Tina Sharkey has something to sell you (300 things, actually)


Brandless is an usual company. A direct-to-consumer purveyor of food, beauty, and personal care products, it says that every item it makes is non-genetically modified, kosher, fair-trade, gluten-free, often organic and, in the case of cleaning supplies, EPA “Safer Choice” certified. They are also priced at $3 across the board. The idea, says cofounder and CEO Tina Sharkey, is to “democratize better.” She believes that Brandless — which is very much a brand — is selling items to people, often with dietary restrictions, who “couldn’t shop their values” before Brandless.

That’s no small thing to Sharkey, who cares very much about Brandless’s customers, as anyone who has seen her speak publicly can attest. In fact, Sharkey, appearing at a StrictlyVC event earlier this week,  spoke about the importance of shared principles in sweeping language that elicited fervor in many of the gathered listeners — and some fatigue in others.

She talked of Brandless users who “didn’t have access before” to affordable gluten-free and organic products or “who had to drive 100 miles round trip” or who “didn’t know things existed like tree-free toilet paper, made with sugar cane and bamboo grasses.” (This last product was news to us, too.)

Sharkey — who has led a number of consumer-facing companies in her career, including cofounding iVillage and later serving as president and CEO of BabyCenter — said she sees in Brandless users “all of America,” not just those who “live in such a frickin’ bubble on the coasts.”

Elites in East and West Coast cities are “not our country” alone, she continued. “Our country is filled with extraordinary people, and we have bifurcated and sliced and diced and segmented people to such a degree that we’ve forgotten that we’re all awesome Americans, and American deserve better, no matter your politics.”

If it was hard to remember at times that she was talking about a company that sells nearly 300 household items, from maple syrup to fluoride-free toothpaste, the crowd didn’t seem to notice, nodding along in agreement.

Sharkey doesn’t reveal much publicly about revenue or user or growth numbers, though in fairness, it’s early days. She prefers talking instead about the roughly 70 percent savings that Brandless says it provides customers compared with more established brands of similar quality, whose goods are usually purchased on retail shelves. Brandless calls this mark-up a “brand tax” and has trademarked the term.

Sharkey is also quick to note what else Brandless does for its customers. For example, in addition to selling affordable products that it says are better for users, Brandless has partnered with the charitable organization Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks that’s trying to fight hunger in the United States. When customers check out, they are informed that they’ve just purchased a meal for someone, which, according to a footnote on Brandless’s website, is the equivalent of just 9 cents per order.

Sharkey is finding other ways to shape Brandless’s positive narrative, too, including Brandless Life, a content-rich initiative that’s currently in beta and designed to both keep shoppers engaged and sell them more products.

As Sharkey explained it, the company already has at its fingertips a lot of data to put to further use, including about what attracts visitors, how often they return to shop, and what drives them to either try new things or replenish items they’ve purchased in the past. Why not use it to boost sales?

By way of illustration, snacks falls into the “expandable consumption” category, Sharkey said, adding, “If I send you a huge box of snacks, you’re likely to eat them or share them at the office or soccer game.” On the other hand, she’d said, “If I send you a huge box of our peppermint mouthwash” — which Sharkey noted to laughter is “alcohol- and sulfate-free and just $3!” — a shopper “is not likely to gargle more.”

Largely, it’s such “one-and-done” products that Brandless believes it can sell more of, including by proposing new uses for them via breezy articles and videos. As it pertains to that mouthwash, said Sharkey, “Did you know you can clean your washing machine with it? Did you know you could soak paper towels with it and put it at the bottom of your garbage?” Users will soon, she suggested.

Of course, whether Brandless succeeds or fails will ultimately depend on the quality of its products and how many people it persuades to try them. For all of Sharkey’s talk about community and content and Brandless’s mindfulness about those in need, the company’s Brandless products better taste and perform better than everyone else’s on the market in a similar price band.

Roughly $50 million in funding from investors, which Brandless quietly closed before hitting the market last summer, should help get them there.

But Sharkey is a powerful force, too. Though we would have preferred learning more about the company’s inner workings — and its challenges —  Sharkey’s marketing approach, her avowed belief that sales come from “understanding people, first and foremost” and her emphasis on “connecting people around their affinities and passions,” may well be a strategy that pays.

More than an hour after wrapping up her talk, numerous attendees could still be overheard singing Sharkey’s praises. “Ugh, I just loved Tina’s talk,” one of them told us on her way out the door. “I hadn’t even heard of Brandless until tonight. I’m definitely buying something from that woman.”

Featured Image: Dani Padgett

Black Friday deals net $640M in sales so far, mobile 60{36b96a1f853ebc4400789db5a6750c1e4fd7f7ac668ceaf8c757e025080de237} of all traffic


With Thanksgiving hitting a record $2.87 billion in online sales in the U.S., Black Friday is shaping up to be an even bigger haul for online retailers. Figures from Adobe — which analyses 80 percent of online transactions to the 100 largest web retailers in the country to come up with its numbers — put total sales at $640 million as of 7 am Pacific time today, up 18.4 percent compared to a year ago.

As a point of comparison, yesterday by this time of the day, there were $360 million in sales. At half the value of today’s gross merchandise value, Black Friday is shaping up to be a strong day for e-commerce.

Collectively, e-commerce has generated $33.26 billion in sales so far in November (up 17 percent year-on-year).

Black Friday — and the subsequent pool of days that has spread around it — are significant for consumers because they get a chance to buy items at a deep discount to their normal prices. (Unless you subscribe to the school of “Hey, if you don’t buy anything, you get a 100 percent discount!”)

They are significant for online retailers because they set the pace and are a bellwether for the rest of November and December, traditionally the most important time of the year for their businesses to rack up holiday sales.

As with yesterday — and in keeping with trends that have been in place for years now — mobile is an increasingly key channel for driving traffic and sales to sites. No less than 61.1 percent of all traffic to e-commerce sites is coming from mobile devices (likely a combination of mobile web but of course also fuelled by apps). Of that, just over half of that (50.9 percent) is coming from smartphones, with the remainder from tablets.

“The big story this holiday season is in mobile shopping. Retailers know this is where the audience is now and are delivering better experiences. On both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the gap between mobile traffic and revenue is closing,” said Mickey Mericle, VP of marketing and customer insights at Adobe. “Shoppers looking for discounts are getting better at using smartphones to quickly close the deal, and we are seeing better mobile conversion this season at over ten percent growth.”

On the shopping front, mobile is also strong although less so: it’s accounting for 46.2 percent of sales, 34.4 percent from smartphones, and 11 percent for tablets. Conversion continues to improve but is still not spectacular: the percentage of people who browse and subsequently buy is now at 4.1 percent for desktop and 1.8 percent for smartphones, up 11.4 percent and 10.4 percent respectively.

Tablets, and the story of their decline in importance in shopping — especially as smartphones have gotten faster, easier to use and bigger — is an interesting trend. It’s also been going on for a while now, and if you could use its performance in e-commerce as a track for how much they are used overall, the picture is not that bright for tablets.

In terms of what is being purchased, Adobe highlights electronics like TVs and computers as two big sellers today, as are the Chromecast and Roku. Other top products it said include Apple AirPods, the Sony Playstation VR, the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X.

We will continue updating this post as we find more numbers, from Adobe and others.

Featured Image: Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images

Black Friday will be the biggest mobile shopping day ever in the U.S., forecast claims


A new report from App Annie predicts that time spent doing mobile shopping via apps will grow 45 percent in the U.S. during the week of Black Friday, compared to the same time two years ago. The firm also expects revenue generated through apps to break new records this season, and says consumers will spend over 6 million hours shopping in the top 5 digital-first apps on Black Friday alone.

App Annie’s forecast is based on data from Android devices in the U.S., as it doesn’t have visibility into iOS in the same way.

The news follows an earlier forecast claiming mobile shopping visits will top the desktop for the first time this holiday season.

According to App Annie, the 6 million-plus hours spent on Black Friday in the top five digital-first apps (e.g. apps from companies like Amazon, Wish, Etsy and Zulily that only exist online) represents a 40 percent increase over just last year.

That also means that on Black Friday – November 24, 2017 – these top five apps will account for 15 percent of the total time spent in shopping apps during the entire Black Friday week (Nov. 19-25).

Meanwhile, other top shopping apps that App Annie dubs the “bricks-and-clicks” apps – meaning those where the retailer has both an online and brick-and-mortar presence – will also see some growth, though not as strong. Top bricks-and-clicks apps include those from retailers, like Target (which has 2 apps), Walmart, Walgreens, and Kohl’s, for example.

The firm predicts the top five apps in this group will see 30 percent growth in time spent on Black Friday 2017, compared to Black Friday 2016.

Combined with the expected increases in mobile shopping revenues generated in the apps, App Annie believes Black Friday 2017 will be the biggest mobile shopping day ever in the U.S.

Black Friday may also lead to a ripple effect in mobile e-commerce around the world, the report points out.

As with the traffic increases seen on Amazon’s Prime Day, the total time spent in shopping apps outside the U.S will also increase this year. In Japan, the time spent in shopping apps on Android will be up 65 percent from 2 years ago to over 15 million hours; the U.K. will see a 45 percent increase to over 6 million hours.

This year, AliExpress may also see significant usage during Black Friday week. The app already snagged the number one spot for shopping apps across iOS and Google Play ahead of Singles’ Day (Nov. 11) in the U.K., France, and Germany.

Separately, the firm Sensor Tower noted AliExpress has just achieved a milestone here in the U.S. as well – it hit the top of the U.S. iPhone chart for the first time on November 12, 2017. (Its previous peak had been #51 back on March 23.)

App Annie had previously reported the growth in mobile shopping in general here in the U.S., noting that consumers were now spending 10 hours a year in these apps.

China’s second largest e-commerce firm just showed Alibaba has serious competition


Alibaba invented China’s biggest shopping day — 11/11 aka Single’s Day — and it dominates the headlines with record sales year-on-year, but another company just stepped out to remind us that others are busy trying to close the gap.

JD.com, the perennial challenger to Alibaba’s e-commerce empire in China, just revealed its 11/11 figures for the first time. While not as high as Alibaba’s 163.8 billion RMB ($25.3 billion) the company did process an impressive 127.1 billion RMB in GMV, which works out to around $19.14 billion.

There’s no direct comparison but the figure is a touch above Alibaba’s 2016 11/11 sales GMV of RMB 120.7 billion. The figure is also higher than the $17.6 billion that JD.com grossed for its own 6/18 sales event — which commemorates the date of its founding — although that bonanza lasts for 18 days rather than just one like Single’s Day.

JD.com was previously fairly guarded over Single’s Day data — instead choosing to talk up percentage growth — but with this announcement today it has reminded people that it is indeed a close challenger to Alibaba.

On consumer e-commerce marketshare, iResearch puts JD.com’s reach at around 25 percent, while Alibaba is said to have just over 55 percent but there’s more to it than that.

The main difference between the two is that Alibaba operate’s a marketplace approach with its e-commerce businesses, whereas JD.com opted for an Amazon-like vertical approach to sales.

There is also a disparity in size.

Alibaba sits on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of $477 billion. JD.com, meanwhile, is listed on the NASDAQ and valued at around $57 billion. Still impressive, for sure, but a small fraction of Alibaba.

Nonetheless, long-time Alibaba CEO Jack Ma noticed the potential of the rival early on.

The Information reported this week that back in 2011 Ma wanted JD.com founder Richard Liu to open a store on Alibaba’s platform to avoid the potential of direct competition. Liu rejected the offer has gone about making his company, which was then less established, Alibaba’s chief rival through a different approach to e-commerce, and by embracing technology such as drones and robots faster.

Featured Image: VCG/VCG via Getty Images/Getty Images (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)