The Daily Grommet Leads Wave of “Anti-Amazon” E-Commerce in Boston

5/16/13Follow @gthuang

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philosophical difference in what online shopping should be. “On Amazon, it’s a transactional experience. You just interact with the product,” Pieri says. “Most of shopping isn’t transactional, it’s about discovery or connecting with the creator of a product. It’s about walking down that cool street in a town, it’s all about story and personal experience. Amazon can’t retrofit around that, that’s not its business.”

There’s a lot more to this thread, but off the top of my head I can think of at least a handful of Boston-area companies that are chipping away, directly or indirectly, at Amazon’s retail approach.

Salsify is a young company helping small retailers and big brands manage their online content around products in a better way, thereby helping the products compete more effectively. Price Intelligently is working on a scientific pricing approach to help brands and retailers figure out the best prices for their products. CustomMade is pushing its marketplace of buyers and makers of hand-made goods such as furniture and jewelry. And Zmags is trying to reinvent digital product catalogs and commerce for tablet computers.

Those are just a few, but the common themes are around helping the little guy and making the shopping experience more interactive. The bottom line, according to Pieri: “We will change how companies will be able to compete.” And, in doing so, “change the shape of the economy in a community-driven way.” She goes on to say, “It’s really important that businesses take responsibility for the world we create. And the only way consumers can interact with that is to understand the companies.”

Meantime, in e-commerce, Pieri says, “you either have to be Amazon or the anti-Amazon. We don’t intend to own every sale—we want to help people succeed.”

Yet skeptics would say that’s why such approaches will ultimately fail. Because if Amazon has figured out one thing, it is the cold, calculating behavior of a huge mass of consumers. That is where Grommet (and a lot of other companies in Boston and elsewhere) is still relatively weak. As Pieri admits, “The next frontier is expansion of awareness and trust with consumers. We’re not a household name.”

On the other hand, she says, “We have built a community whose reaction to newsworthy and innovative products is totally predictive of mainstream response” across “20 categories of product.” So, together with Rakuten, Grommet hopes eventually to approach Amazon’s consumer numbers and influence—albeit from a very different mindset.

Then again, one other Boston e-commerce company, Wayfair, seems a lot closer to Amazon right off the bat, in terms of its scale, reach, supply-chain efficiency, and basic consumer experience. It even describes itself as “Amazon for the home.” And it’s on pretty solid footing as an independent company after a big venture round and rebranding in 2011.

So, if you can’t beat them, join them? We’ll see about that.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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    I found Grommet to be a tad bit overpriced. I understand there is innovation and inventors involved but I bought the wine glass shades and they left out that the way they chose to close the shades was inefficient and a bit unsightly. I did love the state towels. But a lot of it seems to be from China. Am I right?