In an ever expanding world of growth and progress, America’s consumption of apparel is not going to slow down any time soon. It is arguable that if that did happen, the effect on the industry ( 2% of World GDP) would send shock waves through the greater global economy. With no slowdown in sight and the discards mounting, the question of what to do with the 10 Billion TONS of clothing that Americans must get rid of to make room for more looms not so subtly in the collective consciousness of the population.
We’ve seen startups attempt eBay type categorizing of individual products but each piece of discarded apparel requires the investment of photography, measuring, describing, color correcting, and uploading.(Failed ones include Niftythrifty, LikeTwice, Thredflip and many more!) It’s a flawed model, not only from the perspective of investing more than a garment is worth into it’s cataloging. But also flawed from the perspective of scalability. Ex. If there is a shirt that is uniquely appealing- there is only one.
So, we have this huge supply, and a nation full of hungry consumers who also want to do right by the environment- how do we connect them? It turns out if the price is low enough and the brand is trusted enough people are willing to forgo the exact specifics of an item in order to receive something that is part of a broader category.
The notion of a grab bag has been around since the early days of the Grand Bezaar of Istanbul. It has been applied as a liquidation technique by almost every retailer who has ever existed. It has also risen to prominence with the burgeoning of subscription commerce. The largest and best subscription commerce companies are able to provide fantastic excitement with the delivery of each mystery product allowing the customer to be happily surprised as well as content with the value. We’ve seen this best executed with makeup, comic books, toys and doggy merchandise. I would argue that the amount of verticals that it can also be adapted to will explode in the next decade or two. But what is also exciting about the pioneering of this industry is that there are almost as many opportunities in used categories as there are in new. Admittedly, one would not want used makeup or dog toys delivered to one’s home every month but there are plenty of reusable goods that would be very well suited for this method of retail. To evolve it one step further- imagine if mystery retail made your surprise shirt, or cowboy boots or sunglasses available not only for subscription but for single purchases as well. This would instigate more customers who were on the fence with a subscription and allow them to experience the brand without much commitment.
The implications of this new form of retail are tremendous. Not only will millions of tons of goods be saved from landfills, but billions of dollars of disposed value will be unlocked. In the way that many different iterations of Subscription commerce companies have popped up, Mystery commerce companies will be the wave of the future because of their lower overhead and inherent social good. Anything recyclable will be available in this form from baseball gloves, to toys to kitchenware, the digital world has finally cracked the code on how to offer used goods. Don’t even get me started on the technological and data advancements. (That’s for my next article.) The future is bright, and thanks to Mystery Commerce, going to be a whole lot greener.