PriceWaiter CEO Stephen Culp: ‘Negotiation Has Been Around Forever Because It Works’ | Exclusives
Fledgling e-commerce company PriceWaiter aims to save customers money, time and energy by negotiating better-than-Amazon deals on top-rated products — simply, quickly and privately.
PriceWaiter’s pitch to sellers is that it can help move inventory, maintain more margin, and make MAP moot, resulting in more efficient pricing, new sales, and new customers with virtually no acquisition cost.
Negotiation is as old as commerce because it works — it needed an upgrade, and PriceWaiter is that upgrade, the company maintains.
With hundreds of partner retailers, hundreds of thousands of users, millions of products (more every day), and hundreds of millions in offers, PriceWaiter makes buying and selling better, and free markets freer, giving both buyers and sellers a win, the company promises.
PriceWaiter CEO Stephen Culp
PriceWaiter CEO Stephen Culp is an e-commerce veteran, and business and civic entrepreneur. In addition to PriceWaiter, he cofounded Smart Furniture, Delegator, ProDiligence, and Causeway.
A former Peace Corps Volunteer, Navy Reserve Officer, and enthusiastic migrant from Silicon Valley to the Tennessee Valley, Culp completed a law degree and graduate fellowship in negotiation at Stanford.
He recently provided the E-Commerce Times exclusive insights into his experience with PriceWaiter and his vision for the company.
E-Commerce Times: When did PriceWaiter launch? Who founded the company, and what sparked the idea?
Stephen Culp: About six years ago, a team of e-commerce, design, and software veterans — Andrew Scarbrough, Matt Bain, Mike Estes and myself — realized that e-commerce had become so efficient that it was at once both wonderful and perilous, for all involved. Whatever way you looked at it — and we had experience as manufacturers, retailers and, yes, shoppers — there was plenty of wonder and peril to go around.
For manufacturers and retailers, there was the growing — and now instant — threat of comparison shopping and what you might call “virtual showrooming” — where a seller could spend a lot of money attracting a customer, delighting them, serving them, only to lose them in the click of a button to another site selling the same product for a dollar less. Furthermore, as we had experienced starting Smart Furniture, we had the constant sense that we were leaving money on the table whenever we discounted, because we had no way of really knowing what the perfect price should be.
As shoppers, we were inundated with offers, targeting and retargeting from innumerable sketchy “deal” sites, increasingly overwhelmed keeping track of seemingly random sales events which came and went like hurricanes, and aside from fully capitulating to the siren song of Amazon, it was getting harder to know who to trust, where to truly find a deal, and how to do it when you actually needed it.
Weeeellllll irony of ironies — as we imagined what technological innovation could best leverage and harness the wonder and peril of e-commerce for all sides, there was a moment when we realized that the solution might just be the oldest idea in commerce: negotiation. Why? As it happens, I had studied negotiation as a graduate fellow at Stanford and learned that, well, negotiation has been around forever because it works. It serves to initiate a dialogue, it builds a measure of trust, and ultimately it consummates a transaction that, in the spirit of the free market, both sides are happy with.
But back to technology — we also realized that it needed an upgrade to work well in the most efficient market in history. No one wanted to bring the used car lot to the Web. We wanted the upgrade to make buying and selling better, by making negotiation fast, simple, private and ultimately ubiquitous. That upgrade became PriceWaiter.
ECT: What makes PriceWaiter different from other e-commerce operations?
Culp: Simply put — fast, simple, private negotiation. Negotiation allows buyers and sellers to efficiently and privately reach a personalized price that, intriguingly, can save shoppers more money and help retailers maintain more margin than status-quo e-commerce, where discounts are often set arbitrarily and inefficiently, or can’t be set at all.
ECT: Some customers might not want to do the research necessary to feel confident naming a price. Is PriceWaiter just not for them?
Culp: We help make it easy. First, think of the used car lot. Next, dash that memory from your brain forever. PriceWaiter does the research, curates the best opportunities, and does the negotiation for you. If you get hung up on naming an initial price or offer, in a few weeks we’ll actually [have the ability to] make suggestions for you.
We may even prenegotiate a few deals in the future, as a gateway to negotiating on our broader catalog. But in all cases, we do the hard work and your experience will be easy — even fun. Keep in mind it’s getting better every day.
ECT: Why do sellers have secret unadvertised pricing? What’s in it for them?
Culp: Keeping the negotiation private has a number of benefits. While shoppers can obviously save money with an often exclusive deal, on the flipside, retailers can also offer exclusive deals they might not want to post to the entire Web.
To take a particular example, manufacturers with MAP policies actually benefit from PriceWaiter’s private negotiations because they sell more product without significant risk of brand or price erosion, more efficiently managing the inevitable request for discounts over the phone, email, social media, etc.
Further, as I mentioned, pricing can be honed — to the benefit of buyer and seller — to the particulars of the transaction, whether it be driven by volume, availability, time or other factors.
Recall that the founders came from all of those backgrounds, so PriceWaiter’s solution is sensitive to all of them.
ECT: Can individuals or small businesses offer their wares on PriceWaiter? If so, how can they go about it?
Culp: This is one of my favorite features of PriceWaiter, as it taps into our pretty frisky underdog streak. Recall that PriceWaiter founders have started and run smaller businesses and e-commerce operations before. We KNOW how tough it is for a small retailer to compete with — or even sell on — something like Amazon. We KNOW how frustrating it is when you know you can offer better prices or service or products than the big sellers but you don’t have a billion dollar marketing budget to make it known.
If you offer legitimate and top-rated popular products, solid inventory, great service and incredible prices, a small company can sell on PW. Visit us at PriceWaiter.com.
Leveling the playing field is a part of our mission. We’re not fans of monopolistic leverage. Call it quixotic, but part of what drives us is that we want to make the free market freer, for all.
ECT: How does PriceWaiter make its profits?
Culp: PriceWaiter takes a small commission on each sale. Sellers only pay when a transaction happens. Buyers pay nothing unless they want to tip their “waiter” who helped negotiate the deal, but there is no obligation. Ultimately, we may offer things like membership and associated benefits a la Costco, AAA, etc., but not this year.
ECT: What can shoppers expect to find at PriceWaiter? I ran three searches on the site with zero results returned for each. Then I noticed the listings for each broad category numbered only in the hundreds. It seems PriceWaiter is more like an online boutique meant for browsing than a store that will have specific items that customers are seeking. What other online store is PriceWaiter like in terms of selection?
Culp: Think of a good Trader Joe’s vs. a bad Walmart. Our initial focus is on quality of deals vs. quantity of deals, based on a set of criteria that governs what products we choose to feature. It’s not perfect yet — think of an early Trader Joe’s, still experimenting — but since our goal is to save you money by negotiating better deals on top-rated products, we are constantly curating based on both the quality of the deal and the quality of the product.
Second, the site has not had its “grand opening” yet, so it is literally changing hourly, as we push improvements to selection, search, negotiation and more.
Third, as to your question about what other online store PriceWaiter is like in terms of selection, most curated shopping sites are limited to a niche or a category — e.g., fashion or gadgets — but we aim to be more than that.
ECT: How do you plan to draw customers to PriceWaiter? What will keep them coming back?
Ultimately PriceWaiter will be wherever you shop. First, we already have the footprint — and 500,000 users — with our SaaS product on partner retailer sites; second, the PriceWaiter extension, which pops up anytime we can offer you a better deal while you shop on Amazon; and third, PriceWaiter.com, which will offer Amazon-beating and often Internet-beating prices visible on multiple channels.
And without giving too much away, we believe there’s a powerful social element here as well. We’ve been amazed at the psychological power of the “win” in shoppers’ minds.
ECT: How can PriceWaiter ensure that the sellers you work with do not traffic in counterfeit or stolen goods?
Culp: We carefully vet each retailer before any of their products even show up on the PriceWaiter site. It takes almost too much of our time, to be honest. But we’re on a first name basis with these partner sellers and dive deeply into each company’s operations, policies and products.
How does PriceWaiter compare with tools like Honey, which also helps customers get better deals on purchases?
Culp: Honey is great. And while PriceWaiter has a browser extension like Honey, PriceWaiter’s core experience includes more ways to engage, such as our marketplace website. PriceWaiter doesn’t rely on coupons, their reliability or their expiration, and simply negotiates better deals for shoppers with top retailers for top-rated products, all year-long.
ECT: As CEO, what is your vision for PriceWaiter? What place do you see the company occupying in the e-commerce landscape five years from now?
Culp: My vision would be for PriceWaiter to make buying and selling better — and free markets freer — by making negotiation fast, simple, private and — ultimately — ubiquitous. It is no accident that we’re all about negotiation. The entire world of commerce is ultimately about negotiation. We’re just going to make it better for the world of buyers and sellers.
For buyers, PriceWaiter should ultimately be your first — and last — stop when you need something. Like someone you trust who does all the shopping for you, we’ll find it for you and deliver it at a savings. For sellers, we will level the playing field. Our vision is a constructive free market in which all sides get a win.
ECT: What types of payment does PriceWaiter accept?
Culp:All major credit cards.
ECT: What is PriceWaiter’s shipping policy?
Culp: PriceWaiter shipping and returns policy mirrors our retail partners and is typically shipped within a few days, with a 30-day return policy. Custom items generally have longer lead times.
ECT: What is PriceWaiter’s returns policy?
Culp: We have a 30-day return policy on all items.
ECT: When will PriceWaiter have its official grand opening?
Culp: We’re shooting for around Oct. 15 for things to be working swimmingly for all.