As the media continually reminds us, a new generation of consumers is growing up spending more time and money online than in-store—and they're looking for new, smarter ways to shop. Simply moving the department store onto the web isn't enough; shoppers have grown used to seeing digital innovations every few months (remember the first time you saved a wish list or used a digital comparison shopping tool?). Chris Morton, CEO of LYST, has been closely watching the online shopping space as he built up his brand—which gives millions of people their own, personalised shopping feeds in partnership with the web's leading department stores and boutiques. Here, he identifies the five most revolutionary "net-native" technologies changing how we shop.
Ever wished fashion and accessories from all the best boutiques around the world were available in once place? Well now they are—and this is not your usual Amazon fare—on sites like Farfetch, Shoptiques (womenswear only for now) and Miinto (catering to some European nations but with some English at the Netherlands branch). Instead of jetting from LA to Paris, you can visit Farfetch.com and shop at stores like Aloha Rag in Hawaii and Zoo in London, without leaving the site. Farfetch is blowing up; they're working with 750 boutiques and doubled their sales last year to a cool $130 million. Shoptiques, a relative newcomer, is backed by some of Silicon Valley's leading lights and is likely set for great things as well.
2. Personalized Shopping
Just as Twitter lets you create a personalized newsfeed, Lyst lets you build your own shopping feed. You can follow your favorite fashion brands, stores, and people and you'll see new items, in your shopping feed every time you come back. This means you can shop in a way that's unique to you, helping you discover more products you might like. Creating a custom, personalized store for every consumer is a concept that simply can't exist in the real world, but online it's happening now. Trunk Club is another website trying to deliver a personalized shopping experience to its users, but in their case, they match you with a personal stylist who works with you to understand your style and then regularly sends you a trunk filled with items your stylist thinks you'll like. You keep everything you like, and return everything that didn't work out—for free.
3. Algorithmic Recommendations
Product recommendations can come socially when you follow people and brands with great style or they can come algorithmically, which is another net-native model. Algorithms are mathematical equations used to suggest products to shoppers based on keywords, past shopping habits, geographic location, and other criteria. Companies like Amazon rely on them to drive an estimated 35% of their product sales—making the technology worth billions of dollars. More recently, a group of entrepreneurs left Netflix, the movie website powered by some of the best recommendation algorithms in the business, to launch Stitch Fix, which aims to be a personal stylist (for women now, and men and children someday). But behind the scenes, it's an algorithm that crunches the data you share with them, so they can find your perfect style matches.
4. Shoppable Editorial
Retailers like Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter figured out long ago that shoppable editorial content (as opposed to catalogs or databases) was a great way to drive sales online. Now, there's talk of magazines offering items that shoppers can buy straight from their websites or digital editions (like iPads)—with no redirect to a store—effectively making them the online stores.
It's a much debated topic. Magazines are very effective curators of products and already drive significant sales, so being able to shop for products instantaneously is an improved experience for their readers; others argue that bringing shopping right onto the magazine could impact editorial integrity. No matter what you think, the world will likely see more magazines explore "native shopping" in the months to come and the lines between ad and edit may blur.
Finally a number of emerging companies are trying to leverage "gamification" to drive sales. As the name suggests, this technique transforms an otherwise straightforward experience into a game in order to make it more fun or engaging, often using badges, points, or leaderboards.
Not only are location-based networks like Foursquare trying to get in on the action (you know, the more you "check in" to shops, the more badges you earn), but personalized styling games like Covet Fashion and Shopcade are building dedicated platforms that allows consumers to create their own ideal virtual closets and achieve trendsetter status. Star stylist Rachel Zoe says, on CovetFashion.com, that sites like these "have the potential to change the way people discover and interact with fashion." It's still early days and we haven't yet seen a breakout success in this area, but it's one to watch.
—Chris Morton is the CEO and founder of Lyst.
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