A week after I placed my first order on Jet.com, I received a handwritten card in the mail, thanking me for shopping on the site.
“As a member of the marketing team, I wanted to personally reach out and thank you for being one of our first customers,” the note said. “We hope you’ve had a great experience thus far. If you have any questions, or if there is anything I can do, please feel free to reach out!”
Strong customer service is a hallmark of Jet.com, the fledgling e-commerce startup founded by Marc Lore, who previously co-founded and eventually sold Diapers.com to Amazon for about $550 million. His new company, while lacking the name recognition of other e-commerce startups, has raised a whopping $225 million in venture capital — before launching.
Even more amazing: Jet plans to compete directly with Amazon.
The e-commerce shopping club is currently operating in beta, and is only open to customers who signed up months ago, but already many are wondering if it can live up to its promise.
As one of those initial customers, I’ve been getting an early glimpse into how the company works from a consumer’s point of view.
What I found while placing my first order is that prices are surprisingly cheaper than Amazon, and the customer service was far superior to most marketplaces. But selection was very limited, and I could see how some of the extra steps you must take to get the best price would turn off some customers who are in a hurry. There was also a snafu with one of my items, which arrived well outside of the promised two-to-five-day shipping window.
It’s important to note that the Hoboken, N.J.-based company has not officially launched its service, so it’s fair to assume that some of the early kinks will get worked out before opening to the general public.
Also, when it does launch, Jet will be charging an annual subscription of $50 a year. As an early beta user, my fee was waived, so that cost wasn’t factored into my purchasing decisions. I currently pay $99 a year for Amazon Prime, and based on my initial usage of Jet, it’s hard to know if I could justify paying a second fee for a cost savings on some items.
The Shopping Experience
First off, the overall experience feels a little immature.
Generally, the site looks reputable, high-end and very purple, but it’s also basic, without many frills, ads or other items cluttering the page. On the home page, Jet lets you know that it is all about saving money. In bold letters, it says “Shop Brilliant…Members save 10 to 15 percent per order.”
Much like Amazon, you are confronted with two ways to shop: Search, or browse by category. There are plenty of categories to choose from, but none of them are particularly deep.
For instance, dishwasher detergent was a category, but there were only 38 options. While that may sound like plenty, there was a big emphasis on those pre-measured packets or tablets, which I wasn’t interested in. I normally buy Cascade in powder form, but that wasn’t an option, so I randomly opted for Palmolive Eco Gel Dishwasher Detergent (Lemon Splash). Even a grocery store would have more options than Jet did, and in comparison, Amazon had a dizzying 2,416 results for “dishwasher detergent.”
Selection, in general, is probably the biggest ding on Jet’s shopping experience. Then again, some people might find Amazon’s thousands of options per item daunting, so I can see where people might appreciate the limited selection, too.
Another area where I found the options limiting was in buying electronic toothbrush replacement heads. Almost any physical retailer — and Amazon, too — offers the generic versions for considerably less money. From what I can tell, only name-brand items are available on Jet, so in that way you may be forced into paying more if you are normally willing to go generic.
Another way to look at Jet’s catalog is to view the diapers category. While it had a solid selection of brands, it only offered bulk packages, so if you want to order less than 100-plus diapers at a time, you are out of luck. Generally, from what I noticed, if you can make a few compromises, the selection won’t bother you.
If price is your main concern, that’s where Jet really soars.
First off, each order must hit a threshold of $35 to receive free shipping, which is pretty standard (although Target recently lowered their minimum to $25). To hit that cart total, I quickly found several items I needed. In addition to toothbrush replacement heads and dishwashing soap, I purchased three tubes of lip balm and a box of Cheez-Its, containing a dozen individual servings.
Here’s what I found: Every single item cost less than the equivalent one I found on Amazon, and some were considerably cheaper.
For instance, the Palmolive dish soap cost $2.34 on Jet (including discounts after adding it to my basket). Amazon would have required me to purchase three jugs for a total cost of $10.47, or $3.49 each. This represents a cost savings of nearly 30 percent on Jet. On Amazon, my favorite Burt’s Bees lip balm cost $2.99, but it is an “add-on” item, meaning I couldn’t order it without ordering $25 worth of items. On Jet, each tube cost $2.29 apiece, so I bought three.
Finally, the most astonishing cost savings came from my box of individually packaged Cheez-Its. On Jet, the box cost was $3.50 vs. Amazon’s price of $13.17, representing an impressive cost savings of almost 75 percent.
The story of the replacement toothbrush heads was similar. On Jet, I paid $25.09 for five, and on Amazon the identical package would have cost $31.99, representing a cost savings of 22 percent. At that price on Amazon, I may have been tempted to buy the generic brand.
My findings, while hardly scientific, do line up with the results of a recent study conducted by Boomerang Commerce, which found that Jet’s prices were 27 percent lower on average than prices on Amazon. After examining prices across 200 items, Boomerang said Jet was cheaper 188 times, and performed especially well in the “household” category, where prices were a surprising 39 percent more affordable.
Boomerang is a Silicon Valley-based company, which tracks pricing strategies across online retailers to help companies remain competitive, and happened to be founded by a former Amazon executive. The survey also brought up the mix of generic items vs. brand names. If you compared prices on Jet to AmazonBasics, the company’s private label that produces everything from microfiber towels to phone chargers, Jet was 28 percent more expensive. That said, comparing brand name items to generics seems unfair.
The Shipping Results
All of my items (except one) arrived within 24 hours of placing my order. That turnaround time even puts Amazon’s speedy Prime service, which guarantees two-day shipping, to task.
However, my final item, the super cheap box of Cheez-Its, took more than a week to show up at my doorstep, a mistake that the company notified me about in advance and apologized for — a savvy customer service move that many mature online retailers have failed to achieve.
I placed my entire order on May 4, and the Cheez-Its arrived eight days later, on May 12. On May 8, Jet emailed me to warn me that the item would be late. “We wanted to update you on your recent order with us. We have noticed one of your items (Cheez-Its Variety Pack) will fall out of our 2-5 business day window…We appreciate your understanding and dedication as we are in the Beta phase. We look forward to helping you in the future. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime, we are here 24/7 for your convenience!”
Notifying me before I started to wonder where my item was, or if it was lost, seriously won me over.
How do they do it?
Some of Jet’s secret sauce comes from empowering the customer to make decisions that will result in cheaper prices. The approach is pretty brilliant, but at the same time this is where it could become time-consuming if you like to check out in one click. But if you play the game well, Jet says you’ll at least make back the cost of the $50 membership, and potentially up to $150 a year in total savings.
So, how does Jet do it?
- Jet only makes money from membership fees, and not from taking a cut of each product it sells, unlike other marketplaces.
- It does some smart calculating in the background to find items that will ship most economically to you vs. other marketplace approaches, which promote the retailer who has the best price, reputation, etc.
- Jet also allows you to waive your right to return items for additional savings.
It’s the third item that could take some time, but with practice, you could eventually speed right through it. For instance, if I waived my right to return my favorite lip balm, I saved 15 cents. That’s an easy choice since I know I’ll be happy with the product, but waiving my right to return the replacement toothbrush heads was a harder one. It saved me 57 cents, but what if they didn’t fit my toothbrushes? I passed. I wasn’t able to waive my return on the Cheez-Its for whatever reason, but I did save another 5 cents by promising to keep the Palmolive.
In all, the shopping experience was easy and familiar enough that it won’t be a turnoff to e-commerce regulars. The selection was the biggest problem, but that will likely improve as the site matures. The trick will be in maintaining all of the things I appreciated about the service as volume increases.
Jet’s fast shipping speeds, low prices and great customer service are a trifecta that could threaten Amazon — if consumers are willing to change their current shopping habits.