Fab.com is now the fastest growing e-commerce site on the web, with over 12 million members in its network as of last week. Yet despite their ongoing success as a third-party retailer, the company is looking to pivot once again, away from the flash sale model and toward developing Fab as a design brand. The ultimate goal, according to co-founder Bradford Shellhammer, is to become “the world’s alternative to Amazon and Wal-Mart.”
They can’t get there on flash sales alone. Fab’s sales may have grown by 300% this year, but it’s safe to say they’re nowhere close to Amazon’s $97 billion mark. In order to compete with big online retailers, Fab is quickly developing the infrastructure necessary to design and manufacture its own (higher margin) products. They’ve developed more than 3,000 Fab originals over the past few months, in addition to collaborating with the Andy Warhol Foundation and Josef Albers Foundation to bring exclusive products to market. “The only way to compete in the world of Amazon is to sell things that Amazon doesn’t sell,” Shellhammer says. “We’re building a brand, and part of that is bringing the brand to our own line of products.”
This week, Fab will unveil a very public opening salvo in this transition: an open competition called Disrupting Design, which asks designers and students to submit ideas for the company’s next big product. The entries will be judged by a panel of high-profile designers and critics, including Yves Béhar and Amanda Dameron at Salone del Mobile in April. The jury will choose three designs to develop and manufacture, co-branded as Fab x [Designer]. “We’ve built this incredible audience,” Shellhammer explains. “Based on the number of eyeballs alone, we’ve got the ability to really change a designer’s life.”
The competition will serve as a testing ground for Shellhammer’s ideas about co-creating products with designers. He imagines adding a submission form to the Fab website, transitioning toward a Quirky model. But unlike Quirky, whose development team spends weeks assessing the viability of a concept, Fab’s first products will be chosen in less than a day—and by a panel of stars, rather than a panel of product development specialists. “It’ll be like the American Idol of design,” he quipps.
Adopting a more rapid-fire approach could be the key to emerging from the flash-sale mold. Investing in emerging design talent could also be a boon for customer loyalty. The value for designers themselves is obvious. “It’d be one thing to enter a design competition and win an award,” Shellhammer adds. “It’s another thing to know that thousands of people are going to be living with this thing you dreamt up.”