Tupperware Joins the E-Commerce Party

Like many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that have caught the e-commerce bug, the fiercely traditional Tupperware Corporation (NYSE: TUP) has also succumbed to the lure of selling its wares online.

In an announcement Tuesday that clearly illustrates the growing reliance on e-commerce by American retailers, the makers of the ubiquitous line of colorful plastic food containers launched their new e-commerce-enabled Web site.

The company’s president said that Tupperware’s shift to e-commerce does not signal an end to its door-to-door, party approach, which over the years has become a suburban synonym for socializing.

“We are committed to defining the direct selling industry in the 21st century to the same degree we helped define it in the 20th century,” said Betty Palm, president of Tupperware U.S. “Our party-plan platform remains our core selling method. The Internet, our mail kiosk program and the new venture with Home Shopping Network are part of our integrated direct access strategy.”

Palm did not address the obvious problem with Tupperware’s move towards e-commerce: How much will online sales hurt the company’s approximately 950,000 independent salespeople worldwide?

The company was careful to point out that they have provided a database of its distributor locations, allowing a user to punch in a zip code and find the distributor nearest them.

An Inevitable Move

Tupperware’s shrewd strategy of having its salespeople arrange potential buyers to come to a “party” has eroded somewhat as more women go to work. The company had previously announced that it would sell its line of kitchen products in kiosks in malls across the company, a signal that times are indeed changin’, as Bob Dylan pointed out 30 years ago.

A $1.1 billion-a-year company, Tupperware has long seemed to embody America and the spirit of Americans. It was founded by Earl Tupper, a New England Yankee trader and inventor who made plastic gas mask parts during World War II.

Tupper shifted to the production of consumer products after the war and introduced his line of airtight containers to department stores in 1946. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, a Tupperware party is started every 2.2 seconds somewhere in the world, and 105 million people attend a party every year, the company estimates. Should Tupperware’s e-commerce venture succeed, those numbers will likely decline and the “plastic parties” could go the way of the Fuller Brush man.

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