You’re probably going to get a better deal when you buy consumer products — like paper towels — wholesale, but at the same time you’re also buying a very, very large package of said consumer products. So, they might not always fit in your apartment.
Wholesale goods are the primary play for a startup called Boxed, a retailer looking to play the sort of digital-to-your-door Costco game. But there might be a bit of a challenge visualizing how big those packages are, so the company built an augmented reality tool to demo the sheer size of that massive box of Mac and Cheese you might buy through the app. All things said the AR demo is a little bit of a joke. Built during a hackathon, Fong said that it’s primarily a way to help get the brand out there.
It’s a fun little application, though there will probably be a segment of the universe that would appreciate a warning as to how big a wholesale package of toilet paper will be when sitting in their apartment. Instead, the tool is matched with two other feature updates the company is rolling out: a chatbot and group orders.
“It was a fun project for us to build, and one of the things that we kind of like to hammer in is the idea we sell these bulk goods,” CTO William Fong said. “Being able to envision bulk sizes versus retail sizes plays into the brand. The idea behind it was to convey the idea of bulk, help reinforce the measures that hey these products you’re getting are bigger than your retail packs. It’s really gonna help you stock up for the long run. It’s kind of like a branding but also provide a little practical value for those who might find it challenging to say, ‘how might I fit this in my apartment?'”
Group orders help existing Boxed users summon in their housemates or family members to add products to a Boxed order. But those additional shoppers don’t actually have to log in or sign up for an app, and instead just open up a link and start adding various products to the basket. Then the original user checks out, sending off the order to the company’s fulfillment centers. The extra shoppers will get a prompt at the end of the session to sign up for Boxed, as it’s obviously a user acquisition play as well, though users aren’t required to sign up afterward.
Boxed’s play is to try to always keep you stocked up, to the point that it’ll try to figure out ahead of time when you’re about to run out of toilet paper or snacks. You could easily order those kinds of products on Amazon, though Fong says the play for Boxed is to have a small set of huge wholesale products that it can store in its fulfillment centers and ship out. By doing that, it can be more efficient and be able to potentially compete with Amazon, Fong said.
“When you go to Amazon, it’s very transactional,” Fong said. “You check out with 1 or 2 things, what we notice with Boxed is our customers behave differently. They’re taking more time to finish checkout process because they’re browsing. This might go to multiple sessions, days or weeks.”
The company also said it’ll roll out a chatbot with some limited functionality, which allows users to shop through Facebook Messenger instead of having to go through the app. A chatbot might potentially fragment the user experience and yank potential shoppers out of the app, but Fong said they were trying to have a stripped-down experience that would make more sense in a messaging format. The bot may also help re-engage users, Fong said.
So, two new features that could actually be useful to shoppers looking to buy wholesale goods, and one that may-or-may-not-be-useful feature in the AR addition — though, as far niche apps go, this niche is a pretty good one.