Flotsam General Store: “Our Aesthetic Will Punch You in the Face”
If you, like me, are interested in things, Flotsam General Store (a new webshop from comedians Eugene Mirman and H. Jon Benjamin) looks promising: things, designed/chosen by them, shipped to you in a sack. It’s a retail concept Mirman and Benjamin have been considering for 20 years. Said Mirman: “People will often say to us, ‘If you weren’t doing comedy or acting, what would you do?’ And I always say ‘I’d be an entrepreneur of mysterious bags.’”
If you’re skeptical of the site, which promises “a post-structural online shopping experience,” you shouldn’t be. “It is definitely real, and the products are real, and the bag is real, and everyone who orders one will get one.”
What You’ll Get
Regarding what you’ll get in your sack: It’s not easy to pin Mirman and Benjamin down at this stage. They know that the initial customers will likely be fans of their comedy work, but they want their designs to stand on their own. “We’re entering the design world, naked as a baby,” said Benjamin. “It’s not going to be, like, a Bob’s Burgers mustache.” According to Mirman, it could be made of forged steel, but it’s not a Toyota Corolla. They won’t rule anything out, although there are no wood projects currently in the works. Some of the items will be wearable. Probably.
The small mystery sack ($40) will contain approximately three items. The larger sacks, currently delayed due to manufacturing lead times, will have more. Said Mirman: “The things that will come in the bag will be somewhere between useful and interesting. People are like ‘Oh, I hope it’s a bag of sand.’ No you don’t, and neither do we want to send you sand.” What will the items be useful for? “Take it to a bar and start a party. Or a fight!” According to Benjamin, they will be “products that will leave a legacy. Something to be proud of for time immemorial.”
Once the sacks start to ship (the site launched Monday), there will be no keeping the mystery products under wraps, and the curators know that. “We aren’t sending a nondisclosure agreement as one of the three items,” said Mirman. But the bag contents will change—“like flotsam, the word”—so what one guy Instagrams won’t necessarily reflect what you’ll get if you order. Once the stuff is out there, Flotsam may offer customer favorites for sale on an individual basis, but they plan on continuing the sack sale model: “Mystery bags forever.”
The Future of Flotsam
If all goes well,  Flotsam is considering launching brick and mortar stores, following a traditional path: first New York, then Tokyo, then probably Massachusetts. It’s Benjamin’s goal for Flotsam to be as big as Starbucks. Eventually “in their coffee.” For the skeptical consumer, why trust two actors with $40 to deliver on their promise of good stuff? “$40 is not a big consumer risk,” said Mirman. Added Benjamin, “Look at Maurice McDonald, who started McDonald’s. He had $40, and look what happened.” Plus, shipping is free.
http://www.flotsamgeneralstore.com/
-Pete

Flotsam General Store: “Our Aesthetic Will Punch You in the Face”

If you, like me, are interested in things, Flotsam General Store (a new webshop from comedians Eugene Mirman and H. Jon Benjamin) looks promising: things, designed/chosen by them, shipped to you in a sack. It’s a retail concept Mirman and Benjamin have been considering for 20 years. Said Mirman: “People will often say to us, ‘If you weren’t doing comedy or acting, what would you do?’ And I always say ‘I’d be an entrepreneur of mysterious bags.’”

If you’re skeptical of the site, which promises “a post-structural online shopping experience,” you shouldn’t be. “It is definitely real, and the products are real, and the bag is real, and everyone who orders one will get one.”

What You’ll Get

Regarding what you’ll get in your sack: It’s not easy to pin Mirman and Benjamin down at this stage. They know that the initial customers will likely be fans of their comedy work, but they want their designs to stand on their own. “We’re entering the design world, naked as a baby,” said Benjamin. “It’s not going to be, like, a Bob’s Burgers mustache.” According to Mirman, it could be made of forged steel, but it’s not a Toyota Corolla. They won’t rule anything out, although there are no wood projects currently in the works. Some of the items will be wearable. Probably.

The small mystery sack ($40) will contain approximately three items. The larger sacks, currently delayed due to manufacturing lead times, will have more. Said Mirman: “The things that will come in the bag will be somewhere between useful and interesting. People are like ‘Oh, I hope it’s a bag of sand.’ No you don’t, and neither do we want to send you sand.” What will the items be useful for? “Take it to a bar and start a party. Or a fight!” According to Benjamin, they will be “products that will leave a legacy. Something to be proud of for time immemorial.”

Once the sacks start to ship (the site launched Monday), there will be no keeping the mystery products under wraps, and the curators know that. “We aren’t sending a nondisclosure agreement as one of the three items,” said Mirman. But the bag contents will change—“like flotsam, the word”—so what one guy Instagrams won’t necessarily reflect what you’ll get if you order. Once the stuff is out there, Flotsam may offer customer favorites for sale on an individual basis, but they plan on continuing the sack sale model: “Mystery bags forever.”

The Future of Flotsam

If all goes well,  Flotsam is considering launching brick and mortar stores, following a traditional path: first New York, then Tokyo, then probably Massachusetts. It’s Benjamin’s goal for Flotsam to be as big as Starbucks. Eventually “in their coffee.” For the skeptical consumer, why trust two actors with $40 to deliver on their promise of good stuff? “$40 is not a big consumer risk,” said Mirman. Added Benjamin, “Look at Maurice McDonald, who started McDonald’s. He had $40, and look what happened.” Plus, shipping is free.

http://www.flotsamgeneralstore.com/

-Pete

What the Shift to Online Shopping Could Mean

US News & World Report recently put together some data showing something we’ve already long known: people are shopping less at department stores. The first graph above charts department store sales. That’s been steadily declining since 2001. The second graph shows what could be the cause: consumers going online to purchase things they’d otherwise buy in a store. The red line you see charts nonstore sales (which includes internet retailers). The blue line charts department store sales. In the last year, nonstore sales rose 6.5 percent, while department store sales fell by about the same amount.

The one blip in this is clothing sales, which grew slightly by 1.2 percent in the last year, suggesting that people are still going to department stores to try things on. I imagine much of this is because of womenswear, which is harder to size right online. But this is just a hunch. In either case, companies such as True Fit and PhiSix are developing technologies for “virtual fitting rooms,” which might make real fitting rooms less important in ten years. 

Some things not discussed in the post are the implications of this shift. For example, the New York Times had an interesting article two years ago about how online shopping has made customers more sensitive to the pushiness of sales associates. An excerpt:

Self-service has long infiltrated the consumer experience, most recently with self-checkout at grocery stores. But the biggest factor affecting attitudes toward salespeople may be the amount of time people spend shopping online, which tends to be a solitary experience. In 2011, online shopping on Cyber Monday was up 22 percent over the previous year, according to comScore, which tracks Internet traffic.

“The element of control, by contrast to the salesperson service experience, is attractive,” said Ravi Dhar, a professor of marketing and psychology at Yale. “You feel like you’re in control of the entire experience, and people like that. There is this notion for the millennial generation that they don’t quite like the style of salesmanship that was going on, since they were raised on online shopping. But it might be becoming true for a larger group of people.” […]

“This distancing is so serious today that some customers walk into stores and hold their hand up and say, ‘Just looking,’” said Mr. Shanker, who said he has trained the employees of luxury stores like Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Van Cleef & Arpels.  […]

“We see the customer with their earbuds in” who does not want to be approached by a sales representative, Mr. Costino said. “Some shoppers don’t want that kind of service, especially the ones we see who have done their pre-shopping online.” 

The other possibility – one that I have a gut feeling about, but no real evidence for – is that the shift to online shopping will eventually affect how companies design and market clothes. Whereas you can handle things in department stores, online shopping is mostly just about words and pictures. Presumably that’ll mean that designers will have to use design details that you can easily see, rather than rely on subtle things such as the feel of some fabric. Think of the difference between the drape of a heavy 50oz silk twill tie or the chalky hand of an ancient madder versus the more “obvious” textures of raw silk that menswear enthusiasts seem to favor today. I also recently handled some plain cotton sweatshirts from Maison Martin Margiela, which were really remarkable to the touch, but looked rather plain and boring in photos. True indeed, those ended up being discounted much more than Margiela’s more “visually interesting” pieces last year. 

And without the ability to handle items in person, and get a real up-close view of their quality, perhaps we’ll see brands rely more on “stories” to market their goods. The telling of stories, after all, has been at the heart of the “heritage movement” for the last ten years. 

So that no one accuses me of being a Luddite, it should be noted that online shopping has also made it possible for us to buy a much wider selection of items, and get things at cheaper prices. But like the trend of declining department store sales, you likely already knew that. 

Shop Uniqlo Online (kind of)
A new website called Suddenlee just debuted. The service sells itself as a way to order from multiple stores online in a single transaction, and then have next day delivery for about $10 (up to two stores, and then $2.50 for each additional store). If you’re not in the Northeast area, it may take a few extra days, but it’s still faster than the regular delivery time than most stores offer. 
The exciting bit about this, however, is that it seems you can order from Uniqlo through their site. Just go to Suddenlee, drag the their shopping button to your web browser’s bookmark at the top of you screen, and then go to Uniqlo’s website. Pick the item you want and then click the “add to Suddenlee” button at the toolbar. Once you’ve chosen the size and color, you can then order the item online. Watch this video to see how it works. 
This basically seems to be a way to deploy an army of personal shoppers, and then have them pack and deliver items to you the next day. Even if you don’t shop at Uniqlo, this might be a service you’ll want to keep an eye on, as many companies still don’t have online stores (e.g. Club Monaco doesn’t have one, and RRL just got one). 

Shop Uniqlo Online (kind of)

A new website called Suddenlee just debuted. The service sells itself as a way to order from multiple stores online in a single transaction, and then have next day delivery for about $10 (up to two stores, and then $2.50 for each additional store). If you’re not in the Northeast area, it may take a few extra days, but it’s still faster than the regular delivery time than most stores offer. 

The exciting bit about this, however, is that it seems you can order from Uniqlo through their site. Just go to Suddenlee, drag the their shopping button to your web browser’s bookmark at the top of you screen, and then go to Uniqlo’s website. Pick the item you want and then click the “add to Suddenlee” button at the toolbar. Once you’ve chosen the size and color, you can then order the item online. Watch this video to see how it works. 

This basically seems to be a way to deploy an army of personal shoppers, and then have them pack and deliver items to you the next day. Even if you don’t shop at Uniqlo, this might be a service you’ll want to keep an eye on, as many companies still don’t have online stores (e.g. Club Monaco doesn’t have one, and RRL just got one).