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Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

PLUS: Relentless Optimism
January 20, 2023

One thing was clear from walking the show floor at NRF’s Big Show: you can’t keep a good dog down.

The optimism was palpable by all who attended. Sure, yeah; we got inflation, we got uncertainty, we got tech layoffs (in spades!)... but somehow attendees were able to muster enthusiasm about the future.

NRF’s massive expo hall seemed unfazed by the headlines (mis)reporting the numbers from the Department of Commerce. Month-over-month reporting made for a juicy headline: “Retail sales are down 1.1%” — but the real story is that sales were up 6.0% YoY, and November 2022 ended in the positive, too, as most retailers were pulling forward demand in order to avoid delivery time and shipping issues.

A constant refrain from the Big Show’s show floor: things aren’t as bad as we had feared.

When the dust from Q4 settles we may well see that we’re relatively flat YoY after adjusting for inflation. Chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis, Jason Goldberg, did a recent round of analysis showing as much, and it’s worth your time to dig into the numbers for yourself.

Relentless optimism is our theme of 2023. Lean into it. It feels good.

— Phillip

P.S. For a whopping fifty-two-minute conversation on the happenings at NRF’s Big Show, check out this week’s podcast.

Tok Blocked. Amidst security concerns around the Chinese-owned company, TikTok is finding itself banned from Wi-Fi and networks across multiple college campuses, including the University of Texas, Texas A&M, the University of Oklahoma, Auburn University, and many government-owned devices. At the same time, these concerns are being fueled by the company’s eCommerce management structure, in which the head of eComm in the US answers directly to ByteDance in China (the app’s owner), rather than the CEO of TikTok.

Who says Open Source is Dead? Open source eCom platform, Oro, raised $13 million in funding. The LA-based platform is co-created by former Magento alums Dima Soroka, Yoav Kutner, and Jary Carter. Oro has seen modest growth globally in the ten years since its founding.

Our Take: This tracks with our thesis on open source being cyclical, and heavily correlated to down-market cycles. As we said in The Senses in May of 2022: 

“Software drives efficiency. In fact, the implementation of open-source software usually trends along with economic hardship. Software often adds scale to a business and drives down costs. This is the B2B Vibe Shift: the worse the economy gets, the more the sales hook will change: from aspirational experiences to operational efficiencies."

This new capital injection into a historically bootstrapped open source business, combined with the insight that companies like 37Signals may be counting the beans on leaving the Cloud, signals a new era of cheaper-than-SaaS alternatives. Now if only we could deal with the brain drain in eCom.

For even more perspective on our philosophy of Open Source cycles, check out our recent five-part podcast series on the topic.

More Sights & Sounds. Funding that not long ago was being poured into cryptocurrency is now being invested to AI endeavors.

The Everyman is Aspirational. Despite the unfavorable feedback to our description of the Everyman, In Florence at this winter’s Pitti Uomo, the world saw the newest direction of menswear. Classic pieces meeting streetwear in one succinct look is very “in.” Tailored herringbones and neckties were paired and layered with denims, flannels, and camo, and we’re here for it. In our annual predictions episode, co-host Brian Lange predicted the return of an early-aughts (circa 2004) aesthetic. It looks like it’s already here.

Courtesy of Wienerschnitzel

Getting the W. Wienerschnitzel is aiming to expand in the U.S. and to incentivize franchisees, the company is launching a limited-time program called Hot Dogs for Profit. If it works, more franchises will be coming soon the Midwest and Southern states.

Biggie Changes. Wendy’s is undergoing a major organizational restructure to maximize efficiency, and so far has eliminated the company roles of US president and chief commercial officer. We hope the final outcomes of this restructure end with them bringing back those yellow napkins.

Photo by Andrew Stickelman on Unsplash

Wipe that Smile Off Your Face. Amazon Smile, a program that has donated to shoppers’ charities of choice with eligible purchases, is coming to and end in February. The decision, according to Amazon, is based on the program having too many eligible charities resulting in it not being very effective. However, many smaller organizations are feeling some dismay about the choice, citing that the program made a big difference for them.

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