SPOTLIGHT: E-Commerce Companies Bypass the Middlemen

When the founders of a start-up that sells eyeglasses online, Warby Parker, began investigating why designer glasses cost several hundred dollars, they discovered that everyone in the process was taking a cut: designers, manufacturers, brands, wholesalers and retailers. But what if they left out most of those people? Warby Parker is part of a wave of e-commerce companies that are trying to build premium brands at discount prices by cutting out middlemen and going straight to manufacturers. They make everything from bedding (Crane and Canopy), to office supplies (Poppin), nail polish (Julep), tech accessories (Monoprice), men's shoes (Beckett Simonon) and shaving supplies (Harry's). The result is generally cheaper products for consumers and higher profit margins for the companies. Big retailers discovered long ago that controlling the supply chain benefited their bottom lines, which is why companies like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods sell many products under their own brands. At Macy's and Kohl's, such "private label" brands make up almost half of their sales. Start-ups have traditionally struggled to match those efforts. Story

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