Abe’s Market has experienced a rapid evolution since spring, when it just seemed like digital WholeFoods- not much to write about. But in less than a year, Abe’s Market blossomed into so much more. The companies supplying Abe’s Market appear to have quintupled, and its business concept has morphed from a natural foods website to a healthy lifestyle community. Its business model is designed to launch small retail social entrepreneurs (like Etsy did for crafters), but Abe’s Market adds value by facilitating supplier-customer bonding through company bios. The end result is a customer base with personal affinity for suppliers. Does a deeper personal connection create customers with a higher willingness to pay for “green, natural, eco-friendly” goods? If so, it’s a critical triumph for the retail sustainability industry, whose historical stumbling block has been retaining customers when unable to compete on price.
Abe’s Market founders Richard Demb and Jon Polin adopted strategies from social media successes before them- user reviews, profiles, and group discounts. Each product page features a prominent link to the Abe’s Market profile of the company that made it. The profile mimics an online dating format: bio, story, photo album, video, links to social media channels, and an interview featuring questions like “What inspires you?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The interviews are whimsical, and offer ‘Behind the Scenes’ information on suppliers like their favorite song, travel destination and quote. Companies use the bio space to discuss the challenges and triumphs of their entrepreneurial experiences; some are very touching. The photo album is genius; some companies feature pictures of owners in their personal lives, while others show their operation’s modest facilities- inventory and packaging spread across a couch, for instance. Abe’s Market encourages customers to fall in love with companies and their owners, as well as their products.
Abe’s Market borrowed Amazon’s rating system and Groupon’s discounting method. Products can earn up to five Abe’s Market bear logos and customers leave honest, critical reviews (Abe’s Market customers have high expectations) on the product page. Abe’s Market also employs a neat mini-Groupon tactic (pictured, for Shortbread NYC). If a customer sends an email alerting 3 friends to the products in their cart, the customer earns an instant 10% off the order, and Abe’s sends the friends 10% off coupons too. Abe’s is essentially paying its customers to do social media marketing for them, and those customers lure their friends –likely members of Abe’s target market- with social proof and the gift of a valuable coupon. It’s elegant.
In Abe’s Market’s own bio section, cofounder Polin explains that his grandfather owned a pharmacy and knew all of its customers personally. For Polin, Abe’s Market is an effort to reawaken the social, personal aspect of commerce, in the very digital environment that reduced buying decisions to “one click”. It looks like a promising start.
Amelia Timbers is a JDMBA candidate at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston seeking full time employment for 2011. Her work can be found here, here, and here. Join her on Twitter! Please feel welcome to reach out.