Heads Up: This NYC Startup Has Made the Shopping Cart Social


Collaborative Carts

It’s this simple: when you’re doing your own online shopping, having autonomy is fine. But what about when you’re shopping with a group of people, like co-workers or wedding guests, chipping in for gifts or adding to the list of office need-to-purchase?

That’s when you want Cartonomy.

Cartonomy is a collaborative retail platform that makes online shopping carts shareable with friends, families and co-workers in order to take the hassle out of group purchasing.

Yup, it’s that simple.

Founder and CEO Jack Lowinger tells us more about this inclusive shopping experience that helps to make sure that no one gets left out which, and when you think about it, solves kind of a different form of shopping cart abandonment.

Tell us about the service.

Cartonomy is a collaborative shopping platform that makes your ecommerce purchases shareable with friends, families and co-workers.  In addition to taking the hassle out of coordinating group shopping lists, we provide instant access to millions of products from top national retail outlets.

How is it different?

Cartonomy combines sharing functionality and purchasing capability to create community-inspired social retail experiences for home, work and life. It helps consumers collaborate with the people they shop for, tackle shopping as a group, and check out at their favorite retailers – all through one shared shopping cart.

Shopping has always been an inherently social activity, but ecommerce options have failed to deliver on a true community shopping experience.  You are isolated from the moment you start adding products to a cart until you complete the checkout, although there are tools that offer fun social product discovery or help you find deals. Unlike other group/social shopping services, which layer social features over your personal shopping, we are building an experience that is modeled from the ground up after the way that social shopping takes place in our offline lives.

What market are you attacking and how big is it?

Cartonomy is attacking the e-commerce market, which is expected to reach $1.7 trillion in 2015. There’s a potential market of 56.7 million households and four million small businesses in the United States, who are in need of a streamlined way to purchase goods for the home and office.

What is the business model?

Cartonomy works directly with retail partners to receive a share of the purchase price on items discovered on Cartonomy.

How has your experience at Retry has shaped Cartonomy?

Jack Lowlinger

Jack Lowinger

Cartonomy is the first and so far only product Retry has developed, although we plan to build more products around the theme of simplifying the collaborative aspect of e-commerce.

What inspired the business?

I noticed a lack of sync between the needs of families and organizations, and the types of experiences that were popular for shopping online. There’s a clear gap between the type of purchases that were driving the growth of ecommerce and mobile shopping, and the needs of groups who were most likely to be the ones still trundling to the store aisles or ordering from paper catalogs. E-commerce had ignored the group shopper.

I noticed this acutely in my experiences working as a college professor, where universities would buy huge quantities in bulk when prices dropped, which then languished in a supply room for years, sometimes decades (every size of floppy disk still lined up in rows).  A colossal waste of money and space.  My experiences in the non-academic sector and in shopping for my family confirmed that e-commerce – with its rigid one person, one cart, one store approach – was just not set up to take advantage of the enormous demand generated by group shoppers looking for one place to coordinate, decide, and buy.

What types of products are most likely to be group purchased?

Cartonomy research shows that more than 22% of key business decision makers are wasting far too much time on supply orders trying to meet the needs of every employee, and that almost 40% of moms are looking for a better way to group shop with their families online.This is borne out by the fact that we see a lot of requests for staple products like paper, printing supplies, groceries, and baby/kids products.

What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?

Our iOS team is putting some last touches on a phenomenal group shopping app with a clean and streamlined interface for product discovery and cart collaboration.  In the meantime, we’re continuing to go after high value, long term customers, especially among SMBs, schools, and moms and dads who have more important things to do than spend time on the shopping list or at the store.  We also plan to do simpler storytelling to help the many people who need Cartonomy to understand how to optimize their experience.

What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?

I get lots of advice all the time, both solicited and not, so it’s unlikely there’s a piece I haven’t heard. It’s important to listen to the right advice and apply it at the right time. Confirmation bias can drive a lot of decision making in running a business, especially once significant capital has been committed down a path.  My grandmother told me recently that success is guaranteed, if you pay attention to the details. I think she’s probably right-on with that.  Vision and even capital can’t guarantee results, whereascompanies that thrive tend to pay a lot of attention to the little things. Apple is probably the best-known example of this approach, but it applies to startups as well. Every detail of the product matters in order for the marketing or sales dollars to convert.  You can raise money off a well-crafted business plan, but it won’t net you any revenue.

I was also inspired recently by something Mark Zuckerberg said in a recent Facebook Q&A: the secret to success is never giving up.  If some founders knew in advance the amount of sheer persistence required to run a startup in its first years, they might have chosen another path.  It’s good to once in a while acknowledge where you stand relative to where you started, and not focus exclusively on the work still ahead. I probably don’t do enough of that.

If you could be put in touch with one investor in the New York community who would it be and why?

I always enjoy meeting with and have learned a lot from investors who have a solid grounding in the e-commerce space and know the market for innovative shopping tools.  I particularly enjoy meeting people who have been around longer than just the current tulip craze, who can appreciate the long-term approach we take to customer development and product evolution.  Fred Wilson and Ken Lerer come to mind as people I haven’t met yet,who fit that description.

Why did you launch in New York?

No brainer for me – I grew up in Brooklyn and nearly everyone and everything I hold dear is within a shout of NYC.  It’s also a great place to meet customers who need Cartonomy to simplify a busy part of their busy lives, and who are likely to present cross-vertical opportunities, introducing it both at work and at home.  Our team is global, though and I enjoy the challenge of coordinating time zones, cultures, and language to make the magic happen.

Where is your favorite outdoor bar in the city for a drink when it is actually warm out?

Rain or sun, I tend to run home to the kids whenever I get a chance to leave the office. Ages ago, during my NYU days, we would sometimes hold our Economics study group at a no-name, no-sign open roof bar on top of a Korean deli. I’d be curious to see if such places survived the various renaissances of Midtown South since then.

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