NEW YORK, United States — It’s the holy grail of online retail: suggesting the exact item someone wants to buy before they even know it. Many start-ups have tried and largely fallen short, from the so-called “Pandora for Fashion” Affinity to the multitude of Stitch Fix copycats that claim to offer personal styling.
The latest company to attempt to clear this bar is The Yes, an app that promises to use artificial intelligence to connect consumers to the items and brands that best match their preferences. Founded by former Stitch Fix Chief Operating Officer Julie Bornstein and search engineer Amit Aggarwal, the company has raised $30 million from a who’s who of Silicon Valley investors, including Forerunner Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. Other investors include True Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures.
The Yes is hardly the first start-up with ambitions to create a shopping platform that can take its place alongside Instagram and Amazon on consumers’ phones. Spring, which launched in 2013, raised over $100 million in five years and pitched itself as the one-stop mobile marketplace for fashion. At one point it was dubbed the “Instagram of shopping.” But the app never took off, and it was sold last year for a fraction of the capital that it raised.
Bornstein is keeping many of the details of The Yes under wraps (the app isn’t scheduled to launch until next year). But she said her start-up will process individual users’ data to inform which products and brands show up on their dashboards.
“The more brands that emerge, the more overwhelming it gets for the consumer,” Bornstein said. “As I looked at the landscape and how far AI technology has come, it really struck me that if we build a new platform powered by new tech, we could improve the consumer experience and help the brands thrive at the same time.”
Consumers have plenty of ways to discover new clothes, shoes and accessories, from Instagram’s ads and influencers to e-commerce sites like Farfetch and Net-a-Porter that present thousands of items. Though online shopping has boomed on these platforms and others, some experts describe a “paradox of choice,” where consumers become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options.
The Yes joins a growing number of apps and websites that aim to help consumers find products, including Lyst, Masse, Dote and Storr. E-commerce sites have also invested in tailored recommendations powered by artificial intelligence, and Instagram has begun integrating shopping into users’ feeds, which are automatically tailored to their tastes based on which posts they engage with.
Bornstein has already played a role in the evolution of shopping on the internet. As the vice president of e-commerce at Nordstrom, she built the original Nordstrom.com, and served as chief digital officer at Sephora.
She joined Stitch Fix' board in 2012, and was named COO in 2015. The subscription box service has some similarities to The Yes; it also uses machine learning to analyse customers’ tastes to determine which clothes to send. But whereas Stitch Fix relies on human stylists to choose items, the Yes is relying on AI (about half of the start-up’s 30 employees are engineers, and it’s still recruiting more).
“You could get sucked into a paradox of choice today,” said Kirsten Green, founder and managing partner of Forerunner Ventures, which was also an early investor in Bonobos, Reformation and other fashion start-ups. “The answer is to use tech and tools to get to know the consumer and give them an experience that reflects who they are.”