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After Brit + Co.'s E-Commerce Shop Flops, a Pivot to a Marketplace for Makers

The new approach features DIY supplies and video tutorials.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Seven months back, Brit Morin spoke hopefully of her media company’s new approach to e-commerce: An online shop where readers could find each and every item that’s ever been mentioned within the site’s editorial content. Readers weren’t able to purchase stuff directly through Brit + Co., but could discover products there and click through to the retailer’s site to complete the purchase.

Within a short few months, it became clear that approach to e-commerce wasn’t working, Morin said in an interview this week. Two big reasons why: The site’s devotees complained that the retailer websites on the other end of a click on a product often weren’t optimized well for mobile phones.

Second, there was a feeling that the shop’s products didn’t appeal to the sensibility of Brit + Co.’s core readership as well as they should have. That audience consists of do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers and “makers” who enjoy supporting individual designers and crafters. The problem they saw was that the shop also included inventory from big brands, which seemed to go against the site’s ethos.

To Morin’s credit, the company caught on to these missteps early and quickly started working up a new approach. “We’re definitely a launch-and-iterate culture,” she said.

Today, it’s unveiling its next attempt at getting commerce right.

The new Brit + Co. Shop category is a limited marketplace where hundreds of crafters, designers and hardware creators will sell their wares directly to her core audience. Products will range from tool-making machinery to handbags, Morin said.

Additionally, the online storefront will also be the home to exclusive product launches, such as new electronics kits from LittleBits, the modular hardware startup.

The shop will also sell supplies for do-it-yourself projects; a separate Learn category will sell video tutorials that teach skills such as calligraphy.

“The vision is to enable people to either become a maker or support the whole maker economy,” she said.

On the surface, Brit + Co. seems to be moving head-on into competition with Etsy, the marketplace for crafters and designers that recently acquired Grand St. to bolster its move into gadget sales.

Morin said her site’s shop was going to push to stand out in a few ways. One way is by partnering with others, such as LittleBits, to sell exclusive products. But it’s also going to help its sellers with product photography, storytelling techniques and design advice.

When I expressed some skepticism that a hands-on approach could scale well as the marketplace grows, Morin said the company would grow its support team appropriately, and might consider charging for additional business services if it becomes cost-prohibitive to offer them for free.

Morin sounded convinced that this e-commerce approach will turn out better than the last. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be tough to ask readers to adjust to another big change.

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