For many consumers, Amazon is a one-stop shop to easily buy nearly any mass-produced item. But the digital platform is not so easy to navigate for the retailers that try to use it to sell their wares.
"[Amazon's] business is figuring out different ways the consumer can shop on their platform and buy as many products as possible, so when you talk about the seller, the seller has a tougher job on their hands than the consumer," said Darrin Levine, founder of retail management software company Asdal.
Levine, 26, first started working on software and e-commerce programs during a college project. He launched Asdal in 2017, and it was a finalist in 2019 for Meda's Million Dollar Challenge. It has grown to have more than 20 employees who work mostly remotely and helps retailers achieve an average of $67,000 in monthly gross revenue in less than 16 months.
The company, headquartered in north Minneapolis, has a goal to help direct-to-consumer retailers better manage their digital stores on a range of online marketplaces including Amazon, Etsy, Shopify and Instagram.
Especially after the acceleration of e-commerce adoption by consumers during the pandemic, Levine said his company's mission has become more urgent as it focuses on helping retailers use online platforms more efficiently and make sense of data.
"The digital market is here now," Levine said, as he walked Nicollet Mall with a couple of his business partners. "COVID sped that adaption up. Grandmas are buying stuff online now, grandpas are buying stuff online and when baby boomers are starting to buy stuff online, go!"
Specialty retailers, unlike the big-box stores that many have flocked to during the pandemic, will increasingly become what consumers turn to online as their shopping patterns change, Levine said.
"No one is is really here fighting for these retailers, these up-and-coming retailers. … These specialty retailers, what they have that the Amazons and the Targets will never have, they have these humanistic bonds [to their customers]," Levine said.
Asdal has developed four versions of a suite of programs called Grit that offers retailers a platform to address account management, sales tracking, marketing, data and analytics, customer service, logistics and more depending on how much assistance the client needs.
In the last few weeks, Asdal has released its most comprehensive service, Grit Automation. With the service, the company's staff works with partners including e-commerce company Ecom Capital to help clients develop a product, create brand identity and marketing, build the supply chain, and sell the product online.
"It's basically doing everything A to Z for a client, somebody who has wanted to get into the space, almost like a different aspect of investing if you want to say," said Levi Strowder, another partner at Asdal who works to get new clients.
Besides working with clients from big to small, Asdal also intentionally tries to support minority-run companies, said Levine, who is Black. It is still hard for minority-owned startups to obtain venture capital in the Twin Cities, he said.
"It's still political for no reason and so underrepresented for Blacks," Levine said.
The economic issues caused by the pandemic did affect Asdal. The company charged less for some of its services because so many retail clients were hurting, including some clients that they consulted. Soon, Asdal plans to expand internationally to integrate into online marketplaces in other countries.
"There's almost an Amazon in every corner of the world now," Levine said.