When Lindsay McCormick started her plastic-free toothpaste company, Bite, 5 years ago, it was a fully online business. But like many direct-to-consumer companies that got their start online, Bite is making inroads into physical retail.
“Less people are shopping online right now than they were during COVID,” she told “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal. “And also, there’s been substantial changes when it comes to being able to target your customers.”
Last year, Apple introduced a change to its mobile operating system, requiring apps to ask users for permission before tracking their activities across the web. That lowered the efficiency of targeted ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“Back before iOS 14, it was kind of like, you put $5 in the Facebook machine, you get $10 out,” McCormick said. “Being a small brand, [that] was great— we were able to grow really fast — but also really scary because if these brands had more money than us they could just put more money into Facebook ads and kick our butts.”
Now, the cost of acquiring a customer through targeted ads is much higher. “And it’s way harder,” McCormick said. “But we’re able to grow by word of mouth, working with influencers, going into retail, getting really scrappy and kind of doing other things that other brands don’t.”
Right now, Bite’s products are sold online and in a few specialty retail shops. McCormick said she’s hoping to reach more stores next year.
But adapting an e-commerce product for physical retail is not as simple as putting a box on a shelf. “It essentially changes the DNA of your business,” she said.
In a WeWork conference room in Culver City, California, where McCormick and three of her employees were preparing around 300 units of Bite’s plastic-free deodorant for retail shelves, she showed Ryssdal the plain white package Bite uses for online orders.
“It’s so boring,” Ryssdal noted.
“[That’s] because this customer is already totally educated, they know what this product is, they ordered it online,” McCormick said. In retail, “we had to make sure we grab their attention,” she said.
“We went to stores to see what color all the unit cartridges were, we went through pictures, we did some mockups,” said Heather Sison, Bite’s creative director. Ultimately, the team landed on three-colored boxes which McCormick described as “on trend.”
She showed Ryssdal one mockup package with a picture of Bite’s aluminum deodorant case taped onto it. “Our next job is hopefully getting [shoppers’] attention enough to pick it up, then turn it around on the back and find out what it is.”
As Bite works to expand its retail footprint, McCormick said the unknowns are “very scary.” She told Ryssdal, “I really think — and all of our numbers show — that this will be net-positive for our business …but you never know 100% until you do it.”
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