E-Commerce Round-Up, August 2015
E-Commerce Round-Up covers major recent events and news from the past month in the commerce world, and provides a brief analysis of what they mean. This month’s Round-Up covers new funding for online marketplace provider Mirakl, new ecommerce service provider acquisitions and partners, and the prospects for celebrity ecommerce.
The rise of the Saas online marketplace: $20 million in new funding for Mirakl
In North America, the concept of the online marketplace tends to be dominated by giants such as Amazon and eBay as the main players that provide a platform for 3rd parties to sell online rather than have to establish their own ecommerce sites. Yet in other parts of the world, this marketplace-as-platform model has evolved and proved a boon for both B2C and B2B businesses.
One start-up that has had notable success as an online marketplace provider is Mirakl. The French-based company, founded in 2012, offers what it calls a turnkey marketplace Saas platform. This platform can integrate with ecommerce platforms and can handle the entire marketplace process: supplier onboarding, catalog integration, order management, and customer service. In its three years of existence the company has grown to over 55 customers across 11 countries, including flagship retailers such as Galeries Lafayette (France), Best Buy (US), and Halfords (UK). In July, the company raised $20 million in Series B funding which will enable it to expand further, and a key part of that expansion is the North American market. To that end, Mirakl’s CEO has relocated from France to Boston and established an office in the city.
Mirakl’s founders are savvy online marketplace veterans and the company has had impressive growth in its short lifespan on its home turf. The challenge ahead will be how well Mirakl can raise awareness of the marketplace model in North America, where it will need to rapidly identify the most effective marketing channels and service provider partners.
Service provider moves: PFSWeb acquires Crossview, CoreMedia partners with Perficient
Ecommerce is hitting the trillion dollar range, in B2C this year (eMarketer) and in B2B by 2018 (Forrester). Accompanying this growth is organizations’ increasing need for expert assistance with ecommerce technology selections, implementations, and management. Vendors of ecommerce platforms all have certified solution partners who provide these services, and those providers in turn are angling for their slice of the ecommerce pie. Two examples from this month include:
- PFSWeb, a NASDAQ-traded company headquartered in Allen, Texas, is pursuing a growth strategy based on acquisition. Most recently, the company has paid $38 million for another Texas-based service provider, Crossview, whose expertise in IBM WebSphere and hybris platforms complements PFSWeb’s existing partner relationships with Demandware, Magento, and Oracle.
- With the goal of “accelerating omnichannel commerce,” two service providers certified in IBM WebSphere have themselves formed a partnership. CoreMedia, a CMS vendor headquartered in Germany, has developed a solution called LiveContext for WebSphere Commerce. Perficient, a service provider headquartered in Minneapolis, will work with CoreMedia to deploy this solution its customers. The press release for this announcement lacked detail as to how this partnership will work in practice; presumably, CoreMedia’s content expertise and deep knowledge of Websphere will complement Perficient’s expertise in complex enterprise implementations.
As the ecommerce market matures, acquisitions and partnerships between service providers will undoubtedly follow in order to serve a wide variety of customers at the scale and speed they require. The above examples are two types that will become more prevalent over the next year: 1) to expand the number of vendor platforms for whom the service provider is certified in and has expertise, and 2) to manage complex content (CMS) and commerce integration needs.
Oprah and Ellen open online stores: will a celebrity-driven ecommerce boom follow?
Want to find that necklace you saw in Oprah’s O magazine or a blazer like the one Ellen wore on a recent segment of her show? You can now go to online sites built to showcase products and services that fit each media icon’s image, style, and personality. The O Store features a curated collection of branded merchandise that Oprah has recommended, such as peace love world clothing, and DVD versions of movies she has starred in. The site mixes in premium content, such as online video courses, by some of Oprah’s favorite fellow personalities like Arianna Huffington. Notably, this is also not Oprah’s first foray into retail: she had a branded bricks and mortar store in Chicago and an online complement, which both closed in 2011 after her talk show ended.
Ellen’s site is quite different: while it also carries merchandise in similar categories such as home, apparel, and accessories, the selection is all from Ellen’s lifestyle brand called ED, which is “inspired by” Ellen’s style and personality. Unlike the O store, the ED store does not carry third party products or products Ellen has directly endorsed. It also has minimal content beyond the basics of the product descriptions: in fact, unlike the O store, there is no image of Ellen herself anywhere on the site. PFSWeb designed and built the site based on Demandware Commerce Cloud.
Should either or both these sites prove successful, expect a whole raft of other celebrity-branded online sites to emerge in the next few months. This is potentially good news for the vendors and agencies that specialize in retail ecommerce solutions.
Both sites, however, share a common shortcoming. They both look like very nice product catalogs, where the effort was put more into the design rather than in creating compelling unique content – articles, video, advice, and so on, that infuse the personalities of both women – around the products and services sold. Without that content, it’s unclear how these stores can rise above the many other home and apparel retail sites and choices now available worldwide to American consumers. For celebrity ecommerce to work, it will need to be more than just a pretty online site with a shopping cart, and seamlessly integrate content and commerce.