But the tech sector’s not having it. Platform-makers and technology providers are stepping up to help brands and their purveyors, launching new initiatives to give stores what they hope is a lifeline in these uncertain times.
Companies including Facebook, eBay, Amazon and beauty tech provider Perfect Corp., among others, have all unveiled new efforts to support merchants through the COVID-19 crisis.
Facebook recently unveiled $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for small and medium businesses near locations where it operates. The company estimates that the grants can help as many as 30,000 eligible small businesses across more than 30 countries.
The social giant also pointed out free tools and online training that can help small operators quickly pivot into online. In public comments, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg noted that some businesses are now racing to establish an online presence, and they “can set up a free web/mobile page by using a Facebook page.”
Boutiques rushing to spin up e-commerce get another helping hand in the form of eBay. The goal of the site’s new “Up & Running” accelerator program is to speed the way for brick-and-mortar shops frantically trying to transition into the web.
As a marketplace, the company’s bread and butter comes from sellers both large and small. Now eBay has pledged up to $100 million to support mom-and-pops stores across North America.
“COVID-19 is creating unprecedented challenges for main street retailers,” Jordan Sweetnam, senior vice president of eBay North America, told WWD. “EBay has helped launch and grow hundreds of thousands of small businesses, and now, we’re doing our best to make sure the brick-and-mortar stores of today are still here tomorrow.”
Through the Up & Running program, eligible businesses can get a free basic eBay store for three months. The company will also waive selling fees for them and allow them to sell up to 500 items for free. New sellers get marketing and merchandising tools, brand-building customization features and discounted shipping supplies, among other things.
The mad dash to get indie stores online comes down to a sobering scenario: While some large retailers and department stores can measure their runway in months, small operators have only days or weeks. In a 2016 study, J.P Morgan Chase revealed economic data that smaller operators have cash buffers of just 27 days. Many mom-and-pops won’t even last that long.
Elsewhere, Amazon’s lightning rod for criticism seems to be in rare form during the pandemic, thanks to worker strikes over safety issues and changing delivery policies. For its part, the e-commerce titan opened up the cashierless technology that powers its Amazon Go stores to other retailers — though it’s not entirely clear how it expects revenue-strapped stores to invest in a whole new grab-and-go system.
The tech assist also goes beyond transactional shopping.
Augmented reality developer Perfect Corp. will be offering three complimentary digital services to beauty brands through its YouCam platform. Until July 31, the company is offering free product listings of up to 100 stockkeeping units and a free YouCam for web subscription so brands can integrate AR beauty try-ons on their own sites using a self-service web plug-in.
Perfect Corp. is also providing complimentary licenses of YouCam ART, or AR Live Training, which allows brands to conduct internal remote training on using the AR tech and help keep their teams connected.
“As our physical world becomes restricted in our global fight against COVID-19, digital connections have become our lifeline,” said Alice Chang, chief executive officer and founder of Perfect Corp.
“As a beauty tech company, we recognize the value of our services in helping to serve the beauty industry and the beauty consumers during an otherwise defeated time,” she added. “Our hopes are that the three complimentary digital AR makeup services can help inspire discovery and experimentation and also alleviate the challenges faced by brands today due to COVID-19.”
The hunt for new ideas and solutions also goes beyond borders. China’s JD.com and brand retailing agency Unicorn joined forces to help Canadian brand Ports host a nine-hour live-streamed fashion show. The partners reported that sales from that day topped 10 million renminbi, or more than $1.4 million.
The show, Ports’ longest live-stream ever, presented its spring 2020 collections from across a dozen house brands, including Ports, PortsPure and Ports V.
Unlike in-person fashion shows, which work for limited audiences, the online version democratized the experience by allowing all customers to see the collections and interact with celebrities and fashion editors.
The live-stream drew 580,000 new followers to Ports’ store on JD.com, with nearly 1.3 million simultaneous viewers. It’s not clear if JD.com will start supporting brands this way across the board, but it has at least established a structure to make it work.
The response from technology makers is not surprising given how they’ve grown to rely on partnerships and a robust ecosystem for revenue. The smartphone business didn’t really take off until the universe of apps exploded, while social media has undoubtedly embraced shopping experiences as its future.
According to Pinterest, which recently debuted a Verified Merchants Program, the number of shoppable product pins grew 2.5 times since last year, and the platform has driven a total increase in traffic to retailers by 2.3 times since last year. The number of users shopping on Pinterest jumped 44 percent year over year, the company told WWD.
As the tech business has grown to depend more on retail businesses and brands, it feeds the urgency to help stores survive — which means that even more initiatives, updates and coordinated efforts could be on the way. For retailers ravaged by COVID-19, the support just can’t come too soon.
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