The State of Retail Tech M&A in Europe and the USA

Romain Vidal
4 min readSep 20, 2019

As VCs we care about startups being acquired. And while trying to figure out what the best homes for our best RetailTech startups would be, we noticed there was a big gap between the US and Europe in that field.

In this article we will analyze the main differences between both RetailTech ecosystems and then in the next article we will follow up on a experiment we started in 2018, where we try to see if there is a connection between performance and tech M&A activity…

-> There was the first time we looked (m&a before 2018), stay tuned !

For this study we analyzed every publicly available information about retail tech M&A (source : crunchbase, google) and mainly looked at the top30 retailers in the US and Europe. We’re a small fund and don’t have access to expensive databases, so if we forgot something somewhere please tell us and we’ll make the necessary corrections. We can’t certify that our data is exhaustive.

If you watched the video you won’t be too surprised : US Retailers buy more tech than European ones. By far... 85 US retailtech acquisitions since 2015 vs only 13 in Europe. Let’s start with the US:

Apple and Amazon are obviously leading the pack with 36 and 21 acquisitions. But Walmart did 10, Target 3 and McDonald’s which is very new at this game since they didn’t buy any tech priori to 2018 (!) did 2 just last year. Same trend for Lowe’s, Macy’s and CVS who have all decided to get in the RetailTech M&A game very recently. We’ll see how this plays out ! (of our previous group of non buyers, only Costco stays without acquisitions to date)

The graph below shows how the number of active retailers has grown in the past few years, from nearly just Apple and Amazon, to a good handful of regular buyers in the past 2/3 years

Evolution of RetailTech M&A per year

Interesting also, the fields in which those investments are made : AI gets most investments, followed by Social & Big Data. Very current trends in the global tech ecosystem.

share of retail tech m&a in the US per category since 2015

In Europe, things are a bit different. Only a few companies are active buyers of tech, Carrefour, Casino (through Cdiscount -their ecommerce arm- only) and Metro Group being the only ones who bought more than one tech company since 2015. Also, most amounts aren’t available but we know that most of these acquisitions are small caps (whereas many of the US acquisitions are 1bn$ +)

Not surprisingly with a smaller dataset, the evolution isn’t as obvious but there is an increase of active buyers in the last years here too, showing that the tech wave is -slowly- starting in Europe too.

Finally, the fields of acquisition are quite different and actually closer to what US buyers focused on a few years ago : e-commerce, foodtech, last mile delivery. The Gig Economy focus (TaskRabbit and Stootie) seems to be a European only focus. Nothing deeptech to see in Europe yet.

What can explain such a difference ?

We’ve identified 4 possible reasons :

  • US retailers are seeing the most direct competition from Tech players like Amazon and Apple. They have seen them win marketshare and have quickly understood that tech must play a crucial role in their success.
  • Tech companies more generally are playing a huge role in the US economy compared to Europe. This puts US retailers in a more direct understanding of how tech impacts society.
  • Us Tech Startups are much more funded than their European counterparts (which explains the above). Megarounds help with being visible and attracting talents and therefore help these companies get on the radar of Retailers and make them more attractive m&a targets
  • Finally there is a general cultural difference between the US and Europe : Europe has always been less risk savvy and pro entrepreneurs than the US. For big corporates this generally means the “make or buy” choice will more frequently end up in a “make” decision in Europe.

We will have to look into EU vs US actual performance to draw any conclusions, but there is a clear difference between both ecosystems when it comes to tech appetite. Here’s a short infography you can share with your boss or your co workers. Thanks for reading !

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Romain Vidal

Founder @Teampact.ventures / People First / Entrepreneur / VC / Athletes