Greetings, Pulse Subscribers!
Welcome to your one-stop shop for everything happening in retail. Here’s the agenda:
All-in-one brand growth platform
Money and how to use it
Fewer transactions, fewer fees
All that plus great insight and advice from the team at Bain and a look at how Lululemon is having fun fighting knockoff brands. Last but not least, join us for our upcoming Forge Retail Showcase on sustainability!
E-commerce Hub Platform | Any company looking to grow its business knows there are a lot of moving parts: design, sourcing, production, fulfillment, and marketing, to name a few! Pietra is a commerce enablement startup that offers these services (and more) in a single platform. By integrating all of the necessary software and back-end infrastructure, Pietra serves as the e-commerce operating system for brands. Specifically, it offers access to a network of 1,000-plus suppliers (including private 3PL services that can save businesses up to 50% on fulfillment), access to over 2,000 online sales channels, white-glove customer service, and website development capabilities. Pietra leverages a freemium model that has already been adopted by over 100,000 users, an impressive 10% of which are paid members. Pietra recently raised a $16 million Series A led by M13, with participation from the Founders Fund.
Financing and Growth | Money makes the world go round, and knowing what to do with it is key to growing a business. That’s why startup 8fig provides more than financing; it offers businesses tools to put that money to use best. Using what it calls “AI CFO technology,” 8fig provides powerful financial tools and guidance for a variety of e-commerce use cases—like Amazon seller financing, jewelry businesses, CBD businesses, and wholesaler financing—to supplement the fast, continuous funding it offers. By combining high-level financial management with funding, 8fig has seen its client base increase by 900% and its revenue jump by 800% in 2022 alone. With over $500 million already loaned to online sellers, 8fig recently closed a $140 million Series B funding round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies, with participation from Battery Ventures and others.
Fulfillment Automation | The benefits of fulfillment automation are generally reserved for big companies with large warehouses and the money and capabilities to deploy bots. Instock is looking to change that with its robotics-as-a-service offering that’s building an automated storage and retrieval solution (ASRS) for micro-fulfillment operators. With a fully modular and elastic grid, Instock can help turn spaces as small as 1,000 square feet into automated fulfillment centers. It does this by using virtual reality to simulate the warehousing space and identify dimensions, storage density, and throughput needs. After establishing the best configuration virtually, Instock allows customers to install what it calls “the grid” on their own. The grid is a series of commercial racks that look like a grid (duh!), with inventory-holding bins that each sit on top of an autonomous robot that can move around the space—think autonomous Lego pieces that hold inventory. The solution can quickly be scaled up or down based on business needs and seasonal fluctuations. Instock recently raised a $4 million seed round led by One Way Ventures and Lux Capital, with participation from Commerce VC.
SMS Engagement Platform | We’ve heard it a million times: “Don’t call. Text.” Community is a text-based engagement platform for businesses, brands, and public figures to connect with their audiences at scale. Cofounded in 2019 by Guy Oseary, Ashton Kutcher, Matthew Peltier, and Josh Rosenheck, Community lets users create a direct, hyper-personalized texting experience that cuts through the noise we see today on social media. In addition to celebrity users like JLo and Michelle Obama, Community has acquired a wide mix of brand customers, from McDonald's to the New York Yankees. According to Community, users have seen 98% open rates within the first 5 minutes, 45% click-through rates, and 30% average response rates, showing just how powerful a connection texting can deliver. Community recently announced a $25 million funding round that included Salesforce Ventures, Backstage Capital, HubSpot, and others.
Digital Wallet | Merchants get charged every time they run a card. This means that—especially for low-cost, high-volume businesses like coffee shops—the merchant’s most loyal customers end up costing them the most in fees. Ansa is a startup looking to fix that and more. Building what it calls “wallet-as-a-service,” Ansa offers white-label digital wallet infrastructure that allows any merchant to offer an in-app payment experience to customers, thereby reducing their own processing costs. Depending on customer needs, the wallet can be customized and used to load cash-back and other customer rewards directly into the app. Ansa notes that micropayment fees can represent over 12.5% of transactions, but through this in-app payment experience that incentivizes prepayment and boosts customer loyalty, the merchant reduces transaction costs. Ansa recently raised a $5.4 million seed round led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from high-profile angels like Plaid CEO Zach Perret.
There’s an old saying, “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” and the team at Bain has taken it to heart. In this essential read, the authors look at the current state of macroeconomic turbulence and offer a plan of action for retailers worried about the possibility of a recession. By analyzing the strategies of 100 retailers in the aftermath of the 2007–08 financial crisis, the article illustrates how some companies repeatedly manage to gain competitive advantages by taking decisive action during downturns. In learning from the past, the team at Bain offers retailers a concise and, dare we say, optimistic path forward.
Learn the six ways retailers can accelerate through the downturn here.
The globalization of retail has made it easier and cheaper for businesses to get their goods made. Of course, it’s also made it easier and cheaper to get knockoff products made. And the Internet makes them even easier to find. In this essential read, Lisa Lockwood of Women’s Wear Daily looks into how Lululemon is having fun poking fun at “dupe culture” with a pop-up offering fans the opportunity to trade in their knockoff leggings for a genuine pair. Lululemon’s Align launched in 2015 as a single item, the iconic legging, and has since grown into a franchise generating $1 billion in sales annually. That kind of popularity has led to countless imitators of its famous legging, but Lululemon claims nothing comes close to the original, and it’s willing to let consumers try them on side by side to see for themselves.
Read about the Lululemon Dupe Swap here.
Sustainability & Minimizing Waste in the Value Chain
Consumers are increasingly interested in circularity and sustainability, but delivering on their heightened expectations is no easy task for retailers & brands. Join us for our next innovation showcase, where we will hear Bain Retail leaders and startup innovators discuss cutting-edge solutions that minimize waste and protect the value of food, consumer products, and the packaging they are sold in.
This webinar will spotlight two disruptors in the sector: Ryan Begin, CEO of Divert, and Rebecca Hu, Co-Founder of Glacier. Learn how these startups are driving change in retail, reducing waste, and improving sustainability. Don't miss this opportunity to gain insights into the evolving landscape and stay ahead of the curve in the ever-evolving world of retail.
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