When you buy something, you’re voting with your dollar, giving your support to whatever brand you’re purchasing and the vendor you’re shopping with. And a startup called Shop the Change wants to help you align that “vote” with brands and businesses that match your values when buying everything from potato chips to jeans to cars.
“It’s a way to make shopping into very subtle activism. Every purchase you make, you’re telling that company that you agree with them, almost,” said co-founder Sara LeHoullier.
LeHoullier, along with Edgar Mason, launched their online shopping business last year, basing the five-person company in Olalla, a rural, shoreline town southwest of Seattle.
The company is starting with grocery items as its initial focus and hopes to expand to cover all consumer goods. Initially, shoppers will be able to pick from six values for setting their priorities: women’s rights, racial equality, animal welfare, environmental responsibility, non-exploitation/fair trade, and LGBTQ rights and gender equality. That list too, they plan to eventually expand.
To start, Shop the Change is manually compiling information on goods and sellers. They’re researching product certifications, such as organic or free-trade; public reports about businesses; external reviews and commentary; and businesses’ marketing and branding materials. The company plans to employ machine learning to do some of the research and will incorporate user feedback into the assessments. They would like to partner with other companies and nonprofits that provide similar reports and ratings for consumers, with a vision that one day Shop the Change could become the one-stop-spot for all of this information to reside.
Others in the space include reviews from Consumer Reports and Environmental Working Group, the apps DoneGood and HowGood, and browser extensions to help shoppers. But no one is providing as broad a service as they’ve proposed, LeHoullier said.
“Nobody has been able to capture all of the different data and make it simple enough for everyday people to use,” she said. Others are more niche or high-end. If you’re limited to shopping at Walmart, you need advice too.
“Everybody should be able to make change, and we should be able to meet everybody where they are,” LeHoullier said. “Some of the generics are great, it just depends on what you care about.”
The LeHoullier and Mason are raising money through a crowd-funding campaign until the end of August as part of the Seattle cohort of iFundWomen. They’re also making pitches to potential investors.
The Shop the Change app is undergoing final tweaks and should be available next month.
Before launching the business, Mason worked with marginalized communities in Africa and Asia for USAID and others. After spending years helping people abroad empower themselves and their communities, he returned to the U.S. eager to assist people here in supporting the issues they care about. After conducting some market research, he joined up with LeHoullier, a web designer and former Microsoft employee who spent two years in the U.S. Peace Corps.
The app will make money through links to affiliated sites like Amazon or Walmart, which will also make it easy for people to use Shop the Change while continuing to make purchases through familiar sites. They’re also considering running ads and offering services like meal plans and recipes.
Mason said that the biggest challenge is convincing people that voting through consumer choices is easy to do.
“The concept is good. Our market research says it’s highly desired. But the concept of value-based shopping is also described as being far too tedious to be feasible for most people,” he said. “It’s our mission to change that because it’s essentially our company’s and product’s purpose.”