We interviewed Debra Bouchegnies, Director of Marketing Communications at Seattle based start up Stuffstr about their app which helps maximise the use and value of your things throughout their lifecycle.
In case our readers haven’t come across Stuffstr yet, can you explain what the Stuffstr app is and how it works?
The Stuffstr App is focused on helping you maximise the use and value of your things throughout their lifecycle. The service works in three parts.
First, we capture purchase and product information directly from retailers so that your things automatically load into your personal inventory without your having to take pictures, enter information, etc. Initially, we capture information from two sources – Amazon.com and email receipts. Through a one-time login to your Amazon.com account, you can seamlessly load all the items you’ve purchased over the past several years, and then all items you buy going forward will automatically be added. Similarly, through a one-time authorization, Stuffstr will capture all the email receipts you’ve received from over 700,000 retailers, and all email receipts you receive going forward. We’ll be adding additional retailers over time.
Second, during your use of the items, we keep track of the current estimated resale value, so you continually have an idea of what your stuff is worth, and how that’s changing over time. Also, because we have specific details about each item, we can link you to item-specific resources for setup, repair, etc.
Finally, when you decide you no longer want or need the item, we present you with a way to offer it to friends and family, marketplaces where you can resell it, nearby charities where you can donate it, or appropriate recycling options. We also help to make the process as simple as possible by auto-posting your items for resale and, in many cases, providing free pick-up/delivery options.
Can you tell me a bit about your Co-founders, your team, how you came up with the idea and brought it to life?
My co-founder, Steve Gutmann, and I previously helped to launch the peer-to-peer car sharing service Getaround. For us, peer-to-peer carsharing is fundamentally about utilising the 92% idle time of the average car. We began thinking of all the other things we own, and were shocked to discover that 80% of the things we buy are used less than once per month. This realisation led us to launch Stuffstr.
How does the circular economy work to reduce waste?
Today’s linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy. This model is reaching its physical limits. A circular economy, in contrast, is an attractive and viable alternative that is restorative and regenerative by design. It aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The concept distinguishes between technical and biological cycles.
As envisioned by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows.
You’ve carried out a lot of research on household items and waste, what have you learnt?
We have learned four basic things.
First, the problem is shocking in its magnitude. The average U.S. home holds $7,000 of unused stuff, and we constantly add to the problem by purchasing $1.3 trillion in household goods/year. And because we have so much stuff, about 80% of our things are used less than once per month. When we finally do get rid of all of these useful-but-underutilized items, almost 70% of them end up in landfill.
Second, we learned that many people really do care about this problem. People realize that their no-longer-wanted stuff still has value, and many of them are reluctant to just throw things out. Unfortunately, because our economy doesn’t yet fully value the circular paths to repair, reuse, resell and recycle used things, many people end up with disconcerting amounts of clutter.
Third, this is a solvable problem. Modern information technology is making it easier and easier to track things through their lifecycles, and to redirect broken or no-longer-wanted items to places where they can be repaired, resold, donated or recycled. There’s tremendous value in all of this now-wasted stuff. So once the details of each of these items become readily accessible, countless entrepreneurial solutions begin to emerge, and it becomes easier to implement supportive public policies such as extended producer responsibility laws.
And fourth, a lot of very clever people are already working on solving this problem. Dozens of very large companies and hundreds of small startups are working on this problem. Stuffstr offers a platform that is available to anyone working on the retail side of this problem. The North Face and H&M have already partnered with us on experimental pilot projects that leverage our technology, and we expect several other product manufacturers and retailers to soon follow suit.
What are the benefits to consumers and retailers of using this app?
Consumers can quickly pull together a full, detailed inventory of their most valuable stuff, and they can easily recirculate no-longer-wanted items to friends, family and their favorite charities and know that they are helping to keep items out of landfill. They can also resell items through our partnership with full-service reseller StuffHopper, and we’ll be adding more resale services and marketplaces soon.
Retailers also benefit in many ways from partnering with Stuffstr. First, our app increases the flow of items to retailer-managed recirculation initiatives. For example, our partnerships with H&M and The North Face help drive more used textiles into their in-store recycling programs. Second, the Stuffstr App helps retailers stay connected to their customers throughout a product’s post-sale lifecycle. This gives retailers unprecedented insight into quality problems, end-of-use disposal patterns, etc. These insights can inform retailers decisions about future product offerings, and it can also be leveraged to increase customer loyalty. Third, Stuffstr can help retailers channel their customers’ resale proceeds back into their stores by offering premium gift cards to sellers of used goods.
How has the idea been received by the retailers, resellers and charities that you’ve contacted?
A few leading retailers recognize that the linear economy is on its way out, but most are under tremendous competitive pressure and are overwhelmingly focused on increasing sales, rather than maximising lifetime value for their customers. The good news is that most of the industry’s leaders actually recognise that change is coming, and quite a few of them are actually starting to move in a more circular direction.
Resellers and charities, by contrast, are already generating revenue through reuse, so the opportunity is clear to them. By working with Stuffstr, they gain a lot more visibility and control over what ends up coming their way.
Which retailers and environmental organisations are you partnering with and how’s that going?
Stuffstr recently partnered with H&M and The North Face, both of which offer in-store textile recycling programs. Our technology makes it easy for users to discover these recycling options, and the valuable incentives that these retailers offer to participating customers. We also recently partnered with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Foundation of Southwest Connecticut, to help their donors quickly find the closest and most convenient locations at which to drop their no-longer-needed clothing and household items. These items are subsequently sold, and the proceeds benefit the foundation’s award-winning mentoring activities. We received tremendous help from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) early on, and have also received assistance from The Story of Stuff. We’re currently in partnership discussions with several large environmental organizations that are interested in promoting reuse and recycling while earning new, unrestricted revenue to support their programs.
Who is Stuffstr aimed at and who’s using it?
Our primary target market is millennials, because they make a lot of their purchases online, they are just entering their “peak buying” years, and they are also looking for ways to participate in socially responsible consumerism.
What is a Give Back Box? How many have been distributed?
We have entered into a three-way partnership with GiveBackBox and Goodwill that allows Stuffstr users to reuse cardboard boxes to effortlessly donate goods to Goodwill. Users simply identify items they’d like to donate to Goodwill, swipe them into the “Give Back Box” box in their Stuffstr App, and Stuffstr (in cooperation with Give Back Box) will send them a pre-paid shipping label and schedule the postal service to pick up the items from their doorstep the next day.
Where are you based and where is the app being used? Are there plans to roll it out in more locations in future?
Stuffstr is headquartered in Seattle, WA, but we have had employees and contractors working for us from remote offices in several other cities, including Portland, Boise, Los Angeles, the Ukraine and Bangkok. The app is being used in the US only at this time, but we hope to roll out internationally soon.
Have you experienced any resistance?
We haven’t experienced any resistance per se—everyone, including retailers, think Stuffstr is a great idea. But, as with many new concepts, we often battle inertia. Until retailers and others begin to see the benefits of Stuffstr first-hand, it’s easy for them to divert their attention to whatever fire happens to be flaring up at the moment. Change is always hard, which is why persistence is such a great attribute for entrepreneurs.
What has been the environmental impact so far?
As we just launched in July 2016, it’s still a bit early to be measuring environmental impact. We know, however, that the impact of Stuffstr can be dramatic given the level of CO2 and materials associated with household items. For example, the CO2 embedded in the household goods you buy each year is roughly 1.5x the amount of CO2 emitted annually by your car. So extending the use of your things by as little as 20% is the same as not driving your car for the entire summer (and part of the fall).
Thanks so much to Debra for sharing so much information with us! We love the idea and hope it grows more and more over the next few years to prevent more items ending up in landfill.
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Thanks for reading!
Vix & Lou
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