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Merger and acquisitions report: Shift online sparks rise in ‘ecommerce unicorns’

The digital commerce sector did see a phenomenal $117 billion in disclosed transaction value, though $40 billion of this can be attributed to S&P Global and IHS Markit’s merger in November 2020, according to a new report.

Merger and acquisitions report: Shift online sparks rise in ‘ecommerce unicorns’

The Digital Commerce M&A report from Hampleton Partners shows a strong but selective M&A market in 2020, with the number of Digital Commerce deals seeing moderate growth year-on-year despite Covid-19 driving the mass digitalisation of consumer habits. The space saw 1,541 deals closed in 2020 vs. 1,442 in 2019 – representing seven per cent growth.

Median disclosed transaction value over the past 30 months came in at around $23 million.

Ralph Hübner, Sector Principal, said: “Reasons behind these interesting figures are many and varied.

“Some traditional incumbents are focusing on core business and can’t afford to budget for corporate development. Some incumbents benefited hugely from the shift to digital and were so busy scrambling to keep up with their organic growth, they didn’t have the bandwidth for inorganic growth.

“Importantly, differences between the first and second half of 2020 in terms of deal count can be attributed to Covid-19 affecting M&A timeframes. Deals that closed in early 2020 were already well underway in 2019. Autumn deals were scarcer, perhaps, because fewer M&A processes were kickstarted when the outbreak began. Additionally, many deals which had already begun in 2019 or 2020 saw their closing phases delayed.”

Fundraises and marketplaces see boom

Marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart scored their best year in over a decade. Sellers on Amazon marketplace sold $295 billion worth of products, up from $200 billion in 2019. Its gross merchandise volume (GMV) grew 42 per cent from $335 billion in 2019 to $475 billion in 2020.

Fundraises also continued apace, giving birth to many new e-commerce unicorn including Attentive, the mobile messaging platform; d-local, the payments platform for emerging markets; or Gousto, the online meal kit company.

But the fundraising landscape is now almost exclusively focused on later-stage funding: the share of Series E and beyond rounds has grown from 4 per cent in 2016 to 16 per cent in 2020, while the share of seed rounds has declined from 44 per cent in 2016 to 16 per cent in 2020.

Ralph Hübner continued: “We expect to witness ever-larger fundraises – particularly for strong growth cases that are later-stage.

“Investors are planning potential returns in three to four years’ time, so will prioritise proven digital commerce companies and services that deliver the true needs of the digital economy, bypassing newer, unproven D2C brands.”

The future of Digital Commerce M&A

Ralph Hübner added: HH“Beyond the successes of blockbuster fundraises, stellar IPOs and marketplace booms, the Digital Commerce technology M&A market is at an interesting crossroads.

“Looking forward, we expect the number of deals to increase over the next 18 months. More players than ever before need a partner or investor to support their growth and acquirers are used to ‘the new normal’ in M&A – running virtual meetings and seeing M&A processes unravel remotely.

“D2C will continue to be the dominant business model over the next two to three years, so digital commerce companies focused on consumer management, customer engagement, after-sales service, logistics, last-mile fulfilment will get more M&A attention over the next months and years.”

Hampleton Partners’ Digital Commerce M&A Report

Hampleton’s Digital Commerce M&A report analyses transactions, trends and activity across the following segments: Internet Services & Portals; Online Retail; Media, Social & Gaming, Agencies & Service Providers; and Digital Commerce Software.


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