Online Retail Turning a Corner

E-commerce concept image

We have a love-hate relationship with online retail companies.  My partner Evren is the founding investor at Trendyol, Turkey’s online fashion champion.  We have backed Vivense, the leading online seller of furniture that is growing rapidly with healthy metrics.  Trendyol is now one of the biggest Turkish tech success stories and Vivense has become the leader in its focus area of hard furniture.

Our experience, laced with blood, sweat, and tears, has shown us how difficult it is to build a sustainable and healthy online retail business, and we have also passed on a very large number of online retail startups.

Recently, I am sensing a change in how the world views online retail. In the recent months, we have seen some major moves in the sector:

  • Emerging Markets conglomerates are investing into retail e-commerce.
  • Amazon has made a rare market-entry driven acquisition in MENA.
  • The leading local e-tailer in India, Flipcart, has raised a massive new round is rumored to be contemplating buying its largest local competitor, Snapdeal.
  • Walmart paid $3b for Jet.com, which, at the time, was little more than a large repository of know-how and ambition.
  • Unilever acquired DSC for $1b, showing the potential in smart vertical integration in certain e-commerce niches.
  • It finally looks like Birchbox is profitable (read: perhaps sustainable), providing new hope for subscription models.
  • Trendyol is now nicely profitable, without compromising from its rapid growth.
  • Leaders like Amazon (generalist) and Zalando (fashion specialist) are trading at all-time highs.

I think these headlines are a sign that strong execution, operational excellence, and adequate funding are coming together in select pockets to show that retail e-commerce can work.

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