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Why Pay More? The Cool $3 Shopping Site

Most of us who want to save money in supermarkets or drugstores are familiar with the blandly packaged, no-name products known as store brands or generics. Because they don’t have the expensive ad campaigns of brand-name products, these sturdy basics don’t cost nearly as much, but they are often drearily packaged and lacking in variety or sophistication (little pretzel twists, anyone?)

Enter Brandless (www.brandless.com), a shopping site that aims to change the nature of generics, making products as diverse as stylish notebooks and fig and thyme crisps available for a low price of $3 each – and in cool packaging, too. No wondering whether you should wait for a sale on these goodies, or searching through the Sunday papers for a coupon. Everything costs $3, always – everything from coffee pods to toothpaste, granola to gummy candy. Like generics, the products bear only the name of the product (organic dried cranberries, for example) and carry the Brandless name in tiny lettering. The point is the product, not the name. But the effect is minimalist, not tacky. (Food is the biggest section on the website; other categories include household supplies, beauty, health, personal care, and home and office.) And the concept of cool, high-quality $3 items is appealing to everyone from hip millennials getting into groceries for the first time to experienced shoppers.

In making their case, the founders of Brandless, venture capitalists Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler, point out the hidden cost of brand-name products with the word “BrandTax™ – meaning the extra money you pay for brand-name products.

In some ways, I’m an ideal Brandless customer. I know which products I want in a name brand, and I’m happy to use generics for others. I decided to find out how Brandless would work for me. I ordered five products for my experiment: blue corn tortilla chips; hand soap; salsa; vegetarian gummy fish; and a notebook. I chose some of my items based on what my family frequently buys and others for which I don’t typically buy generic. I wanted to see how Brandless avoids the “BrandTax™ money you pay for the expensive ad campaigns of brand-name products. I just wasn’t sure it would be right for me. Here are the results:

The Positives

The site is easy to use, with lots of information about each product.

My box arrived quickly.

The tortilla chips tasted great (though they were half smashed), as did the gummy fish—like a yummier version of Swedish Fish, actually. The hand soap has a great scent. The notebook is well crafted and sophisticated.

The Negatives

Shipping typically costs $9 so you would want to make a significant sized order to make it worth your while. I got my $3 shipping only through a code. The $9 fee was on the invoice (incorrectly), though I was billed correctly on my credit card. Customer service was less than helpful, stating they were aware of that glitch.

For the 8-ounce bag of tortilla chips that’s listed as 2 bags for $3. I only received one. When I talked to customer service, the story is that you have to add items separately. That wasn’t clear so I was disappointed to find just one bag—especially when I discovered how good they tasted.

The salsa was a whole other story, sadly. It wasn’t to my taste – at all. I mentioned this to customer service and was not impressed with their response. “This honest information, while unfortunate, is really important.”

The Takeaway

I love the idea of Brandless, and I loved some of the products. I was pretty displeased with my customer service experience, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because any new company (Brandless started in July 2017) suffers from hiccups in its early days.

As for the $5.61 in ‘BrandTax savings’ my order generated? That’s debatable. I paid about double what I’d spend on a bottle of Softsoap, and slightly more than usual for gummy candy and a notebook.

But I think I’m willing to give them another try. With every purchase, the founders donate to the nonprofit organization Feeding America. That alone merits a second look.