How Overstock Became a Leading Innovator in E-Commerce By Investing in Financial Technology and Small Merchants
8.8.17 Ecommerce

How Overstock Became a Leading Innovator in E-Commerce By Investing in Financial Technology and Small Merchants

By: Jessica Sommerfield

The Crunch: In the late 1990s, the growing popularity of the internet laid the groundwork for Overstock.com to bring the benefits of e-commerce to both retailers and consumers. Launched in 1999 as a website for retailers of all sizes to liquidate excess inventory of consumer household goods, Overstock.com has grown both its product offerings and its reach. While its innovative headquarters, the Peace Coliseum, embodies its company culture of creativity and collaboration, Overstock.com’s brand expansion into Worldstock represents its continued efforts to help entrepreneurs and artisans succeed in a global marketplace. With its pioneering acceptance of bitcoin, investment in financial technologies, and continued innovation, Overstock.com has set itself apart as an e-commerce leader.

In 1999 everyone was starting to realize the untapped potential of the internet for selling goods and making a profit. That’s when Patrick M. Byrne, a Stanford grad who’d successfully led a few small companies, noticed an uncharted territory in the emerging world of e-commerce — closeout merchandise.

Photo of Overstock.com Founder Dr. Patrick M. Byrne

Stanford alum Patrick M. Byrne founded Overstock.com in 1999.

At the time, a retailer’s best option to liquidate overstocked merchandise was to sell it to brick-and-mortar bargain outlets, and even this option was unavailable to most small businesses. And customers who wanted to get in on these bargains had to travel to crowded outlets and pick through limited selections.

To solve this unmet need, Patrick launched Overstock.com, a pioneer in the online marketplace that allowed both small and large merchants to sell their overstocks, and customers to find the widest selection of discounted products. Overstock.com quickly found success, and by December of the same year, the company had reached $1.8 million in revenue.

In its early days, Overstock.com focused on offering deals on clothing, housewares, and furniture. Today, it offers everything from sofas to automobiles. And the brand has stuck to its culture of creativity since the beginning, even weaving its values into the design of its headquarters.

Although it started by connecting the liquidation needs of retailers with bargain-hunting throngs of consumers in the US, Overstock.com continues to innovate, always looking to embrace new ideas to help shape the future of e-commerce.

A Company Culture That Fosters Creativity and Collaboration

As any business leader knows, a company’s culture isn’t revealed by looking at its website or products, but by setting foot in its offices. Overstock.com’s new Peace Coliseum headquarters in Salt Lake City showcases a culture that embraces technology, inspires creativity, and encourages collaboration.

With natural lighting designed for optimum focus and comfort and adjustable desks in open office spaces, Peace Coliseum also inspires its team to think creatively and work together. “We constructed the iconic Peace Coliseum to provide our employees with the best possible facility for the collaborative and innovative culture that has fueled Overstock.com for the past 17 years,” said Patrick.

Photo of Overstock.com Peace Coliseum

Overstock.com built Peace Coliseum to reflect its values as a company — tranquility with a fighting spirit.

Collaboration is made easier by the 231,000 square-foot facility, built with forward-thinking design. From the sky, the building looks like a peace symbol; from the ground, it resembles a modern take on the Roman Coliseum. As Patrick explained, “Peace Coliseum manifests the duality of our enterprise. The peace sign represents the caring attitude we extend to our colleagues, clients, and community, while the coliseum is representing the toughness of our bold capitalist spirit.”

Meeting the Needs of Artisans Around the World

In its early days, Overstock.com focused on enabling smaller merchants to liquidate their excess inventory more efficiently to a wider audience. Today, it continues to meet the practical commercial needs of small businesses on a global scale through Worldstock.

Worldstock is a branch of Overstock.com that gives fair trade representation to these groups by retailing hand-crafted décor and goods from small brands in many countries.

By providing a place where under-represented merchants can benefit from the advantages of global e-commerce, Overstock.com continues its legacy of helping small businesses grow.

Finally, the retailer used its search platform and partner network model to provide a Pet Adoptions page where prospective pet owners can connect with local shelters to find the perfect pet for their home.

An Early Promoter and Investor in Bitcoin and Financial Technologies

As a pioneering e-commerce retailer, Overstock.com has also set the pace for embracing new financial technologies, including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. While many retailers have hesitated to accept cryptocurrencies alongside other forms of electronic payment, Patrick was quick to embrace it as the currency of the future online market.

In 2014, Overstock.com made history by becoming the first online retailer to accept bitcoin through a partnership with Coinbase. “Bitcoin is well-suited for online transactions. It has no transaction fees and works well for international customers. Providing this convenience for the cult-following Bitcoin customer is the smart thing to do,” Patrick said. “Other online companies will have to follow suit soon.”

As if to verify this statement, Overstock.com received over 800 orders paid with bitcoin within the first 22 hours, for a total of $126,000 in sales. By October 2014, Overstock.com’s revenue from bitcoin hit another milestone, surpassing $1 million.

Screenshot of Overstock.com bitcoin bestsellers

As the first major retailer to accept bitcoin, Overstock.com is a trusted destination for users of the cryptocurrency.

Overstock.com wasn’t simply the first e-commerce company to accept bitcoin payments; it has been one of the most active early investors in efforts to expand bitcoin adoption. Soon after accepting bitcoin payments, Overstock.com committed to donating 4% of its sales to foundations working to promote cryptocurrencies on the world market.

In 2015, Overstock.com also created the world’s first cryptosecurity — a bond (powered by its own t0.com technology) that enables investors to utilize blockchain technology for more than just retail payments. Through its subsidiary Medici Ventures, Overstock.com continues to invest in FinTech firms such as Ripio, a Latin American bitcoin platform startup with more than 70,000 users.

By embracing and investing in bitcoin and other financial technologies that make digital payments faster, more secure, and more affordable for everyone, Overstock.com has set an example of innovation and forward-thinking in online payments.

Looking to the Future of E-Commerce in Local and Global Business

When Patrick launched Overstock.com, he wanted to create a space for retailers to liquidate excess inventory more efficiently. Using the burgeoning online marketplace to connect retailers and their product challenges with customers looking for discount deals, Overstock.com succeeded in meeting a need and trailblazing a sector of e-commerce, but the company has not stopped innovating.

By creating a company culture that inspires creativity and collaboration, finding new ways to meet the operational and representational needs of small business Worldstock, and investing in emerging financial technologies, Overstock.com has established its identity as a pioneer.

Overstock.com continues to set the pace as a leader in e-commerce by working with other retailers and FinTech institutions to create a more efficient, collaborative environment that promotes opportunities for business growth and greater equality in the world marketplace.