Seven Businesses That Harnessed the Power of eCommerce to Launch Thriving Brands
Over the past five years, eCommerce has been growing steadily and is expected to account for 23% of the market by 2023. Almost all major brands operating today have an eCommerce component to their business model even if they started out as brick-and-mortar stores, from giants like Apple to household names like The Cheesecake Factory.
However, many brands thriving today took a different route to success. The seven businesses we will highlight in this blog post launched exclusively online and still derive most, if not all, of their revenue from their eCommerce stores. Many of them are niche brands that would not have found their customers with a traditional business model.
These businesses harnessed the incredible power of eCommerce, social media, and online community to grow and thrive.
This affordable eyewear company started in 2010 as the brainchild of four graduate students who were tired of overpriced glasses. They hit their first-year sales target just three weeks after launching the Warby Parker website.
Warby Parker continues to thrive today thanks to its unconventional online marketing, excellent customer service, and a smooth and enjoyable online shopping experience for their customers. The company uses storytelling that engages and involves their audience to develop their iconic brand identity and continue to generate sales.
Since the company was created because of the founders’ own needs as customers—the idea started when one of them lost a $700 pair of glasses he couldn’t afford to replace—the brand had a relatable story to tell from the start.
Warby Parker places an emphasis on relatability in all its marketing strategies and online content. Its team creates content that’s legitimately fun, such as a standalone April Fool’s site that was titled after a popular misspelling of the brand name. The team also makes customer service part of its online presence by responding to questions on Twitter with short, unedited YouTube videos.
The company continues to cement its status as a brand that serves the needs of everyday people with their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. By donating a pair of glasses to someone in need for each pair that they sold, the company was able to distribute over 8 million pairs of glasses by 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic made distributing glasses difficult to do without compromising the health of their partners and the community, the team decided to donate personal protective equipment to healthcare workers and communities in need for a portion of Warby Parker glasses purchased.
With colorful, Instagram-ready designs and its founder Tiffany Ju’s fun and relatable online presence, it’s no wonder that Chunks, a designer hair clip brand, would be as successful as it is. In response to the lack of the appealing, high quality hair clips that Ju wanted to see on the market, she started the company as a one-woman operation in 2019.
The joyful patterns, colors, and shapes of Chunks hair clips have become incredibly popular and endorsed by a number of celebrities. The brand’s Instagram page, which has almost 80,000 followers, and its distinctive website showcase its youthful appeal. Tiffany Ju regularly posts popular Instagram stories that answer frequently asked questions or provide insight into her design process.
Chunks also appeals to today’s more conscious consumers by highlighting its products’ environmentally friendly materials and ethical manufacturing. Rather than plastic, the hair clips are made of acetate, a durable, biodegradable plastic substitute derived from cellulose. The Chunks blog highlights the many downsides of traditional plastics as well as the pros and cons of acetate, encouraging customers to be mindful of their consumption and carbon footprint.
Additionally, the brand attempts to combat the stereotype that being made in China means a product is not ethically manufactured. The blog acknowledges the historical problems with China’s manufacturing practices, but emphasizes that Chunks carefully monitors workplace conditions at the factories that create its products.
Like Warby Parker, ModCloth was created by college students who wanted to prioritize the needs and online experience of their customers. This fun and quirky women’s vintage clothing company was started in 2002, making it among the first brands to successfully use eCommerce.
Instead of using professional models, ModCloth invites people with no modeling experience to audition and selects individuals with a range of body types. None of its models are photoshopped, creating a much more relatable image for the brand. It offers sizes ranging from XS to 4X, making it a much more inclusive option than many other fashion retailers.
Co-founder and chief creative officer Susan Gregg Koger describes ModCloth as “not just another retailer, but a social shopping community with our customer at the center of everything we do.” The stylists interact with their customers on Twitter and Instagram, giving fashion advice and responding to questions.
ModCloth also has a program called Be the Buyer that allows customers to vote on whether the company should produce a certain design and share their feedback. This program allows ModCloth designers to produce clothing they know customers will love as well as showing customers that their opinion matters to the company.
Golde offers superfood blends designed to boost daily wellness. Born in Brooklyn in 2017 from a one-bedroom apartment and launching with a single product, the brand now has thousands of supporters, over 120,000 followers on Instagram, and partnerships with companies like Target and actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand, Goop.
Co-founder Trinity Mouzon Wofford was inspired by her mother’s wellness routine, which included the use of turmeric to stimulate healthy, glowing skin. The brand’s best-sellers include its first product, the Original Turmeric Latte Blend, as well as Pure Matcha, a coffee substitute with more caffeine and fewer side-effects, and the Superwhisk, a USB-rechargeable whisk that can be used to froth superfood lattes.
As part of the social media-fueled #ShopBlack trend of 2020, Golde made more revenue in June of that year than in all of 2019. Mouzon Wofford found herself being sought out by investors and retailers who had refused her before but were now desperate to align themselves with a Black-owned beauty brand. She was forced to grow her team and scale her supply chain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most socially turbulent moments of her lifetime. Today, the business continues to grow.
Golde thrives on community-driven content marketing. Both its Instagram page and its popular blog, The Golden Hour, contain recipes, wellness tips, and inspirational content. The brand also runs #ClubGolde, which selects brand ambassadors to receive first access to new product launches, exclusive events, and cash and product credits in exchange for sharing the brand with their social media followers.
Underwater Audio started in 2011 when founder Todd Walker developed proprietary technology to allow the iPod Shuffle to be 100% waterproof. Walker had suffered a back injury from a car crash that required him to undergo physical therapy in the pool. There was no available technology to allow swimmers to enjoy music while underwater, so Walker and his son Scott dreamed up this niche company that is still thriving to this day.
The brand now includes waterproof headphones, tablets, MP3 players, and more. Its waterproof micro tablet, the Delphin, allows swimmers to enjoy music, apps, audio books, podcasts, and lap tracking in the pool. In 2017, a Kickstarter project to develop this product raised 150% of its goal of $50,000, showing how excited customers were to enjoy this new technology.
Many of the brand’s products are best sellers on Amazon, including the lower-cost waterproof MP3 player that the Walkers launched in 2015 in anticipation of the iPod Shuffle’s being discontinued by Apple.
While Todd Walker handles the engineering side of the company, his son Scott handles the marketing and online presence. The company started out with a WordPress website and a Google AdWords account. Today, the brand uses paid advertising, SEO, and social media interactions with customers and prospective customers to generate web traffic and revenue. Its Facebook page has over 35,000 likes and many happy customers.
As a niche brand that appeals almost exclusively to swimmers, Underwater Audio would not have succeeded without the benefits afforded by eCommerce, online communities, and online advertising. Because of its niche appeal, the company expects to remain independent rather than being bought by a large corporation.
This niche bra brand designed for smaller-breasted women was founded by Jaclyn Fu in 2017 as a Kickstarter project. It was fully funded within hours, ultimately surpassing its goal of $10,000 by 370 percent. It has now grown to become a body-positive lifestyle brand that has fostered a supportive, affirming online community.
The intimates industry, particularly comfortable and stylish products, saw a surge of growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Pepper saw an increased demand for its wireless style, not only for its greater comfort but also as part of an evolving fashion trend. The team met the demand by developing more limited edition colors of this popular style and new, similar styles that have received rave reviews.
Fu and her team pride themselves in listening to their customers and focusing on meeting their needs. Many people who have suffered from harmful standards and stereotypes around their body type find community online, and Pepper has been able to tap into this community and build their identity around it. Social media and organic sharing of relatable content around body positivity is a huge component of the brand’s success.
The Pepper website, which is where the brand makes the majority of its sales, is focused on finding the right fit for its customers, including fit guides and quizzes. The website also highlights a variety of natural-looking women of all ages wearing the brand’s products, cementing its body-positive image.
Dollar Shave Club is one of the most well-known personal care subscription services on the market. Customers receive a box every two months, starting with a free razor handle and continuing with replacement blades. Boxes might also include toiletries, shaving accessories, hair products, and more.
The company sells white label products sourced from other companies and rebranded as their own. This allows them to offer very affordable, uncomplicated products. Prospective club members can take a quiz that recommends products suited to their needs, hair texture, and skin.
Dollar Shave Club went viral in 2012 with a minute-and-a-half YouTube video starring its founder, Michael Dubin. The video, which now has over 27 million views, is made in an irreverent, entertaining style that appealed immensely to its audience and kick-started the company’s success.
The company continues to produce popular YouTube videos that include how-to’s as well as a podcast called Learned a Thing in the Bathroom. The podcast, which is designed to be listened to while shaving, consists of short videos that share facts that might interest the brand’s target audience.
Dollar Shave Club emphasizes its identity as a club rather than a store in its social media and content marketing. Its website is simple and highlights products tailored to each customer’s needs, as well as the benefits of joining the club, rather than a full catalog of products. This customer-first mentality has helped Dollar Shave Club continue to grow and establish itself in the crowded personal care market.