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Retail Tech: Walmart Taps Virtual Fitting Platform, PayPal Acquires Happy Returns

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

Returns

PayPal/Happy Returns

PayPal is seeking to evolve its payments platform to take on the post-purchase experience, acquiring in-person returns service Happy Returns for an undisclosed sum.

When it launched in 2015, Happy Returns sought to improve an often arduous and wasteful returns process,  enabling shoppers to return products at partner retail stores and other locations, without a box or label, and for an immediate refund or exchange.

Happy Returns’ box-free, in-person Return Bar network now includes more than 2,600 drop-off locations, in more than 1,200 U.S. metro areas. The company heavily expanded its network in October upon partnering with FedEx to bring its services to more than 2,000 locations, including 343 store-in-stores in Walmart. Brands using Happy Returns today include Avenue, Diane von Furstenberg, Dressbarn, Everlane, Revolve, Outerknown and Universal Standard.

A typical return can take less than a minute, Happy Returns says, and is approved in real time with a refund or exchange immediately initiated in most cases. The return process only requires that the shopper bring in the order’s QR code, the item to be returned, and personal identification. Items for each brand partner are aggregated and sent back every few days.

Happy Returns consolidates orders in reusable totes, made from recycled plastic, for bulk shipping to one its two “Return Hubs” in California and Pennsylvania for sorting, processing and routing to their final destinations.

In a blog post, Happy Returns co-founders David Sobie and Mark Geller said Happy Returns will use PayPal’s support to focus on “improving our platform and expanding our footprint, all with the goal of providing more customers with the most seamless, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to make and process returns.”

PayPal has invested $11 million in Happy Returns in 2019.

PayPal’s acquisition comes only after a month installment payments platform Affirm acquired a post-purchase experience company of its own—Returnly—for $300 million.

With the addition of the Happy Returns technology, PayPal plans to integrate it with its other payments, discovery and checkout products, including Honey, Offers & Deals and Venmo.

Virtual fitting

Walmart/Zeekit

Walmart is planning to acquire Zeekit, a female-founded, Israel-based dynamic virtual fitting room platform, to help customers outfit their closets.

Through Zeekit’s technology, Walmart customers will be able to virtually try on items from the retailer’s growing assortment of national brands like Free People, Champion and Levi’s Strauss, as well as a mix of exclusive brands, including private brands like Time and Tru, Terra & Sky, Wonder Nation and George, and elevated brands like Eloquii Elements, Free Assembly, Scoop and Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vergara.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been working hard to expand our apparel assortment to include quality, on-trend and accessible fashion to help customers outfit their closets no matter their personal style or budget,” Denise Incandela, executive vice president of apparel and private brands, Walmart U.S., wrote in a blog post. “But, in an increasingly online-driven category, customers not only want variety in styles, but also an inspiring and personalized digital experience that makes shopping for apparel easy, fun and social.”

The Zeekit experience would supplement Walmart’s fashion push by filling the online void in a way it hasn’t experimented with yet. When Zeekit is live on Walmart.com, customers will upload their picture or choose from a series of models that best represent their height, shape and skin tone to see themselves in any item of clothing, mimicking the experience of trying on clothes in a store. Shoppers can share their virtual outfits with friends via social channels for a second opinion.

In the blog post, Incandela described virtual try-on is a “game changer” that could solve what has historically been one of the most difficult things to replicate online: understanding fit and how an item will actually look once it is worn.

Zeekit uses real-time image processing to map a person’s image into thousands of segments. Clothing is processed in a similar manner and the equivalent points of the two are mapped into one final simulation.

Incandela says Zeekit’s technology can be used to create other fashion experiences, such as building “the world’s largest virtual closet” or mixing and matching clothing.

Zeekit’s team will join Walmart when the transaction closes. CEO Yael Vizel, chief technology officer Alon Kristal and vice president of research and development Nir Appleboim will remain in their positions.

Supply chain optimization 

Zencargo

Zencargo, a digital platform that enables freight forwarding, has raised a 30 million pound ($42 million) Series B. With the funding, the London-based company is expanding its team from approximately 150 to 350, making its move into trade finance and opening new offices in the Netherlands, Hong Kong and the U.S.

The Zencargo platform leverages shipment data to power real-time delivery estimates on a retailer’s e-commerce website. Retailers using the platform have order visibility down to the SKU level, giving them a greater opportunity to tell their customers exactly what’s due to arrive when, the company says. The digitization of the platform is geared to match shipments with real-time insights into sales and demand, and balance different kinds of freight options including sea, ground and air to ship the right items at the right time.

The platform addresses all components of transportation in the supply chain, from point of production to end-customer, including warehousing, packing, documentation and customs clearance.

Zencargo now targets revenues of 100 million pounds ($141 million) for this year and over 200 million pounds ($282 million) for 2022.

In a company blog post, founder and CEO Alex Hersham noted that one particular Zencargo customer was able to work more closely with the product design team to make packaging more space-efficient. As a result, they have helped reduce landed cost per item, and made their inbound supply chain more environmentally sustainable, Hersham said.

In the blog post, Hersham specifically pointed to the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the recent Suez Canal blockage as events that disrupted the chain, forcing the company to make adjustments to its own platform.

“When the news broke of the Ever Given blockage, our team immediately sprang into action to create a live dashboard, mapping all Zencargo shipments with vessels that were affected by the blockage,” Hersham said. “They then worked directly with affected customers to arrange mitigations and alternative plans.”

Digital+ Partners led the investment, with previous investors including HV Capital also participating. Zencargo has raised 42 million pounds ($59 million) to date.

UST/Blue Yonder

Digital transformation solutions company UST has expanded its partnership with digital supply chain and omnichannel commerce fulfillment provider Blue Yonder, so that it can now offer services for Blue Yonder’s retail planning and execution solutions to retail customers.

UST says it has enhanced its professional services capabilities by acquiring resources from Blue Yonder, allowing the company to offer more benefits for its current and future retail customers. UST is an accredited Blue Yonder partner for the implementation of existing and future retail planning solutions. UST is a worldwide global technology provider for the retail industry and counts 12 of the top 25 retailers as long-term clients.

While Blue Yonder will continue to develop its solutions, UST will leverage the partnership to introduce add-on capabilities to these solutions to meet customer needs. UST will offer Blue Yonder customers capabilities from its existing practices, including innovation labs, test automation factories, big data, AI practices, cloud technologies and more.

Live video shopping

Bambuser/Relatable

Livestream shopping technology Bambuser has acquired marketing technology company Relatable for approximately $24 million. The purchase bridges Bambuser’s Live Video Shopping capabilities with Relatable’s creative influencer marketing campaigns, which enable brands and retailers to scale high-impact livestream shopping implementations and drive business results.

The acquisition of Relatable, whose proprietary technology facilitates searching for and booking influencers for creator marketing initiatives, follows a year of major growth for Bambuser, including a recent $60 million funding round in February and the launch of U.S. and U.K. headquarters at the end of 2020. Bambuser raised more than $100 million since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bambuser’s sales rose 844 percent year-over-year in the first quarter, with monthly recurring revenue up 550 percent as it converted many pilots into long-term contracts.

Live Video Shopping, displayed via an iPhone.

Live Video Shopping, displayed via an iPhone.

On the other hand, Relatable’s technology is designed to help consumer brands market products on social platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, and identify influencers with the right target groups.

Relatable founder Martin Garbarczyk will join Bambuser’s executive team as chief revenue officer.

To date, both Relatable and Bambuser have partnered with hundreds of global brands, including shared customers like Samsung, Ted Baker and Klarna. Bambuser will implement creative and strategic services from Relatable into the existing customer experiences, enabling them to amplify campaigns before, during and after live video shopping events.

Since launching live video shopping in 2019, Bambuser has powered these experiences for brands like Moda Operandi and Farfetch. When stores began to shutter at the start of the pandemic and continued with limited capacity thereafter, the livestreaming company saw a surge in adoption by retailers including Dillard’s and Showfields in the U.S. and Åhléns and NK in Sweden.

Headless commerce

Fabric

Fabric, a API-driven e-commerce product suite, is seeking to democratize the concept of “headless commerce” in launching a partnership program. The program aims to bring together technical partners and system integrators across retail and e-commerce to provide brands with tools to build next-generation customer experiences, Fabric says.

Content management system (CMS) Amplience is Fabric’s inaugural partner. With the program, Fabric partners can integrate with its API-first, modular platform to drive complementary services and agile solutions.

Faisal Masud, CEO at Fabric, said “numerous partners are in the works.” The network is designed to help global commerce brands build out e-commerce experiences without lengthy and costly development cycles. Masud told Sourcing Journal in November that he wants to mitigate the issues of the “e-commerce tax” that many midmarket retailers pay in the form of infrastructure, hardware, software fees and licenses as they attempt to re-platform.

The Amplience platform helps digital-first brands and retailers do more with their content without needing the expertise to code on the back end. More than 350 global brands use the company’s low-code CMS, Digital Asset Management and Digital Experience Management platform to manage content.

Amplience says it supports the retail industry’s transition to microservices, API-first, cloud and headless (MACH) technologies and as such is MACH certified and an executive member of the MACH Alliance, an co-operation of technology companies formed in 2020 that advocates for an open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystem.

Marketplaces

Ankorstore

Ankorstore, an online B2B marketplace where up-and-coming brands can sell directly to independent retailers and SMBs, has raised 82 million euros ($100 million) in new funding, led by Tiger Global and Bain Capital Ventures.

The Series B funding round comes just five months since the last raise by the Paris-based startup, which was 25 million euros ($30.4 million). Despite many retailers being closed due to the pandemic, Ankorstore says its business tripled across the first four months of 2021.

The company, which has more than 5,000 curated brands across its platform, now supplies 50,000 shops across France, Spain, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and it expanded to the U.K. earlier this year.

“Brands and independent retailers understand our mission, which is to help them to propose an alternative to the massification and standardization imposed by the e-commerce giants,” Cohen said in a statement.

Ankorstore says it wants to help independent local businesses compete with the likes of Amazon, especially since many have struggled throughout numerous European lockdowns.

The marketplace has a minimum first order of 100 euros ($121), so that brands can try out new products without ordering hundreds of SKUs at once.

Existing backers in the round including Index Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Alven and Aglae also participated.

Payments 

Pine Labs

Pine Labs, an Indian startup that offers merchants payments terminals, invoicing tools and working capital, has closed a $285 million funding round to expand its offerings and further scale an online payments gateway.

The new round valued Pine Labs at $3 billion, up from approximately $2 billion after a $100 million December round last year, and comes as the company reportedly plans a 2022 initial public offering (IPO), according to Indian publication Mint.

The payments company serves over 140,000 merchants. Its payments terminal is connected to the cloud, and offer a range of additional services such as working capital, to merchants.

The company’s payments terminal has integrated with more than two dozen banks and financial and technology partners. Many competitors in India traditionally only integrate their terminals with one or a few banks, Pine Labs says.

Investment firms including Marshall Wace, Baron Capital Group, Duro Capital, Moore Strategic Ventures and Ward Ferry Management contributed to the funding round. Pine Labs’ existing investors—Temasek, Lone Pine Capital and Sunley House Capital—also participated.

Pine Labs recently launched a “buy now, pay later” platform in Malaysia and has plans to take its integrated installment solution to newer markets in Southeast Asia.

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