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Fair Trade at Your Door

Fair Trade at Your Door

I just published an in-depth story on the ways online retailers are trying to compete with brick and mortar supermarkets. One of the themes that emerged in talking to companies like Abe’s Market, Door to Door Organics and Vitacost is a strategy of enticing shoppers by sending them samples. Abe’s just introduced “Discover Natural,” a three-product box sent that customers can customize, along with a $5 credit that offsets the cost of the box.

Meanwhile, Vitacost just launched the “Be Box Series,” a monthly sample box program that allows customers to try products chosen by the company for a monthly fee of $13.99.

These types of ideas do two things: They bring the “treasure hunt” experience to online shoppers, and they also strengthen the bond with customers by acting as a curator, based on suggestions or past purchases.

Even brick-and-mortar supermarkets have introduced programs like this. Last fall, Wal-Mart started offering Goodies, a monthly delivery of gourmet food samples at the Wal-Mart-cheap price of $7 a month.

Getting the picture here?

The trend isn’t limited to individual companies. Causes, too, can benefit. For instance, Trade as One has just this week started its one-of-a-kind fair trade food subscription service. This quarterly program delivers boxes every three months, each containing 12 to 15 fairly traded consumables. According to the company, each delivery, curated by season, typically include staples (rice and quinoa), kitchen essentials (olive oil and spices), and even luxuries like chocolate. A body care item could also find its way into the box.

“The subscription box gives busy people an easy way to live more simply and consume ethically by getting these products delivered to their doorstep on a regular basis,” said Nathan George, Trade as One’s CEO in announcing the first day of business. “We do the hard work of sifting through the thousands of confusing claims made by producers, and finding the ones that do the most good.”

These home-delivery strategies fulfill several consumer needs: Convenience (many programs include a subscription program that bills a credit card every month), the desire to discover new things, and the stronger necessity of discovering the right things.

That’s where the relationship between the retailer and the customer becomes critical. This new word — curate — is a very popular term right now in talking about the potential of online retailing. These sample programs need to be guided with a sure hand. The right products need to get to the right people. If there’s no connection, a lot of these boxes are going to get left unopened on the doorstep.

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