CUZIN is the ‘crowdsourced shopping’ service aiming to bypass price discrimination and change the way we shop online

- December 4, 2014 7 MIN READ

On Sunday, CUZIN went into public beta, a strategic move for the Sydney-based startup, given Australians are flocking to shopping centres, departments stores and ecommerce websites to take advantage of discounts in the lead up to Christmas. According to a recent National Retail Association report, Australians are expected to spend $43 billion in the pre-Christmas trading period.

But what many of us haven’t been able to take advantage of is the sales happening in the US. The deals offered in the States at this time of year are so significant that they cause shopper stampedes. To be fair, this isn’t too dissimilar to Sydney and Melbourne CBD areas the night before Christmas, when frenzied shoppers regret not having done their gift shopping earlier.

However, the huge price markups enforced by greedy retailers and multinationals means we’re still paying more on on-sale items. And this is where CUZIN comes in. In a nutshell, CUZIN is a social community-based marketplace that facilitates the matching, communication, payment and shipping of goods between shoppers anywhere in the world. This means that a bargain hunter in Australia can take full advantage of a major sale in the US, despite being continents apart.

Put it this way. Imagine if you had a cousin, friend or acquaintance in another country who could get a killer deal on an item from their local factory outlet and ship it straight to you? This is what CUZIN facilitates. But it’s not only about bypassing what’s been deemed ‘price discrimination’, it’s also about accessing unique products that aren’t available domestically. For example, there are plenty of websites that only ship products to particular countries and then there are items that can only be purchased at small local boutiques. Whatever the barrier may be, CUZIN strives to shatter it, making it a global online shopping mall.

But how exactly does CUZIN work? There are two types of users on CUZIN – a ‘wanter’ and a ‘getter’. At the moment, wanters can be from anywhere in the world, but getters must be located in the US, UK and Australia. Once registered, a wanter can browse through CUZIN’s curated catalogue of items that getters have already posted or they can ‘post a want’, indicating what item they wish to purchase and from which location. CUZIN’s algorithm then pushes the request to getters who are best placed to retrieve that item. Within 12 hours, wanters receive three options to choose from. For instance, Option One may cost $100 plus $20 shipping and handling, followed by Option Two which is $90 plus $25 shipping and handling, and so on.

On the other end of the spectrum, getters can take pictures of items they come across in their day-to-day lives, and submit a post on CUZIN specifying the price of the item including their ‘getting’ tip. CUZIN’s algorithm will then push purchase opportunities into the hands of people who are most likely to be interested in the items based on their past shopping and browsing habits.

There are also ‘specialised’ getters that can obtain items from US websites or those that live in close proximity to, say, a Nike factory outlet, and can access high-end athletic shoes for discounted prices. Then there are getters who act as ‘personal shoppers’ who have access to unique fashion items like those that are straight off the runway or only found in appointment-based or invite-only boutiques.

The price of an item includes the getter’s tip, as determined by the getter depending on how difficult it is to retrieve the desired item. CUZIN takes a small percentage of this total item cost and adds it to the shipping and handling fee.

Wanters are required to pay getters in advance via PayPal, which has a buyer’s protection policy that insures the buyer should the item not come as expected or not be delivered at all. Shaun Greenblo, Co-Founder of CUZIN says CUZIN was one of the first Australian startups to be accepted into PayPal’s Blueprint Program (i.e. free partnership), before it was launched in Australia.

CUZIN is also partnered with global courier service FedEx, which delivers to 220 countries around the world. As a result of the partnership, CUZIN receives an up-to-65 percent discount on all shipping and handling. For local shipment, CUZIN uses Australia Post and is open to partnership opportunities in the future.

Currently, CUZIN has over 15,000 registered users and has facilitated $10,000 worth of transactions during its one-month private beta phase. Since opening up the platform to the public on Sunday, CUZIN has seen a rise in user uptake, and continued purchases of about two or three a day.

At first glance, CUZIN seems like a neat tool for bargain hunters and those who appreciate rare items. But on further reflection, you come to understand that its potential impact is quite significant. There are a number of ways that is disruptive. Most obviously, if CUZIN is able to build a strong, loyal user base, domestic retailers will have to reconsider their price mark-ups. CUZIN also has the potential to make all retailers, big and small, immediately global. Sometimes, brands only launch a particular product into one market prior to international expansion. But, if there’s a hardware product that’s only available in the US, eager Australians can get their hands on it.

It wouldn’t be surprising if there were companies who objected to this because it’s not aligned with their strategy. But Greenblo says “the more objection, the better”, noting the Kogan-Harvey Norman situation. Ecommerce startup Kogan has mimicked products typically found in large retail stores like Harvey Norman, but slashed the prices dramatically, compelling consumers to choose Kogan.

The other thing that Greenblo notes is CUZIN’s ability to empower people to take advantage of ‘cognitive surplus’ – the idea that people can and want to make money in their spare time. For instance, there might be a newfound mother who is unable to work full-time, but is able to drop by a factory outlet or a designer store while running personal errands and pick up items for someone in Australia.

“A Getter could be passing by a Prada outlet in LA and spot a 50% off deal, post it on CUZIN, and then get paid by users all around the world who want to get access to that deal. Our algorithm pushes purchase opportunities directly into the hands of people actually interested in the items and give them an opportunity to purchase on the spot,” says Greenblo.

Also, small boutiques can use CUZIN as a platform to sell unique limited-supply items to a global targeted audience, at no extra cost. Even emerging fashion and jewellery designers could use CUZIN as a platform to test the waters.

We can even take it one step further. Someone who has a membership with a particular retailer can purchase items at discounted membership rates and pass that onto others around the world. There is no clear policy that states ‘you can’t buy these items at discounted rates using your own money, then pass it onto someone else and get reimbursed for it’. The issue dissipates because no-one is lending their membership card to someone else. This means that people can also use CUZIN to hack loyalty points systems. For example, if you’re a MyerONE member, you can use it to buy items for other people, get paid for those items, and still earn points.

Another technical aspect of CUZIN that’s worth noting is that it has overlaid the social network model onto its primary platform. This means that users can ‘like’ items (getter’s posts) and follow others. The advantage to this is that it heightens that sense of community. You may not have a cousin in New York to get items for you, but you’re connected to a ‘getter’ who can help out. Wanters can follow particular getters because of their access to a certain shop, their tipping price or even just their shopping style. Greenblo says CUZIN ‘connects a global family’.

The response to CUZIN during its private beta phase has been predominantly positive, according to Greenblo. A number of Australian users have agreed to go on the record and praise CUZIN. For example, one Sydney resident My-Linh used CUZIN to purchase a handbag from New York that didn’t sell or ship to Australia, after nine months of looking for the right handbag that would fit her laptop. Using CUZIN, My-Linh was able to get the bag shipped directly to her door at a cheaper price than any other method she would have tried. She said, “I even considered shipping it to my partner’s boyfriend’s house in Japan to pick up the next time we saw him!”

Alan Jones, an investor and BlueChilli’s Chief Growth Hacker, has also praised CUZIN, saying it has opened up the tech market which was previously out of reach due to shipping restrictions and high domestic prices. “CUZIN has meant that I can stop relying on taxing favours from tech friends in Silicon Valley and stop worrying that I am wasting their time.”

But how did CUZIN come to fruition? Greenblo is a passionate runner who hits the pavements every morning. As such, his sports shoes and attire have a shorter lifecycle. And given sportswear is significantly pricier in Australia than the US, there were two options, get ripped off or get someone else to buy it. Luckily, Greenblo has a cousin Julian who resides in Los Angeles. Every few months, Greenblo has little choice but to pester his cousin to buy sports shoes for him and ship it to Sydney. His cousin delivers the favour every single time, but begrudgingly because the process is a hassle. There’s the currency exchange, wire transfer and worst of all, international shipping.

“It got me thinking, there’s got to be a better way for us to facilitate this transaction and make it easier. Then my next thought was, I am actually lucky I have my cousin in LA, because there are so many people that want things but don’t have these connections. So wouldn’t it be great if we created this platform which connected you to people all around the world who can help you get things you love?” says Greenblo.

The goal was also to create a better experience than existing “freight forwarder” services which aim to bypass location restrictions by being the in-between address that collects products on behalf customers and re-ships them via FedEx or other global couriers. This process however is cumbersome, expensive, and only works for online retailers, not bricks and mortar stores.

After conceiving of the idea, Greenblo roped in Lance Kalish as a co-founder. Kalish has a strong track record, having founded Yes To Inc, a line of natural hair and skincare products being sold in tens of thousands of stores around the world, with his co-founder Ido Leffler. Kalish and Leffler sit on various boards including  the UN Global Entrepreneur Council, Dell, Asia Society and Telecom NZ. The duo have both backed CUZIN financially from the start.

To date, CUZIN has raised about $400,000 from investors including Macdoch Ventures, Elevation Capital and Trendtrade International. The $400,000 was used primarily to fund the development of CUZIN, which was taken care of by tech incubator BlueChilli. Greenblo told Startup Daily that CUZIN will be looking to raise a larger seed round next year from Australian and US investors.

Kalish said he is excited by CUZIN’s potential to change the way we shop online: “CUZIN uses real people as both payment gateways and drop-shipment points, allowing users to access the unique and inaccessible items they love, while enabling others to earn cash by commercialising their buying advantages”.

Although products can only be purchased from the US, UK and Australia, Greenblo says this is temporary, as there are vast opportunities in Asia. Places like Hong Kong are renowned for selling designer products at significantly reduced prices. Japan and South Korea also offer products that are very unique in style, and well-appreciated in Western countries. Asian consumers are also very interested in products that aren’t available domestically. Some have even stated that Asians are the biggest ecommerce consumers.

CUZIN’s global potential is already becoming obvious, with ‘wanters’ located in Vietnam, Croatia, Greece and Africa. Greenblo says they’ll be expanding from location-to-location based on the number of wanters and getters registering from those locations.

The startup will exit out of beta in February next year.

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