Let’s say you’re an avid skier, and you want to level up your experience for the coming winter. You decide you want higher-quality skis that will withstand a variety of conditions—groomers, powder, trees.
Considering the steep price, how do you determine which skis to buy? You could browse the 150 ski options on a site like REI, read the impersonal descriptions, and hope for the best. You might peruse reviews online—knowing they typically encompass the best and worst experiences with each product. You could also visit your local sporting goods store and speak with a knowledgeable owner, if one such small business exists near you and they have what you’re looking for in stock.
None of these options is ideal for the tech-enabled modern consumer. Expensive, high-consideration items continue to present anxiety and confusion for buyers; they know they need something specialized, but they often don’t have the technical knowledge or the full understanding of the market to feel confident in these big-ticket purchase decisions.
This is the magic of . With the convenience and selection of the online shopping experience coupled with the knowledge of the most natural salesperson for each product—a passionate, well-informed category expert—consumers can feel more confident making important purchases that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, while sellers embrace their hobby and monetize their years of experience.
We led Curated’s Series A in 2019, inspired by the vision of co-founders Eddie Vivas, Peter Ombres, Alex Vauthey, and Annabel Liu, aiming to empower both the consumer and the seller. We are just as convicted as we back the team again in the company’s Series C, in a round led by Capital G, with participation from Series B lead Greylock. We’ve been consistently impressed by the power of this business model, facilitating personal interactions between buyers and qualified sellers on the Curated platform.
Salespeople have long been the backbone of high-consideration purchase advice. When deciding between an array of expensive suitcases, skincare, or tents, for instance, customers have always craved a savvy guide who understands the full landscape of options in a given category. Department stores pioneered the classic business model for many such purchases: Salespeople work on the floor, meeting customers at the precise moment where consideration converts into a purchase decision. While these sales reps may bring their own book of business through the doors, they also have the retailer’s foot traffic, supplies, and inventory at their disposal.
Curated has evolved this business model for an ecommerce era. As more retail has moved online—$813B in 2020, from the year prior—there is a growing opportunity for “expert” salespeople who have tried everything a category has to offer. Just like the salespeople at your favorite department / big-box store, knowledgeable sellers on Curated address customer needs with nuanced product recommendations. Only in Curated’s ecommerce business setup, sellers are snowboarding instructors, cycling experts, golf coaches, camping extraordinaires, and longtime tennis players who are sharing (and monetizing) their experience and insight, however niche.
We believe in commerce will be driven by empowered sellers, and Curated embodies this progression for the $500B specialty retail market. Sellers are not beholden to store hours or protocols, allowing for enhanced flexibility, while at the same time, leveraging the infrastructure of a large retailer and earnings based on conversations and commissions.
This creator-driven model is not only working for sellers, but consumers, too. It’s hard to argue with Curated’s average customer satisfaction rating of 4.96 stars, and a nearly unprecedented low return rate that hovers around 1-2%. With this success in mind, we see a big opportunity for Curated to expand beyond the existing sporting goods categories.
We at Forerunner are embracing these shifting power dynamics in retail, where sellers and creators are more capable than ever of building a self-directed business on the back of their own knowledge and skills. There are so many iterations of The Creator, and plenty of emerging companies like Curated that serve the growing empowerment economy. These creators are redefining retail business models, showing us what it means to drive commerce by engaging authentically with consumers.