5 Questions With Rachael Vegas, Chief Merchant at Brandless
Hear how the e-commerce startup is turning traditional retail on its head by eliminating the “brand tax” and building a customer-obsessed model.
Rachael Vegas, Chief Merchant at Brandless, joins our SMWNYC lineup in April to share her experiences as the retail landscape has shifted and discuss how Brandless is building a new model that’s built on community and transparency.
We recently caught up with Vegas to find out why Brandless has centered on transparency as a core value, how they’re redefining the term “brand,” and what’s next as the company continues to expand into 2018.
SMW: Tell us about your journey to Brandless. How is this experience different than your past retail experiences?
RV: I was the first employee at Brandless and had the opportunity to build an assortment from scratch, identifying product standards that matter to today’s consumers and developing a highly curated, quality assortment across a variety of categories. We have all experienced the paradox of choice, driven by too many options and price points. It is hard work to get a fair deal on a better product. At Brandless, we defined the product standards, identified the most important products to carry, and then developed and sourced the entire launch assortment and beyond. We believe that you don’t have to sacrifice your values for quality.
Traditional retail operates very differently; primarily because it is grounded in what’s already there and how it has sold in the past. As a merchant at Target for more than a decade, I have significant experience in traditional retail. There, I inherited a portfolio of brands and a sea of options but was cautious not to erode any topline sales. I was employing a pricing strategy to optimize profit. Inherently, this meant that better product had to cost more for our customers.
SMW: How does Brandless incorporate transparency into its product and marketing strategy?
RV: Transparency is core to who we are and starts with how we convey our product standards, on our site, on the package, and in the ingredients we use. The front of every package is uniformly designed to focus on what matters most for that product. We refer to those qualities as attributes. Attributes differ by item and category based on what consumers tell us they want to know—whether that’s what’s in the product (e.g. fiber), what’s not in the product (e.g. phthalates), or where the product is made (e.g. Italy). From our package to our website, we make everything easy to read and simple to navigate.
SMW: Brandless recently introduced its own beauty and personal care line. How do you determine which products to carry?
RV: Clean beauty and personal care are very important categories for us and for our customers. To date, we have eliminated more than 400 ingredients that people believe can be harmful to their bodies. Each of our products go through a lengthy development and thorough testing to ensure we have the highest quality formulas. We will continue to add collections in this area throughout this year and beyond.
To figure out what we will carry next, we start with covering the basics and we still have a long way to go there. We also listen to our customers. It might take some time to develop and test all of the products, but rest assured, we are hard at work on several new items all the time. Look for us to add variety where we currently don’t meet everyone’s needs (think about different hair care items, more facial care products, and expansion of vitamins and supplements).
SMW: How is Brandless redefining the concept of a “brand?”
RV: Brandless is, unapologetically, a brand but we are also redefining what it means to be a brand. Our community and our investors share our vision to create better products that are accessible to everyone. At Brandless, we simplify the process, remove the complexity of traditional retail distribution, and offer a fair and accessible price (without the so-called “brand tax.”).
SMW: What is the top retail trend that you and the team are watching in 2018?
RV: Our team is constantly keeping tabs on the latest trends. We were so proud to launch our first seasonal collection this past fall with maple, which we spotted during our early assortment development and were excited to see we were right on trend (if not a little ahead!) this season.
We are also very focused on consumer wellness trends. This involves identifying what ingredients are important to customers and how can we incorporate them into our products as well as what ingredients are consumers avoiding and how can we make that easy for them.
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