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April 22, 2019
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Alibaba will let you find restaurants and order food with voice in a car

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Competition in the Chinese internet has for years been about who controls your mobile apps. These days, giants are increasingly turning to offline scenarios, including what’s going on behind the dashboard in your car.

On Tuesday, Alibaba announced at the annual Shanghai Auto Show that it’s developing apps for connected cars that will let drivers find restaurants, queue up and make reservations at restaurants, order food and eventually complete a plethora of other tasks using voice, motion or touch control. Third-party developers are invited to make their in-car apps, which will run on Alibaba’s operating system AliOS.

Rather than working as standalone apps, these in-car services come in the form of “mini apps,” which are smaller than regular ones in exchange for faster access and smaller file sizes, in Alibaba’s all-in-one digital wallet Alipay . Alibaba has other so-called “super apps” in its ecosystem, such as marketplace Taobao and navigation service AutoNavi, but the payments solution clearly makes more economic sense if Alibaba wants people to spend more while sitting in a four-wheeler.

There’s no timeline for when Alibaba will officially roll out in-car mini apps but it’s already planning for a launch, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Making lite apps has been a popular strategy for China’s internet giants operating super apps that host outside apps, or “mini-apps”; that way users rarely need to leave their ecosystems. These lite apps are known to be easier and cheaper to build than a native app, although developers have to make concessions like giving their hosts certain level of access to user data and obeying rules as they would with Apple’s App Store. For in-car services, Alibaba says there will be “specific review criteria for safety and control” tailored to the auto industry.

Photo source: Alibaba

Alibaba’s move is indicative of a heightened competition to control the operating system in next-gen connected cars. For those who wonder whether the ecommerce behemoth will make its own cars given it’s aggressively infiltrated the physical space, like opening its own supermarket chain Hema, the company’s solution to vehicles appears to be on the software front, at least for now.

In 2017, Alibaba rebranded its operating system with a deep focus to put AliOS into car partners. To achieve this goal, Alibaba also set up a joint venture called Banma Network with state-owned automaker SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen, which is the French car company’s China venture, that would hawk and integrate AliOS-powered solutions with car clients. As of last August, 700 thousand AliOS-powered SAIC vehicles had been sold.

Alibaba competitors Tencent and Baidu have also driven into the auto field, although through slightly different routes. Baidu began by betting on autonomous driving and built an Android-like developer platform for car manufacturers. While the futuristic plan is far from bearing significant commercial fruit, it’s gained a strong foothold in self-driving with the most mileage driven in Beijing, a pivotal hub to test autonomous cars. Tencent’s car initiatives seem more nebulous. Like Baidu, it’s testing self-driving and like Alibaba, it’s partnered with industry veterans to make cars, but it’s unclear where the advantage lies for the social media and gaming giant in the auto space.

News Source = techcrunch.com

DHL launches Africa eShop app for global retailers to sell into Africa

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DHL is launching an e-commerce app called DHL Africa eShop for global retailers to sell goods to Africa’s consumers markets.

The platform goes live today and brings more than 200 U.S. and UK retailers—from Nieman Marcus to Carters—online in 11 African markets: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

DHL Africa eShop will operate using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label service, Link Commerce. Payment methods will include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

The announcement comes as e-commerce in Africa has seen some ups and downs—with online sales startup Jumia announcing an IPO, while several Africa digital retail ventures have recently faltered.

DHL Africa eShop takes advantage of shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps near and far through its DHL Express shipping, tracking, and courier service.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, has experience collaborating with DHL and a number of big name retailers, including Macy’s and Best Buy. Backed by Helios Investment Partners, MFA was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

MallforAfrica’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for U.S. retailers that come online with the startup to sell their goods to African consumers.

DHL has been a MallforAfrica logistics partner since 2015 and in 2018, the two teamed up to launch MarketPlaceAfrica.com—an e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell their goods in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

For DHL Africa eShop, MallforAfrica’s Link Commerce service will facilitate local payments, procurement, and delivery, MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch.

“That’s what our service does. It takes care of that whole ecosystem to enable global e-commerce to exist, no matter what country you’re in,” he said.

In a statement, DHL Express CEO for Sub-Saharan Africa referred to the DHL Africa eShop app as something that “provides convenience, speed, and access to connect African consumers with exciting brands.” The DHL Africa app is also intended to fill a commercial void, according to DHL, as many U.S. and UK retailers do not ship to Africa.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

As mentioned, Africa’s e-commerce startup landscape has seen its own ups and downs. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia’s recent IPO filing on the NYSE is a first for any startup from Africa. MallforAfrica has also continued to expand into new countries, now operating in 17, with partners, such as DHL.

On the flip side, the distressed acquisition of Nigerian e-commerce hopeful Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors. And in late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down.

On a B2C level, DHL Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e., the cost of delivery) given it is connected to one of the world’s logistics masters, DHL.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services through MallforAfrica’s white label Link Commerce service.

This could put the duo on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa and adds another layer of competition with Jumia, which offers its own fulfillment services vertical in Africa.

As for the big global names, Alibaba has talked about Africa expansion, but for the moment has not entered in full.

Amazon offers limited e-commerce sales on the continent, but more notably, has started offering AWS services in Africa.

To watch is how DHL’s new Africa eShop business factors into the continent’s online-sales landscape. It could certainly serve as a new player in African e-commerce phase 2.0, now that the sector has shaken out some failures, produced an IPO, and drawn the attention of big global names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others

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ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was an early investor in Shopback, while the addition of Patel is potentially very significant for the startup. Indeed, when I previously wrote about ShopBack, I compared the startup directly to Ebates, which was bought by Rakuten for $1 billion in 2014.

Ebates brings operating experience in the cashback space,” Henry Chan, ShopBack co-founder and CEO told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lot has changed in the last year and a half, Ebates has a very strong focus on the U.S… given that we’re not competing, it makes sense to partner and to learn,” he added.

The obvious question to ask is whether this deal is a precursor to a potential acquisition.

So, is it?

“It is squarely for learning and for growth,” Chan said in response. “It makes sense for us to partner with someone with the know-how.”

ShopBack operates in seven markets in Asia Pacific — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia — with a core rewards service that gives consumers rebates for spending on areas like e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, online travel and more. It has moved offline, too, with a new service for discovering and paying for food which initially launched in Singapore.

ShopBack said it saw a 250 percent growth in sales and orders last year which translated to nearly $1 billion in sales for its merchant partners. The company previously said it handled $400 million in 2017. It added that it typically handles more than 2.5 million transactions for upwards of seven million users.

(Left to right) Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack, welcomes new board member Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten -owned Ebates [Image via ShopBack]

Chan said that, since the previous funding round, ShopBack has seen its business in emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines take off and eclipse its efforts in more developed countries like Singapore. Still, he said, the company benefits from the diversity of the region.

Markets like Singapore and Taiwan, where online spending is more established, allow ShopBack to “learn ahead of time how different industries will develop” as the internet economy matures in Southeast Asia, Chan — who started the company with fellow co-founder Joel Leong — explained.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Chan said that ShopBack’s Australia business — launched nearly one year ago — has been its “most phenomenal market in terms of growth.”

“We’re already superseding incumbents,” he said.

ShopBack claims some 300,000 registered users in Australia, where it said purchases through its platform have grown by 1,300 percent between May 2018 and March 2019. Of course, that’s growth from a tiny initial base and ShopBack didn’t provide raw figures on sales.

For its next expansion, ShopBack is looking closer to home with Vietnam its upcoming target. The country is already home to one of its three R&D centers — the other two are located in Singapore and Taiwan — and Chan said the startup is currently hiring for a general manager to head up the soon-to-launch Vietnam business.

Already, though, the company is beginning to think about reaching beyond Asia Pacific. Chan maintained that the company already has a proven playbook — particularly on the tech side — so it “can enter a Western market” if it chooses, but that isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.

“We could [expand beyond Asia Pacific] but we have a fair bit on our plate, right now,” said Chan with a laugh.

News Source = techcrunch.com

A powerful spyware app now targets iPhone owners

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Security researchers have discovered a powerful surveillance app first designed for Android devices can now target victims with iPhones.

The spy app, found by researchers at mobile security firm Lookout, said its developer abused their Apple-issued enterprise certificates to bypass the tech giant’s app store to infect unsuspecting victims.

The disguised carrier assistance app once installed can silently grab a victim’s contacts, audio recordings, photos, videos and other device information — including their real-time location data. It can be remotely triggered to listen in on people’s conversations, the researchers found. Although there was no data to show who might have been targeted, the researchers noted that the malicious app was served from fake sites purporting to be cell carriers in Italy and Turkmenistan.

Researchers linked the app to the makers of a previously discovered Android app, developed by the same Italian surveillance app maker Connexxa, known to be in use by the Italian authorities.

The Android app, dubbed Exodus, ensnared hundreds of victims — either by installing it or having it installed. Exodus had a larger feature set and expanded spying capabilities by downloading an additional exploit designed to gain root access to the device, giving the app near complete access to a device’s data, including emails, cellular data, Wi-Fi passwords and more, according to Security Without Borders.

Screenshots of the ordinary-looking iPhone app, which was silently uploading a victim’s private data and real-time location to the spyware company’s servers (Image: supplied)

Both of the apps use the same backend infrastructure, while the iOS app used several techniques — like certificate pinning — to make it difficult to analyze the network traffic, Adam Bauer, Lookout’s senior staff security intelligence engineer, told TechCrunch.

“This is one of the indicators that a professional group was responsible for the software,” he said.

Although the Android version was downloadable directly from Google’s app store, the iOS version was not widely distributed. Instead, Connexxa signed the app with an enterprise certificate issued to the developer by Apple, said Bauer, allowing the surveillance app maker to bypass Apple’s strict app store checks.

Apple says that’s a violation of its rules, which prohibits these certificates designed to be used strictly for internal apps to be pushed to consumers.

It follows a similar pattern to several app makers, as discovered by TechCrunch earlier this year, which abused their enterprise certificates to develop mobile apps that evaded the scrutiny of Apple’s app store. Every app served through an app store has to be certified by Apple or they won’t run. But several companies, like Facebook and Google, used their enterprise-only certificates to sign apps given to consumers. Apple said this violated its rules and banned the apps by revoking enterprise certificates used by Facebook and Google, knocking both of their illicit apps offline, but also every other internal app signed with the same certificate.

Facebook was unable to operate at full capacity for an entire working day until Apple issued a new certificate.

The certificate Apple issued to Connexxa (Image: supplied)

But Facebook and Google weren’t the only companies abusing their enterprise certificates. TechCrunch found dozens of porn and gambling apps — not permitted on Apple’s app store — signed with an enterprise certificate, circumventing the tech giant’s rules.

After researchers disclosed their findings, Apple revoked the app maker’s enterprise certificate, knocking every installed app offline and unable to run.

The researchers said they did not know how many Apple users were affected.

Connexxa did not respond to a request for comment. Apple did not comment.

News Source = techcrunch.com

China’s grocery delivery battle heats up with Meituan’s entry

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Fast, affordable food delivery service has been life-changing for many working Chinese, but some still prefer to whip up their own meals. These people may not have the time to pick up fresh ingredients from brick-and-mortar stores, so China’s startups and large companies are trying to make home-cooked meals more effortless for busy workers by sending vegetables and meats to apartment doors.

The fresh grocery sector in China recorded 4.93 trillion yuan ($730 billion) in total sales last year, growing steadily from 3.37 trillion yuan in 2012 according to data collected by Euromonitor and Hua Chuang Securities. Most of these transactions still happen inside wet markets and supermarkets, leaving online retail, which accounted for only 3 percent of total grocery sales in 2016, much room for growth.

Ecommerce leaders Alibaba and JD.com have already added grocery to their comprehensive online shopping malls, nestling in the market with more focused players like Tencent-backed MissFresh (每日优鲜), which has raised $1.4 billion to date. The field has just grown a little more crowded with new entrant Meituan, the Tencent-backed food delivery and hotel booking giant that raised $4.2 billion through a Hong Kong listing last year.

Screenshots of the Meituan Maicai app / Image: Meituan Maicai

The service, which comes in a new app called “Meituan Maicai” or Meituan grocery shopping that’s separate from the company’s all-in-one app, set out in Shanghai in January before it muscled into Beijing last week. The move follows Meituan’s announcement in its mid-2018 financial report to get in on grocery delivery.

Meituan’s solution to take grocery the last mile is not too different from those of its peers. Users pick from its 1,500 stock keeping units ranging from yogurt to pork loin, fill their in-app shopping carts and pay via their phones, the firm told TechCrunch. Meituan then dispatches its delivery fleets to people’s doors in as little as 30 minutes.

The instant delivery is made possible by a satellite of physical “service stations” across neighborhoods that serve warehousing, packaging and delivering purposes. Placing offline hubs alongside customers also allows data-driven internet firms to optimize warehouse stocking based on local user preferences. For instance, people from an upscale residential area probably eat and shop differently from those in other parts of the city.

Meituan’s foray into grocery shopping further intensifies its battle with Alibaba to control how Chinese people eat. Alibaba’s Hema Supermarket has been running on a similar setup that uses its neighborhood stores as warehouses and fulfillment centers to facilitate 30-minute delivery within a three-kilometer radius. For years, Meituan’s food delivery arm has been going neck-and-neck with Ele.me, which Alibaba scooped up last year. More recently, Alibaba and Meituan are racing to get restaurants to sign up for their proprietary software, which can supposedly give owners more insights into diners and beef up customer engagement.

As part of its goal to be an “everything” app, Meituan has tried out many new initiatives in the lead-up to its initial public offering but was also quick to put them on hold. The firm acquired bike-sharing service Mobike last April only to shutter its operations across Asia in less than a year for cost-saving. Meituan also paused expansion on its much-anticipated ride-hailing business.

But grocery delivery appears to be closer to Meituan’s heart, the “eating” business, to put in its own words. Meituan is tapping its existing infrastructure to get the job done, for example, by summoning its food delivery drivers to serve the grocery service during peak hours. As the company noted in its earnings report last year, the grocery segment could leverage its “massive user base and existing world’s largest intra-city on-demand delivery network.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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