Walmart and Shopify

A few days ago, Walmart and Shopify announced a strategic partnership that would allow Shopify merchants to list products on Walmart website and still manage their stores through the Canadian company’s system. Below is what Walmart said in their press release

The U.S. eCommerce business grew 74% in total last quarter, and growth in marketplace outpaced the overall business even as first-party sales were strong. As we launch this integration with Shopify, we are focused on U.S.-based small and medium businesses whose assortment complements ours and have a track record of exceeding customers’ expectations.

We’re excited to be able offer customers an expanded assortment while also giving small businesses access to the surging traffic on Walmart.com. Shopify powers a dynamic portfolio of third-party sellers who are interested in growing their business through new, trusted channels. This integration will allow approved Shopify sellers to seamlessly list their items on Walmart.com, which gives Walmart customers access to a broader assortment.

Growing our Marketplace is a strategic priority, and we are going to be smart as we grow. We will start integrating new sellers now and expect to add 1,200 Shopify sellers this year. Shopify has a long history of helping small businesses leverage scale, and we’re proud to be part of the solution that is helping customers and other retailers.

Source: Walmart

What does Shopify do? Why may it benefit from Walmart?

While Walmart is a household name in the US, Shopify is much less known as its business is typically behind-the-scenes. Shopify offers solutions that help individuals and businesses launch their online presence. Shopify services range from apps that build an actual online store, payments, marketing, fulfillment, shipping and order management. Essentially, Shopify can give you all back-end services you need to start an online business tomorrow. Shopify customers pay a monthly subscription to have access to its offerings and extra fees whenever the customers want to use additional services.

Although the company didn’t make money from its operations as of 2019 yet, its revenue doubled compared to 2018.

Source: Shopify

Investors seem to have confidence in the outlook of the company, especially when e-Commerce gained traction amid the Covid-19 crisis. For the past year, Shopify stock has grown by almost 185% from $300 to $869 as of this writing. Despite Shopify’s growth, it is still a long way to go to unseat Amazon as the king of eCommerce in the US. According to eMarketer, Shopify had only 5.9% market share compared to Amazon’s 37%.

Source: Shopify

Shopify’s business model puts it in a direct collision course with Amazon’s own 3rd party marketplace. Individuals and small businesses can list their products on both Amazon and Shopify. Although it’s unclear which option is more financially beneficial to merchants, one thing is clear: Amazon has a lot more traffic to its site. Amazon reported that its US site has 150 million unique visitors alone. What small business can hope to compete with that kind of website traffic? Merchants, when thinking about which marketplace they should be on, definitely have to take into account the traffic that Amazon brings.

If merchants sign up with Amazon’s 3rd party marketplace, that’s business lost for Shopify. Hence, recent partnerships, with Facebook, Pinterest and Walmart, are aimed to help merchants reach a bigger potential client base without merchants having to stretch operationally further. As a business owner, you don’t want to run your store on three different systems, do you? The executive from Shopify even said as much.

“Few companies in the world match the sheer size and scale of Walmart,” said Satish Kanwar, Shopify’s vice president of product. The deal opens the door for small and medium-sized businesses “to access the 120 million customers who visit Walmart.com every month.”

Source: Financial Post

To new businesses, sudden exposure to 120 million customers a month is absolutely a huge draw. For comparison, Amazon reported that its US website attracted 150 million visitors a month. This partnership, along with others such as those with Facebook and Pinterest, catapults Shopify into a respectable contender in empowering merchants.

Plus, it may not have to worry about losing potential customers to Walmart’s own marketplace. It was reported that Walmart’s marketplace tool wasn’t popular among merchants on the market. Hence, Shopify can pitch to potential customers the prospect of reaching millions of customers while using its well-built tools. I think this move is more about appealing to new merchants and keeping the current customers from jumping ship to Amazon than poaching merchants from Amazon. I doubt that merchants which are well established on Amazon’s platform will be interested in disruption to their business and leaving the most popular marketplace for anything else.

Additionally, I suspect this partnership is focused on the US market alone. Walmart is as American a brand as it can get, and US is its strongest market. Meanwhile, 68% of Shopify’s revenue came from the US market. Stretching resources further to compete with Amazon overseas doesn’t really make sense.

Source: Shopify

What may Walmart gain from this partnership?

In addition to its stores, Walmart also has a marketplace.

When it first launched in 2009, it had fewer than 1 million SKUs available online. Today, the retailer’s total e-commerce presence represents more than 75 million. In 2019, Walmart added 10,000 new sellers to its marketplace, bringing the total last November to over 32,000

Source: Modern Retail

Despite the progress, Walmart is still clearly behind Amazon in the eCommerce space as the Arkansas-based company only had 4.7% market share, compared to Amazon’s 37%. Industry long-time watchers said that Walmart’s marketplace tools weren’t as good as Amazon’s and that merchants didn’t buy in the appeal of Walmart (Source: Modern Retail). Plus, I suspect that Amazon carries a lot more SKUs and merchants, making it a better choice for shoppers than Walmart.

To compete with Amazon, Walmart needs to scale its assortment fast, efficiently and overcome its own inferior internal system.

By leveraging the highly received tools from Shopify, Walmart will allow merchants to be on Walmart’s website without having to use its own internal tools, effectively eliminating any friction that can scare sellers away. On Walmart’s side, it won’t have to spend resources on acquiring thousands of new merchants. Moreover, more merchants and products will make Walmart’s website more appealing and enable it to woo shoppers from Amazon.

In short, with this partnership, Walmart can bring more merchants onboard efficiently in a short amount of time while Shopify can bring its merchants to a potential bigger customer base and hopefully attract more future business. While there is still a long way to go to unseat Amazon, I think this collaboration has a great deal of potential and I am excited to see how it will unfold in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Weekly readings – 13th June 2020

America’s Safety Net Is Failing Its Workers. A chilling read on some of the major social issues in the US.

How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way

Dutch Cooperation Made an ‘Intelligent Lockdown’ a Success

American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go

Amazon’s New Competitive Advantage: Putting Its Own Products First

Forced Social Isolation Causes Neural Craving Similar to Hunger

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-centric browser, is an alternative to Google, which gets rich off of your data

Apple’s success in China

Disney’s Jungle Cruise – High-emission vacations lead to trouble in a rainforest far, far away.

26 ways to launch a clean energy future out of the pandemic recovery

Why You Can’t Help But Act Your Age

A Rainforest, Maya Ruins and the Fight Over a Tourist Train

How London Transport Is Preparing for Life After Lockdown

Visa saw 13 million cardholders in Latin make their first e-commerce transaction in the second quarter

Weekly readings – 6th June 2020

A study published by Harvard University 20 years ago on why the US doesn’t like state welfare

What if our cities were just lit by stars

Source: Wired

How Many People Did it Take to Build the Great Pyramid?

Amazon is the fourth‑largest US delivery service and growing fast

Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime

Our analysis finds that each additional use of force policy was associated with a 15% reduction in killings for the average police department. Since the average police department had already implemented three of these policies, implementing all eight use of force restrictions would be associated with a 54% reduction in killings for the average police department. Even after taking into account the number of arrests made, assaults on officers, and community demographics, police departments with all eight of these use of force policies implemented would kill 72% fewer people than departments that have none of these policies in place

Source: Campaign Zero

As for policy, our results suggest that implementing the EO to recall military equipment should result in less violent behavior and subsequently, fewer killings by LEAs. Taken together with work that shows militarization actually leads to more violence against police (Carriere, 2016Wickes, 2015), the present study suggests demilitarization may secure overall community safety. 

Source: Sage Journals

An interesting profile on the richest man in India and Asia

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight with China

Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries

Four million parts, 30 countries: How an Airbus A380 comes together

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei Takes Off the Gloves in Fight Against U.S.

Weekly readings – 16th May 2020

A scathing critique of AWS from this engineer

Related to the link above, this is quite a blog post from someone who used to work at Amazon and was working at Google at the time of the writing

Content, Cars, and Comparisons in the “Streaming Wars”. Matthew Ball’s essays are always great to read

The secrets behind the runaway success of Apple’s AirPods

How Morning Brew grew to $13m in revenue with 33 employees

Vauban Architecture: The Foundation of Central and Northern Vietnam’s Citadels

The latest memo from Howard Marks

How the most prized degree in India became the most worthless

WeChat Surveillance Explained

If Landlords Get Wiped Out, Wall Street Wins, Not Renters

All applications used at GitLab

Chicago Will Now Require Food Delivery Apps to Disclose Itemized Cost Breakdown. You can protect restaurants or you can protect delivery apps. In this case, I don’t think you can do both. I am glad Chicago went with restaurants

Source: Crunchbase

How Khan Academy Successfully Handled 2.5x Traffic in a Week

The faded beauty of abandoned cars across Europe and the US

“Visa saw an 18% rise in U.S. digital commerce spending during the month of April, excluding the travel category, as face-to-face transactions fell 45%”

From Boston to Saigon: A Coronavirus Quarantine Diary

Lessons From Slovakia—Where Leaders Wear Masks

Senate Votes to Allow FBI to Look at Your Web Browsing History Without a Warrant. I’d argue that this is a bridge too far into user privacy

Next time if you want to support local restaurants by ordering on delivery services like Grubhub or DoorDash, you may want to do a bit of research on how those services treat restaurant partners. Here is an example

Weekly readings – 9th May 2020

The decline in trust in governments shows no signs of abating. Everywhere you look, there is suspicion that measures taken by governments to combat Covid-19 will soon be used for mass surveillance afterwards. India is no exception. For A Billion Indians, The Government’s Voluntary Contact Tracing App Might Actually Be Mandatory

The pandemic doesn’t seem to affect spending on cloud infrastructure badly

The man feeding a remote Alaska town with a Costco card and a ship

Apple Watch detecting coronary ischaemia during chest pain episodes or an apple a day may keep myocardial infarction away

VP of Amazon resigned to protest the firing of workers who spoke out on the working conditions at Amazon warehouses

Looking Back on Four Years at The Times, in the words of their former CTO

Amazon pulled no punches in its public blog post on Microsoft regarding the JEDI dispute

Spotify should pay musicians more? Let’s talk more about how

A few notable graphs from Amazon and Apple earnings

Tech giants reported their earnings this week and proved how resilient their businesses are amid arguably the most challenging environment ever. In this post, I’d like to demonstrate with visuals how important AWS is to Amazon, and how China, Wearables and Services are to Apple while it has become less of an iPhone company.

Amazon

Apple

Target’s turnaround strategy

Retail apocalypse has been the rage for a few years. The competition from Amazon is said to be the main reason why many retailers closed shops permanently. The truth is that Amazon serves just another change in the competition to which failure to react will doom any business. Retailers are no exception. As Amazon is the master in eCommerce, retailers likely will not match the Seattle-based company on the digital front. What retailers can do is to find their competitive advantages and exploit them while being at least competitive digitally. I think Target can serve as a good example of a retailer that successfully transformed itself to stay competitive.

Remodeling stores and building digital & shipping capabilities

In 2017, Target announced an ambitious plan to invest $7 billion in remodeling existing stores, opening new ones, launching private labels and building out digital infrastructure. In March 2020, Target revealed that the company completed 700 remodels over the past 3 years and aimed at finishing 1,000 in 2020. Since the announcement of the turnaround strategy, Target has launched 20 private labels. With regard to shoring up its shipping and digital capabilities, Target made a strategic decision to take the task of building out its website internally, instead of farming it out to Amazon like they did before 2013. Crucially, Target’s CIO McNamara reduced the IT headcount from 10,000 to 4,000 engineers. Not only did Target strengthen its core capability organically, but they also brought in external expertise by acquiring two same-day delivery startups in Shipt and Grand Junction. Due to the new acquired capabilities, Target introduced pickup, Drive-Up and Shipt services to most of its stores. Now, customers can order online and receive the goods via:

  • Delivery at home in one-two days
  • Pickup at a local Target store
  • Drive up to a Target store to pick up the goods
  • Have the goods delivered within the same day

Results of those initiatives?

2019 total revenue, gross margin rate and operating income margin rate increased compared to 2018. Walmart’s YoY increase in the latest year’s revenue is 1.9%, lower than what Target posted. Considering the cut-throat competition that Target is in, that increase in the top line and margin should be a positive sign.

For the improved financial performance, Target credited its increased efficiency and customer engagement through both its stores and digital channels. he company revealed that 80% of online orders were fulfilled by its stores. Additionally, “during 2019, over 70% of our comparable digital sales growth was driven by same-day fulfillment options: Order Pickup, Drive Up, and delivery via our wholly-owned subsidiary, Shipt”. In its latest business update amid Covid-19, Target said that digital sales grew more than 100% YoY. The growing importance of digital channels to Target’s business can be seen in the below graph which shows digital sales made up an increasing share of Target’s overall sales in the last 5 years.

In February 2019, Fast Company reported that six of Target’s private labels generated more than $1 billion each in revenue a year. In 2019, 1/3 of Target’s revenue came from its own private labels.

Other initiatives & opportunities

In September 2019, Target launched a loyalty program called Target Circle. The program was introduced after racketing 2 million subscribers in 18-month trial. In March 2020, the number of Target Circle subscribers hit 50 million, from 35 million reported in November 2019. According to Target in Q3 investor call, Circle members spend 2-5% more than non-members. The program has no membership fee, but comes with only a modest of 1% back on purchases. Hence, it’s quite encouraging to see the membership base.

Target has branded debit cards and credit cards issued by TD. According to the quarterly filings, the cards were responsible for around 10% of the purchase volume at Target

Target-branded cards not only allow the retailer to gather so much data on consumers, but also provides a healthy boost of revenue. For the past 3 years, Target has received $680 million of credit card profit sharing from TD. I am not familiar with the agreement between Target and TD, but I think that if more folks sign up for the branded credit cards and spend more using the cards, Target will get more revenue from its issuing partner.

In my opinion, the turnaround strategy by Target has been a fair success so far. However, Amazon and Walmart haven’t stood still either. They also push and innovate every day. If Target wants to avoid the fate the likes of Sears did, they will have to continuously push and innovate as well. But they can serve as a case study against any generalizing claim that anyone not named Amazon is facing retail apocalypse.

Weekly readings – 25th April 2020

IEEE has an article outlining the role of mainframes even before the crisis. I am always of opinion that mainframes aren’t going anywhere soon. The legacy system has its strengths that work in favor for data-processing companies such as financial institutions. I had a professor in Omaha before who was an executive at Mutual of Omaha. He told me in 2018 that one of the important applications at the insurance company is still on mainframe and they fly periodically a mainframe developer from Chicago for maintenance work.

In the last 70 years, the physical size of Kansas City has quadrupled while the population has remained relatively stable. (Put another way, every resident of Kansas City is on the hook for maintaining four times as much of the city as his or her predecessors.)

Source: We’ve Built Cities We Can’t Afford

Everyone is baking — and entrepreneurs are rising up to meet the demand

Uber’s Paid Sick Leave Policy Is a Perpetually Moving Goal Post

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro: A New Breed of Laptop

Bloomberg’s story on AirBnb and the state of the known startup

Gruber’s review of iPhone SE

A report by WSJ on how Amazon allegedly uses merchants’ data to launch its own private labels. There is nothing wrong with Amazon launching private labels. The problem is that the company vehemently denied using merchants’ data to help it do so

A decision by Supreme Court that can prove to be defining in the future. I understand the logic behind deporting folks who committed crimes. What concerns me here is that the process didn’t take into account the recent behavior.

A damning report on Bird. I haven’t been a fan of the company or products. I get its value proposition, but coming from a country where scooters are the primary transportation method, I am as enthusiastic about Bird scooters as others. Plus, the high valuation in a short period of time, despite an unproven unit economics, always feels wrong to me.

Weekly readings – 18th April 2020

We need to talk about AirPods Pro

Companies Don’t Need to Lay People Off to Survive

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

A very good thread from one of USPS employees

A great primer on the existential challenge that USPS is facing

A great read on TAM from Credit Suisse

A good read on the FED and why it shouldn’t shoulder more blame for the economic crisis threat than the government

Social Distancing Is Bringing Drive-In Theaters Back to Life

How small business owners survived the Great Recession

The New Yorker’s profile of Mitch McConnell

A chilling report on how Bloomberg News bullied a reporter and his wife

The Postal Service Deserves a Permanent Bailout

Apple’s mobility report

Your Coronavirus Check Is Coming. Your Bank Can Grab It

A heart-breaking story on a brilliant young programmer who co-founded Cloudfare

It bid high and lost. Should Amazon be allowed a do-over on JEDI?

Weekly readings – 14th March 2020

How I Survived Being A $220k/year Intern

Your Fancy Honey Might Not Actually Be Honey

Public health interventions and epidemic intensity during the 1918 influenza pandemic

How a small candy company became Warren Buffett’s ‘dream’ investment

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE. A very helpful and cool interactive map to keep track of the global cases around the world

The man behind Trump’s Facebook operations (and success?)

Building the City: Snapshots of Saigon in the Late 1960s

Seattle’s Patient Zero Spread Coronavirus Despite Ebola-Style Lockdown

Amazon is selling the technology behind its cashier-less stores to other retailers. Some of their tactics and actions may warrant criticisms, but their drive for innovation really makes their success well-deserved

A Berlin Biotech Company Got a Head Start on Coronavirus Tests