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Jet.com celebrates its first anniversary

July 20, 2016 05:05 PM
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Online marketplace Jet.com took off a year ago Thursday, backed by $225 million in funding and a hurricane-force tailwind of hype as the next big thing in e-commerce—a potential adversary for Amazon.com Inc.

A lot has changed in a year. The $49.95 annual subscription fee Jet planned to impose when it launched is gone, jettisoned less than three months into its existence in favor of opening its marketplace to all shoppers. The number of products available on the marketplace has increased by about 20% to 12 million from 10 million.

Jet’s funding has increased, too, more than doubling to a total of $565 million across four rounds to date, according to CrunchBase.

The company crossed the $1 billion milestone in gross merchandise value in May, 10 months after its launch. “We’re definitely ahead of plan,” chief revenue officer Scott Hilton says.

To celebrate the company’s first anniversary, Jet is planning 11 days of deals starting Thursday, though a spokesman says the deals won’t be “massive Black Friday-type deals.” As Jet heads into its second year, Hilton says shoppers can expect to see some changes on the site.

“Because it’s only been our first year, we did a fairly vanilla-flavored e-commerce site,” Hilton tells Internet Retailer. “We didn’t put a lot of bells and whistles on the experience. Over the next year we’ll be diving into a more specialty experience by category, just making sure we’ve got all the right attributes and filters. In the automotive space (one of Jet’s targeted market segments), we don’t have any fitment data for people who are trying to find products for their cars. In automotive, you need fitment data,” he says, referring to the information that matches various auto parts to specific vehicles.

Jet’s changes will be watched closely. Raising more than a half billion dollars brings with it high expectations from investors and industry observers.

“They have taken so much capital that they absolutely have to get to scale, not only because of the capital they’ve raised but because of the categories they’ve focused on,” says Keith Anderson, vice president of strategy and insights at price monitoring firm Profitero.

Hilton says he’s happy with the company’s progress a year in, but others offer up mixed reviews so far.

Guru Hariharan, CEO of retail and e-commerce pricing analytics firm Boomerang Commerce, says while Jet.com’s prices started off lower than Amazon’s, scrapping the subscription model upon which revenue models were based caused a shift in pricing.  “We have yet to consistently see (Jet) beat Amazon on prices,” he says.

One reason Jet has difficulty beating the prices offered by the likes of Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, is because Amazon and other huge competitors, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 4) and Target Corp. (No. 22), have other assets that generate revenue makes it easier for them to offer lower prices online.

“If you look at Amazon, they have built a considerable amount of alternate businesses,” Hariharan says, referencing Amazon Web Services. “If you look at Wal-Mart or Target, the bricks-and-mortar retail stores are still generating a huge amount of volume. They generate huge profits that end up helping them go long on their e-commerce investments. If you look at Jet, they have to beat low prices, but what is funding that? Do they have a stores network? No. The answer is they have a balance sheet. They’ve raised a whole bunch of money from venture capitalists to invest back into retail.”

Jet’s decision to scrap the subscription model so early after the company’s launch baffles some observers.

“You look back at their year, they came out as the Costco for online shopping with the subscriptions, and less than 90 days in, they get rid of the subscription model, and now they’ve got the smart cart,” says Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, which owns FreeShipping.com. Jet’s smart cart option allows shoppers to lower the cost of certain items by buying more or opting not to be able to return a product.  “Even if they do a billion in GMV, their model is different because they’re not making subscription revenue on top of that,” he says.

Hilton says the kerfuffle over eliminating the subscription model has been overhyped, and the decision to get rid of the fee was based on so many shoppers opting for volume discounts.

“What we noticed is that consumers were behaving in a way that they understood the value proposition of building bigger baskets to pull cost out of the system,” he says. “The core value proposition of Jet [is that] consumers’ interests are aligned with retailer’s interest when consumers can build a bigger shopping cart which saves retailers money in terms of shipping costs.”

Profitero’s Anderson says, “It’s a positive sign that they’re willing to make big decisions quickly and they’re trying a lot. Things that aren’t working, they’re killing.”

Jet is increasing the number of merchants selling on the platform and growing the volume of sales realized by those merchants.

Eric Best, chief strategy officer for CommerceHub, which helps merchants sell on online marketplaces such as Jet and Amazon, says the number of CommerceHub clients selling on Jet has grown by 138% since Dec. 31. In addition, retail clients selling on Jet are generating greater sales growth than they are on Amazon, with client sales on Jet growing 21% quarter over quarter in Q2 from Q1. That is double the growth rate for its clients selling on Amazon, he says.

“The areas where we’ve seen Jet attract the most CommerceHub customers and deliver the most performance are in electronics, household and home and garden, and general merchandise, which is where (Jet) got their start,” he says. “It’s is a new platform. It’s meeting a need that brands and retailers are seeking in terms of alternative distribution in the market.”

Scot Wingo, executive chairman of ChannelAdvisor Corp., says, "Jet has been a great partner for ChannelAdvisor, giving our customers another opportunity to tap into new sources of demand. Jet created a lot of buzz in the e-commerce space early on, and we are excited to see what innovations the creative minds at Jet have in store for the next year."

Jet’s Hilton declined to provide a sales projection for 2016, nor would he provide a monthly or quarterly growth rate, saying only that the company is continuing to grow, having just recently crossed the 4 million customer threshold. The average repeat customer has six items in their cart at checkout.

Still, Jet has considerable work to do to establish a stronger foothold.

“I think the biggest challenge Jet faces is customer awareness and customer acquisition,” Anderson says. “They’ve invested immensely in ad campaigns. They’re gonna have to balance their various customer acquisition strategies, and they may have to get more aggressive in terms of driving customer acquisition.”

“It’s awareness of the brand,” says Caporaso of Clarus Commerce. “Spending a lot of money will get you that one-time shopper, but you have to make the experience phenomenal to drive repeat business.”

Jet isn’t profitable yet, but CEO Marc Lore said last July that Jet would need 14-15 million customers and $20 billion in annual revenue to turn a profit, and he didn’t expect that for about five years.

Anderson says that make sense. After all, he says, Amazon wasn’t built in a day.

“It took Amazon the better part of 15 years to really hit its dominant stride,” Anderson says. “Part of what’s happened with Jet is—given all the hype driven by not just the funds they raise but the media buzz that they helped create—everybody expects it to be an overnight success. Even e-commerce takes time to drive awareness, trial and adoption.”

 

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