How much is your information worth? In an era where privacy concerns still matter, would you exchange details about your personal hygiene—or, for that matter, how many trash bags or sponges you use—if Alice.com guaranteed that you would get better prices, never run out, and never have to shop for them again? As it turns out, millions of people would. Among them are lots of mothers who trade information for free, reliable deliveries of items like diapers, and senior citizens who can stop worrying about schlepping to the supermarket for supplies in bad weather. Instead they can count on Alice.com for any of six thousand different products made by 125 manufacturers.
The president and co-founder of Alice, Mark McGuire, spent years developing the idea, only to have it debut at the height of the Great Recession. Actually, conditions worked in his favor. Customers under time pressure, who wanted to reduce their trips to the store, were drawn by the convenience. Cost sensitive shoppers discovered they could get goods delivered free by Alice at roughly the same price they would pay at a store. And when they stay out of the store they are less likely to grab impulse items. “They’re trying to do things like plan their shopping lists and limit impulse purchases or save as much money as they can by comparing one price of a brand that they typically get to all the other brands they could substitute that for,” McGuire says. “Doing that online and through Alice is great. Also, you get automatic coupons with us. There are a lot of retailers, the Walmarts and the Targets of the world, they’ve done a tremendous job and they’re incredibly skilled at getting me in the store to buy a bottle of laundry detergent and walk out with three other things that I didn’t think I needed.” However, in the new economy, “People are very much focused on their basic essentials and getting rid of those extraneous purchases,” adds McGuire. For these folks, “Alice has had perfect timing.”
People also don’t mind the convenience. Despite tight budgets, “Consumers are still looking to pamper themselves and reward themselves,” says McGuire. “Our tag line is everyone needs an Alice. It’s almost like having a maid or someone that helps out with your house and eliminates a chore. And you can do that in a way that’s not wasting money.”
For the scores of manufacturers who signed up with McGuire, Alice.com trades its customer data in exchange for best pricing, which gets passed on to the Alice community. But it also solves a problem that major companies have faced as the Internet, digital video recorders, and other technologies have given people the power to delete, bypass, and avoid traditional print and broadcast advertising. With Alice they get one-to-one relationships with customers who tell them everything they need to know about how, where, and when their products are used. Nothing could be more valuable to manufacturers who want to distribute a special offer, roll out a new product, or find a previously unmet need.
His business model, McGuire says, is like Orbitz, which serves as a central booking site for almost all of the world’s airlines. Orbitz succeeded by helping them reach customers directly instead of through travel agents who collected commissions from the carriers. “We set up Alice very much the same way,” said McGuire. “All of these big brands are getting killed by these dominant retailers and they need to find new ways to get to their end customer but they can’t do it alone. As a consumer I’m not going to go to the Nyquil store to buy my Nyquil and the laundry detergent store to get my laundry detergent and pay shipping and get all these boxes. I want to go to one place where I can get all the brands. That’s really what created that opportunity for Alice.” As Alice connects individuals in their homes with scores of companies that make and sell specific products, it functions as an “aggregator” of items that are then put in a box and delivered. This month Alice is rolling out Facebook storefronts on their e-commerce platform to over 350 CPG Manufacturers.
Alice.com is one of fifty companies interviewed for the Wall Street Journal best-seller: Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live.