COMMON Marketplace: Giving the common consumer power to be sustainable

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COMMON Marketplace: Giving the common consumer power to be sustainable

Collaborative consumption has been a hot topic over the past few years, and we’ve had a chance to see how car sharing, home renting, meal swapping and more have fared with consumers. But the COMMON Marketplace, launched earlier this year, puts a unique spin on collaboration. It’s not based on sharing or renting goods or services, but on sharing ideas and values. And, like collaborative consumption, it’s about access – access to opportunities for buyers and sellers to (as the site’s tagline states) “do shit that matters.”

Founded in 2011, COMMON describes itself as a collaborative community composed of creatives, business professionals, entrepreneurs and consumers. Like any online marketplace, COMMON’s new one connects buyers and sellers – but it goes beyond that to facilitate the kind of community interaction historically found in person, in traditional neighborhood markets.

COMMON has been rolling out new products in stages, but right now, you can find an eclectic mix of socially and environmentally responsible baby products, clothes, toiletries, foodstuffs and even “Nothing.” You can buy it for zero dollars. “It’s nothing with a capital N, and we heartily recommend you consider buying it before you buy anything else,” says its product page.

COMMON CEO Dan Burrier has explained, “It’s a reminder that even in the context of the marketplace, it’s not about consumption. What we’re looking for on the site are those things that you can consume that are contributing rather than detracting.”

Innovative, socially and environmentally responsible companies are encouraged to test their new ideas, products and business models in the real world setting of COMMON Marketplace.

The COMMON Marketplace makes it clear consumers play a central role in this testing process. In fact, “you” are featured in the middle of the COMMON team’s photos, along with a reminder that your daily actions affect the planet. Visitors are encouraged to “tell us what you want, what you love, what you don’t, what we’re missing, and help keep us on track.”

The site makes it easy for you to do just that. You’re encouraged to create profiles, to learn how each product or product maker is environmentally or socially responsible, and then, by clicking icons beneath each item on the “Goods” page, to express whether those products matter.

Calls to engage with COMMON are embedded among those “goods that do good.” Amid photos of socially responsible soaps, baby bottles, popcorn, toilet paper and condoms, you’ll find questions like “How are you feeling about the planet today?” and “You inspire us. What inspires you?” Click on a question, and you get an easy-to-use Twitter dialogue box.

COMMON aims to keep adding social tools to the site. “People seem to see it as a community hub as much as anything,” Burrier told me. “This was always our plan, but the degree to which people crave it is compelling. We’re accelerating the notion of marketplace as community gathering place.”

We’ve talked before on Shelton Insights about the power of empowering the consumer. Social engagement, gamification, collaborative consumption: All of these recent trends give “you” power and a voice by opening a door to some mode of sharing and storytelling. Yet these things, especially social media, can easily become an empty gesture on a brand’s end.

COMMON, on the other hand, has made it an important part of living out their philosophy. The messaging on the marketplace site continually points to the consumer’s power to do good through personal choices, and then backs up the messaging by directly asking for input, right at the point where the consumer will have ideas (in this case, while he’s shopping).

Based on buyer input, for example, COMMON is currently searching for toothpaste that comes in recyclable tubes or other packaging. They’ve also tweaked the site itself based on feedback. According to Burrier, “We’re dropping the handling fee because, while it was an effort to show and tell all – total transparency – people told us they’d rather not know.”

This responsiveness is one way COMMON is making smart daily choices easier for its customers.

Another way they’re making good choices easier is by making them fun. One of COMMON’s founders, Alex Bogusky, has always said, “If saving the world isn’t fun, who is going to do it?”

Burrier agrees, and points to their tagline, “Do Shit That Matters.” “Most people LOVE it,” he says, “even if they ask us not to put it on the outside of the package where their kids might see it.”

“We’re spawning a movement here,” he explains, “and spawning happens after a long, arduous swim upstream with a few glorious free leaps along the way. We celebrate those leaps. Do Shit That Matters! If you hate that one word, there are lots of Amazons to shop at. If you want to change the world and have fun day by day, we’re your gang.”

You may not be itching to apply a new business model (or bump your tagline down from a G rating) but watching COMMON’s philosophy play out over time will be interesting. In the meantime, they’ve given us a model to consider for consumer engagement and barrier removal – plus some intriguing new sustainable goods to peruse.

About the Author

Meghan McDonald

Meghan concepts and writes copy for clients and also reviews creative deliverables for clarity, grammar and brand alignment. She brings an interdisciplinary background in environmental studies and journalism to our team. If you want to know the name of a tree or flower, she’s the one to ask.

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