“There are so many different tools and widgets available to quilters. It can be overwhelming,” she says. “Votes from other quilters act as an endorsement of a product (to a beginner).”
Launched in 2012, Massdrop describes its mission as providing “community-driven commerce.” Users gather in 14 different communities of common interest, such as photography, audiophile, men’s style, tech, and quilting, and suggest products they’re interested in. If enough people want the same product, Massdrop will reach out to the manufacturer to negotiate a price, often securing a bulk discount. They then open up a “drop” giving people a 7-10 days to buy in.
Some prices on Massdrop are significantly lower than MSRP, but others aren’t. At the time of publication there were 12 drops going in the quilting community. One is for a Janome Derby sewing machine for $69.99, the same price available on Amazon and at Wal-Mart. Another is for an Oliso TG1100 iron at $119 on Massdrop and $149 on Amazon and at Joann’s. The Sew Sassy thread set from Superior Threads is offered at $49.99 on Massdrop, whereas the same product retails on the Superior Threads website for $221.50.
Quilter and web developer Sarah Bailey feels the same way. “I like that they introduce me to new fun things I might not have known about otherwise. I always look at the daily new products email,” she says.
Shopping on Massdrop involves a longer wait time then shopping at regular online or in-person shop. Once a “drop” closes the fulfillment time ranges from 1-4 weeks. Deborah Chang, Vice President for Business Development and Partnerships at Massdrop, says people are willing to wait because “they’re in a community, together, and they want and need things as a group.” She also feels that “people like when a company is paying attention to them, when they feel the company is listening” and the Massdrop experience gives them that feeling.
For Harden Massdrop doesn’t replace shopping locally, it just provides a different kind of retail experience. “I do also shop in my local quilt shops but most of the fabric and tools from Massdrop were brand new to me. Either I didn’t know ‘what’ to look for or I couldn’t find these items, possibly they were unavailable. Some of my purchases were impulse buys. Fabrics that I had never seen before and had an ‘ooooh’ moment.”
Chang says Massdrop is cultivating a young, tech savvy customer and introducing them to quilting. Overtime this customer will likely spend money elsewhere as well.
Many Massdrop customers use the site to find unusual products that aren’t available locally. Trinia Braughton says she’s been sewing for over 30 years and spends $50-100 in any given month on quilting and sewing supplies. “I make it a point to visit local quilt shops in any area I travel or live,” she says. “I have participated in many quilt shop hops and I will buy from local shops when I see something that fits my aesthetic.”
She’s also a Massdrop customer.
Braughton has participated in two drops on Massdrop. “The first was a bundle of First of Infinity Panels by Kumiko Fujita in 2015. This purchase was for something I could not get in a local quilt shop and had difficulty finding in stock in an online shop,” she explains.
Recent item for sale in the quilting community on Massdrop.
Photo courtesy of Massdrop
For years group buying clubs, or coops, have existed online among quilters, first as Yahoo groups and now as Facebook groups. Members pool their money, purchase supplies wholesale, and then divvy them up. Some shop owners feel these groups are undercutting their businesses. To them Massdrop feels like a well-organized, well-funded coop.
In fact, that’s what Steve El-Hage, Massdrop’s founder, had in mind when formed the company. After noticing that online groups were making group buys but struggling to keep them organized, he had the idea to formalize the process in a central place that would be easy to keep track of and more social.
Of course offering products to consumers at wholesale prices can cause problems for manufacturers. El-Hage told the publication First Round Review how he’s worked around this.
To address these concerns Massdrop made two significant decisions about how the site would operate. Visitors to the site can’t see what’s for sale without first setting up an account and logging in. And Massdrop de-indexed its product pages from Google. The result was a significant reduction in traffic to the site, but for Massdrop these decisions were key to making the business model work.
“We called the last five vendors that had rejected us and told them we were going to build a signup flow,” El-Hage told First Round Review. “All five switched to yes immediately, and we could reasonably assume others would feel the same way…we told our vendors, ‘Look, we removed everything from Google for you. We really care,’” El-Hage said.
For Brenda Ratliff, owner of Pink Castle Fabrics in Ann Arbor, Michigan, competitive pricing on fabric is an issue she’s facing from many sources, Massdrop being just one. “I think the part that hurts the local shops is when the bigger stores sell at wildly low prices. It makes the smaller guys have to work just a little bit harder for the dollar. For example, if I buy a fat quarter bundle from a fabric company for $25 and sell at $50. Massdrop will sell at $35 (or whatever). You as the consumer will gravitate to that cheaper price.”
Ratliff goes on to explain, “Fabric prices have gone up for shops, they have been inching up slowly over the past few years, but I don’t feel that I can raise my prices because I have to compete with ‘deals’ and small Etsy shops that have no overhead and can sell for less.”
Chang emphasizes that Massdrop’s goal isn’t to replace local shops, though. “We don’t aim to be—or compete with—full-service quilt shops. After all, there’s no substitute for going into a shop, touching the product, talking face to face with a fellow enthusiast, and purchasing something on the spot,” she says. “Nor are our prices any lower than sale prices at your local quilt shop.”
I’ve been a fan of Massdrop for some time. There is one serious drawback that I recently encountered. There are no returns. If you’re purchasing something like sewing needles, this is probably not going to be a problem. Recently, I purchased a folding board that fits over an ironing board and makes a great ironing surface for quilts. The product arrived in tact, however, it was poorly made and when I open it one of the hinges completely broke off. It was a badly designed and poorly made product. It took weeks and weeks to get it returned (as defective) and then more weeks and weeks to finally get a refund. If I had seen this item locally, I could’ve judged its value better and not purchased it in the first place.
I get Massdrop’s emails almost every other day. I feel that the prices are not that much lower, the selection of items is limited, and the wait time to receive orders is unreasonable. Amazon, Etsy, and eQuilter.com are more of a threat to local shops. Their products are much more varied and shipping is very fast.
I think that’s a really valid point. Massdrop seems to me to be providing a specific type of social buying experience that, due to the long wait time and limited selection, makes it not as serious a threat as many other competitors.
As Trinia said, I use Massdrop very occasionally for items that are hard to come by locally. Especially being located in Australia! And only for items that I need – I save the impulse shopping for fabric stores, online or locally.
I have only purchased from Massdrop once – a large box of Clover Wonder Clips. During the wait time, the exchange rate changed and not in my favour – I live in Australia. Though the deal was not as favourable as when I signed up for it, it was still a bargain. That won’t stop me buying from them again, but I will have to look carefully at the exchange rate and which way it may be headed each time.
I use Massdrop to buy items that I can’t buy in the UK. For example the Tula Pink Throwback bundle does not seem to be sold anywhere in the UK so I bought it from Mass Drop. The Tula Pink scissors the same (it took another 6 months or more before someone started selling them over here). It is competitively priced compared to shops over here however by the time you add customs duty on it works out almost the same so it’s more about being able to buy things I couldn’t buy locally, or even online from British stores.
I agree with the comment above about limited selection and long wait time making Massdrop unlikely to be serious competition for any quilting shop right now. It also seems to me that complaining about sites like Massdrop or other buyers’ clubs seems kind of futile. I do buy fabric online sometimes, and more often I drive 45 minutes each way to my local independent fabric store, where I might spend all of a dollar or two a yard more than I might online (and where I also always find cheap remnants and great fabric on sale at half price) because I like shopping for fabric in person and I value having at least one actual store still open near me.
I was an early convert to MassDrop, and I still open almost all their emails to see what’s new. But I have greatly curtailed what I actually buy in part because there are fewer amazing deals (Definitely price shop before committing! But on many “same price” items there’s an extra – like that Janome Derby came with the book Sewing School II, so you were getting a $12-19 book free.) and also because their variety has slowed as they recycle lots of popular drops. I prefer to shop online fabric stores or a LQS, but I think MassDrop fills a gap for specialty items like unusual tools and Japanese fabrics that you can’t find locally or for a close price online, and I think it’s hard to argue it’s any more evil than Amazon (not that Amazon is saintly, just that in reality, most people shop there without a whiff of shop local remorse). (As for that tape measure leather bracelet pictured above… that’s hitting my mailbox sometime next week! Total impulse buy that I wouldn’t have searched for or run across in person otherwise ; )
No bargains here. Used it once, received a product that would not work, and could not return it. Threw it out and that was the end of Massdrop for me. Prices are often higher than you can buy in a local store.
I was a customer of Massdrop when they first appeared, and remained so for a couple of years. I exercised caution when purchasing anything, and only bought fabrics and items from manufacturers that I was familiar with. With Quilt shops closing in many areas, I took a risk and I opened my own storefront quilt/craft/maker’s shop in New Orleans in 2014. Now I buy direct from manufacturers and distributors. No fabric shop can survive these days on fabric alone. One must have various revenue streams to stay alive. In conversations with my customers, and in several informal surveys we have done, Massdrop was not mentioned. The biggest threat to quilt shops these days, according to my customer base, is Fabric.com (an Amazon co.), Hawthorn Threads (offers quantity discounts and good sales), and distributors offering fabrics to my customers at wholesale prices if they purchase an entire bolt. These distributors are certainly the smaller ones who do not want to turn down a sale, but customers are always willing to circumvent a retail option is they have the opportunity. As did I when I did not have my own shop. My customers are loyal and want the personal service and experience we offer. Face-to-face and hands-on seems to always beat out (although at times by slim margins) any online experience.
I think the big box craft/fabric stores and major online retailers like Amazon (AKA fabric.com) are much more of a threat to local businesses. These entities dissolve and undermine the value of crafting communities where people can share their passions, exchange knowledge, and be effective watch dogs for quality, the result is less accountability for good service and quality.
While like many who have commented above my experience with Massdrop was nothing to write home about, I think quilters can embrace the opportunity they provide to participate in their online community. If we’re not happy with the quality of the goods, the time it takes to receive items, or the poor return policy we can make ourselves heard on their online forums.
Startups like Massdrop are often trying to use a “lean” approach to begin with and aim to build more robust services as they are able to validate their core business model. I think if we engage with Massdrop as a community we stand a chance of being able to work with them to make it something compatible. Or even kill it if it’s truly not working or a threat.
I have purchased some things from Massdrop but I do not see it as a shopping alternative to a LQS. For me it is a portal to a few expensive items that are a treat — such as a light box I would never buy at full retail in a brick-and-mortar store. I only buy something if the price undercuts other online deals or what I could get with a coupon in a nearby store. I still read most Massdrop emails but the product variety has slowed, the pricing is no longer great, and the site no longer posts shipping costs by the product price unless it is free shipping. I can’t imagine anyone being threatened by its existence as the options for fabric are so limited. The long shipping time is another deterrent to my buying items this way.
Although I have bought a few hard to find items from MassDrop, I am very turned off by the way they push weapons sales. I only subscribe to the Quilting Community and occasionally have clicked a newsletter link to fancy pens or cookware. I have asked them multiple times not to send me ads for weapons and weapon-like toys (eg Toothpick crossbow). They do not respond. Does this bother anyone else? It would be nice if their newsletter was opt-in by community. I would rather have only one quilting item in a short email than the usual 8 weapons, a pen, a game, and a quilting item. I have started to delete their newsletter if the top item is a weapon. There prices are average and the time to actual delivery can be longer than expected. Have found items for less on Amazon.
I agree with Life-long Quilter. I have bought a few items from MassDrop that I could not get elsewhere for the price. JoAnn’s is a bigger threat to LQS than MassDrop or Amazon. But I HATE being shown weapons and I am debating leaving this site. I too would prefer being shown only an item or two from the Quilting Community instead of an email that uses weapons to fill up the email.
When is the next mass drop