Start a Movement: Roozt introduces personalized cause-based commerce, invites consumers to give back

By Michael Carney , written on November 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Modern consumerism is quickly becoming about more than just consumption. More than ever, shoppers want to know the impact of their purchases, what the brand stands for and who’s behind it. For nearly three years, Roozt has been building a cause-based lifestyle goods marketplace designed to address this shift in behavior and priorities. Today, the company is announcing a shift to its consumer experience that will make shopping and giving even more personal.

To date, each brand on Roozt has featured its own social good initiative. Consumers relied on the ecommerce startup to curate, vet, and monitor these brands both for  impact and unique fashion or design appeal. Examples include whistle necklaces made from bullet casings that deliver aid to Africa’s child soldiers, wooden watches and sunglasses that contribute to anti-deforestation efforts, and rubber sandals made from old tires which aid in Indonesian tire recycling.

While each of these and dozens of other causes supported by the more than 350 brands on Roozt are unquestionably positive, more often than not they’re not something the consumer herself personally identifies with. Roozt’s founders recognize that the greatest impact happens when consumers are passionate about the cause they’re supporting, and thus have introduced Movements, a new discovery and shopping experience that enables consumers to create personal wish list-style storefronts and direct a portion of sales to their favorite causes.

Roozt has made its shopping experience as much about the members of its community as it is about the brands it features. A user profile might read, “Hi, my name is Alice and I’m passionate about clean water.” Within Alice’s Pinterest-like personal collection are products that express her unique style. Regardless of which causes each individual item supports, or whether the brand has an explicit cause – Roozt will begin offering select non-cause-based brands – a portion of every item purchased through Alice’s movement page will go to support clean water. The goal is that Alice will share her movement with friends and family, encouraging them to shop for a good cause about which she is personally passionate.

Regardless of the purchase amount, $1 from each item purchased goes to benefit the cause in question. The units of impact vary on a per-cause basis, but Roozt strives to quantify an exact impact made with each purchase.

By redesigning its platform to be part storefront and part fundraising platform, Roozt becomes infinitely more social and shareable. Previously the incentive to share a prized brand or product was relatively low. Now, it is far greater.

Research shows that 84 percent of Millennials – 90 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000, who represent $200 billion in annual consumer spending – consider a company’s corporate social responsibility practices before deciding where to shop. This same 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study revealed that 89 percent of the consumers in this generation report a stronger likelihood to buy those companies’ products and services when they can have an impact.

Roozt Founder Brent Freeman’s Movement benefits cancer patient support, a cause that is near and dear to his heart after losing his mother to the disease. His personal storefront reads, “For every item purchased from this Movement, Roozt helps empower a young person living with cancer.”

Each movement page features a scoreboard which tallies the impact created by both the individual Movement, and Roozt as a whole. Freeman’s Movement, since going live yesterday, has already benefitted 10 cancer patients. Across Roozt, 29 units of cancer patient support have been delivered. Expect both numbers to climb quickly as more consumers discover Movements.

Users can follow individual Movements or causes and choose to get notified when new products are added, or when new impact milestones are reached. And every product across the site can added through a single click to a user’s own personal movement page.

Freeman sent me a personal email over the weekend, and posted the same message to his Facebook wall demonstrating this fact. It read:

Cancer sucks. I lost my mom to non-Hodgkins lymphoma (a rare type of cancer) at the age of 6 and it changed my outlook on life forever. 22 years later, I've taken this experience as inspiration to help make the world a better place in all that I do -- and it's been my guiding light with Roozt. Today I'm extremely excited to announce a new experience on @Roozt that is part storefront, wish list, and non-profit fundraiser for inspiring causes all in one. I'd be honored if you checked out my Movement that donates $1 to a youth cancer non-profit called Stupid Cancer with every purchase, and if you feel inspired, I'd be honored if you created your own Movement... Thank you all for your support and inspiration in this journey! #GetBusyLiving

The new Roozt is part lifestyle marketplace (a la, Fab), part personal collection platform (Pinterest), and part social fundraising channel (Rally). The evolution of the Roozt product is a direct result of the recent addition of George Ishii, formerly an angel investor and advisor to the company, as a co-founder and Chief Product Officer. Ishii was previously an early UI designer at PayPal, joining the company in 1999, and has since been a co-founder at Yammer (sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion), Geni (sold to MyHeritage), and BetterWorks (closed). He is widely regarded for his product design and ability to engineer virality into user experiences.

The introduction of Movements marks a fundamental shift for Roozt. Since inception, Freeman has placed the Brands on his platform in the spotlight, featuring the Roozt brand as a secondary focus, if at all. Now the experience is far more about the impact that Roozt and the consumer behind each Movement is creating, and less about the individual brands. It’s a concept that the company dabbled in once prior when it launched its One Member, One Meal initiative. It’s natural to ask whether this shift might create tension with the company’s brand partners, but Freeman quickly dispels that fear.

“They love it!,” he says. “These are mostly small brands with limited marketing resources and limited overall reach. Movements are all about distribution, and for a brand, the more people they’re shared with, the better.”

Furthermore, Movements has not replaced the traditional ecommerce experience on Roozt. Users can still go to the site and browse items according to gender, category, and brand. Each individual product and brand will also include its own story and cause-based initiative, where applicable. But throughout the site, users will be invited to create a Movement or browse those created by others. Roozt will feature the most popular Movements, many of which will be those created by influencers (aka, online celebrities) of one form or another.

“This is a really powerful way for influencers to connect with their fans and share the things they’re passionate about without feeling like pimps,” Ishii says. “We were very conscious not to make this a commoditized experience.”

Roozt is still a relatively small company. With just two dozen employees and only $2 million in funding to date, the company is just a fraction the size of many of its competitors – (cough) Fab. The site is also less widely known than the dozens of other lifestyle marketplaces competing for the same consumers. Freeman and Ishii are counting on the feel good shareability of personalized cause-based commerce to make up for much of the difference.

“We had to get off the user acquisition train – it’s a drug really,” Freeman says. “We think this is an inherently better way to acquire users and drive discoverability. We’re going after a whole generation of shoppers.”

Roozt is operating at “multiple-millions in revenue run rate,” according to Freeman, which suggests that there is a level of awareness and interest in what it’s offered thus far, but not yet change the world levels. The company saw an average of 30 percent month over month revenue growth across the first half of this year, even before introducing the Movements-based shopping experience. Over that same time, the company saw its average order value climb from $60 per transaction to $75, with order frequency increasing as well, according to its founders.

So Roozt is gaining momentum, which makes it somewhat risky to change the model at this stage in the game. But the decision is driven by the desire to take that next massive leap in terms of scale, rather than continuing to take small steps forward.

It’s easy to view cause-based commerce as a gimmick, and when done poorly, it can be exactly that. But Roozt has always had social impact woven into the very fiber of its brand. The introduction of Movements is aimed at magnifying the impact that the company can drive, and making the experience far more personal and passion-driven for its customers.

There’s a ton of noise in this category that even the most well engineered viral product will struggle to stand out. But Freeman and Ishii are betting that Millennials’ desire to do good and be recognized will be enough to break through.

“You can only do so much with materialism,” Freeman says.

[Image via MeaningfulDisruptions]