Hundreds of sellers on the e-commerce platform Jane.com, which targeted female consumers and helped small businesses make millions, were getting ready for the Black Friday shopping rush when the site suddenly shut down on Nov. 17.
Now, sellers say they are owed tens of thousands of dollars and have no clear path to recover it. Some had spent thousands of dollars getting ready to handle a surge of orders. In total, Jane’s sellers are owed $10.1 million in sales, according to documents signed by Jane’s last CEO and published by DSI Assignments, a company that helps businesses liquidate their assets to repay creditors as an alternative to bankruptcy. Those documents show that 13 sellers are owed more than $100,000 apiece.
The end of the Utah-based platform left many sellers feeling betrayed. They had used Jane for years to list products, and some made millions and grew small businesses over the website’s 12-year run. NBC News spoke to nine people who worked for or with Jane, including sellers from six small businesses and a former Jane employee, all of whom said they felt misled by Jane in some way.
“It’s been a shock,” said Dana Hicks, the owner and CEO of the graphic T-shirt retailer Limeberry Designs. “It was hard this weekend going through a Black Friday without the typical Jane numbers that you see.”
Jane was founded by Megan and Michael McEwan in 2011. Sellers would list their wares — often women’s and children’s clothes, customized goods and home decor — on its site, and buyers were urged to make purchases with flash deals and advertising that Jane ran. Jane took 20% to 25% of sales, with sellers getting the rest. Former sellers who lauded the early days of Jane described it as having a boutique, close-knit atmosphere between buyers and sellers, which distinguished it from corporate giants like Amazon. At its peak, the documents said, Jane did $250 million in annual sales. When it closed, Jane had over 90 employees and more than 1,300 sellers who are owed money from sales, according to DSI’s documents.
There had been signs of trouble before Jane’s failure, but few sellers thought the company itself was in danger. Many thought they were having problems with their own accounts.
Hicks noticed that payments to her company had dropped from three or four a week to just one a week. She’d been selling on Jane.com since 2014 and had built Limeberry into a business with 10 employees and more than $2 million in sales last year.
“Jane is about 90% of our sales,” she said.
Over the years, she’d developed relationships with some of the company’s employees, met the co-founders, Mike and Megan — the McEwans (now divorced) — and won an award as a “Standout Seller” in 2019.
When she asked Jane staff members what was going on with payments, she was told there was a delay because an employee was on leave. She found that implausible. But she didn’t talk to other sellers right away.
By the fall, Hicks was far from the only Jane.com seller with complaints about late payments. Although they were being encouraged to keep announcing new deals on the site, the gaps between payments were growing, according to emails from Jane to multiple sellers.
Mike Allen, a co-owner of the men’s clothing company Johnny Threads, saw payments from Jane go from five a week to three and then to fewer. Soon Jane was making occasional payments that never reflected all the money Johnny Threads was owed.
“They had stopped paying us for approximately 5,000 orders that were shipped and delivered spanning back to early October,” he wrote in an email.
By Oct. 26, Hicks and Limeberry hadn’t been paid in over a week. That day, she received an email from Mike McEwan, Jane’s co-founder.
“Hi Dana, I’m sorry you’re experiencing a slower payment schedule,” Mike wrote. “I assure you we’re doing our best to get to everyone paid.”
He was on Jane’s board, but like Megan, he had no active role in the company’s day-to-day operations. They each continued to receive $350,000 in annual fees from the company until the end of 2022, according to DSI’s documents.
Mike wrote to Hicks that he didn’t have any control over payments but was “brought in to help from a product perspective.” That was why Flash Deals were back, Mike said, along with a coming feature called Moments, which would help with “driving more engagement with your products.”
“Although this isn’t a solution to your immediate problem, over the long term, if sellers participate and take advantage of the opportunity, I believe it will,” Mike wrote.
Four days later, after Hicks emailed the company again, Jane sent her two payments totaling about $40,000, a fraction of what she was owed.
By then, sellers like Allen were communicating and realizing how widespread the problem was. In mid-November, he said, many large sellers started pulling their products off of Jane out of frustration that the company wasn’t paying them what they were owed. Hicks did the same, telling the company to either pay her all the money Limeberry was owed or suspend her product listings.
On Nov. 17, the site was replaced with a “Down for maintenance” error message, and reports began to trickle out that the company had gone under. Instead of communicating with sellers and other creditors directly, Jane signed its assets over to DSI Assignments, which will oversee the asset liquidation process on Jane’s behalf in the Court of Chancery in Delaware. Jane’s offices were in Utah, but it was registered as a company in Delaware.
On Wednesday, DSI Assignments released a statement announcing the auction of Jane's assets that will take place through Jan. 15.
According to forms DSI Assignments filed on Jane’s behalf, the company still owes about $152,000 to Limeberry and almost $65,000 to Johnny Threads.
Sellers trusted Jane.com as a reliable marketplace to list their products and process transactions, with Jane’s cut of the sales going toward additional benefits like advertising. But as it turns out, Jane’s business was more precarious than sellers say they were led to believe, and sellers took the financial risk of having Jane receive and decide what to do with the money from their sales. Now that Jane has failed, sellers have the least financial security out of anyone whose money was invested in it.
Retail expert Neil Saunders of GlobalData said people who sell their goods on third-party platforms might believe the platforms are intermediaries that hold their money until they claim it, but he said it’s not always that simple. In some cases, Saunders said, the platforms will use that revenue as general cash flow to pay overhead and other expenses. Sometimes, those things are prioritized over paying vendors. If a business is healthy and has budgeted and projected its expenses properly, that works out. But if it isn’t and it hasn’t, sellers are left short.
“In most of these cases, whilst there can be a bit of financial negligence, it’s usually not deeply criminal. It’s just companies not projecting cash flow properly or taking on too much debt and not being able to repay,” he said. He added that it’s unclear what the case might be for Jane.com.
Many buyers and sellers are trying to reconnect on post-Jane websites and Facebook groups, hoping to maintain the sense of community they got from the platform. Still, they’ve lost a vital place to sell their merchandise right when they were expecting to enter their busiest season. While they regroup, some sellers said, they’ve consulted with lawyers, both personally and with a group of sellers, to hear options for legal recourse. Some have also contacted the Lehi Police Department in Utah, where Jane’s offices are located. None of the sellers who spoke to NBC News said they’ve filed a lawsuit yet. Lehi police said that they have received “complaints from all over the country” about Jane.com and that they have an active investigation into the matter.
DSI Assignment forms say that, unbeknownst to sellers, Jane.com had a series of financial ups and downs leading to its sudden closure. The documents said the company grew profitably from 2011 to 2018 but lost money in 2019 as growth slowed. It responded by cutting jobs.
Then came the pandemic e-commerce boom, which contributed to dramatic growth and helped the company get a $40 million investment from the venture capital firm Tritium Partners, which took a 27% stake in the business, according to DSI. Tritium didn’t respond to requests for comment.
DSI’s filings on its website say $38 million of Tritium’s investment was used to buy parts of Mike and Megan McEwan’s stake in Jane.com, leaving just $2 million to invest in the business itself.
After that, Jane failed to build on the growth it had experienced, according to DSI’s filings, and gross merchandise volume on the platform continued to shrink. DSI cited competitors like Temu and Shein — Chinese retail giants that sell items directly from factories and warehouses — which could provide drastically less expensive products, in explaining what led to the company’s failure.
As Jane’s struggles got worse, it searched for potential buyers, and according to DSI’s petition, it is still in discussions with three interested parties.
The sellers who spoke with NBC News said they were never informed of what was happening at the company and were instead continuing to sell, create and ship products that they would never see the profit from.
DSI’s notice to sellers tells them that they shouldn’t fill any orders from Jane customers and that they should inform them the company is no longer in operation. It provides an option for creditors, including sellers, to file claims for money owed to them by March. The sellers are “unsecured creditors,” meaning their debts aren’t backed by assets. That means there’s no guarantee they will recover what they’re owed.
DSI’s documentation said it is trying to maximize the value of Jane’s assets, potentially resulting in a sale, which could help fund repayment to creditors — including sellers. For now, though, Allen isn’t optimistic.
“It’s obvious there will not be any money for us,” he wrote.