In the midst of the droning, sad-trombone sound of dour economic news since COVID took hold in March of 2020 is this undeniable success story: Online retail sales increased 32.4% year over year in 2020 and were up 39% in 2021. To give it more context, online sales hit $792 billion last year as throngs of people shopped while sheltering at home, up from $598 billion in 2019. So much for the trombone; break out the festive maracas.
And while the surge in online spending was undeniably put into hyperdrive by the pandemic, younger buyers – millennials and Gen Z, specifically – have been propelling that trend for quite some time. Which begs the perplexing question as to why more promo companies don’t have true e-commerce platforms to capture the voluminous number of sales happening online. In this year’s Counselor State of the Industry survey, nearly 50% of responding distributors indicated that they have “e-commerce-enabled platforms.” And yet, that isn’t even close to the case using the definition of sites where one can order logoed products from start to finish, when the buyer pays for and clicks “Order” to ship the branded items. Clearly distributors are using a looser definition of “e-commerce-enabled,” where perhaps their sites have products and pricing.
Enter Jeremy Parker and Josh Orbach, the two millennial founders and owners of Swag.com (asi/287954) who have managed to do what few have before them – figure out how to create a sleek, intuitive, end-to-end functional and easy-to-navigate promo shopping site that’s fully e-commerce-based.
Having met in their 20s, Parker and Orbach started Swag.com nearly six years ago and had quite the auspicious beginning. “I had started a T-shirt company during the recession in 2007, of all things, and decided to write a letter to [serial entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban, who I really admired, and tell him about a marketing promotion I came up with where I tied the price of our T-shirts to the Dow Jones,” Jeremy Parker says. “For every 100 points the Dow dropped, we gave a discount.” Cuban loved the idea so much that he wrote about it in his blog. Needless to say, the buzz Parker generated was off-the-charts.
Fast-forward to 2015, when Parker and Orbach, who are now in their mid-30s, founded Swag.com, because, as Parker says, “the promo industry was broken and fragmented. But here’s the thing: Swag brings people together, so we knew there had to be a better way.”
“We’re fully digital and fully e-commerce,” says Orbach. “Our whole concept was to make the buying experience seamless for customers, even though promo is so complex. That and the consistent high-quality of our curated product offerings has been our main goal. Everything – the whole buying process – is online and automated.” [Click here to watch Swag.com’s video explaining the platform to consumers.]
Now with a staff of 45 in the U.S. – all working remotely – in addition to 18 developers in Ukraine and two designers in London, Swag.com benefitted immensely from the robust online ordering trend, on track to more than double the $15.5 million in sales the company did in 2020 this year. Says Parker, on why the promo industry is one of the most powerful and effective out there: “When people are disconnected, swag is the great unifier.”
Click here watch an in-depth video interview with Jeremy Parker and Josh Orbach in which they discuss their origin story, how they built Swag.com, product and buying trends they see from their buyers (most of whom skew to the millennial and Gen Z demographics), the benefits of real-time data analytics, and what the future looks like for digital-based promo sales.
Michele Bell is the vice president of ASI’s Editorial, Education & Special Events teams. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.