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Retail Tech: Mastercard Jumps Into BNPL, Fashion Nova Taps Afterpay, Ntwrk Raises $50M

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

Buy now, pay later

Fashion Nova/Afterpay

Fashion Nova has partnered with Afterpay to offer shoppers another “buy now, pay later” option on its e-commerce site. With Afterpay, consumers can check out in four interest-free payments.

The partnership is a joint effort by the brands to make fashion more accessible to younger consumers. Fashion Nova touts a social media following of over 25 million consumers, and Afterpay says Gen Z is the fastest growing demographic on its platform.

The addition of the quick-to-market apparel and lifestyle brand comes amid a successful year-end for Afterpay, in which the company was acquired by payments giant Square for $29 billion. The BNPL provider’s North American customer base grew to nearly 20 million in 2021, with 90 percent of orders made by repeat customers.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on providing consumers easy and affordable access to the trendiest styles,” said Fashion Nova founder and CEO Richard Saghian in a statement: “The partnership with Afterpay further enables our customers to buy their favorite looks in a way that is both seamless and convenient.”

Afterpay is the second installment payments provider that Fashion Nova is offering shoppers. The e-commerce fashion brand also enables consumers to pay in four with Zip.

Fashion Nova joins Afterpay’s already wide network of nearly 100,000 global retailers, which allow customers to receive items immediately and pay over time, without revolving debt or paying interest. Afterpay Shop Directory generates an average of one million merchant referrals globally per day.

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Mastercard

Mastercard has unveiled its own BNPL platform called Mastercard Installments, which will come to market in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia in the first quarter of 2021. The program will not only enable shoppers to pay in installments in stores and online, but also let banks, lenders, wallets and other fintech companies offer a variety of flexible installment options to consumers, including a zero percent interest, pay-in-four model.

The launch comes a year after Mastercard conducted a study on the increasingly popular payment style method, finding that BNPL solutions increased average sales by 45 percent and reduce cart by 35 percent post-implementation.

The platform enables consumers to digitally access BNPL offers, either pre-approved through their lender’s mobile banking app or through instant approval during checkout. Pre-approved installments can be used directly on a merchant’s website, and can be stored in digital wallets including Click-to-Pay, to then be used online or in-store wherever Mastercard is accepted.

Instant approvals during checkout will be available through Click-to-Pay shortly after launch. The payments giant says it wants to give consumers full transparency on lender practices up-front during the approval process by providing zero-liability fraud protection and the ability to challenge unrecognized charges.

Acquiring banks can offer the platform’s capabilities to their entire merchant base with minimal integration, Mastercard says. Lenders can offer the experience to both existing and new customers, and have the choice to decide on the rate and whether to allow use of credit cards to fund installment loans.

Mastercard Installments will also provide access and support to a new suite of APIs to power each step of the BNPL journey; from installment calculation to multiple repayment options, all delivered securely and at a global scale through the Mastercard multi-rail network.

E-commerce

Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole has moved its online store to the “Commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS)” platform from Nogin, a firm that helps brands grow digital sales, with a range of services from strategy and creative to logistics and performance marketing.

With Nogin, which acquired ModCloth from Walmart earlier this year and is currently revamping the Justice and Charming Charlie e-commerce brands, the fashion footwear retailer aims to increase sales, profits and conversion rates, and execute R&D upgrades in real-time.

The global brand is leveraging Nogin’s cloud services and experts layered on top of the Intelligent Commerce Platform, allowing Kenneth Cole to scale with demand generated by a platform that has the goal of making e-commerce sites profitable within 90 days.

Nogin works with other brands such as Hurley and Bebe, and has also partnered with Lululemon, Yeezy, Honeywell and True Religion.

From a business standpoint, Nogin’s Intelligent Commerce software, people and process are designed to bring benefits often needed in today’s online retail environment, such as reduced free shipping and fulfillment costs, more efficient media spend and stronger gross margin.

Squarespace

To support its brand vision of “Everything To Sell Anything,” Squarespace has introduced a suite of new product features and improvements focused on helping its customers build and scale an e-commerce presence.

In a 2021 survey of online sellers, Squarespace found that nearly half of online sellers surveyed are selling through different distribution channels, and an additional 30 percent that aren’t currently multimodal intend to be in the next 12 months.

The website builder’s newest features are designed to help small businesses sell physical products, as well as offer digital content, classes, appointments and reservations in one platform.

The biggest new offering is the Squarespace Video Studio, an app that simplifies the production of professional-quality videos to enable businesses to more effortlessly tell their stories.

Retail Tech: Ntwrk Nabs $50M, Mastercard
Squarespace Video Studio App Squarespace

The platform’s templates pull in Squarespace product images and brand styles, and AI-powered “smart voiceovers,” as well as the user’s own recordings for narration.

Etsy sellers can now integrate to their shop products and reviews on their own independent site, so they can create their own online store while also continuing to manage their Etsy storefront.

Squarespace also now offers tools for hospitality, events and appointment-based businesses. Earlier this year, the company joined forces with hospitality management system Tock, which enables time-slotted businesses like restaurants, wineries or bars to manage their reservations, events and to-go orders from one location. To assist in the booking and management of appointments and classes, Squarespace Scheduling allows businesses to share their availability on their website, social channels and through email or text.

Additionally, users can even leverage membership subscription tools that enable them to create their own private community via Member Areas. With this subscriber areas, the users can grant customers access to private blogs, newsletters and more.

Within the Member Areas feature, educators, content creators and community leaders can monetize their expertise by selling video classes in Member Areas. These new tools can help businesses to organize, categorize and curate their video content, enabling flexible subscription models and showcasing their videos in class libraries that fit their brand.

Retail Tech: Ntwrk Nabs $50M, Mastercard
The Member Areas content monetization tools Squarespace

The Squarespace update also includes new features with its Unhold app, now enabling users to schedule their social posts weeks in advance across multiple Instagram accounts, and better optimize their “link in bio” pages with animated Bio Site templates.

On the whole, the website builder is also looking to deliver more brand consistency for its users, so that they can automatically apply brand elements like colors and logos from Squarespace websites to email campaigns, the Squarespace Video Studio and Unfold Bio Sites.

These updates were inspired by the trends of the evolving small business landscape and the flourishing creator economy.

Supply chain

Benetton Group

Italian fashion company Benetton Group, which has a network of more than 4,000 stores and operates brands including United Colors of Benetton and Sisley, is implementing an automation solution from micro-fulfillment platform and software provider Dematic.

At the end of 2022, Dematic will implement its AutoStore goods-to-person robotic picking system in Benetton Group’s logistics facilities in Villorba, Italy to optimize storage capacity and order processing.  The fashion label has sought to make its picking operations more efficient, flexible and agile by reducing required space, improving picking times and extending the life of its logistics facilities.

“We chose Dematic because we were interested in a partner with significant experience in the e-commerce sector and a solid international background,” said Valentino Soldan, head of logistics at Benetton Group. “We are convinced their AutoStore-based solution will meet our business needs perfectly, and we are confident in facing an increasingly challenging market with a structured and technologically advanced solution, capable of accompanying our development for many years to come.”

The Dematic software will control and manage the entire operation. The AutoStore system will be implemented with 60,000 bins and 53 mobile robots. The robots travel over the top of the storage units and descend into the units to access the bins and pick ordered items. They then transport the items to one of 12 pick stations where the items are grouped together for further processing in production. Benetton Group staff previously had to travel long distances to pick individual items.)

Logility

Logility, a supply chain planning provider, has partnered with digital transformation agency Visus LLC to support its analytics customers and their digitization journeys.

Allan Dow, president of Logility, said in a statement that Visus is a natural complement to the tech provider’s Digital Supply Chain Platform.

The Logility Digital Supply Chain Platform is designed to scale according to business needs, enabling organizations at all maturity levels to transform their supply chains. It leverages artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and automation to continuously sense, analyze and update activity in your digital supply chain, with the intent of enabling peak operational performance.

CRM/CDP

Optimove

Optimove, a customer relationship management (CRM) marketing platform provider, has unveiled a $75 million investment led by global growth investor Summit Partners. The financing will support continued investment in strategic hiring and M&A and expansion of the company’s CRM marketing platform.

Over the last 12 months, Optimove generated revenue growth of more than 40 percent while continuing to maintain what it called “healthy” profit margins. The company currently has 280 employees and plans to double its global headcount over the next 24 months, with hiring predominantly for its technology, customer and commercial organizations.

The company’s SaaS technology combines a customer data platform (CDP) with a multichannel marketing hub (MMH) designed to empower brands to deliver personalized marketing campaigns to connect and engage with existing customers. Leveraging AI-based campaign orchestration, Optimove is designed to help users manage large-scale CRM marketing frameworks, personalizing thousands of campaigns to hundreds of segments and reaching each end consumer with the optimal message and promotion across email, mobile and other channels.

The company also announced the addition of Summit Partners’ head of Europe, Han Sikkens, and managing director Steffan Peyer to its board of directors.

The funding comes at a time when the multichannel marketing market continues to grow. According to Gartner, this market had a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17 percent and is expected to reach $10 billion by the end of 2021.

Today, the company’s CRM marketing platform sends more than 23 billion optimized messages through email, mobile, ad platforms and other channels, to over 3 billion customers every year. Optimove serves more than 500 across e-commerce, gaming, retail, QSR, telecommunications and financial services—and integrates with technology platforms, such as Snowflake, Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, alongside execution channels, including Facebook, Google Ads, Criteo and Attentive.

Ashley Stewart/Amperity

Plus-size fashion retailer and lifestyle brand Ashley Stewart has implemented enterprise customer data platform (CDP) Amperity into its existing IT, customer service, and marketing operations. This integration supports the retailer’s current campaign strategy and is designed to build predictive models which can identify new use cases for customer data.

In unifying its database, Ashley Stewart aims to engage more deeply with new and existing customers and develop elevated customer service and brand loyalty. The brand also looks to further enhance its marketing and digital strategies, including email, social and SMS campaigns targeting customers at every stage of the marketing lifecycle.

“Ashley Stewart’s omnichannel approach to sales meant that our existing marketing operations were already present across email, social, SMS, search, direct mail and customer service,” said Liz White, chief customer officer at Ashley Stewart. “By building out our Amp360 customer database, we now have a more complete and accurate view of customer behavior across all touchpoints, improved analytics, as well as point and click activation across our marketing channels.”

Amperity’s platform is built to ingest raw customer data across various databases, using machine learning to resolve identities even when records lack unique identifiers across systems. Ideally, this results in unified and centralized customer databases from online and offline transactions, loyalty programs, email interactions and finance systems. With the data in one central hub, Amperity wants to enable its partners to efficiently deploy customer data for targeting, suppression, analytics, customer service and regulatory compliance.

Customer service

Tipsy Elves/HiOperator

Tipsy Elves, a holiday-themed apparel and costumes retailer that first came to popularity after appearing on the television show “Shark Tank” in 2013, is working with AI-powered “customer-service-as-a-service” solution HiOperator for the third consecutive holiday season.

The e-commerce retailer, celebrating its 10th anniversary, now has more than 20 clothing categories, including ugly Christmas sweaters, Hawaiian shirts and swim trunks, ski suits and Halloween costumes. When the holiday season ramps up, so does the need for assistance. In fact, Tipsy Elves typically experiences an 868 percent increase in customer service tickets from September to December.

Prior to using HiOperator, Tipsy Elves hired and trained 70 to 80 seasonal workers to support their full-time customer service representatives, which the retailer felt was a costly and time-consuming exercise. By deploying a unique combination of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, automation, and highly trained staff that offer a personal touch, HiOperator’s workflow system ensures higher quality and faster response times, alleviating the need for dozens of support staff.

“Last holiday season with Tipsy Elves, we saw an average customer satisfaction rate of 90 percent, a high percentage given the immense ticket volumes that came through,” said Liz Tsai, CEO and founder of HiOperator in a statement. “As we ramp up for this upcoming holiday season, we’re eager to hit the ground running and maintain that satisfaction rate.”

Tipsy Elves, a holiday-themed apparel and costumes retailer that first came to popularity after appearing on the television show Shark Tank in 2013, is working with AI-powered “customer-service-as-a-service” solution HiOperator for the third consecutive holiday season.

HiOperator staffs U.S.-based customer service agents and says it is competitive with offshore prices. The company worked with Tipsy Elves to adapt their brand voice through a combination of training collaboration with both companies’ teams and “augmented empathy,” where HiOperator’s software helps direct agents in the right direction of how to assist specific customer needs.

Livestreaming

Ntwrk

Livestream video commerce marketplace Ntwrk has secured $50 million in new funding led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and global luxury fashion house Kering, the owner of luxury brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga among others.

The Los Angeles-based company raised the funding as livestreaming gains popularity in the U.S., with Coresight Research indicating that the field will generate $11 billion by the end of 2021 and $25 billion by 2025.

The platform is designed for creators to sell goods to and interact with consumers in real time, all while blending entertainment and commerce, and enabling brands, artists and personalities to create original content and sell exclusive product.

Ntwrk has sought to creates a high-energy and wide-reaching experience for both buyers and sellers via daily exclusive product drops, narrative-driven content, engaging hosts, native purchasing and social distribution.

Viewers can watch and chat with other viewers and hosts in real time, as they shop for items like streetwear, footwear, collectibles and more. The company has also created its own exclusive content where it has featured hosts like fashion designer Alexander Wang, pop stars Billie Eilish and Doja Cat, hip-hop luminaries Juice WRLD, Wu-Tang Clan and DJ Khaled, as well as professional athletes Odell Beckham Jr. and Blake Griffin among many others.

Ntwrk also has launched various live events since 2020, including its flagship virtual festival Transfer, which featured 30 brands and artists, panels, interviews, DJ sets and musical performances. It also ran Beyond the Streets, a virtual art fair that attracted more than 250,000 attendees, as well as designer toy and collectibles festival Unboxed and virtual luxury design and home goods event Surface Festival.

This summer, Ntwrk also embraced the world of digital goods with the launch of Ntwrk NFT, its own curated shop for unique crypto art.

The app, which caters to a digitally native consumer market comprised of Gen Z and millennial audiences, was named an “Ad Age Hottest Brand” of 2021; one of Fast Company’s “World’s Most Innovative Companies,” a Digiday “Most Innovative Brand” and Adweek’s “Best Video Commerce Platform.”

Other participants in the new round include investment firms LionTree Partners and Tenere Capital. They join the company’s prior backers, which include Main Street Advisors, Live Nation, Foot Locker and others.

Allison Berardo, a vice president within the growth equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, will join Ntwrk’s board of directors.

Marketplace

Convictional

Convictional, a supplier enablement platform built for retailers and distributors to power drop ship, marketplace and wholesale business models in one solution, has secured $6.7 million in Series A funding, led by solo venture capitalist Lachy Groom.

The company plans to use the funds to invest primarily in research and development in its supplier enablement platform and the growth of its network of connected suppliers and retailers.

Men’s fashion retailer Harry Rosen and women’s lifestyle brand The Helm are among the brands that use Convictional’s infrastructure to trade with third-party suppliers. The platform is designed to help brands like these expand their online and in-store assortments, reduce inventory risk and onboard new suppliers faster.

Convictional’s technology and network are built to allow retailers to go to market with a wide range of new brands and products. Some of Convictional’s customers have launched new categories and curated their own digital B2C and B2B marketplaces.

“As a curated retailer, Convictional allowed us to unlock new categories, such as grooming, without the inventory costs. We have plans to use Convictional to onboard brands in other categories, including watches, fitness gear and apparel, and home,” said Ian Rosen, chief digital officer of Harry Rosen. “Their platform seamlessly facilitates the entire onboarding, integration, and transaction processes with our brand partners.”

Groom led Convictional’s 2019 seed round out of the startup accelerator Y Combinator.

Data-driven decision making

Rainbow Shops/SoundCommerce

Brooklyn-based fashion retailer Rainbow Shops has implemented decisioning technology from retail data platform provider SoundCommerce.

The brand, which sells affordable clothing, shoes and accessories for women and kids, said its e-commerce business has grown almost 900 percent in six years, achieving a 44 percent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) in that stretch.

Rainbow Shops adopted SoundCommerce to unify and activate all data across its legacy Salesforce Commerce Cloud and new Shopify e-commerce storefronts, ensuring continuity of customer experience throughout the re-platforming initiative.

The platform is built to provide consumer brands and retailers a path to deploy modern cloud data warehouses like Google Cloud Platform BigQuery and Snowflake. By orchestrating unified data to these open-standard cloud data warehouses, SoundCommerce could provide retail partners with unrestricted access to their own first-party enterprise data.

In the case of Rainbow Shops, the implementation unifies more than eight years of granular transactional order history and customer engagement data. Ideally, the deployment will help the retailer unlock insights and enable action across the brand’s marketing and operations from first click to doorstep delivery.

“We adopted SoundCommerce to solve a specific data unification problem during our e-commerce re-platforming,” said David Cost, vice president, digital and e-commerce at Rainbow Shops in a statement. “In the process, SoundCommerce became a strategic and company-wide data solution for Rainbow. We now have a cloud data warehouse in place for the long term, aligning our work with our most important success metrics and KPIs.”

SoundCommerce is designed to combine, validate and stage customer, order, shipment, product catalog, digital marketing campaign and merchandising promotion data. The platform is built to empower business users to coordinate decisions and action across marketing, fulfillment and supply chain operations, merchandising, customer service and finance.