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Wish IPO prospectus reveals heavy risks tied to reliance on China

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E-commerce marketplace Wish filed its IPO prospectus Friday, and gave investors who may be concerned about an overreliance on China plenty of reasons to be skeptical.

Wish, founded in 2010, is an online marketplace that features a variety of discounted goods, ranging from cheap homewares and apparel to electronics and toys. The app offers a slew of products for just a few dollars as a way to target low- to middle-income consumers with more affordable options than they can find on other sites, including Amazon.

The company, valued by private investors at $11.2 billion, is able to keep prices low, in part, by sourcing most of its products from sellers in China. Wish doesn’t break down what portion of its more than 500,000 sellers hail from the region, but Marketplace Pulse previously estimated that 94% are based in China, with the remaining 6% coming from the U.S., U.K., Canada and India.

“We initially grew our platform focusing on merchants in China, the world’s largest exporter of goods for the last decade, due to these merchants’ strength in selling quality products at competitive prices,” the prospectus says.

Amazon and Walmart also have a growing share of China-based sellers, but they’re not as reliant as Wish on Chinese merchants. Wish’s prospectus spells out a number of risks tied to its concentration in China.

Marketplace revenue fell 8% in the first quarter from the prior year due to the initial outbreak of Covid-19, which caused “severe manufacturing and supply disruptions.” The business bounced back, growing 67% in the second quarter, before moderating to 33% growth in the third, in part because of continued “disruption in the global logistics network.”

Changes in postal subsidies could hurt the company in other ways going forward. Wish has long benefited from an agreement between the U.S. Postal Service and China Post, the official postal service of China, which allowed packages weighing 4.4 pounds or less to be shipped more cheaply to the U.S. than what it would cost to send them between U.S. states

In July, the Universal Postal Union, an agency of the United Nations, ended the subsidy and set higher rates on inbound mail from China. To make up for the increase, Wish’s Chinese merchants could be forced to raise the price of their products, the filing says, undermining one of the company’s key advantages.

Wish’s reliance on Chinese merchants also leaves it particularly exposed to U.S.-China trade relations, which turned overtly hostile during President Donald Trump’s tenure. If the U.S. imposes new tariffs on Chinese imports, Wish sellers could have to raise prices on their products.

The company cited recent U.S. threats to impose tariffs on $500 billion of imports from China as a specific risk.   

“Further escalation of trade tensions between the United States and its trading partners, especially China, could result in long-term changes to global trade, including retaliatory trade restrictions that restrict the international flow of products,” the prospectus says. “Any alterations to our business strategy or operations made in order to adapt to or comply with any such changes would be time-consuming and expensive, and certain of our competitors may be better suited to withstand or react to these changes.”

Wish said it’s taken steps to geographically diversify its merchant base. In the last year, the company has added more merchants from North America, Europe and Latin America. U.S. merchants have grown 268% since 2019.

The company has also been investing in its own logistics offerings and partnering with third-party carriers for cross-border shipments. Additionally, it’s expanding its array of private label products, which are items that are created or purchased wholesale by Wish and sold on its platform.

WATCH: Airbnb, DoorDash, Wish and more have all announced IPOs this week


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Apple extends fee waiver for digital classes in App Store

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Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, onJune 13, 2016.

Gabrielle Lurie | AFP | Getty Images

Apple said on Monday that companies that offer digital classes or virtual events through iPhone apps won’t have to use Apple’s App Store in-app purchases through June 2021, enabling them to charge their customers directly without Apple’s 30% commission fee.

Apple said the extension was to help businesses by giving them more time to transition in-person events to digital events during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although apps are required to offer any paid online group event experiences (one-to-few and one-to-many realtime experiences) through in-app purchase in accordance with App Store Review guideline 3.1.1, we temporarily deferred this requirement with an original deadline of December 2020,” Apple wrote on its developer blog. “To allow additional time for developing in-app purchase solutions, this deadline has been extended to June 30, 2021.”

An Apple spokesperson did not have a comment beyond Monday’s announcement.

The move is the latest olive branch from Apple to critics of the App Store, which say the iPhone giant’s control over the platform and fees are anticompetitive. Apple also announced earlier this month that it planned to reduce its commission to 15% for app developers making under $1 million on Apple’s platforms in 2021.

Apple originally waived the in-app purchase requirement for group classes and events in September, after Facebook introduced a paid events feature and tried to include copy inside its apps warning that a cut of transactions for paid events would go to Apple. But at the time, Apple only suspended its fees through December. Monday’s announcement extended it for 6 more months.

Apple requires iPhone apps to use Apple’s App Store payment processing, which takes 30% of total payments, and has been an antitrust focus of policymakers around the world. However, in-person goods, like ordering a ride through Uber or buying something from an online retailer, are not required to use App Store payments.

In September, Apple clarified that one-to-one person classes through an iPhone app could be billed directly, but any virtual classes where an instructor or group works with multiple people were required to use App Store payments.

The New York Times reported in July that some app makers, such as Airbnb and ClassPass, were switching business models to include more digital classes as in-person experiences were negatively affected by the pandemic, and Apple had asked them to use in-app purchases which entitled them to 30% of the sale.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about the company’s policies around virtual classes and events at a congressional hearing in July by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler.

“The pandemic is a tragedy and it’s hurting Americans and many people from all around the world and we would never take advantage of that,” Cook said. “I believe the cases that you’re talking about are cases where something has moved to a digital service, which technically does need to go through our commission model.”


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Saudi Arabia’s STC Pay eyes rapid Gulf expansion

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Saudi arabian flag in Asir province, Abha, Saudi Arabia.

Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us | Corbis News | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s STC Pay plans to expand its financial services offering across the Gulf region, after achieving a billion-dollar “unicorn” valuation on the back of a deal with Western Union.

“We are very proud of becoming the first unicorn in the Kingdom and the first fintech unicorn in the Middle East,” STC Pay CEO Ahmed Alenazi told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Monday. 

STC Pay reached the valuation last week after Western Union, the world’s largest money transfer firm, acquired a 15 percent stake for $200 million – giving the burgeoning payments business a value of around $1.3 billion. STC Pay is the digital payment arm of Saudi Arabia’s STC Group, the largest telco operator in the Kingdom.

“The business opportunity is bigger than money transfers,” Alenazi said. STC Pay says it has more than 4 million active users after successfully tapping into rising smartphone and internet penetration across Saudi Arabia, where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and the government is reducing dependence on cash as a way to modernize the economy. 

Western Union, which has long seen the Gulf as a lucrative market for remittances, provides money transfer services that allow STC Pay users to send money from its app to more than 200 countries around the world. 

STC Pay is now in talks with Gulf regulators to seek approval to operate in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, subject to regulatory approvals. It said other countries were also under consideration. 

“This is where we want to change the way people look at financial services,” Alenazi said. 

STC Pay seeks banking license

STC Pay was the first fintech company licensed by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. It’s now negotiating with Saudi regulators to obtain a digital banking license.  

“This will allow us to do lending and other activities,” Alenazi said. “We have a lot to do in terms of products and services,” he added, indicating that a banking license would allow the business to expand into more valuable business areas.

“We don’t want to tap in with similar products and services available in the market, we want to tap in with a unique user experience,” he said. “We will work with the central bank to get it done ASAP.”


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Amazon pushes holiday shoppers to pick up packages at stores

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An Amazon worker delivers packages amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Denver, Colorado, U.S., April 22, 2020.

Kevin Mohatt | Reuters

Amazon is pushing holiday shoppers to retrieve their own packages from brick-and-mortar retail locations and neighborhood “hubs,” as it braces for a surge in online orders.

The company said in a statement Monday that Amazon shoppers nationwide can now get their gifts delivered to one of its physical bookstores, called Amazon Books, or an Amazon 4-star location.

Amazon also highlighted its network of contactless pickup points, referred to as Amazon Hub, as an “alternative delivery location” for holiday orders. Hub locations refer to Amazon’s network of self-service kiosks and manned pickup counters, located inside or near local shops, as well as in residential apartment buildings.

Amazon said it was offering shoppers new ways to pick up their packages as a means of keeping their holiday season “spoiler free.”

“This year many customers and their families are opting to stay home so the challenge of keeping those special gifts under wraps from family, friends or loved ones is going to be greater than ever,” John Felton, vice president of Amazon’s global delivery services, said in a statement.

But it could also benefit Amazon in other ways. By pushing shoppers to have their orders sent to Hubs and brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon can cut down on the number of last-mile delivery trips that are necessary. The last-mile is an especially labor-intensive and expensive step in the delivery process.

To that end, Amazon also pointed shoppers to its “Amazon Day” delivery option, which allows them to pick a day of the week to receive all of their orders, cutting down on the number of boxes and deliveries. It reduces the number of trips Amazon has to make to a single address.

Amazon will likely need all the help it can get when it comes to deliveries this holiday season. For months, large shippers such as FedEx and UPS have been warning of a potential capacity shortfall, as the pandemic-induced surge of online shopping, coupled with the holiday peak, leaves them struggling to keep up.

Online sales this holiday season are expected to spike 33% year-over-year to a record $189 billion, according to Adobe Analytics.

Amazon is also managing tight capacity inside its warehouses after experiencing months of peak online ordering activity due to the pandemic. The company encouraged consumers to start their holiday shopping early in anticipation of the delivery crunch. Amazon kicked off its holiday deal season in late October, a month earlier than usual, following a delayed Prime Day.

Other retailers have followed suit. Walmart and Home Depot nixed one-day store events in favor of rolling out deals over several days.


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