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Consumers who buy Toms Shoes generally do so because they know that with their purchase, they initiate a sharing program: For every pair sold, Toms donates another pair of shoes to people in need. Their choices thus reflect their desire to make their money count for something. But in many cases, finding a socially responsible seller, one that actively engages in tactics to benefit people and communities, remains a challenging task for individual shoppers.

In response to this market need, the founder of Toms, Blake Mycoskie, came up with a new idea. He would bring together sellers and vendors whose work benefited communities onto one online platform. Then shoppers could visit a single site, where they knew that each item they purchased had social, as well as consumption, benefits.

On the new Toms Marketplace, visitors can search by product line (e.g., apparel, tech, accessories), by their preferred cause (e.g., education, job creation, water), by global region, or by brand. The approximately 200 different products benefits diverse causes: Buying a backpack from Stone + Cloth funds education initiatives in East Africa, whereas the purchase of handmade wooden headphones from LSTN means that the company will help restore the hearing of a hearing-impaired person.

The Toms model is firmly buy one, give one, but the Marketplace does not require the same commitment from all its 30 or so sellers. Instead, Mycoskie reviewed each provider to ensure it “had a mission of improving people’s lives baked into its business model.” The site also highlights “Blake’s picks” and features different causes or regions at various points in time. Although the Marketplace was designed to go live in time for the 2013 holiday season, it promises to remain available for consumers much longer.

To ensure it can remain functional, Toms does not simply host the brands listed on the Marketplace. Rather, the company has already purchased all the products on the site. In that sense, it functions like a wholesaler that not only procures supply but also takes responsibility for storing, warehousing, shipping, and other logistics.

Andrew Adam Newman, “‘Buy One, Give One’ Spirit Imbues an Online Store,” Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2013; George Anderson, “Toms Offers a Different Way to Shop,” Retail Wire, November 6, 2013

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