As social commerce continues to gain traction, retailers are looking for innovative ways to harness the power of aspiration to boost sales through new mobile shopping apps.
Gilt Groupe co-founder Alexis Maybank launched a fashion marketplace app today that curates photos from Instagram and allows users to tap for product details and links to retail sites where they can shop instantaneously. The app, titled Project September, is collaborating with leading photographers, bloggers and stylists to showcase their favorite items, ranging from H&M to Chanel.
While this idea isn’t particularly novel, the real challenge will be in changing consumer shopping habits and in differentiating, particularly in a space that “feels a bit forced,” according to Mariana Rittenhouse, director of brand strategy at Dash Hudson.
Rittenhouse expressed skepticism that consumers will feel compelled to download multiple apps to find products when they can continue to use platforms like Instagram to identify trends organically. She noted many mobile shopping apps have also created separate promotional Instagram accounts to build momentum, a telling sign of its influence.
However, Project September promises to “bridge the gap between social browsing and online shopping” and comes on the heels of programs like Spring, a recently launched platform that allows users to browse and buy products from a collection of partnering companies, and the popular LikeToKnow.It.
Project September is hoping to set itself apart by partnering with big name fashion icons, including Marie Claire creative director Nina Garcia, Nicole Richie and Christy Turlington Burns. The notable partners will join social influencers to serve as fashion advisers to the app.
The app is funded by money provided by venture capitalists including William Morris Endeavor, Venrock and Greylock Partners, among others. Project September also allows users to earn a commission through the sale of items purchased from their images.
“Until now, I had to search blindly for items that caught my eye on social media, often never discovering where I could actually make my purchase online,” Maybank said in a statement. “This was frustrating. So we set out to build a shopping experience where consumers could shop directly from photos.”
Scrolling through Project September, the interface is reminiscent of a Pinterest fashion board, with a bevy of images of well-dressed men and women in picturesque locales, lounging on a beach chair here or walking down a city street there. Users can shop any number of looks, from athleisure to luxe watches and jewelry, that span a variety of price points.
Rather than pinning to a board where the image will likely fall into obscurity, users tap on the photos directly and click on green dots that provide additional product information and link to external sites where they can buy the product of interest.
“[The apps are] capitalizing on the consumer behavior that we’re seeing on Instagram, but one of the great things about Instagram is that you’re not following someone just to shop them,” Rittenhouse said. “There is the ability to shop Instagram in a more passive way.”
She said establishing an organic platform that doesn’t feel contrived is vital to success, and pointed to apps like Net-a-Porter’s The Net Set as being exemplary in creating an integrated consumer experience. The Net Set includes “Style Tribes” that help users filter and shop according to their personal style.
Rittenhouse added that apps with a unique gimmick are particularly successful, like the youth-oriented Wish app, which incorporates gamification by incentivizing users with additional discounts when they purchase from flash sales during specified time windows.
“The way that we consume media is changing every week. These shopping apps are going to have difficulty standing the test of time because of that, unless they provide some sort of additional value,” she said, noting that someday soon consumers may be shopping via Snapchat.”
Regardless, attracting consumers via mobile apps will continue to be difficult, particularly in light of recent comScore data that showed a significant gap between the amount of time consumers spend on their phones and how much money they’re actually spending.
As Rittenhouse said, determining the efficacy of these apps will be “a waiting game.”