BALTIMORE – The explosion of influencer-approved, online-only brands has led even the largest companies to attempt all kinds of experiments.
One of the strangest is the new Potemkin startup Allswell, which pitches its almost entirely online-only, direct-to-consumer mattresses, and a selection of bedding, to people willing to pay more than is typical for a mattress from a deep discounter.
Allswell launched like other direct-to-consumer startups of its ilk, starting with paid mentions among social-media influencers and a wacky marketing campaign – the company showed off its wares in a mobile tiny-home tour.
Around the same time, Allswell was selected by “department store of the future” Neighborhood Goods to sell its products inside its Plano, Texas store.
Everything about Allswell looks and feels like its peers – from its website to its nonprofit commitment – except Allswell is wholly owned by Walmart.
The Bentonville, Arkansas giant started it as an experiment in reaching younger, wealthier and more socially conscious shoppers.
While Walmart proudly announced in its corporate communications that it is behind Allswell, it isn’t mentioned anywhere in Allswell’s website or social media or brand presence in Neighborhood Goods.
Allswell sells mattress toppers in 3,500 Walmarts in the United States and is considering selling mattresses there as well, but it isn’t a Walmart house brand.
“We have products that wouldn’t go into a Walmart store, and are probably too premium for a Walmart customer,” said Allswell President Arlyn Davich.
“Our largest market by far for direct-to-consumer is New York City, a place where there aren’t any Walmart stores,” she added.
Historically, Walmart has been opposed by local politicians and labor groups whenever it has tried to open stores in the city.
Davich reports to Andy Dunn, Walmart’s senior vice president of digital consumer brands and formerly the chief executive of men’s direct-to-consumer clothing brand Bonobos, which Walmart acquired in 2017.
Bonobos’ entire ethos, from its “guideshops” where you can try on its clothes but not take them home, to the way it grew and marketed itself, is a major inspiration for Allswell, said Davich.
In a recent interview, Dunn said the reason Allswell isn’t identified with Walmart in its own marketing materials is that “the future is that brands have an independent connection, that direct-to-consumer connection, just the same way that Bonobos came up.”
Allswell typifies the way social media in particular has shaped what we want (cool, “authentic” brands with a story to tell) and how we want it (preferably delivered to our homes).
It is also either a brilliant move by Walmart into an area of product-as-marketing that will someday be the norm, or it is a cargo cult-ish attempt at doing all the surface things to attract affluent millennials that could founder once its target audience realizes that behind the curtain is the great and powerful deep-discounting big-box store.