Last week, startup internet retailer Jet.com officially opened for business. On Monday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal hyping the discounts that the Journal was able to score on a variety of merchandise. Though the Journal also pointed out that many of these discounts came at the expense of Jet.com itself – since to fulfill the orders Jet was having to go through other retailers, literally buying the items above the price they were then selling them for. This meant Jet was eating the cost difference as well as the shipping charges the other retailer tacked on as well. Luckily Jet seems fairly well funded and can afford to have some loss leaders like this while they develop into what they hope to be: a Costco-Type membership club providing the lowest prices on the internet.
I’m not going to lie. After reading the WSJ article I was intrigued. I hate Costco for what I believe are some truly excellent reasons. I even admit Costco probably does have some good deals on bulk purchases where it *might* make a tiny bit of monetary sense to pay the membership fee and the the extra gas to go out of my way over the course of a year to take advantage of them. But giving Costco money and dealing with the headaches of going there aren’t two things I’m interested in, so that’s not going to happen. However, an online non-Costco membership store sounded intriguing. If nothing else, with the WSJ’s description I figured I’m more than happy to let venture capitalists fund a few loss leaders for me until they either start raising prices or run out of venture capital. So I jotted myself a note to check it out when the site officially opened for business on Tuesday.
By Tuesday, I had also run across another discussion of Jet where someone suggested using the code “GOOGLE” to get the first year of membership free. “Sweet!” So no $50 membership fee in year one. (The current standard offer without a code is a free 3-month trial membership.)
But then I got to Jet’s site. And I’m confused and disappointed and wondering if I’m alone in feeling this way given all the hype that was built up for the launch.
Since there’s nothing we are really looking to buy online right now, I started looking up some items in our recent Amazon history. We’ve actually bought a fair amount from Amazon lately, so there was a decent amount to search for. Here’s how it went.
First up was Amlactin lotion – This is a lotion my dermatologist recently suggested I try and I had just bought it on Amazon for ~$1.35/ounce. Not cheap. When I searched for it on Jet, they had it. But some of the links weren’t clearly marked with the product size, which clearly influences the value. I did find one bottle that at $21.04 for 20 ounces was a better deal than Amazon at $1.05/ounce, but confusingly there’s another link listed without a size on the page that when you click on it reads that the size is 400 grams. Given that I don’t know the density of Amlactin lotion (who does!?!), how am I supposed to figure out which is the better value? Why would this lotion be listed in both fluid ounces (a measurement of VOLUME) and grams (a measurement of MASS)? I added the 20 ounce bottle to my cart (at least that was guaranteed a better value from Amazon) and went on down the list.
Next was Natrapel, a natural insect repellant recommended by my allergist since I sometimes get reactions to other sprays that are more common. (After all, it’s high skeeter season down here!) I had recently purchased a 3.4 ounce bottle from Amazon for $5.59 ($1.64/ounce). Again, my search popped up with a couple of Natrapel options. But one was 12 wipes for the same price I purchased my 3.4 ounce bottle (I’m going to get way more than 12 uses out of my 3.4 ounce bottle), and the other was a 1 ounce bottle for $4.50 (way higher per ounce than what I just paid). No bueno.
Moving on, I searched for the Rev-A-Shelf lazy susan that I bought to go into one of our corner cabinets in the kitchen that I’m currently building. I had my doubts about availability on this one, but some Rev-A-Shelf items did pop up. Just not any of the lazy susans.
Searching for the Dewalt Plate Joiner I bought went pretty much the same way. As did the search for the Kreg Shelf Pin Jig. Nothing for the Jet Swet temporary plumbing plug Mr PoP got. The search for the Bosch table saw amusingly showed a link labeled as a Bosch table saw saying the item is unavailable, but the image was clearly NOT a Bosch table saw. It was a Skil. (Can you tell I bought a lot of my tools for the cabinetry during Amazon’s Father’s day sale?)
So tools and hardware seem to be pretty much a bust, but I’ve discovered over the course of buying a bunch of tools recently that using CamelCamelCamel it’s possible to get some solid deals from Amazon on high quality tools and have them delivered right to your door without shipping charges. Much nicer than buying through HomeDepot.com and having to decide between free shipping to the store (which would necessitate renting a truck to get the items to our house) or paying $50 for shipping to our house.
The last item on our recent purchases was a gift for someone else – a Pulse Oximeter. It was an item specifically requested by the recipient and we paid $40 for it. Jet didn’t have the same brand, but did show other Pulise Oximeters priced between $27 and $100+. Not knowing the features of the particular model that had been selected by the recipient, and not really caring enough to want to compare these items in excrutiating detail for a purchase we won’t be making again, I gave up on this search.
Altogether, two months of Amazon purchases resulted in one item in my cart at Jet that was definiitely a better deal, though I wasn’t even sure if the item represented the “best” deal at Jet.
Still wanting to satisfy my curiosity, after all it was pouring outside and I was eating lunch in front of my desk and needing a break from work, I started “browsing” around Jet. Maybe there are items that we don’t typically buy from Amazon, but get elsewhere that we could get better deals on here?
Costco frequenters gush about the price of nuts, so I started there and typed in “almonds” since I have my baseline price/lb of raw unflavored almonds memorized (currently $6.99 at Trader Joes – up $1 lately – I blame the drought in California, though Californians might blame me for taking so much of their water via almonds). The closest I saw was a 6 ounce tin of Blue Diamond Almonds (whose quality is not as high as Trader Joes – often being stale, I have found) for $4.39. I don’t even need to calculate the per ounce prices (you would need 2.66 of those tins to equal a lb of nuts) to know they are not a bargain.
I did a similar search for almond meal (having recently discovered the joys of almond meal pancakes), which is the same price ($6.99/lb) as almonds at Trader Joes. (Given that 1lb of nuts ground up makes 1 lb of almond meal – raw and no additives, I feel like I’m getting the grinding labor for free.) There I found Bob’s Red Mill Bags for $12.11 or $7.19 – the cheaper being for that not made from raw nuts. Bust.
I checked oatmeal and guffawed at how expensive the packages were! Basically the same price that we would pay if paying full price for brand name (Quaker) at Publix. Of course we never pay full price on brand name (it’s either generic or BOGO sales for us).
How about deodorant? I ususally get this at Publix and try and pick it up when it’s on sale. Regular price is $5.79, sale is sometimes $4.99 if it happens. There’s also perpetually a manufacturer’s coupon that gives me $2 off my preferred brand. (Dove Advanced Care if you must know.) Jet had it, and it was $3.83. Cheaper than sale price, but about equivalent to regular price minus the coupon. Not a smokin’ deal, but continuing the experiment I popped it in the cart.
Similarly, I checked out the shampoo I like – Pantene Smooth and Sleek. This stuff regularly goes on sale 3 for $10 and again, there’s almost perpetually a $5 off 3 coupon that’s unexpired. So my “baseline” price is that I can generally get three 12.6 counce bottles for $5 as long as I don’t let myself run out and need it immediately. Jet had a 29.2 ounce bottle for $5.48. Better than what I’d pay in the store regular price, but well over what I consider my baseline.
At this point I just started clicking around, trying to find anything since the cart was still under the $35 minimum for free shipping. (Also, Jet what were you thinking having a membership fee and such a high minimum for free shipping!) I ran across the brand of unsweetened shredded coconut I’ve bought at Whole Foods, but I don’t buy it often enough to have the price memorized. At $2.19 it seemed like it was probably cheaper than Whole Foods, but I can’t be sure.
And I honestly didn’t see anything else. Toilet paper didn’t seem any cheaper than the BOGO sales in which we usually get it at Publix. Same went for other random household items I looked at, but few of those do we really go through all that much of.
I made my way to my cart. Along the way, the “Total Savings” on my order had drifted up to $4.78. Somehow. I really don’t know. But here’s what my cart looked like.
It was not compelling enough for me to click “Proceed To Checkout”. Sorry, Jet.
I still have high hopes for Jet.com, and I’ve at least used that “GOOGLE” code so that I should still have a 12-month free trial membership if I find something that’s worthwhile ordering in the future. But I think the site needs to bake a while.
And if I sit down and give my suggestions to the much lauded CEO of Jet, Marc Lore, here’s what I would say.
- Membership buyers are looking for VALUE. To determine VALUE, we need to know QUANTITIES. Standardize quantity measurements within categories and put them front and center. Heck, put a unit price on the tag as well the way Amazon and all the in-person retailers do. You should not have to click through on a product link to figure out if it’s a 4 ounce container or a 40 ounce container!
- The $$ off your order is really confusing and NOT in a fun oh-look-at-the-numbers-spin-it’s-a-fun-game way. I have no idea how the “savings” added up to $4.83, so if once in my cart I decide to take something out I have no idea which item will decrease that. Which bothers me. I want to know that if I change my mind on the lotion at the last second how it’ll affect my order without having to take it out and add it back in. If I buy all this and return one item will I get a refund on the item’s price? Or will it be net some percentage of the savings that isn’t entirely clear? It’s too easy to double-count “savings” when they are grouped like this and it’s a psychological trick that I despise when marketers and retailers use.
- Lastly, build up your product lines. Get actual bulk products the way Costco has to get discounts that are worth coming to Jet for. With BOGO offers occurring regularly at our neighborhood grocery store, it’s easy for us to get pretty good deals on smaller packages. Offer me a spectacular deal on a large package and NOW you’re in the business of offering true value.
I’ll probably keep checking Jet if we come up with more products that we need (it’ll take a purchase to activate my 12-month membership and I clearly haven’t done that). But as it stands right now I’m not holding my breath that this is my new answer to any (much less all) of our retail needs.
Have you explored Jet? Did anyone find a screaming deal on a loss leader that they got courtesy of Jet’s VC backers?
Note: In case it’s not painfully obvious, clearly we weren’t compensated by Jet for this post, nor do we receive any compensation if you click through to the site. I imagine GOOGLE will get some revenue if you use that code to sign up for a free 12 month trial membership, though.