Meet the startup trying to take the hassle out of household shopping

Almost everyone will have felt the annoyance (or fear during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic) of running out of toilet roll, soap or toothpaste. That’s the problem startup Bother is trying to address.

Founder Doug Morton wants to “save you and the planet from household shopping”. He describes it as boring, inefficient, inconvenient and bad for the environment.

His startup launched right as Covid-19 hit, initially as a service for keyworkers and NHS staff. It is now available nationwide, but only in beta.

“We think the way people currently shop is broken and not fit for purpose,” he tells Marketing Week. “We are trying to present an alternative to simplify people’s lives and to make better choices easier to make.”

The premise is simple. Bother offers next-day delivery on household items that don’t need refrigerating. That includes everything from toilet paper to toothpaste, a can of baked beans to washing up tablets.

It has deals with major FMCG companies including Unilever, Kraft Heinz and Reckitt Benckiser. The idea is to be their means of going direct-to-consumer, although Bother does not offer a subscription service as many in the DTC space do.

“Our whole raison d’etre is to empower consumers. We don’t want to feel like a shop, we want to feel like a household management tool. There are certain things you want to shop for – fresh food you want to browse but other things you don’t want to. Why is there the need to shop for the same toothpaste you buy every month – it should just come to you,” says Morton.

Building a startup by outsourcing

The company has adopted a different way to building up its team compared to many startups. Rather than hiring in-house then bringing in agencies, it has outsourced everything from the start. That includes its IT and logistics, as well as PR and marketing.

It has Uncommon on board to work on its brand strategy and its major launch planned for January next year. It is also working with Pretty Green on PR.

“Outsourcing gives us the ability to get the best talent in the market as fast as possible. We then in-house after that, which is a very different way to start a company compared to most in the past five to 10 years,” says Morton.

Due to Covid, most of these agencies have been brought on board despite Morton and the team having not actually met them, with pitches run virtually. There are disadvantages to that of course, such as the lack of relationship building that comes from meeting people face-to-face. But Morton sees advantages to.

Our whole raison d’etre is to empower consumers. We don’t want to feel like a shop, we want to feel like a household management tool.

Douglas Morton, Bother

“It has forced us to focus in more on our culture,” he says. “And with the agency model, we always want to have our core vision in mind with everything we do, but it’s almost forced that on our agency relationships as well. When you don’t have the opportunity to meet face-to-face and you don’t have that personal ability to communicate with body language and everything else, you make up for it by connecting in the vision and what it is you are trying to do together.”

Having said that, Bother is starting to bring people in-house. It has just hired a CRM manager and head of digital media, and it has a head of demand.

Marketing so far has been small-scale as the company expands slowly, but there is a big push planned for January. Morton believes brand will be key to Bother’s success because it is going up against huge brands in the major supermarkets, as well as needing to capture attention to convince people to change the way they shop.

“Brand is a massive thing for us, we think it can be a huge competitive advantage. That is because of the brands we are up against, but also because we are the alternative to a very boring industry that has been stuck in stasis for three generations and we want that to really resonate with customers.”

‘A new way of shopping’

Bother also has an environmental message Morton hopes will resonate. He describes how much of the plastic waste around food is there to protect it from the non-food items it is delivered with and sold next to. He also claims around two-thirds of the cost, and a lot of the environmental impact of delivering groceries to customers, comes from needing refrigerated vans for food.

“It makes me angry how inefficient it is,” says Morton. “There is no reason for dishwasher tablets or soap to be refrigerated; it’s massively inefficient for your wallet and the planet.”

Covid-19 has offered both an opportunity and challenges. There was a trend during lockdown for people to shop more locally, particularly for food, making the idea of getting other household goods more appealing.

But Morton is also concerned that a lot of the brand’s insights and testing has been done at a time when people are not living how they would normally, making judging long-term trends in this area harder.

“Covid has sped things up a bit, it has helped because people are looking for online shopping. But it has muddied the water because people have stocked up and some of the testing is a bit skewed. We want the reality of how people live their lives, not how they happened to have lived it in the past few months,” he explains.

While he’s bullish about the company’s chances, Morton admits success is not “a shoe-in”, in particular because habits can be slow to change and people have become used to getting household goods with their groceries.

Morton concludes: “We are small at the moment but our thing is scaling fast. We think this market is primed for disruption. It’s a very large market – Ocado at 1% market share is valued at £19bn.

“We are the alternative, a new way of thinking about shopping.”

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