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How ecommerce companies are spending their capital to run their business

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When it comes to operating companies, ecommerce is a whole different beast compared to most tech companies. You aren’t selling a piece of software or something you can use online. Customers expect something physical in their hands at the end of the day. And your reputation doesn’t just lie in the actual product — it also depends on how it gets there.

While some mechanical needs might overlap with standard technology or life sciences companies, these unique requirements mean ecommerce companies have to take a different approach to their spending. Ecommerce companies have to plan their spending ahead of their sales. They have to figure out what kinds of advertising campaigns to run, how to set up the right shipping channels, and how to keep their storefront smoothly. And that means potentially using a different suite of tools.

We dug into Brex data to get a sense of how our ecommerce customers are using various products. We launched our ecommerce product in February this year and have since seen it grow into a vibrant customer base with a unique set of needs. While software startups might rely on paying for cloud services, advertising, and shipping top the expenses for ecommerce companies.

Ecommerce ad usage is ruled by Facebook and Google

Facebook and Google remain sure bets for ecommerce companies when it comes to advertising. Brex customer data shows that the two ad companies continue their duopoly status, a trend we’ve seen for a considerable amount of time. This isn’t entirely surprising: Google and Facebook are reliable services when it comes to advertising, with dozens (or even hundreds) of case studies to show they are useful.

Pinterest and AdRoll, two smaller platforms, still have a slice of the total advertising spend for ecommerce companies. But as we’ve seen before, these platforms are mostly a bit of an experiment compared to the sheer volume of spend going into Facebook and Google. But we can also see that there are alternative advertising tools that are starting to pick up a little bit of traction, squeezing the spend share Google has in recent months.

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Here are a few other services some of our customers use beyond those majority products: ShareASale, Amazon Marketing, Bing Ads, Yahoo Ads, Taboola, Outbrain, as well as a very long tail of smaller advertising purchases. Each ecommerce company will inevitably have different advertising needs, so it’s not surprising that one service might perform better than another for a specific company. Ecommerce companies that lend themselves to great content might find success with Taboola, while others might rely solely on Facebook ads.

Which shipping and software services do ecommerce companies use the most?

You still have to get your product into the hands of a customer once your ads have worked their magic. There are a lot of tools and services that make running an ecommerce company a little bit easier compared to even just a few years ago. But handling spending can be a bit more tricky as you have to invest in your operations ahead of your sales — and plan everything accordingly.

That means being selective for all of your operational tools and services. When it comes to shipping, FedEx is still the top option for Brex ecommerce customers. Again, it’s hard to go up against what’s considered a sure bet. In the past few months, FedEx’s overall spend share has dropped a bit as alternative services gain some traction. Flexport and Endicia were the primary contributors in that “all others” section in June and July below.

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Most spend on online services and software ends up in operations or customer service. The usual suspects that you might expect are near the top (like Shopify), but there’s a lot of variety when it comes to Brex ecommerce customers. You’ll also find usage of Slack, G Suite, MailChimp, Adobe, Hubspot, and other typical services for any company with an online operation.

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How ecommerce compares to other startups and life sciences companies

Shipping and advertising dominate spend among Brex ecommerce custemers. Brex startup customers, for the most part, spend a considerable amount of capital on advertising and marketing — but they don’t have to deal with shipping. Brex Life Sciences customers meanwhile are a whole other beast.

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Ecommerce companies can drive innovation (and force larger companies to innovate) just as much as any other startup or life sciences company. Companies like Warby Parker and Bonobos reimagined what it would be like to shop for clothes and eyewear and, in the process, dramatically improved the experience for the customer.

These companies may face the challenge of recognizing their revenue after they have done the majority of their spending, whether on advertising, shipping, or other costs. But at the end of the day, every one of these is a company, started by a founder, and run to the best of its ability to grow and thrive. 

About Brex

Brex is transforming B2B payments by creating financial products that are tailored to specific industries, like startups, ecommerce, and life sciences. In 2018 Brex launched the first corporate card and rewards program specifically designed for startups. By rebuilding the credit card tech stack from the ground up, Brex is able to reimagine every aspect of corporate cards, including underwriting, transparency and approvals, to create a radically better experience for customers. Brex has raised $215M in funding and is backed by Y Combinator Continuity, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin and more. The company’s headquarters are in San Francisco.

Brex also partners with Shippo to provide ecommerce customers 4 months of Shippo's Pro Plan for free.

We’re still early, and we welcome as much feedback as we can get. Also, we are hiring like crazy. Check out any openings we have!

Methodology

Brex examined customer spend for various services to get a better sense of the ecommerce product usage trends among Brex customers over the past several months. Share of spend is defined as the amount of money startups are spending on a product over the total spend of products in that category.

As part of its underwriting process, Brex maintains visibility into the spending of companies that use its products. Companies who asked that their data not to be shared were not used, and any company that does not wish to share its data for future aggregated analysis may request to exclude it from being shared in the aggregate.

Photo credit: Bench Accounting on Unsplash

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