Consolidating e-commerce startup Suddenlee’s service offering into a headline is tricky. Primarily because there are pieces of other startups in the Suddenlee service but not to the point that it’s strikingly similar to any of them. If their particular take on driving offline sales through online sales works, that probably won’t be a disadvantage.
Here’s where things are recognizable: Suddenlee offers a browser add-on that works as a bookmarklet for items people want to buy, similar to websites like Kaboodle, ThisNext or Fashiolista. After that you get to the meat of the business model, and where things get different. If you’re bookmarking with the intent to purchase (as opposed to just sharing favorites), you can choose size and color options, put items from multiple sites/retailers into one shopping cart and check out on Suddenlee. They take the order and send shoppers out to buy the items in brick and mortar stores, combine items for a service fee (based on the size of the order and the number of stores) and ship all of the items overnight in a single box. The fee starts at $10 and includes shipping.
The service is regional and is only available to shoppers in the Northeast; but Suddenlee’s definition of Northeast is fairly broad and includes destinations as far south as Richmond, VA and as far west as Pittsburgh, PA, in addition to traditional Northeast cities like Boston. We’re assuming more cities/hubs will be added as Suddenlee tests the model.
While the multiple stores, one box offer is appealing (not to mention not having to wait 5-10 days for standard shipping) there are a few problems that we’re not sure if Suddenlee has figured out.
The biggest is returns and exchanges. Online return rates are notoriously high, particularly for shoes and clothing. Multiple, detailed images and reviews help, but most people aren’t sure about how an item will look until they have it on in front of a mirror. So what happens when someone returns an item that was just a little too tight, or not exactly the color they had in mind, etc.? Obviously Suddenlee will be able to refund the purchase price, but it will be difficult to create a unified return policy that covers every merchant. Some stores give customers up to 90 days to return items, while smaller boutiques can sometimes have return windows as short as 3 days, or no returns at all – for some time BCBG only allowed exchanges.
Speaking of exchanges, there are also those and item availability. If the dress you love is too small but you want to take a chance on another size, what happens if a larger size isn’t available in any stores? A good number of retailers have pushed shoppers online specifically to handle demand for options not available in stores. Not every Banana Republic store offers women’s clothing in tall sizes, but they’re consistently – and sometimes exclusively offered online. Sale merchandise often moves through various store locations as well, so what’s available online may be sold out in physical stores (and vice versa).
Finally, what about the stores that have limited or no e-commerce? It’s been rumored that a US H&M site will emerge soon, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Zara is another brand with Northeast stores that’s late to the e-commerce party. Better integration of store inventory with online inventory would certainly benefit shoppers and retailers. Nordstrom did just that and saw a sales boost as a result. Suddenlee has a good idea, and it’s definitely one that can ultimately save a shopper in time and online shipping costs.
To make it a great idea (and likely, more profitable one as well) would mean focusing on developing tools for merchants and businesses in addition to shoppers – perhaps even instead of. If Suddenlee were directly integrated with retailers’ inventory systems they could fill in some of the holes that come with not knowing exactly how many items are available in specific stores or warehouses in advance of an order. That means better planning for exchanges in their one-box service, and help for retailers to better respond to demand for certain items.
Logistics isn’t the sexiest topic in e-commerce, but it’s also one area that large and small retailers alike struggle with. GSI Commerce, the company recently acquired by eBay for $2.4 billion built the bulk of their business on handling logistics and fulfillment headaches for companies, so there’s certainly a sizable market for Suddenlee to disrupt if they can strike the right balance.