Commerce Born Out of Charity
Cancer is a devastating disease that impacts way too many lives, from the patients themselves to their caretakers and loved ones. Young adult cancer patients (ages 15-39) are often a forgotten segment of the war on cancer. With that in mind, nonprofit organization Stupid Cancer shines a light on young adult cancer through advocacy, research, support, outreach, awareness, mobile health and social media. To help fund its mission, Stupid Cancer has set up an e-commerce site to sell its branded merchandise.
In a presentation yesterday at the eTail East conference in Boston, Kenny Kane, co-founder and COO of Stupid Cancer, discussed how the nonprofit organization is leveraging e-commerce to help it better the lives of people going through a very traumatic experience.
Small, But Growing
Stupid Cancer, which was originally I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation before a name change in 2012, launched its e-commerce site in March 2012. At the time it sold only 4 products.
While it’s never going to compete with the leading online retail brands, Stupid Cancer has created a niche business in the three-plus years it’s operated an e-commerce site. Last year the organization generated $100,000 in online revenues, with a 6 percent conversion rate. The average order value was $40, and 25 products are sold on the site (415 SKUs). Revenue has doubled year-over-year for each year the site has been in business.
“Our motivation is that people [cancer patients] want to belong and be part of a community,” Kane said.
Roadblocks to Success
Being a nonprofit organization and not a traditional retail brand has created some challenges for Stupid Cancer in selling its merchandise online, Kane said. For one, its target demographic — young adult cancer patients and their caretakers — have reduced purchasing power. In a lot of cases these people are tapped out financially from the medical bills, Kane said.
In addition, Stupid Cancer has to be careful not to succumb to “mission drift,” said Kane. Our mission is to be an advocate and support system for people with cancer, not an online retailer, Kane said. Yet visitors to Stupid Cancer’s e-commerce site are often confused if it’s a charity or apparel company, and want to know where the money goes.
“We need to articulate our message and be genuine so that it doesn’t look like we’re capitalizing on the misfortunes of others,” Kane said.
Lastly, Stupid Cancer struggles with many of the same issues that other online apparel retailers do, namely product quality vs. margin as well as sizing consistency.
Kane offered a series of steps that Stupid Cancer is exploring to continue to grow its e-commerce business, which in turn helps it provide the services and programs that its community relies on it for. They include the following:
- an expansion of its “Get Busy Living” product line;
- introduction of lifestyle products in addition to its apparel offerings;
- expansion of product offering to include activewear; and
- form retail partnerships with companies like Hot Topic and Spencer’s.
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