Wall Street firms bet big on online retail aggregators during the pandemic, but now some firms are regretting their entrance into the market. Spencer Soper reports:
During the pandemic, Wall Street banks and private equity firms invested billions of dollars in startups rolling up popular brands sold on Amazon.com Inc. The bet was that these upstarts, fueled by an online sales boom, would become the next consumer product conglomerates — like Procter & Gamble or Unilever.
Then the pandemic ended, consumers returned to the stores, and Amazon’s sales growth cratered — erasing almost half of its market value. Now the reckoning has arrived for these so-called brand aggregators.
With names like Thrasio, Razor Group and Perch, the companies aren’t widely known but over the past few years have shelled out tens of millions of dollars for tea kettles, foot massagers, peppermint-based jock-itch remedies, medicine balls, magnetic eyeglass holders, air purifiers and more. To finance the buying spree, they raised $16 billion – mostly debt – from big names like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., BlackRock Inc. and Bain Capital, as well as smaller investment funds.
Rising interest rates, higher costs and cooling online demand have pushed some of these upstarts to the edge, forcing them to seek debt relief or merge with one another, according to people familiar with the situation. There are so many aggregators and investors speaking with one another it’s difficult to predict which companies will emerge intact and which will get washed out.
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