shop 260x215 Amazon Against The Subscription StartupsAmazon began life as an online bookstore known nearly as well for being in the red as selling books. Today Amazon is the Wal-Mart of the web serving up nearly every product imaginable, from warehouse to your door in two or three days. However, unlike the battle with brick and mortar stores, where Wal-Mart has forced many small or local businesses out of the market, ecommerce sites are thriving.  Without the physical requirements of running a store, the barriers to entry for an online shop, however niche, can be low enough for the interesting and bold to survive.

Blacksocks launched in Switzerland in 1999 with the promise of doing one thing really well: selling socks by subscription.  Similar to Gillette giving away razors and making money on the blades, Blacksocks latched onto a product people use every day, gets worn out, and is cheap enough that anything beyond the most basic repair makes replacement a no-brainer. Since their initial launch, Blacksocks has expanded into shirts and underwear, in limited selections and today is selling “sockscriptions” to 74 countries.

If subscription socks was a bit too understated and sophisticated for you Manpacks picks up the slack.  Stripping the subscription clothes idea to its essentials the startup offers several different “packs” where men can choose shirts, socks and underwear to have shipped to their door every three months. Again, traditional clothing items that wear out on a pretty fixed schedule available on a subscription that essentially gives you a bottomless underwear drawer.  If you tend to wake up one day with a pile of socks full of holes, this could be the prefect solution for you.

Clothing is one of the most difficult purchases we make.  Everyone has different likes, dislikes and preferences on items that are essential to everyday life.  The amount of time it can take to run to a store, sort through the socks for the right length, thickness or brand, can be frustrating. If a subscription can take care of keeping your closet stocked with items that are so personal, what about more generic, household items?  Amazon of course has a large selection of items available on subscription, but many of these do not reach the threshold for free shipping.  If you plan out your shipping well, this can work, but now there is an alternative.

Alice wants to be your futuristic house computer keeping track of the staples in your house.  Separating products into “rooms” you can create a stock of products for the bathroom or kitchen, laundry room or pantry.  Everything from body wash to Band-Aids to tea, plastic wrap and breakfast bars can be ordered and delivered on schedule.  This would seem to save another significant number of trips to local stores.  We all appreciate the convenience of ordering a book online rather than running to the store.  If you don’t need it that day and don’t want to browse you’re golden.

Alice aims to reduce those extra trips to get common pantry items and allows you to shop smart when you do go to a store.  With your staples delivered to your house, you can concentrate on buying food.  A long trip where you need to hit every aisle can become a thing of the past.  And again, Alice provides free shipping, which can come in handy when you need that one item on a pretty regular basis.

Saving time and space can make these niche stores valuable whether you need socks or toothpaste.  With everything from trading cards to hammocks to razor blades all available online at specialized stores, the era of the mom & pop isn’t dead yet, they’ve just transformed into startups, available to everyone in the country rather than the town their building is located.