New Economic Realities   //   December 28, 2023

Bankruptcies, VC tumult & TikTok: The Modern Retail Podcast year in review

Subscribe: Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PlaySpotify

The retail world changed a lot in the last twelve months.

Some companies launched, others went bankrupt. Several brands expanded while more than a few contracted. This week on the Modern Retail Podcast, we decided to look back at the biggest themes we observed this year.

Host Cale Guthrie Weissman is joined by senior reporters Melissa Daniels and Gabriela Barkho. The three discuss major trends they saw in 2023 and what it means for the year to come. These include the rise in retail bankruptcies, the current state of venture capital and payment trends on the horizon.

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we do have data from the past year to inform insights about the next twelve months.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

A year of bankruptcies
Daniels: “The story of the modern bankruptcy can really be told through the lens of the Bed Bath & Beyond story. That was a company that struggled, became a meme stock for a minute and then eventually filed for Chapter 11 — only to see its IP being bought [up] by competing brands who are now reinvigorating Bed Bath & Beyond and its other partner brand, Byebye Baby, under new ownership.”

A slower year for raising money
Barkho: “The only exceptions I can think of since pretty much a year ago, December 2022, have been these pretty buzzy brands — your Poppis, your Goodles of the world. They have these big celebrity backings, they’ve been able to raise those double-digit Series A and even Bs in some cases. But for the most part, the announcements have been pretty small. One thing I hear is [that] maybe some of them are just too small to even announce — like angel rounds. I won’t name the startup, but one of them just announced like a $500,000 angel round, which, relatively speaking, feels small. But I think if you’re a bootstrapped one- to two-person company, that could be what takes you to the next phase — or [helps you] to survive in the next 12 to 18 months.”

A focus on loyalty programs
Daniels: “Another thing I think is going to be big — and this is sort of payments adjacent — [is] loyalty and loyalty in payments and loyalty to the brands. They’re connecting your rewards to how you pay. [That’s] something like we’re going to give you credit for how much you buy. I even see brands [offering that] if you recycle your textiles [you] get credit to spend somewhere else, because you’re loyal to that recycling program. So there are all these different ways that we’re coming up to pay that aren’t necessarily your hard-earned cash, but a more loyalty-earned type of payment and credit.”

TikTok grows up
Barkho: “TikTok Shops is now officially a thing that launched earlier this fall — and it seems like a lot of brands are at the very least trying to figure it out. So TikTok is definitely here to stay and I think we’re probably past that Wild West [era] where brands could just go viral for free and make a bunch of sales.”