One year since leaving Rent The Runway to lead the first portfolio company within Walmart’s retail incubator Store No. 8, Jennifer Fleiss is launching her first product — an on-demand, subscription-based e-commerce program powered by text.
Launching today, Jetblack — previously known under the working title Code Eight, part of Walmart’s larger retail innovation arm, Store No. 8 — is a personal shopping service that places online orders with the help of a concierge team activated via text message. According to Fleiss, the invitation-only service is designed to save shoppers time and increase efficiency by allowing them to text one-word requests for products across a diverse range of categories. Rather than making users do the grunt work of inputting pertinent information like brand selection, size and credit card number, Jetblack stores this data ahead of time and categorizes it based on preference.
With the help of its team of experts supported by machine learning and chatbot technology, Jetblack is intended to streamline online shopping across retail sectors, from replenishing basic household toiletries to offering styling advice on luxury fashion.
“We’re simplifying what has become an overly complex e-commerce experience down to: Need it, text it, get it,” Fleiss said. “Whether you’re asking for a basic product like laundry detergent or you’re asking us to recommend designer shoes that match a dress, you can ask for anything, and we leverage a team of experts to get you the right thing.”
Though digital concierges and chatbots are nothing particularly new — brands including Net-A-Porter, Saks Fifth Avenue and Burberry have all experimented with concierge bots on platforms like WhatsApp, Kik and Facebook Messenger — Fleiss said Jetblack’s value proposition is the ability to quickly fulfill almost any retail request, while at the same time delivering a highly personalized experience. Once a new user joins, Jetblack conducts a thorough onboarding process using questionnaires and optional home visits to construct a user profile. Commonly used items are saved in a personal catalogue and can be requested using a one-word trigger, which can be sent directly via standard messaging systems like iMessage. For example, texting “shampoo” will notify Jetblack to send a user’s preferred brand and deliver it to their home address as soon as possible, sending updates about delivery.
Products are sourced from local stores, leveraging existing Walmart and Jet partnerships to cut margins, accelerate delivery time and offer a “white glove, very high-touch experience,” Fleiss said. Household items are delivered in 24 hours, while other items are delivered within two days. To further give the program a differentiated edge from competitors like Amazon Prime, the recommendation engine is designed to get smarter over time and to anticipate real-time changes, such as suggesting larger sizes for diapers as children age. Items are delivered in tote bags, as opposed to cardboard boxes, which Fleiss said are cumbersome to open and dispose of. These bags can also be used to make returns, which will be collected by messengers free of cost.
In pre-launch beta phase, Jetblack was tested among a sample group of 100 New Yorkers comprised mostly of affluent mothers. The group purchased an average of 10 items per week, with two-thirds of the group ordering at least one thing on any given week. Jetblack also quietly launched an Instagram account for the company back in March, filled with lifestyle content tailored mostly for moms.
“The biggest value of the service is the ability to save time and add efficiency to a consumer’s life,” Fleiss said. “One of the ways we do that is letting you shop for everything in one place. We’ve seen people ordering everything from paper towels to Chanel handbags.”
Though requests for designer goods did arise in early testing, Fleiss said a majority of inquiries so far have been everyday items. Regardless, Jetblack has a team of dedicated experts across several subject areas, including luxury fashion, that can weigh in to make suggestions and drive conversions.
“I learned from my experience at Rent the Runway that fashion, especially luxury fashion, is a difficult part of the equation, and so we’ve done a couple of things that let us be really good at this,” she said. “We have a team of experts that have worked at luxury brands and styling agencies before who are on demand, ready for key requests that come in.”
To accommodate the cost of scaling such an extensive, hands-on service, the subscription fee skews higher than competitors’ with similar models, like Amazon Prime: To start, Jetblack will offer a discounted introductory fee of $50 a month, and then will increase thereafter. (Fleiss did not disclose a specific amount.)
Whether Jetblack will scale to reach a national audience remains to be seen, but Fleiss said she is optimistic about not only the new service, but also future ventures to stem from Store No. 8.
“I was really excited to make the shift back to the world of startups, but in a way where I can leverage the resources and scale of Walmart. It’s this nice, one-plus-one-equals-three type of relationship, where I get to focus on consumer problems I want to solve,” she said.