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Can This App Help Consumers, Retailers Redefine Our Relationship with Stuff?

Image credit: Stuffstr

Are we truly stuffed? Our obsession with ownership means we have become somewhat attracted to clutter. It is estimated that the average US home contains 300,000 items, yet this still isn’t enough for 1 in 10 Americans who have to additionally rent offsite storage.

Our relationship with stuff is quietly complex; we tend to define ourselves by what we own. In many cases, cherished products are seen as an extension of our physical bodies and sense of self. But much of what we buy we soon relegate to the sidelines — where it lies idle for most of the time or is eventually discarded.

It is these unloved assets that start-up tech firm Stuffstr is looking to rehome through its business intelligence platform, a mobile app that aims to help people extend the working life and value of the things they buy, whilst providing brands and retailers with useful data into post-sale consumer behaviour and product life cycles.

Stuffstr co-founders John Atcheson and Steve Gutmann both have backgrounds in the sharing economy — prior to Stuffstr (a finalist in the 2015 SB Innovation Open; see Atcheson’s presentation here), they helped launched Getaround, a peer-to-peer car-sharing company based in San Francisco.

But shortly thereafter, Atcheson says, “Steve and I became obsessed with finding a way to utilize the 90-plus percent idle time of all the other things people own.”

Over the past two years, the Stuffstr team has been testing and researching the most effective ways to get people to engage with their stuff in more mindful and sustainable ways. Despite established resale channels such as eBay, craigslist, Yerdle and Gumtree, and the growth of online sharing marketplaces, Atcheson believes these outlets aren’t addressing the core problem.

“If it were truly easy to resell or recirculate things, we wouldn’t be seeing $7,000 worth of unused stuff in the average American home,” he says. “Eighty percent of the household items we buy are used less than once per month. Stuffstr bridges this gap by fundamentally changing people’s relationship with their stuff.”

The Stuffstr app works in a number of ways. First, it automatically captures retail purchases, enabling customers to access a bespoke inventory with detailed product information that updates automatically. This helps people to engage more deeply with each item they buy.

Users can then share their favourite items with their social networks, and connect to others who own or have an interest in similar items. This effectively generates free publicity for the retailers selling these products. In addition, the app tracks every item’s value over time, making it easy for users to resell, repair, donate, or recycle the item if they wish.

“People generally have very little awareness of what their stuff is worth,” Atcheson says. “No one is telling you that the shirt you haven’t worn for 12 months could sell for $X.00, or that your local Boys and Girls Club is conducting a shirt drive.”

Significantly, Stuffstr’s platform is built around a wealth of partnerships – not just retailers, but resellers, charities and government agencies – helping to facilitate new channels for engagement and exchange.

“We’ve designed Stuffstr from the ground up to be beneficial to retailers, because we see retailers as the critical link between products and people. The more retailers facilitate and encourage their customers’ use of Stuffstr, the more the retailers will benefit,” Atcheson explains. “In addition, Stuffstr is creating a platform that can be very helpful to communities and governments that are working to reduce their waste streams. We’ve already been approached by both local and national agencies that want to promote Stuffstr to their communities as part of their waste-reduction strategies.”

According to Atcheson, the anonymised post-sale product lifecycle data generated by the app will provide new levels of insight into retailer merchandising and marketing efforts.

“Longer-term, our goal is to help retailers move toward longer-lasting products and new business models that can improve both their bottom lines and our environment.”

Atcheson says interest in the platform has been high: “We have engagement from some of the largest retailers in both the US and the UK. Several of these retailers are beginning to invest heavily in trade-in and recycling programs of their own, and recognize Stuffstr as a way to increase the volume of those programs. A few are committed to taking leadership roles in the transition to more circular models, and with these we’re finding particular traction.”

While Stuffstr is not due to launch until this Spring, the company is already a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 network, and the goal is to have more than one billion items on the platform within three years. The app will be mainly targeting non-consumable items — typically products that carry a value for six months or more, such as clothing, cameras, bikes and toys.

“We see Stuffstr as a global opportunity that’s addressing a global need,” Atcheson maintains. “Both retailers and manufacturers have little, if any, idea what happens to the products they sell post-sale. They don’t know when in its life a product is typically resold, or what it resells for. 

“This information can be tremendously helpful in deciding what products to produce or stock, how best to price them, and how to market them effectively. There’s broad interest in this data.”


Maxine is an environmental journalist working in the field of corporate sustainability, circular economy and resource risk.

[Read more about Maxine Perella]


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