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Toms started in 2006 with the promise that for every pair of shoes a customer bought, Toms would donate a pair to a child in need.  Since then, Toms has donated 10 million pairs of shoes and has sparked a philanthropic trend among other manufacturers and retailers.  For example, eyeglass maker Warby Parker also offers a “buy one, give one” option.  To help other businesses reach their philanthropic and social goals, Toms has created Toms Marketplace.  Toms Marketplace is an online store featuring more than 200 products from 30 companies and charities.

Examples of products sold on this site include Yellow Leaf Hammocks which employs tribal members in Thailand to produce colorful hammocks and Stone and Cloth, a backpack producer that donates towards scholarships to students in Tanzania.  Other examples include a Denik notebook that includes a $1 donation for every sale towards building schools and a JADEtribe weekend back that supports employment of female Laotian villagers. Companies chosen to participate in Toms Marketplace have to have a mission for “improving people’s lives baked into its business model.”

Toms Marketplace will use algorithms to make suggestions to customers based on their concerns and social interests as well as their personal tastes.  Toms does not just host the brands and take a commission of sales, but has absorbed all of the logistics cost by buying the inventory outright at wholesale and managing the sale and delivery of the products. Toms, who has focused little on advertising before, will advertise Toms Marketplace on billboards with the tagline “This is bigger than us.”

Many social entrepreneurs believe that Toms Marketplace is a great opportunity to build awareness about their brands and causes.  In addition, consumers are clamoring for products that support important causes.  According to a study done by a public relations agency, 53% of consumers ranked a brand’s activities for social causes as a deciding purchasing factor.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is Toms Marketplace?

2. Who does it benefit?

3. Would you purchase products from Toms Marketplace even if they were more expensive than those available elsewhere?


SOURCE: Andrew Adam Newman, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2013