It's Your Shot 4

Ethical Deal Website Lets Consumers Shop Responsibly

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You don’t really want to buy apples with a waxy film on them or eat a tomato drenched in pesticides. And that chemical-laden laundry detergent residue can’t really be good next to your skin nor the dish soap making your drinking glasses sparkling clean, but, alas, it’s so darn expensive to go green. ethicalDeal.com to the rescue.

The market is inundated with deal-of-the-day websites that offer goods and services at exceptional discounts that are redeemed with vouchers or sent by mail, but ethicalDeal stands out because any business it features fits into one or more of four criteria: Cares For The Planet; Respects Animal Rights, Benefits The Community and Promotes Wellness. That could mean everything from organic chocolate to in-home senior care; a home-sprouting instructional DVD to yoga classes; junk removal and recycling to bamboo linens and baby products.

The Vancouver-based company runs promotions across North America — 12 cities in Canada and 12 in the U.S. — offering a variety of online deals to everyone as well as featured local deals, at between 40 to 70 percent discount.

Annalea Krebs is the founder and CEO and it’s much more than a monetary venture for her; it is a service, a community she is trying to build, to share her passion and belief in going green without sacrifice, which will lead to a healthier self and world. Prior to launching ethicalDeal on Nov. 8 of 2010, Krebs managed the marketing for such social enterprises and green businesses as TheChange.com, Value-based Business Network, and the Organic Islands Festival, which enabled her to see a gap and need in the market. "I'm a big believer in the power of business to change the world," she told Samaritanmag.

Samaritanmag: What prompted you to start ethicalDeal?

Annalea Krebs: What promoted me to start ethicalDeal was the problem of why aren’t more people making greener choices? When I talk to people about that problem, I feel like most people want to make better choices; they want to make greener choices, but what’s preventing them? The top three reasons that were preventing most people from making greener choices was, the first, that they found it to be too expensive. That’s because they weren’t sure if the product was going to perform as good as the conventional product that they’re used to. We found that once they tried out the product they’re more then prepared to pay the premium. What we [ethicalDeal] do is slash the price and it’s now 50 percent off and that breaks down that barrier and allows people to try out that green cleaning product almost for free. It’s a much easier decision.

Samaritanmag: Does your company vet the products? There are many green products that don’t work effectively.

Annalea Krebs: All of the general things consumers consider when they make a purchase — is it a good price point? Is it a good quality? Is it easy to get? — have to be transferred over to green products to really go mainstream. So we do have a criteria check. The first problem is it’s too expensive. The second one is I don’t know who to trust. I’m overwhelmed with options and I just don’t know who is telling me the truth; they’re all telling me it’s natural and it’s going to do this and that. How do I know? What we do through our deals is educate the consumer in a much more sensible way. We use language that most people will understand. We make it witty but still incorporate the facts.

We also say what certifications this product has and we also verify those certifications when we bring that product onto the site. If the products aren’t certified, then we have an interview process with the owner of that product and we ask them questions like how do you benefit the community? How do you care for the planet? How do you respect animal rights? And how do you promote wellness? Those are our criteria, which we display on all of our promotions.  So part of every single deal feature is giving people why is this product ethical and again we try to look as much as possible for products that are certified because the organizations that do this are non-profits; they’re not biased; they have a extensive criteria list — we trust them.

Samaritanmag: You have certifications that include organic, cruelty free, fair trade, for the planet. They’re not government sanctioned certifications?

Annalea Krebs: No, they are often non-profits.

Samaritanmag: The vitamin and supplement industry are not regulated. We don’t know for sure what is in them.

Annalea Krebs: For that, it’s really important for us to share the ingredients so when we do promote vitamins or supplements, as much as possible we’ll either advertise the actual ingredients or we’ll point to a company’s web site so that people can read more abut the main product themselves. We do try and be as transparent as possible about the ingredients.

Samaritanmag: A new component of the site is the grocery section, which offers delivery and pick up.

Annalea Krebs: We’re trying to be the middleman between natural and organic grocery stores and natural and organic manufacturers and because manufacturers distribute through grocery stores. That’s where they sell through; they don’t have a storefront and many don’t even have online website where they promote their products. So we partnered with over 30 natural organic grocery stores across the country who act as pick up locations for the natural organic grocery brands that we feature on ethicalDeal. So now people can get savings on items like ocean-wise salmon burgers, green clean products, things you would pick up at a Whole Foods and save big on them. No longer the 50 cents off or $1.50 off; now you can actually get 50 percent off ocean-wise sockeye salmon burgers and then pick them up at a grocery store near you. It’s really exciting because it’s a whole new distribution channel for manufacturers and more people can get their products. They would [usually] be doing trade shows or in-store demos. That would be the way they would try to launch new products, but now they launch new products through EthicalDeal and retailers benefit from increasing their [foot] traffic that we send them.”

Samaritanmag: Do you have any favourite products? Is that like singling out your favourite child?

Annalea Krebs: It’s hard when every product is pretty cool. There’s just such a variety. There are these fair trade soccer balls. Who knew that soccer balls could be fair trade? How cool. You can be assured that the person who produced that soccer ball was paid a living wage. Fair trade is often seen just seen as chocolate or coffee, so it is in other industries as well so that’s really exciting. We also have one of the largest vegan followings on ethicalDeal. And gluten free trends. People are asking for vegan and gluten-free products so we’ve been seeing a lot of new products come our way, including vegan chocolate and gluten-free bread for example. It’s really interesting sitting in the Ethical office because we have so many products that we promote because we are on the pulse in Canada for what people want and are asking for and see what the trends are. Companies send us samples. It’s great to see how many mainstream products like bread and donuts are now available in gluten-free options. It’s making it so much easier for people to make those choices.

Samaritanmag: How do the psychic readings and the bartending course that you sometimes offer through the site fit into your criteria?

Annalea Krebs: Great question. Our community wants to make greener choices for everyday living. Within that community, there’s pretty widespread terms of product purposes and one of them might be holistic purposes like massage or acupuncture that are wellness related. You wouldn’t be able to put a certification on a massage or acupuncture session, but it is something that our shoppers who are interested in a healthy green lifestyle wants. So the psychic services fell into that realm where people are interested in alternative things. You might go to a holistic wellness trade show and see some psychic representatives there. So it’s as if these services are present where our community is present.

Samaritanmag: How would you handle a dissatisfied customer where that’s concerned, versus a company that doesn’t deliver a product or goes out of business?

Annalea Krebs: Everything is transparent. So we have a Facebook discussion board. We are very active on social media. We have a dedicated community manager that engages people that have comments and responds to them. So when comments come up, we respond directly on social media, whereas if someone writes in to us at hello@ethicalDeal.com, we also respond.

We also open communication to people’s opinions and concerns [on social media]. We’ve had some pretty intense debates not happening between ethicalDeal, but between the shoppers themselves. We monitor debates on our discussion boards about what someone thinks is ethical or not ethical. We write on our criteria — our first statement is ethics are personal. We regularly promote meat and we have one of the largest followings of vegans consumers on ethicalDeal. We’re already prepared that that will spark a discussion. People are adamant that, no, meat is not ethical and they’re entitled to their opinion.

Again, it’s been really interesting seeing how active our community is involved with that. We supply the platform, introduce a product or service; we are not Vegan Deal but we are ethicalDeal and that represents a wider range of products. There’s also been differences across the country. Toronto, for example, when we promote something like psychic services or holistic health services like homeopathy, there will generally be more debate than on the West Coast, which is really interesting. And that’s what I mean about us being really aware about trends to consumer needs or even geographic differences.

Samaritanmag: What kind of money back policy do you have if a company goes under or if a person is unhappy with the product or service?

Annalea Krebs: If a company goes under, no questions asked we’ll provide a refund; if there’s a complaint or a bad experience with a company we encourage you to write in and we’ll try to deal with it. Unlike the mainstream sites, our customers are not everyone and anyone. It’s people who are really looking for greener choices for everyday living so that’s a smaller community and a really passionate community and one that we want to build a long-term relationship with. So customer service is important. We’ll even sometimes go back to the company itself and say, ‘Hey, is there a way you can turn this experience around?’ We’ll do a full refund if it warrants that or give them Ethical dollars [a credit to be spent on the site]. We have different ways of approaching it, but we’re definitely interested in keeping our shoppers happy.”

Samaritanmag: Beyond the general service that you are providing and education, are you giving back in other ways — a percentage to charity or presenting seminars? Are you taking your mission even bigger?

“Yeah, of course. A lot of ways that we’ve grown our community has been through offering non-profit organizations our platform as a way to raise awareness about their fundraising events or a cause. We do a lot of pro-bono or free advertisements and exposure for these type of organizations and causes. We get a lot of inquiries in from everyone from local schools to the David Suzuki Foundation. Because we have such a big network and because our network is so passionate about making better choices, it seems to be a really good fit. We usually see a lot of traction from that.

So we like to help out on that level and then, more recently, we formalized one aspect of that program. Organizations can apply to where they can promote us to their network and earn up to 10 percent of any sales they refer us. That’s helping small organizations up to large organizations to use us as a fundraising mechanism that is generally aligned with their mission as well. It’s just something as simple as including us in their newsletter or web site and any clicks through to our site is tracked and they get 10 percent of the sales.

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.