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Retail Tech: Amazon to Build Louisiana Robotic Fulfillment Hub, Klarna Offers Free Services to SMBs

The weekly Retail Tech Roundup compiles technology news across the supply chain, manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, logistics and fulfillment sectors.

Robotics

Amazon

Amazon plans to build its first robotics fulfillment center in Louisiana, a 650,000-square-foot facility in Shreveport that will cost the e-commerce giant $200 million. In the location, Amazon employees will sort through, pick, pack and ship smaller customer items such as books, toys, electronics and other household items alongside robotics technology. The location is expected to open in 2022.

Even with the robotics technology involved, the fulfillment center will create over 1,000 new, full-time jobs. Presently, Amazon operates more than 50 of these robotics fulfillment centers worldwide.

At these fulfillment centers, orange-colored robotic drive units can navigate around the warehouse. Employees place customer orders in bins, and then on a pod that looks like a stackable shelving unit. From there, the robotic drive units can slide underneath the pod, lift it off the ground and carry it where needed in the warehouse, so that employees don’t have to use forklifts to manually move the items.

“Amazon may be a global business, but it’s made up of small businesses and communities. From the local jobs we bring, to the local people we employ, train, and upskill—our business is made up of people from communities like Shreveport,” said William Hicks, regional director of operations at Amazon. “We’re thrilled to be able to expand our operations in Northwest Louisiana and we look forward to becoming part of the fabric of the local community.”

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Amazon says that there are more than 14,500 independent authors and small and medium-sized businesses in Louisiana that leverage the company’s marketplaces.

The hiring of most employees for Amazon’s Shreveport fulfillment center will begin in the summer of 2022, approximately three months prior to the launch of the facility.

The move comes as Amazon also is planning to build a new robotics fulfillment center in suburban Richmond, Va. that state officials expect will create 1,000 new jobs, Gov. Ralph Northam confirmed in a news release in April. Like the Shreveport facility, the Richmond location will be 650,000 square feet and is expected to open in 2022.

Similar facilities in Detroit, Suffolk, Va., Waco, Texas, and North Little Rock, Ark., are slated to open later this year. Sioux Falls, S.D., will open an Amazon robotics fulfillment center in 2022.

JASCI/NextShift Robotics

JASCI Software, an SaaS warehouse management software provider, has acquired NextShift Robotics, an autonomous warehouse robotics company, for an undisclosed sum. After the deal, NextShift will operate as JASCI Robotics, focused on innovating warehousing and logistics.

NextShift offers a robotic operating system that senses and learns the warehouse environment in real time. By incorporating LIDAR and cameras, the autonomous robot is designed to have pinpoint accuracy in its movements along with a mapping/traffic management system. According to JASCI, hundreds of the NexShift robots can navigate the warehouse simultaneously with efficiency and safety alongside humans and material handling equipment.

JASCI says it provides the ability to task and orchestrate these capabilities in real time, leveraging its SmartTask warehouse workflow technology. JASCI’s SaaS cloud native architecture leverages Oracle’s autonomous cloud in an effort to increase growth possibilities and provide elasticity, security and reliability within the process.

The NextShift patent portfolio contains eight robotic patents, with three unique patents and one patent family containing five additional patents.

DTC brands

Acquco

Acquco, a platform focused on acquiring third-party sellers on Amazon, has closed a $160 million Series A round to fund its aggressive growth plans, which will be used to scale its portfolio to reach its lofty $500 million revenue goal by 2022 and continue building its technology platform. Acquco says it has achieved more than $100 million in revenue to date while deploying less than $2 million of equity capital.

The company says it is geared to assist the “millions” of successful Amazon sellers that have naturally hit a “growth wall” and do not possess the capital or broader expertise to scale their business further. Acquco says it can help companies exit Amazon within 30 days.

Leveraging its proprietary lead generation systems, Acquco is designed to identify the best businesses to acquire, and give “flexible, founder-friendly” deal structures that can allow sellers to exit Amazon, immediately monetize and also participate in the future growth of their brand.

Upon acquiring a business, Acquco crafts an “operational playbook” specific for the brand. The company leverages technology to automate management and generate efficiencies for all operational functions, from brand management to the supply chain. Acquco’s proprietary algorithms analyze thousands of criteria sets and millions of data inputs to inform key operating decisions across the brand’s portfolio. On average, Acquco says brands achieve over 100 percent revenue growth after migrating onto its platform.

The round’s participants include CoVenture, Singh Capital Partners, Crossbeam, and other notable investors such as Godaddy.com CEO Aman Bhutani.

“My unique experience at Amazon originating and leading core initiatives with over $1 billion in annual revenue impact provided me deep insights into the primary pain points and challenges that Amazon sellers face everyday,” said Raunak Nirmal, founder and CEO of Acquco. “Combining these perspectives with over seven years of direct experience operating and innovating within the Amazon ecosystem has allowed me to generate a truly differentiated edge and understanding of the Amazon universe. Leveraging this edge, Acquco has been able to rapidly scale in less than a year and raise a substantial amount of capital, allowing us to further accelerate the growth of our competitive moat.”

Co-founders Nirmal and Wiley Zhang have serious experience with Amazon, both having built multi-million dollar Amazon businesses and consulted for Amazon sellers worldwide. Additionally, Acquco’s chief strategy officer Jerel Ho, who most recently led corporate development and strategy at WeWork and was previously a career investment banker, has closed over $40 billion in M&A deals.

About Acquco
Acquco is building the largest ecommerce platform in the world, with a focus on acquiring and growing Amazon Marketplace businesses, and operating across a number of platforms including Walmart, eBay and Shopify. With proprietary technology and proven playbooks, the Company helps Amazon sellers exit their business within 30 days and continues to scale their business post-acquisition. Acquco, which has raised $160 million in funding, are proven operators with proprietary playbooks and deep expertise across the entire Amazon ecosystem. For more information about Acquco, visit www.acqu.co.

 

 

Buy now, pay later

Klarna

Swedish fintech and payments giant Klarna is donating $4.5 million worth of free payment and media services to small and medium-sized enterprises to aid them in pandemic recovery initiatives.

In honor of Small Business Month, from May 10-31, 2021, small businesses can apply to receive one free year of payment services and $40,000 worth of free media services. Klarna will select 100 small businesses from the applicant pool, focusing on those that were most impacted by the pandemic, including minority- and female-led businesses, to receive fee-free payment services and marketing exposure across Klarna’s ecosystem.

With the program, Klarna is continuing to push itself beyond its “buy now, pay later” offering that it is most known for in the U.S., with the company seeking to establish itself as an awareness driver.

By donating these services to small businesses, Klarna want to enable them to generate a new customer base, gain greater exposure and product visibility and build brand affinity through relevant content curation, all with a high level of independence and control.

Applying businesses must be integrated with one of Klarna’s affiliated partner platforms, such as Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shift4Shop or Magento.

Klarna cited a recent report by Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable in establishing the the program, noting that 22 percent of U.S. small businesses were closed in February 2021, nearing the pandemic peak of 23 percent in May 2020. Of those impacted, minority-owned businesses suffered the greatest losses, with 27 percent of minority-led SMEs reporting closures versus 18 percent of other businesses.

Additionally, 25 percent of female-led businesses reported closures, a disproportionate amount compared to other businesses, the report indiciated.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, and it’s no secret they have been hit especially hard by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said David Sykes, head of U.S., Klarna, in a statement. “With consumers shifting more of their shopping toward e-commerce, these businesses have seen higher rates of store closures, layoffs and reduced hours and wages.”

Fulfillment

M&S/Blue Yonder

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is partnering with digital supply chain and omnichannel commerce fulfillment provider Blue Yonder in an effort to reduce costs and improve stock flow by re-engineering its end-to-end supply chain.

Blue Yonder has now completed implementation of its demand and fulfillment capabilities through Luminate Planning, so M&S can quickly pivot to consumers’ rapidly changing shopping patterns in order to address demand, particularly across online channels.

With Luminate Planning, a cloud-based solutions portfolio built on Microsoft Azure, M&S hopes it can gain a more accurate view into demand by consolidating and synchronizing demand signals, as well as external variables across the retailers’ 1,000 stores. M&S can now evaluate demand scenarios and use prescriptive recommendations to make decisions such as staging the right inventory through the distribution network to minimizing stock-outs and maximizing inventory turns.

“As part of our fast-moving Never the Same Again program, we’re re-engineering our Clothing & Home supply chain, this means ensuring our market-leading demand platform remains up to date. We’ve worked collaboratively with Blue Yonder, our long-time supply chain provider, and other partners to digitally transform from on-premises to cloud-based architecture,” said Matt Horwood, chief technology officer, M&S Clothing & Home, in a statement. “The ability to access new Luminate Planning capabilities will help us increase the speed of our supply chain to be more agile, with a strong, modern, supply chain platform foundation – ultimately better serving our customer online and in-store.”

As strategic partner to M&S, Blue Yonder and Microsoft, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) played a role in executing the journey to the cloud by leading the overall program delivery and implementing data and integration patterns. TCS also supported the enhancement of Power BI reports to M&S business KPIs to enhance visibility on its business performance.

This new deployment is the latest example of Blue Yonder working in collaboration with M&S and other tech partners as part of the retailer’s transformation. Last year, M&S combined Blue Yonder’s workforce management solution and Microsoft Teams to ensure that each of its stores has the right colleague working the right shift at the right time; M&S’s workforce can see and swap shifts, review their schedule and make changes as needed, no matter where they are.

Ruby Has

Ruby Has, a full-service fulfillment company providing enterprise-level services to direct-to-consumer brands, has acquired fellow e-commerce fulfillment company Boss Logistics for an undisclosed sum.

Based in Louisville, Ky., Boss Logistics enables Ruby Has to expand its operations in the region. Ruby Has already operates its own fulfillment warehouse in Louisville, and operates five more fulfillment centers in California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Toronto.

Third-party logistics providers have become an appealing option for retailers who want to eliminate the operational burden of fulfillment themselves. The more locations a provider operates, the greater the likelihood that a center will be near the end customer. The company says it allows retailers and brands to ship faster and reduce freight costs by up to 45 percent.

This move marks the second acquisition for Ruby Has in the past twelve months, with the company acquiring EasyPost Fulfillment Services, in March 2020. The EasyPost acquisition brought Ruby Has, which traditionally operated on the U.S. coasts, into the Midwest, increased their capacity by 25 percent and further its existing operations in Canada.

In November, Ruby Has launched client and partner advisory councils designed to listen to clients closely and to fold more valuable input into their go-forward technologies and services.

PLM

AFFOA/PTC Retail

Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, Inc. (AFFOA) will implement PTC’s FlexPLM platform to support its mission to revolutionize domestic manufacturing in the U.S. FlexPLM will serve as the core of AFFOA’s program, which targets the digital transformation of traditional fibers, yarns and textiles into integrated technology systems for consumer and military use.

Across its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters, and its Pennsylvania Fabric Discovery Center at Drexel University, AFFOA’s team of engineers, material scientists, and textile designers will use FlexPLM to replace ad-hoc legacy systems and processes, and as a tool for both internal collaboration and the secure sharing of technical data with government agencies, its members and with its external vendors.

As a non-profit institute, AFFOA’s objective is to create a sustainable, scalable, high-tech ecosystem for the research, development and domestic production of innovative functional fabrics. In this role, AFFOA supports its members as they transition from working with traditional fibers and textiles to creating value-add products and services through the integration of semiconductors, “smart” yarns and other networked devices and systems. AFFOA members range from consumer product companies and startups to manufacturers and academic institutions.

The integration of semiconductors, yarns and systems is designed to give rise to new innovations in energy storage and conversion, temperature regulation, health monitoring and cosmetic advances such as color-changing garments.

The complex integration and product innovations demanded a level of precision and multi-product architecture above and beyond the scope of traditional apparel and retail PLM systems, the organization said. In particular, since AFFOA receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), its data must be standardized and transparent to a degree that inflexible databases could not support.

These were key selection criteria in AFFOA’s decision to implement PTC FlexPLM, according to the institution’s vice president of manufacturing operations, Tsachi Avrahami.

“Advanced functional fabrics exist on the cutting edge of technical innovation, and we are supporting our members in researching, creating and commercializing new and competitive categories of textile products that can see, hear, sense, and communicate—for everyone from the commercial consumer to the combat soldier,” said Avrahami in a statement. “To achieve our aims, we needed a PLM platform that could accommodate advanced fabrics, e-textiles and embedded electronics all in a single location. FlexPLM will be an essential component in our vision of bringing cutting-edge new materials and integrated fabric products to market quickly and efficiently.”

AFFOA will initially use FlexPLM across its locations and a range of different disciplines and its users will leverage the platform as a single system of record, as well as a tool for remote collaboration and external communication.

Beyond AFFOA’s own use of FlexPLM, the agreement also provides an onramp for the AFFOA member network of U.S. manufacturers to access the capabilities of FlexPLM. This adds to the already 150 apparel, footwear, fashion and retail customers that use FlexPLM, as well as the more than 1,000 brands that use the platform.

AFFOA is a non-profit, public-private partnership founded in 2016 as one of the DoD-funded Manufacturing USA Innovation Institutes. The institution has assembled a Fabric Innovation Network (FIN) made up of more than 120 member organizations including startups, universities, manufacturers, commercial industry and defense partners to bring advanced fiber technologies to market.

E-commerce

Boscov’s/Kibo

Department store operator Boscov’s is reestablishing its online experiences in partnership with omnichannel commerce platform provider Kibo. Already a user of the Kibo Order Management and Kibo Personalization products, Boscov’s has selected Kibo Ecommerce for its upcoming site re-platform.

After evaluating against other commerce vendors, Boscov’s selected Kibo for it called the platform’s “unified set of capabilities across commerce and marketing,” as well as for the company’s multi-tenant and modern design, innovative roadmap and straightforward customer service approach.

“The website is the face of Boscov’s, and we knew we needed to upgrade our homegrown technology to deliver the best customer experience possible, just as we always have in our stores,” said Jim Boscov, Chairman and CEO of Boscov’s in a statement. “After reviewing the offerings in the market, the business case for using Kibo’s e-commerce offering made sense. As customers of Kibo for several years, we knew the company was responsive and easy to work with, and their approach would allow us to replatform in a way that would work best for our business.”

Boscov’s plans to expand its use of Kibo to unify its mobile and web commerce sites, and upgrade its technology to be more intuitive, responsive and flexible in the future. The department store has not specified when the new website launch or mobile launch will take place.

Circular economy

Recurate

Recurate, a technology company that allows customers to sell their pre-owned items directly on their favorite brand’s site, has announced partnerships with sweater and knitwear seller La Ligne, women’s swimwear and ready-to-wear fashion brand Mara Hoffman, and backpack and travel bag seller Peak Design.

“As a brand, we are committed to promoting the longevity of our garments,” says Mara Hoffman, founder and creative director of her eponymous label. “By using the Recurate service, we were able to create a dedicated space on our own platform for our customers to buy and sell pre-owned Mara Hoffman garments, taking us a step closer to our overarching sustainability goals.”

The company also revealed its $3.25 million seed round led by Gradient Ventures. Follow-on investors include Rise of the Rest, part of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Funds and Third Kind Ventures.

Recurate enables brands and e-commerce stores to host integrated peer-to-peer marketplaces, allowing the brand’s customers to resell items previously purchased from the brand. Brands’ products are typically resold on third-party marketplaces in the “resale” stage, giving the brand little-to-no relationship with customers who are reselling their items, no opportunity to drive loyalty and little information about these sales.

“Brands are losing millions every year to young shoppers going elsewhere to buy and sell pre-loved goods,” said Recurate co-founder and chief operating officer Wilson Griffin in a statement. “People are buying and selling everyday on platforms like Depop, ThredUP, Poshmark, and The RealReal. Recurate gives brands a way to capture their secondhand sales resulting in more brand loyalty, revenue, and most importantly, a more sustainable shopping option.”

For the entire month of April, Recurate partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA) in honor of Earth Month.

“We’re so pleased to collaborate with Recurate for our ‘A Fashion Brand’s Journey to Circularity’ virtual speaker series,” says CFDA CEO Steven Kolb. “Recurate is a service that designers and brands must know about as they navigate their recommerce goals – they offer an important tool to becoming a more circular and sustainable brand.”

Recurate works with fashion, outdoor gear, electronics, and equipment brand companies, so that they launch a resale program in a matter of weeks, said co-founder and CEO Adam Siegel. The company manage the shipment from seller to buyer, and the seller is compensated in store credit or cash once the product is delivered.

Fit technology

My Size

A week after launching direct-to-retailer sizing recommendation capabilities, My Size is debuting yet another major sizing feature, this time with a solution that mirrors online shoppers’ bodies for a virtual, gamified try-on experience.

With the avatar solution, shoppers can now view how clothing will look on them in a much more interactive way, driving engagement and conversions.

With the My Size avatar solution, shoppers can now view how clothing will look on them in a much more interactive way, driving engagement and conversions.

MySizeID, which leverages sensors already built into customers’ smartphones, is designed to give customers the confidence to purchase clothing knowing they will get a perfect fit. Adding an avatar paired with My Size’s sizing can strengthen the shopping experience even further by providing customers with a big picture overview of exactly how the apparel they are purchasing will fit.

Additionally, the avatar is designed to allow customers to experience an engaging fitting process without providing any personal photos to obtain their size.

This combination of accurate sizing and visual comprehension means retailers can increase the likelihood of shoppers ordering the correct size, leaving potential positives including improved relationships between shopper and retailer, enhanced loyalty and a decrease in returns.

Google ads

Lightspeed/Google

Lightspeed, a provider of cloud-based, omnichannel commerce platforms, will integrate Google tools directly into its platform to help independent businesses globally as they safely reopen and expand their in-store capacity. The direct integration between Lightspeed and Google is designed to allow independent retailers to manage a number of Google tools directly in their Lightspeed commerce platform at no additional cost.

The decision comes as more consumers are interested in shopping local, yet many start their journey online, Lightspeed says. The company cites Google data indicated that searches for “local” and “business(es)” have grown by more than 80 percent year over year, including searches like “local businesses near me” and “support local businesses.” Searches for “who has” and “in stock” have grown by more than 8,000 percent year over year, including searches like “who has gym equipment in stock,” according to Google.

The global collaboration between Lightspeed and Google integrates three tools directly into the Lightspeed platform: Google Local Inventory Ads, Google Smart Shopping Campaigns and Google My Business. With Google Local Inventory Ads, retailers can reach local customers with local inventory ads from directly within the Lightspeed platform. These ads can help nearby shoppers know what they have in stock, driving more visits to their physical shop.

With Google Smart Shopping campaigns, products are eligible to show up across all of Google’s properties and reach users wherever, and whenever, they’re searching or consuming content. Lightspeed customers also can get and manage a professional Google My Business listing straight from Lightspeed’s commerce platform. Retailers can keep customers up to date with their latest information, whether it’s store hours or Covid-19 safety protocols in place.

Enabling access to these digital tools directly within the Lightspeed platform is strategically aligned with the company’s mission to simplify entrepreneurship and level the playing field for independent merchants. The integration, when combined with the Lightspeed Supplier Network, creates a seamless path for local retailers to scale their omnichannel businesses.

“Small and medium sized businesses have been hit the hardest during the pandemic, but globally we’ve seen a rallying cry to support them,” says Sabrina Geremia, vice president and country director, Google Canada. “Customers are shopping both online and in-store and expect a seamless shopping experience between both. As we look towards recovery, this integration with Lightspeed will provide a scalable solution for Lightspeed merchants of all sizes looking to reach customers in this new omnichannel reality”

Cross-border commerce

Global-e

Global-e, a platform designed to enable and accelerate global, direct-to-consumer cross-border e-commerce, has commenced its initial public offering (IPO) and plans to sell 15 million shares.

The IPO price is expected to be between $23 and $25 per share, valuing the Israel-based firm at more than $3.6 billion. Global-e has applied to list its ordinary shares on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol “GLBE.”

Global-e generated revenue of $136 million in fiscal 2020, up 107 percent year-over-year. Gross merchandise volume sold through the platform totaled $774 million in 2020, up 103 percent year-over-year.

The company is built to tackle many of the challenges encountered with international selling for its sellers, including foreign languages, currency exchange, inter-country regulatory compliance, customs and duties and local payment methods. There are over 400 merchants on the Global-E online platform, which enables purchases in over 100 currencies, and over 150 payment methods.

In addition, Global-e expects to grant the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 2.25 million ordinary shares at the IPO price, less underwriting discounts and commissions.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Jefferies are serving as lead bookrunning managers for the proposed offering.

Merchandise planning

Visulon

Visulon, a company that provides assortment planning services and applications for apparel, footwear, sports, fashion and accessories brands, has launched the FAMS (Fashion Analytics and ML Solutions) platform.

The company describes FAMS as the outcome of its ability to leverage expertise in managing large datasets, while also assisting in visual line planning, merchandising planning and financial planning for large global brands. This data along with unstructured, web scrapped data would be used by Visulon’s development team in building models to show improved business planning.

Visulon’s development rides on top of Microsoft Azure’s enterprise-grade machine learning services to build and deploy business models for apparel, fashion, and sportswear brands.

Over the years, while successfully implementing bi-directional APIs for ERP, PLM and supply chain software platforms, the company has sought to eliminate infrastructure silos and maximize data integration in its cloud architecture.