Is The Future Brandless?

Just over a week ago, a new online retailer called Brandless opened its metaphorical doors for business. But unlike the conventional e-commerce model that we all know and love, Brandless offers each and every one of its products at the same price: $3. Its purpose, according to cofounders Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler, is “about the true democratization of goodness.”

How Brandless achieves such low pricing is by using a direct-to-consumer business model, eliminating what Brandless calls “BrandTax,” that is, the costs associated with more traditional business models whose products’ price tags naturally reflect the baked-in associated costs for marketing, advertising, distribution, and, of course, brand cachet. 

While the variety of what a retailer can sell is partly limited by price, it’s surprising what Brandless is offering for just $3 — everything from housewares (plates, knives, corkscrews, etc.) to beauty and personal care products (for example, body lotion and handsoap) to food. All food items are entirely non-GMO and all-natural, and over half are organic. The variety of goods and food products is pared down compared to, say, Amazon, but that’s what happens when everything is the same price; it also reflects Brandless’s philosophy of focusing on “just what matters.”



Since Brandless has just launched, it’s far too early to tell whether it will succeed or not, but the fact that it’s even around raises several interesting points: 

  • It says something about the status of the products Brandless sells. Ostensibly, there are loyalists for every brand on the planet, but perhaps not as much for some of the products Brandless offers. It’s hard to imagine that there’s a big loyalty following for certain cotton swabs, for example. 
  • Brandless wouldn’t exist if there weren’t already a demand for unbranded goods. Part of its value proposition is the consistent low price across all the categories, but it does say something about consumer interest in unbranded vs. branded products. 
  • Although Brandless may tout itself as being brand-free, it’s still a brand at the end of the day.
  • Also of note, at $3 per product, certain low-cost items are bound to be more expensive via Brandless than at certain retailers. This may ultimately affect the size of people’s shopping carts or repeat business at Brandless.

If down the line Brandless does well, begins to feature pricier items that build out the categories it currently offers (plus perhaps add new ones), and starts to steal market share from bigger retailers, what does that say about branded goods in general? Will people eventually shift to buying commoditized goods over branded ones, thus possibly putting the big brands out of business?

There’s a reason big brands spend millions of dollars on marketing and branding — to be a part of our shared cultural consciousness — but they should take note of what Brandless and other similar companies are capitalizing on.

2 comments about "Is The Future Brandless?".
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  1. Jeff Sawyer from GH, August 2, 2017 at 1:46 p.m.

    Was going to order a couple of products to give Brandless a try, but the only shipping option available to our area of New England cost several dollars more than the product total. (I guess the shipper is still branded!) Still, I'd give it another try with more items. Interesting concept.  

  2. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing, August 2, 2017 at 2:23 p.m.

    Interesting concept, but not many things are featureless.  I, plus lots of others, have preferences.  If it's brandless, I won't know what I'm getting -- or if I'll like it.

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