NEW YORK, United States — Since the very birth of fashion magazines at the end of the 19th century, editorial content has been a powerful generator of consumer demand for fashion products. But the path between inspiration and transaction — between content and commerce — was fragmented and full of friction. Over the last decade, however, the interconnectedness of the web has rewired reality and given rise to new business models that integrate commerce and content, offering consumers a more seamless path from inspiration to purchase and allowing retailers and publishers alike to tap new revenue streams.
First, retailers like Net-a-Porter added editorial-style content to their e-commerce sites, allowing them to more effectively engage and expand their audiences and generate additional revenue by selling advertising. Then, media brands like InStyle and Lucky began building their own curated e-commerce channels, allowing them to more seamlessly connect readers with retailers and monetise their audiences through transactions, not just advertising.
Now, a new wave of websites, applications and services is on the rise. Their aim: to place the store smack in the middle of demand-creating fashion content and radically shorten the path from inspiration to transaction.
Launched in September, ShopBazaar is one of the most ambitious shopping sites built by a fashion magazine to date. “I’m a huge believer in e-commerce,” Harper’s Bazaar publisher Carol Smith told BoF. “This new e-commerce platform allows us to offer our audience a complete fashion experience, from spotting an object of desire to getting it into your home.” Like most of these initiatives, ShopBazaar holds no inventory (all items are bought, held and shipped by retail partners) and makes money by taking a share of resulting sales revenue. Smith declined to break down the details of the revenue share or reveal specific results, but similar initiatives have met with mixed success.
ShopBazaar offers fully integrated checkout — a big improvement over similar shopping channels that redirect consumers to external retailers to complete their purchases — and is populated with products chosen by editors and inspired by current editorial features. But, critically, the venture stops short of integrating commerce directly into core editorial content on the main Harper’s Bazaar site.
“If consumers are reading a story about the 10 must-have pieces for your fall wardrobe and they are going to take out their wallet and purchase something, we shouldn’t make it hard for them to do that,” said Heather Marie, founder of 72Lux, a New York-based start-up that provides enterprise publishers with a fully transactional e-commerce widget that they can embed into editorial pages to make their content directly shopable and offer users a single checkout channel, even if they are ultimately purchasing goods from multiple retailers. “72Lux has a patent-pending technology that allows publishers to have a white-label, multi-retailer checkout entirely within their own website,” added Marie.
“We also have a proprietary platform, called Shoppable, that allows publishers to easily add curated products to their editorial,” she continued. So far, the platform offers over a million SKUs from over 12,000 brands and 70 different retailers, including Bloomingdale’s and Yoox. Marie declined to disclose which publishers were already using 72Lux, but said the platform was currently being tested by “one of the largest newspapers in the US, men’s and women’s fashion magazines and celebrities.”
FROM LOOK-SHARING TO LOOK-SHOPPING
Of course, in recent years, we’ve seen a major explosion of fashion content being created by non-traditional publishers like brands, bloggers and end consumers on a wide range of social media platforms, from street style blogs to look-sharing sites. In fact, some of this content has proven to be as powerful a generator of purchase intent for fashion products as anything published by traditional media outlets. Now, a promising new crop of street style and look-sharing apps are taking a ground-up approach to commerce integration, serving up realtime streams of neatly packaged fashion inspiration that users can seamlessly shop.
“Our vision is to provide unique value by closing the loop from browsing and inspiration to social to purchase,” said Alisa Gould-Simon, co-founder of Pose, a beautifully designed, look-sharing app for iOS and Android devices that has attracted over 1 million users, including influential fashion blogger Leandra Medine, aka The Man Repeller, and top model Coco Rocha.
All the content on Pose is user-generated. And while Pose doesn’t offer its own integrated checkout, many of the looks that populate the experience can be bought from third-party retailers without leaving the app. Interestingly, Pose users not only retain rights to the content they upload, but also pocket the majority of the affiliate fee the company earns on sales attributed to their content.
Kaleidoscope, a shopable street style app developed by Inporia, takes a slightly different approach to solving a similar problem. Unlike Pose, Kaleidoscope’s content is curated by human editors who hand-select imagery sourced from photographers, bloggers and brands (there are no user submissions). These editors, often interns, also add shopable product links that point, not only to the exact items featured in a particular image, but to similar items as well, all available online, at a variety of retailers and price points.
“We make it easy to shop by looking at pictures you love instead of scouring websites and racks,” said Sarah Kunst, director of business development for Inporia. “We are closing the loop on converting inspiration to shopping. It’s a Pinterest-meets-Shopstyle platform that plays market editor,” she added. In addition to affiliate revenue, Kaleidoscope plans to make money through partnerships with brands and retailers, who, the company hopes, will pay to have their images and product links included in the app.
Look-sharing and social style consultation app Go Try It On lets people share photos of themselves — along with descriptions of the items they are wearing and some context around their choice of outfit — and get honest, realtime opinions about their look. Users can also browse and shop the looks shared by others, as well as see and shop featured trend stories created by brands, retailers and bloggers.
“We launched Go Try It On to help people answer the age-old question ‘What should I wear?’” said Marissa Evans, the company’s founder. “There are millions of stylish consumers who are being highly creative with style and we want to showcase them to the world of shoppers.” Go Try It On generates revenue through a commission on the resulting sales, as well as brand sponsorships.
THE STORE IS EVERYWHERE
But we are rapidly entering a world in which the kind of content that generates demand for fashion products, no longer confined to specific sites or apps, is literally everywhere, spread across a decentralised universe of endless blogs and social platforms. And the store isn’t far behind.
“First, we made a cool, unique platform for discovery and self-expression around consumer goods, then we built a marketplace so that brands and merchants could sell against the demand that forms around their products,” said Joseph Einhorn, founder of The Fancy, a New York-based social commerce site that has reportedly raised a new $26.4 million round of funding, following on a $10 million round the company raised from luxury conglomerate PPR, last November. “But we are just one website. One app. There will be endless bloggers who publish content like this, beautiful images of great products,” continued Einhorn. “You should be able to just tap a ‘Buy’ button and purchase them. We have been able to make that happen on our site and we are now trying to bring that experience to the broader web.”
Indeed, last July, The Fancy launched embeddable ‘Buy’ buttons aimed largely at fashion bloggers and their readers, working closely with the Independent Fashion Bloggers network which represents over 30,000 bloggers. “Look for us to really build this out in the coming months,” added Einhorn.
He isn’t alone.
Launched six months ago, a Portland, Oregon-based “in-stream transactions” start-up called Chirpify has a similarly radical vision for turning the entire the social web into a store. Already, Chirpify, which raised a seed round of $1.3 million last April, lets users purchase products directly from their Twitter and Instagram streams — simply by replying or commenting with the word ‘Buy’ — and the company has its sights set on other platforms, as well.
Indeed, as commerce becomes increasingly frictionless and portable, the entire web could start to look like a radically decentralized marketplace, where any encounter with a piece of inspiring content can become a sale.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion