’s world where everyone is fighting for attention, just look at Apple. Yes, the iPhone maker spends a ton on marketing – especially traditional advertising like TV and print – and yet, look at their social media strategy or lack of it. The whole focus of successful companies like Apple and in alignment with Etsy’s marketing strategy is the notion that you both let (and encourage) customers to do marketing on your behalf.

Some call this word of mouth and more formally, ‘organic’ but whatever, it’s where you want to be. And on loyalty:

Our members’ repeat sales and purchases drive GMS growth. In 2014, 78.5% of our GMS resulted from repeat purchases made by Etsy buyers, and 99.3% of our GMS was generated by repeat sales made by Etsy sellers.

Over three quarters of sales from repeat customers; some would say this is a sign of a small customer base but remember what happened during the .com boom with all of those ecommerce companies who bought customers and lusted after those sales; they burned off course. You are far better off with a smaller, more engaged group of loyal customers. Amazon started with book buyers, Ebay with coin collectors, Netflix with DVD by mail and so-on – you want to start small and then grow horizontally into other categories or customers over-time.

Finally, if you’re wondering what the typical Etsy customer (aka ecommerce business) does, check out this graphic form the S1. You won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of time is dedicated to inventory – circa 70% in the Etsy seller’s case. The rest? Broadly split between marketing and administrative tasks. Running a company can be very exciting but much of time, it’s a case of getting your head down and working through the stuff that just needs to get done.

Where does Rocket and other pure-play’s go after saturation?

One could look at Rocket Internet – the maligned German startup incubator – and be impressed that it’s only second to Alibaba in Asia’s fast growing ecommerce market. In Asia, Rocket Internet’s data shows strong growth including such as Zalora and Foodpanda – aimed at emerging nations where ecommerce is nascent.

Rocket’s Lazada which runs in seven Asian nations, saw its shoppers spend EUR 71 million (US$91.4 million) in the six months that make up H1 2014. That’s a modest average of US$500,000 per day according to their IPO document.

Regardless of which ecommerce operations last the course, Rocket’s expertise gained from these plus their more established investments like Zalando positions them right up there with the best operators in all ecommerce.

But the question for rocket is and the question many pure play ecommerce outfits must consider is; what happens when you saturate market? Where does the growth from? That’s where physical bricks and mortar have the edge and it’s perhaps why we will see more than just perhaps Amazon following up with their physical stores.