Resources Case Study

Aterian reinvents consumer packaged goods for the digital age

Tech & Visibility

The client:

The challenge:

Aterian’s business model relies on delivering the most valuable product at the best possible price. To optimize the cost to get products to the consumer, they needed an exceptionally flexible and responsive supply chain.

The outcome:

Convoy’s intuitive and self-serving web platform helped Aterian instantly book loads to keep up with customer demand while cutting down on labor and paperwork.

Convoy solution:

E-commerce is growing faster than ever before, thanks to social distancing, supply chain disruptions, and widespread stockouts. Consumers are using the internet in new ways to find products and are more open-minded when it comes to new brands.

The ability to compare a near-infinite array of products based on customer ratings, precise specifications, time to ship, and cost has changed the way consumers buy things. But most large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies were built on the older brick-and-mortar retail model where consumers had limited choice and information at the point of purchase. 

What’s more, in brick and mortar retail, CPG companies have comparatively little insight into why consumers make decisions: it’s often impossible to know why a consumer enters a store and what the rationale for choosing one product instead of another might be. 

The consumer insight that e-commerce retailers generate by capturing website user data—searches, products viewed, filters chosen—doesn’t exist in brick and mortar. The trouble is that product design has not caught up with the e-commerce distribution model: most large CPG companies offer legacy product lines that were not designed with insights from e-commerce front and center.

Aterian, formerly known as Mohawk Group Holdings, Inc., has set out to re-invent CPG for the digital age. Founded in 2014 in New York City, Aterian is a tech-enabled CPG platform that is building brands and products tailored specifically to the e-commerce shopping experience. The company’s premise is to incorporate technology and insights from large amounts of data at every part of the product life cycle, including market research, design, quality control, logistics, and marketing to deliver high quality products that consumers desire most for the least amount of money.

What does that mean? Aterian ingests millions and millions of e-commerce data points—think of searches like “best standing desk for WFH” or “stainless steel programmable 6 quart slow cooker”— and then builds the products that consumers are actually looking for. While Aterian sells approximately 240 SKUs across numerous brands (e.g. Home, Vremi, xtava, and RIF6), the brands aren’t really the point.

Aterian’s co-founder and chief executive officer Yaniv Sarig explained that the strength and relative value of traditional “brands” is falling in the world of e-commerce. Now that consumers have more choice and product data at their fingertips, brand matters substantially less in purchasing decisions.

“Consumers have an endless choice of infinite products and they’re armed with better data and technology to search for the products they want,” Sarig said. “People used to rely only on brands, but now they can look at price, reviews, etc. The majority of searches are based on a specific need–not on brand–such as ‘best air conditioner for a small room’.  Consumers now rely more heavily on these specific searches and are putting brand in the back seat.”

Aterian applies big data analysis not only to product design but also to sales and marketing, which allows it to run at very lean inventory levels. Aterian’s brands are embedded in fulfillment centers across the country so that it can offer one-day shipping to the vast majority of zip codes in the United States. Automated marketing promotions and price adjustments tied to available inventory levels and in-route shipments are used to control sales volumes and ensure that Aterian can fulfill all of its orders in a timely manner.

“Brand value is diminishing on a macro level,” Sarig said. “In the past, you had a cost-of-goods-sold and you created margin through the brand’s perceived value; today the most important thing is to optimize the cost to get products to the consumer, offering them the best value their money can buy.”

That means that Aterian needs an extraordinarily flexible and responsive supply chain. 

“We’re continuously improving our machine learning algorithms to forecast with every container how we can most efficiently get the product closer to the customer,” Sarig said. “For instance we just sold 2,000 air conditioners, but where are the best locations to put new ones based on what we’ve learned from these recent sales?”

Aterian brought in Kevin Nohl, Vice President of Global Logistics, to streamline how information and products flow through Aterian’s supply chain. Nohl, an Amazon veteran, also served as the Senior Director of Operations for Rent the Runway and Director of Omnichannel Fulfillment for Bed Bath & Beyond.

Nohl decided to partner with Convoy for Aterian’s full truckload needs based on Convoy’s disruptive business model, APIs, self-service model, and data-centric company culture.

Using Convoy allows us to be very agile and nimble. We’re constantly trying to optimize how inventory shifts from one warehouse to another, which will be a never-ending process. It’s all about benefiting the customer by delivering the most valuable product at the best possible price.”

Yaniv Sarig, co-founder and chief executive officer at Aterian

Aterian’s international supply chain streamlines the complex movement of finished CPG from overseas factories directly to the customer’s homes. Using both traditional and cutting edge supply chain solutions, Aterian simplifies the movement of goods from factories, including intermediate destinations such as departure ports, destination ports and fulfillment warehouses directly to the customer. By bringing ecommerce CPG to the warehouses that are closest to the customer, Aterian is able to reliably and repeatedly deliver products to customers in 1-2 days while delighting them with attractive pricing and product quality.

“To be a major player in ecommerce, we have to be able to react very quickly using data from all parts of our supply chain,” Nohl said. “For example, as customer demand fluctuates across the various cities and states, we have to optimize our inventory placement to ensure our customers can receive their orders in 1-2 days. The ability to offer this level of delivery speed can often be the difference between getting the sale. Convoy’s software platform and fleet of vehicles/drivers are flexible and simple enough to support a supply chain that performs at the speed of ecommerce.” 

Before Convoy, Aterian worked with a lot of carriers using spot quotes and sought economically priced offerings which often resulted in complications that led to more labor, time, paperwork — and ultimately reduced profit margins. 

“Our goal is to simplify our transportation providers and work with tech leaders,” Nohl said. “We grow our operations based on data, and companies that don’t have that infrastructure could be inexpensive today but long-term aren’t the right horse to be on in the ecommerce race.”

Although Aterian’s partnership with Convoy is only a few months old, Convoy’s technology already has Aterian’s leadership team thinking about ways to further optimize its supply chain. Aterian is investigating Convoy’s APIs to apply the same level of automation it has to product design, marketing, and sales to its supply chain, and then bring all of those models together.

Our marketing engine needs to make decisions on the fly. Which advertising should we use, which price, coupons or not. If marketing doesn’t have visibility into the supply chain it can make the wrong decisions. You cannot grow sales if your inventory is not optimally located where the demand is coming from. It’s important to have visibility as far as the factory that makes the product, and that visibility is only possible with companies like Convoy.”

Yaniv Sarig, co-founder and chief executive officer at Aterian