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alice.com logoDown to one square of TP? Is the dog out of kibble, the soap in the bathroom down to a sliver, and you can't find an envelope to mail that letter or a bandage for your blister? Don't blame Alice if you can't think, plan or shop ahead.

Alice.com launched today in beta. The new commerce site sells "household essentials," those necessary staples such as soap and shampoo, tissues and detergent, pet food and aluminum foil...and doesn't charge a shipping fee. Instead, they rely on customer loyalty -- the fact that consumers need to keep buying all this stuff

Alice's model isn't as an online retailer per se, instead it's a platform for "CPG manufacturers to sell directly to consumers, passing along significant cost savings and transforming mass-market advertising dollars into direct consumer value."

It's also a marketing play. Registering on the site involves revealing -- in a playful, unobtrusive way -- the registrant's gender and demographic, as well as a profile of other members of the household, allowing for targeted offers. "The CPG industry spends billions of dollars each year trying to influence consumer behavior through traditional advertising, and much of that spending is wasted," said Alice.com's President and Co-Founder Mark McGuire in a statement. "In contrast to this 'spray and pray' approach, Alice allows manufacturers to connect directly with consumers through targeted couponing, sampling and loyalty programs. The result is more accountability for the advertiser and more value for the end consumer."

Online coupons are huge at the moment according to data from comScore and others. What's at question here is Alice's ability to attract and retain users. Amazon's Subscribe and Save program is not at all dissimilar to what Alice offers: consumers can "subscribe" to a variety of household products that are sold at a volume discount and shipped free, at regular, customer-determined intervals (in fact, it's what keeps my cats alive). Amazon has never really promoted this shopping feature, which offers considerable value and convenience to the consumer, as well as loyal customers to the retailer or, in Alice's case, CPG companies.

Key to Alice's success will be spreading the word and getting customers to sign up, use, and stay signed up to the service. Patently obvious, right? The beta site is well designed, loaded with social features, and plans to full-scale launch this fall. The question is whether or not Alice has got the marketing muscle to get onto consumers' radar.

If not, Alice will remain in Wonderland.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 23 June, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

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