What is Brandless?

By Lydia Noyes
HighYa Staff Published on: Apr 25, 2018

Brandless is a 2017 e-commerce startup that promises to provide their customers with a variety of food and household items, all for $3 and under. The central premise is that shoppers can order goods online and have them shipped directly to their home within days of purchasing.

According to Business Insider, Brandless founders Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler started the company to capitalize on consumer changes that were causing traditional brands to suffer. In their view, modern shoppers are less concerned about brand names and more interested in shopping for value, whether that comes from lower prices or higher quality ingredients (and usually both!).

The idea behind Brandless is that customers inadvertently pay for the advertising expenses of brand name products through higher prices at the store. Brandless’s website labels this upcharge as a ‘BrandTax’ that they estimate costs consumers between 40% to 370% more than the cost of an equivalent product from their online store.

By selling each product under a generic label, Brandless seeks to remove the “BrandTax” from their products and pass these lower prices on to the customer. This means that rather than filling packaging with brand labels or slogans, Brandless lists only the physical properties of the product itself.

Through this countercultural marketing strategy, Brandless professes to provide “quality, transparency, and community-driven values” to every customer. Does the brand deliver? Will you really save money by shopping at Brandless? Let’s delve into the details to find out.

Will Buying Non-Branded Products Save You Money?

Forbes.com tells us that good branding is critical in the retail business because it allows companies to differentiate from their competitors and charge more for otherwise comparable products.

Companies pass on the costs of developing and marketing their branded products to their customers through higher price tags. Because successful branding improves the perceived value of their product, customers often don’t mind paying extra for them.

However, Time.com states that today’s shoppers aren’t as likely to equate higher prices with higher quality. The Great Recession caused millions of newly price-conscious shoppers to ditch their preferred national brands for generic options instead, and many never returned to their previous purchasing habits.

In fact, surveys showed that 93% of consumers had permanently changed their shopping habits by 2010, saving them between 25% and 30% on many of their purchases.

While Time.com tells us that the market began correcting itself by raising the price on generic brands, avoiding big brand labels is still a way to save money today.

Brandless then takes this shopping model one step further by ditching the brick and mortar store entirely and operating only on an online basis. Will you still save money buying generic products when shipping costs are factored in?

Let’s look closer at Brandless’s pricing to find out.

What Does Brandless Sell?

Brandless’s pricing system is based on the concept that every product costs $3 or less. At the time of writing, the store had an extensive collection of food, household, beauty, personal care, health, and home & office supplies.

When we did our research, all orders from Brandless have a flat $9 shipping charge unless you spend more than $39. Alternatively, becoming a Brandless member provides unlimited free shipping for $36 a year.

Regarding returns, customers can contact help@brandless.com within 14 days of receiving their items to see if they qualify for one. After 14 days have passed, all sales are non-refundable.

The company website also states that they have partnered with Feeding America to donate one meal (valued by the organization at $0.09) for every regular order, and two for orders from members. At the time of writing, Brandless Inc. guaranteed that they would donate a minimum of 1,650.000 meals (equal to $150,000) from 5/15/2017 to 5/15/2018.

What Kind of Quality are Brandless Products?

The Brandless website makes it clear that the company prioritizes providing transparency to their customers with their products. Each package highlights the most essential features of every product, from organic certification to the ingredients list.

Every category of Brandless products also follows specific quality standards. A summary of these standards is below, as noted on the company website.

Food & Beverage: All Brandless food is non-GMO and made without artificial preservatives and flavors, and over half is USDA certified organic.

Beauty: Brandless has eliminated over 400 potentially harmful ingredients from their products like parabens, polypropylene, phthalates, and sulfates. The company is also 100% against animal testing.

Household Cleaners: Brandless cleaning products adhere to Safer-Choice Standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This means that they only contain ingredients that have been pre-approved by the EPA as “CleanGredients.”

Home & Office: Brandless’s stationery paper products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit that focuses on promoting responsible forestry around the world.

Feminine Hygiene: The company’s tampons and top sheets of pads are made from hypoallergenic-certified organic cotton, and are free of chlorine, rayon, fragrances, and dyes.

Household Paper: Brandless’s napkins, bath tissues, and facial tissues are all biodegradable and USDA Certified Biobased under the BioPreferred® Program. This means that they are made from natural materials rather than petroleum-derived products.

What Do Customer Reviews of Brandless Say?

Our research showed us that there are dozens of online reviews and blog posts about customer experiences with Brandless.

For instance, a Brandless review from Business Insider offers us a mixed perspective on the quality and value of Brandless products. The reviewer found the organic boxed macaroni and cheese to be mostly flavorless and expensive for the amount he received, and he noted that the $3 tongs he ordered were less sturdy than expected, though similar ones were for sale on Amazon for $6.

He also mentioned that the company’s garbanzo beans cost the same amount as a generic store brand, but that they earned points for him for being low-sodium, organic and non-GMO.

Overall, the reviewer found Brandless’s product offering to be a mixed bag, with some items a steal and others not worthwhile. So long as you purchase enough to take advantage of free shipping, he recommended the company for bargain hunters.

Likewise, a review from CheapPriceBlog praised Brandless’s fast shipping and consistent pricing but noted that the selection seemed limited and that many items were cheaper per ounce at Trader Joe’s (especially when shipping costs were factored in).

Regarding Brandless’s beauty products, a reviewer on CoolMomPicks mentioned that she liked the company’s selection so much that she would be willing to switch her personal product shopping over to Brandless completely.

How Does Brandless Compare to Trader Joes?

Our research into customer reviews for Brandless revealed that many shoppers viewed the brand as an online alternative to Trader Joes, a popular Germany-based grocery store chain known for its low prices and quirky food offerings.

Though we didn’t purchase or try any items from either store ourselves, we found informative reviews from Insider.com that compared the taste and price points of similar products from both stores to see who came out ahead.

Regarding taste, Insider compared five Brandless and Trader Joe’s products (white cheddar popcorn, salted tortilla chips, chunky salsa, gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and gluten-free boxed brownie mix).

Their ratings determined that Trader Joe food tasted better in every instance except for the brownie mix, which the two brands tied on. Complaints against Brandless products included that the food tasted stale, more bland, and a little saltier than the Trader Joe’s foods.

Regarding price, the Insider review found that their sampling of products showed that Trader Joe’s had a consistently lower price per ounce for their products. Of the 24 items they looked at, just four from Brandless (green tea, coconut oil, hand soap, and hand cream) were a better deal.

Though Brandless prices were never over $3 for any item, the reviewers found that package sizes were often smaller than standard brands, leading to a higher cost per ounce. Notably, this review didn’t factor in shipping costs, which would raise the price for Brandless products higher still.

Our View: Is Brandless Worthwhile?

As an e-commerce option for grocery shopping, Brandless is striving to change the way that people purchase food and other staple goods. The company claims to keep their prices low by removing the “BrandTax” common in national brands.

But will Brandless save you money? Our research shows it can be hit or miss. Reports on pricing compared to the relatively comparable grocery store chain Trader Joe’s shows that many items are cheaper per ounce at a physical grocery store, even without factoring in shipping costs. We also noticed some complaints about the quality and flavor of Brandless goods.

However, the convenience of shopping online at Brandless might be a significant selling point for many people, especially those that don’t live by a store like Trader Joe’s. At the time of writing purchases only needed to be over $39 to qualify for free shipping, and an annual membership fee of $36 provides free shipping for the whole year. For many people, these factors might make up for the cost difference.

Likewise, Brandless priorities transparency in the quality of their ingredients and donates money from every purchase to Feed the Hungry, which isn’t something that many standard stores can offer.

Should you switch your shopping over to Brandless? That comes down to a personal decision. Our research shows some items will likely taste better and save you more money than others, so it might take some experimentation to determine what makes sense for you.

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