Olive wants to eliminate all the boxing and unboxing that come with shopping online.
On Wednesday, Olive launched as a cardboard delivery box alternative for fashion shoppers seeking more convenience and sustainability. For members who download the app or Chrome extension, the company compiles their fashion purchases across retailers into a single tote, or “shipper,” to be delivered at a chosen cadence. The tote is then picked up or used to make returns via the shopper’s doorstep. To date, Olive has secured hundreds of brand and retail partners, including Everlane, Revolve and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Olive is the brainchild of Nate Faust, who founded Jet.com before selling the company to Walmart in 2016. As he sees it, the ability to buy and return products without dealing with boxes and running to the post office will be the draw for customers out of the gate. But for brands and retailers, the sustainability aspect has been the key to securing partnerships.
“It’s crazy that we’re 25 years into e-commerce, with all this growth still yet to come, and the status quo delivery experience is still billions of shipments a year sent in single-use, one-way packaging,” he said. “Not only is it a terrible thing for the environment, but it’s also a huge customer pain point.”
The amount of waste in the form of packaging has become glaringly evident since March 2020, when shopping for most everything moved online. In turn, brands and retailers have increasingly launched efforts to right the ship and remain in conscious consumers’ good graces. Initiatives have included releasing new sustainability goals with plans to streamline packaging, and introducing eco-friendly packaging options, like rentable and refillable containers. Linking with third-party partners focused on the task is common to get the ball rolling. Brands are under a microscope, and in terms of proving sound operations to consumers, time is of the essence.
According to Mary Beech, CEO of Olive partner brand Sarah Flint, the platform provides a “value add” to consumers that plays into the brand’s overall sustainability goals. “Sarah Flint has developed a roadmap to dramatically improve our environmental impact,” she said. “Olive is incremental to that roadmap, as it gives customers an option to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Likewise, Cate Khan, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Verishop, pointed to the perks of the Olive partnership for customers. “We know many of our users are looking for shopping experiences that align with their personal values, including environmental consciousness and sustainability, ” she said.
Clothing rental services Rent the Runway and Nuuly have provided proof of concept for the delivery tote model, though insiders at both companies have been vocal about the complexities of the involved logistics.
With Olive, there are no incremental costs for retailers. And, as Faust put it, any brand wanting to go it alone, in terms of providing a similar service, would “effectively just double the cost of their logistics.” After all, Olive is paying for both the delivery and the pick-up of its packaging.
Olive is also free to consumers, in that there’s no surcharge on brands’ usual shipping costs. The way Olive makes money is by taking a portion of each sale delivered via Olive. On average, that cut is 10%.
Faust said he started planning for the launch of Olive in March of 2020, and he made his first hire of a head of product management in April. Olive is now a team of 13 and is largely made up of Faust’s former teammates from Diapers.com, Jet.com and Walmart. They include heads of marketing, finance and technology, as well as leads of three separate product teams: operations, retail partnerships and integrations, and consumer experience.
To promote the company at launch, Faust said Olive is leaning on “traditional digital acquisition marketing” through YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, as well as direct mail and outdoor ads in major urban markets. It’s also relying heavily on its brand partners to spread the word to their shopper bases. With many, it’s sending joint marketing emails to the brands’ customers in Olive’s serviceable markets.
For the time being, Olive has two “consolidation centers” in Southern California and Northern New Jersey, which allow it to serve about one-third of the U.S. population. Because brands still use traditional packaging when shipping products to the consolidation centers, Faust said that true elimination of packaging won’t be possible until Olive scales. Eventually, when there’s ample volume coming from any one retailer, Olive will provide it with free totes and introduce it to its shipping system.
For customers, Olive works with the post office in suburban areas and carriers in urban areas. For the prior, a local mail person can pick up a tote from a doorstep as soon as one day after a request is made by a customer via the Olive app. In urban areas, there are set days of the week when carriers will pick-up and deliver totes in a customer’s building.
Faust said that, beyond eliminating packaging, Olive is reducing the number of last-mile delivery stops at people’s homes, as well as “all those truck miles.” More retailers using Olive would lead to a freeing-up of last-mile delivery capacity, and the risk of a shipping bottleneck, as experienced around the holidays, would be far less, he said.
Faust had been self-funding Olive until the company closed its first round of fundraising in December. It now has three primary institutional investors, which include New York-based Primary Venture Partners and SignalFire, located in San Francisco.
Currently, the company is developing unique packaging for “fragile” beauty products, as many of its partner brands sell skin care and cosmetics, and there’s opportunity in the space. As with its fashion packaging, Olive is working to ensure every element is 100% recyclable.
Within a couple months, Olive plans to introduce a product centered on consignment and re-commerce that facilitates ease of use for consumers. And, further down the line, customers may be able to use Olive to have all of their holiday gifts delivered at once, and gift-wrapped, Faust said.
Fashion, he said, is only the starting point.
“We have a long-term vision of bringing this experience of waste-free delivery and easy returns to everything you buy online,” said Faust.