Back in 2020, Ashwin Ramasamy, a founder at PipeCandy, asked on TechCrunch if the “e-commerce shift” the world was seeing as COVID-19 shook up the global economy would last. The answer was yes. But that doesn’t mean that the same pace of online commerce growth that the world saw during the pandemic will be maintained.
Indeed, as 2021 came to a close, data began to indicate that the e-commerce boom was slowing. The question at that juncture was whether we were seeing a reversion to growth norms from the pre-COVID era or if growth would slow even more; in the latter case, it would imply that future e-commerce activity was pulled forward, instead of the larger digital commerce pie growing thanks to long-term changes to the economy.
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New data from Pinduoduo, a huge Chinese e-commerce company, and trailing results from Alibaba and others from the fourth quarter of last year hint that the pull-forward model of recent e-commerce growth is the most likely.
For startups, it’s somewhat mixed news. Certainly, any startup selling into the e-commerce market has more TAM than ever to, well, address.
But slowing growth means that it will be harder to grow at prior levels, as outperforming the market segment enough to wow venture capitalists will become more difficult. (But certainly not impossible, as today’s nine-figure CommerceIQ round makes clear.)
Let’s parse some of the most recent data to get a handle on where we are today.
Pinduoduo’s slowing growth
In the fourth quarter of 2021, the Chinese e-commerce giant grew just 3% from its year-ago results, posted during the pandemic-accelerated Q4 2020 period. More simply: Pinduoduo barely managed to not shrink compared to its late-2020 results.
In numerical terms, Pinduoduo reported $4.3 billion in revenue. That figure in its local currency was RMB27.2 billion, under market expectations of RMB30.1 billion. Investors had expected a lot more growth than what Pinduoduo was able to deliver, but profits of more than $1 billion helped assuage the market.
Pinduoduo is not that much an outlier.