Facebook Shops: driving social commerce usage across generations

This week, Mark Zuckerberg himself addressed Facebook’s plans to move forward with and really commit to commerce on its platform. With the introduction of “Facebook (and Instagram, soon) Shops,” users will now “be able to browse and buy products directly from a business’ Facebook  Page or Instagram profile” (TechCrunch).

We all know that Facebook already has its Marketplace where users or small business owners can list their products and provide contact information or a link to their website, but Facebook Shops will go way beyond this. Instagram has shopping features as well that allow brands and businesses to link their products to a post that users can then click on that will redirect them to the individual brand’s website.

If you follow retail headlines, you probably also heard about Shopify’s “Shop” app that allows users to browse through products from their favorite brands that use the Shopify merchant platform and then keep track of all of their orders. This was convenient, however, there were still some gaps that I break down in depth in this post.

My biggest issue with Shopify’s app is that it redirected you to a brand’s website to make a purchase even though it claimed to have “streamlined the checkout process.” Instagram’s shopping features do this as well as of now, which means that you can only shop from one brand at a time. Being redirected to a website outside of that app is not my streamlined checkout dream, but, in comes Facebook Shops to save the day with Instagram following shortly behind.

Side note…Facebook/Instagram Shops are going to partner up with Shopify, BigCommerce, and a variety of other commerce platforms in the near future, which means even more excitement coming for the retail industry.

Right now, you can choose to shop locally of Facebook’s Marketplace, which will show you listings by people in your area, or you can shop from stores on Facebook’s Marketplace, which will show you listings from any stores who have chosen to use this new feature. The best part is that YOU CAN ADD MULTIPLE PRODUCTS TO YOUR CART FROM DIFFERENT STORES AND CHECK OUT ALL IN ONE GO! Bless.

In the picture below, I screenshotted my view of searching for a pair of sneakers in my regular search bar. From there I clicked on a pair of Fila’s, picked my size, and added them to my cart from a store apprently called BHFO (a real company based in Cedar Rapids, IA). Simple as that, and I never left the app.

Moving on to the bigger picture of this story…

My first thought when I read about this was that now my parents and their friends and my grandparents can all be exposed to social commerce because they all seem to be heavy users of the app but have probably never made a purchase from their phone at all. Social commerce now gets to infiltrate itself into the lives of people around the world and isn’t necessarily aimed for just Millennials and Gen Z’ers.

I personally only use to Facebook to occasionally post about updates in my life and I’ll ever so often upload pictures from trips for my family to see. Every here and there I’ll get stuck in a marathon of watching cute dog videos. Needless to say, I never actually scroll through my feed.

My mom, aunts, uncles, and grandparents (covering older millenials, Gen X’ers and Boomers) all actually scroll through Facebook as a form of entertainment, either via the app or even on their computers, and I think if they all knew that they could also literally shop right off of the app or website, they would be willing to give it a try. They all grudgingly adopted online shopping via Amazon, so I see this having potential to really bring social commerce into the conversation of consumer behavior for those older than, say, 40.

According to sproutsocial, 79% of 30-49 year old’s use Facebook, as do 68% of 50-64 year old’s, and many younger millenials and teens have actually decreased usage or have abandoned the app because they have found apps that they prefer more such as Instagram and Snapchat, which means that Facebook Shops will either attract more youngsters to the platform and/or will bring social commerce into the lives of those who it is not already.

Facebook Shops is another step in the social commerce revolution, and I think it may even have the potential to become the way that the majority of people shop.

Featured image from TechCrunch.

‘Squad shopping’ gaining ground in the U.S.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the phrase “squad shopping,” it is definitely something you should be thinking about for the retail industry as the implementation of social commerce gains an increasingly stronger footing in the U.S. consumer’s typical behaviors.

Vogue Business posted an article this week that covers ‘the rise of squad shopping’ that prompted me to write about the impact that this concept can have on the world of retail. In short, “squad shopping” is the act of shopping online with friends, specifically all interacting with products on the same platform.

That platform did not exist in the U.S. (despite there being many, incredibly popular platforms in Asia) until now. Hence, I introduce Squadded Shopping Party, which is a browser extension that allows friends to shop together on (as of now) four different major fashion e-commerce websites. Users can interact with each other and the entire Squadded community to discover new products or get opinions on potential products for purchase.

I, of course, got myself set up on Squadded and worked with a friend to get her set up as well so that I could test out the concept. Getting set up is not difficult, but it is incredibly tedious and unnecessarily time-consuming. More on that later, though.

Once you have Squadded up and running, you can invite friends to join your personal “squad,” where you can send different products, polls, or messages directly to them or you can opt to interact with the “community,” which is a feed of activity following everyone who has Squadded set up.

Squadded has made the act of getting an opinion on an item much simpler than it was. Whenever I needed an opinion from a friend my options were to send them screenshots of a product or to send them individual links to different products for an opinion. With Squadded, you can post the product to your feed and anyone in your network can share their opinions or vote between two products. You can also create a layout of four pictures which you can use to share entire outfit ideas.

Interacting with strangers via a browser extension may seem daunting or awkward, but it’s very similar to just browsing your “favorites” feed on Instagram or following a subreddit on reddit. The best parts of this feature are that you can get unbiased opinions, you can discover new products or outfit inspirations, and you’re interacting with a group of people who truly care about shopping and specifically fashion for now. In a time when human connection is very limited, it was nice to see how others were spending their time browsing the ASOS website and finding products that I would probably never find myself due to the mass inventory that ASOS has.

The opinions of both friends and strangers when shopping in a physical store can so easily influence our purchasing decisions, which is why “squad shopping” has so much potential for how American consumers behave when shopping online. Those who are weary about making purchases online can now find comfort in the opinions of others while browsing through a website, similar to asking for opinions or recommendations from people in a store.

This is all a baby step toward social commerce for the U.S. but it is a baby step with huge potential. Imagine if within your Squadded feed you could see videos of people reviewing products that they have bought that you were interested in, eliminating the need to either scroll through product reviews on a website or look up review videos on Youtube. Or, imagine that you could be on a video call with your friends while being able to virtually try on different products (I’m thinking, for example, a Zoom with your friends as you all use the virtual try-on tool from Warby Parker to see how different glasses look on everyone and to recommend different styles to your friends all while being able to just do so from Warby Parker’s website). HUGE potential here for the future of e-commerce when physical retailing seems so uncertain.

My only complaint so far with Squadded is how time-consuming and tedious the setup process is. First, you have to go to Squadded’s website in order to install the browser extension. After you do that, you have to sign in using Google (if you don’t have a google account I’m not entirely sure how you get set up). Next, you have to add your friends by sending them a link to Squadded’s website and after that they have to go through the whole process of installing the extension and logging in. And then, you might assume that because you sent your friend the link that they would automatically now be your friend. Nope, you then have to search for your friend’s name and invite them into your squad. There just has to be a simpler way, right?

And there is a simpler way, it’s just not possible yet in the U.S. A major difference in terms of social commerce and its development and popularity between Asian countries and Western countries is that the West is not connected on a universal platform such as WeChat. If we were all on WeChat here, we could all probably install Squadded and then automatically be connected to our friends or those with similar interests, skipping the whole “signing in” process and invitation process.

Maybe someday, America. But, overall, I think that this is an amazing step toward what may become the new “normal” way of shopping.

Drop culture – but make it about sustainability rather than hype

The first time that I scrolled past an Instagram ad for PANGAIA was a few months ago, right as it was starting to get cold in Minnesota. The ad was for their FLWRDWN puffer jacket, which is a cruelty-free, completely biodegradable winter jacket made from wild flowers using a patented process. I clicked on the website and checked out the details of the coat, thought it seemed really cool and innovative, and then moved on and pretty much forgot about it.

Moving forward to the last month, I have been seeing PANGAIA products and ads all over my Instagram feed. Most prominent are the matching recycled cotton sets, which are very similar to the now well-known Entireworld cotton sets. PANGAIA has a higher price point for these items, however, I believe that the company backs it up with loads of information and proof of materials innovation, which means that they can sell at those higher prices.

If you’ve never heard of PANGAIA, here’s a brief summary of the company:

PANGAIA is a direct-to-consumer materials science company bringing breakthrough textile innovations and patents into the world through everyday lifestyle products. Every technology we work with aims to solve an environmental problem of the fashion/apparel & nature industry.

We hope to drive these solutions further by making technologies and materials available to companies across different industries. By introducing these innovations, we design materials, products and experiences for everyday and everyone.”

If you head to PANGAIA’s website, you’ll notice that almost every product is sold out- for now. Now that the demand for PANGAIA products has began to surge because of social media popularity, PANGAIA products have been pretty tough to get. What I’ve started to admire about the company is that they have taken a different approach to the usual “drop culture” method by focusing entirely on the sustainability and production of the brand and its items.

From what I can tell, about once a week PANGAIA posts on Instagram that they are going to allow pre-orders for a few different items, usually rotating style and color options. For the pre-order that happened today, the products won’t be shipped for another month and a half, so there is true customer dedication considering that people will wait that long to get what they have bought.

PANGAIA does not have excess inventory laying around, which means that based on the demand inquired from the pre-orders they can then manufacture exactly how many are needed, so there is no wasted inventory left over. PANGAIA can also cap the pre-orders at their maximum production capacity meaning that there will not be any delays in production.

For companies that regularly utilize “drops” of products or lines, the products are usually already made and often sell out. There is always the potential for a drop to be unsuccessful or poorly forecast in terms of sales volume, leaving a company or brand with a ton of leftover stock that either needs to be marked down or somehow gotten rid of. While this method is more sustainable than traditional retail, it’s still not perfect in terms of sustainable apparel.

Hype is often associated with drop culture, as is exclusivity. PANGAIA has brilliantly managed to create hype around their products without the goal of creating exclusive access to their products. PANGAIA wants anyone to be able to buy their products while maintaining a healthy and sustainable production practice, which is something I haven’t seen yet. There is hype and demand, everyone just has to practice a little patience. Because PANGAIA “drops” pre-orders almost once a week, as a consumer I can tell that they’re not trying to make the products exclusive, they just want to change the way that we think about consumption and the way that products are produced.

What I’ve also noticed having to be patient for PANGAIA to drop a pre-order in a color that I really, really want is that this is training me to be willing to wait for a product that I really love that I know will be produced as responsibly as possible. I don’t need a matching PANGAIA sweatsuit right now, and even if I pick a drop to try and get a set from and miss out, I trust that PANGAIA will release those products again at some point. Patience is not usually associated with apparel consumption, but with PANGAIA’s current success, maybe it can be in the near future.

Breaking down ‘Shop’ by Shopify

A BIG headline that broke this week in the world of commerce was that Shopify had released a mobile app called “Shop” which was “designed to create a more intuitive digital shopping experience from product discovery to delivery” (via Chain Store Age). Other important things to note:

  • Customers have access to streamlined checkout across all brands on the app and all order and tracking information is stored in one place. (Chain Store Age)
  • Other features include customized recommendations, as well as local filters that identify area businesses currently offering shipping, pick-up and return policies. (Chain Store Age)
  • The app is actually an update and rebrand of Arrive, an app for tracking packages from Shopify merchants and other retailers, which the company says has been used by 16 million consumers already. (via TechCrunch)

I immediately downloaded the Shop app because many of my favorite brands use Shopify for checkout and I have always loved that Shopify could just send me a text could that when entered could pull up all of my checkout information. Unfortunately this app has not lived up to everything that I thought it was going to be going into the download, however there are some really cool features within the app with tons of potential.

What I thought I the app was going to be: In my mind, a streamlined checkout meant that I would be able to put products from all different brands into one cart on the Shop app and checkout all in one go, similar to how one can add items from any Etsy seller on the app or website into one cart and then do one big checkout when ready. I also assumed that I would be able to search for products as one does on Google or Amazon. Lastly, I figured that the app would keep track of all of my purchases from brands using Shopify going forward.

What it actually is, broken down into the good and the bad:

Good: In the “shopping” section of the app, a variety of products from all of the shops that you follow are shown in a feed that you can scroll through if you are just browsing for fun. As someone who does this for hours a day just to see what’s out there in terms of products, it’s almost like scrolling through social media combined with a department store’s website but in a user-friendly, minimalistic app.

Bad: You cannot actually search for a product, therefore the claim that the app helps with product search and discovery is pretty misleading. There is no search bar for products and the only things you can search for are the different brands who use Shopify, a.k.a the “Shops.” For example, if you want to see what’s out there in the world of white sneakers, you still have to do what you normally do for product searches (Amazon, Google, Instagram, etc.).

Great: I was absolutely amazed with the shipping and tracking features of the app. On my home page, which is where all of your recent and past Shopify orders sit, I can see my purchase history and status of those packages (such as when they were shipped and delivered) from any time that I’ve made a purchase from a brand that uses Shopify. I didn’t realize that the app would be able to pull past purchase info in that way, and I was delightfully surprised. Where I was even more surprised was that the app pulls in order placement/shipping and tracking info from any online purchase that you’ve made once you download the app as well. For me, this meant that I could see when my last Chewy order was delivered and I could track my package from The RealReal to see when it was going to be delivered.

When you connect your information to the app via your Google account, this gives the app access to your inbox which means that it can pull online orders from anywhere to put on your home page to give you updates on shipping and delivery status. Ever so slightly creepy at first, but beyond useful in terms of a bigger picture because searching for tracking emails in my inbox that I never clear out absolutely sucks.

Good: Following the above, I was pleasantly surprised that the Shop app automatically followed all of the “shops” that I had made previous purchases from, which filled my shopping feed with products from relevant brands to me.

Bad and beyond disappointing: As I mentioned above, I thought that “streamlined checkout” truly meant that I could put any products that are shown on my shopping feed in the app into one cart within the app that could then all be purchased with one click. This is not the case. You can only checkout from one shop at a time, and when you do, you get redirected to that shop’s individual website, which was beyond disappointing and frustrating for me. You can still checkout with Shopify’s “one-click” system, but this checkout process is essentially no different from just ordering directly from the brand’s website. What I thought was going to be so cool about this app was the ability to put products from any retailer that uses Shopify into one cart for one checkout, but this was apparently big dreaming. There is, in my opinion, immense potential for Shopify to make this happen, and if they do, I don’t see myself shopping anywhere else.

Featured image from TechCrunch

Poshmark ‘Stories’ are a big step forward for social commerce

Poshmark announced a new feature to be added to their platform (the Poshmark App) called “Posh Stories,” which most closely align with Instagram or Snapchat stories, where the user has the ability to post a video to their account within the “stories” section that will only last for about 24-48 hours and will then disappear.

Brands on Instagram have had the ability to post products to their stories that can be accessed either on Instagram’s Shop or the brand’s website by simply “swiping up,” making many Poshmark users familiar with the process and idea, however, because Poshmark is an app dedicated solely to resale, it will have a unique advantage and power when compared to other resale companies or even social media apps for the time being.

Poshmark has made a significant contribution to the push for and growing popularity of social commerce. Ordinary people can list essentially any kind of clothing or accessories on the app and can set pricing however they feel appropriate, which has given the overhead power of selling and consuming to the general population. There’s no consigning or having to deal with the Poshmark company unless something goes very wrong (in which case the Poshmark employees are beyond helpful and considerate- I speak from experience), and shipping is incredibly simple and dependent on the seller,which means that instead of having to track down a “Questions?” or “Help” email or page from a standard company, one just just send the seller a chat as would normally be done with friends on social media.

Both the trend to buy second-hand items and Poshmark’s popularity have grown over the last few years, and in my opinion, Poshmark is one of the easiest platforms to use as it is accessible and straightforward for all. It has always felt like the majority of people on Poshmark truly identify as part of the Poshmark community which helps drive the social commerce train forward.

The current state of the U.S. has pushed all consumers who are still spending to ecommerce-based sales with some opting for delivery and others opting for curbside pickup if available. Some notable changing consumer mindsets that Poshmark can benefit greatly from at a time like this would be:

  • The consumer who shops in-person for everything they can and maybe uses Amazon if they have to
  • Those who have been hesitant about resale but now have the time to truly give it a go
  • Those who are familiar with resale and just aren’t getting the push needed to make confident purchases right now

Social commerce can greatly benefit all of these consumers as we are living in a time where social interaction seems lacking, and Poshmark Stories can help to both ease the mind of shoppers weary of resale and can help distract the minds of those stuck at home who need more content in order to make a purchase.

Posh Stories help the potential buyers of Poshmark see how a product looks in different settings, see how it moves, and possibly even see how it looks on the seller, which can be a compromise for those who prefer to shop in-person and try things on. Seeing a product move in a video or even just listening to someone talk about the product can help give the buyer that push of confidence needed to transition over to e/social commerce.

Another interesting concept brought up in this Retail Brew article is that the short lifespan of these stories can drive the feeling of exclusivity of the products on Poshmark, which may push that consumer who’s been on the edge of making a purchase to finally do it because they figure that others may buy it after looking at the story. The potential for flash sales through Posh Stories is also immense.

While Poshmark is not usually the place that people go when they are looking for luxury resale, it does actually have quite and expansive lineup of luxury products. Poshmark unfortunately does not have the authentication infrastructure of sites like The RealReal, however, sellers are usually quite good at posting proof of authenticity on their listing via receipts or item numbers. This being said, I foresee a big increase in Poshmark-based luxury sales because of the new ability to put videos of these products on a seller’s account. To my knowledge, no other luxury resale platform does this and the closest that I have seen in terms of video commerce (outside of Asia) is Nordstrom’s few and far between videos of store associates describing some of their most popular luxury items in a video at the bottom of a product listing on their webpage.

The last point that I would make is that these Posh Stories give Poshmark a pretty significant advantage over a company like eBay. Both have pretty janky websites/apps and require a detailed eye when browsing for the best deals and products. While eBay sells significantly more categories of merchandise than Poshmark, it still has a strong apparel, accessories, and luxury resale sector and is often thought of as the first place to go for secondhand items in good shape on the internet. The concept of video commerce is not something that eBay has embraced and I think that this will accelerate Poshmark to be more of a competitor in the apparel space. My only concern is that Poshmark does not do returns unless an item is truly not what the seller listed it as.

Overall, I think that video commerce will be a powerful tool for retailers to embrace going forward. The pandemic has accelerated the adaptation of both ecommerce and social commerce in the U.S., and Asian countries have been on top of video commerce for years. While this isn’t live-streaming quite yet, I think that is is a big step forward to being close, and kudos to Poshmark for stepping up to the plate.

Featured image taken from Adweek.

I tried two different luxury resale sites. Here’s how it went…

In the last three months I decided to try out two different luxury resale sites to see what all the hype was about and how the experiences differed across brands. Luxury resale sites have been hard to ignore in the last few years (a $24 billion industry, might I say) and been in the retail news for things both good and bad. Good: sustainability, affordability, accessibility to luxury fashion, changing the way that consumers shop, etc. Bad: possibly paying a ridiculous price for a secondhand item because you want to pay into the hype and the company knows that, and, worst of all, receiving an inauthentic item.

I tried out The RealReal (because how could I not?) and Tradesy. I’m sure that anyone reading this has heard of The RealReal for either the news appearances or the aggressive social media advertising plan. For the second company, I was undecided between Tradesy and Vestiaire Collective.

Vestiaire Collective has been highly reputable in the luxury secondhand space and I had only heard good things about them through social media and some of my favorite and most trustowrthy podcasts. What ultimately led me to chose Tradesy was curiosity (due to their social media ads that were heavily targeted and the fact that it is a U.S.-based company that only ships within the U.S. While Vestiaire Collective does have a filter that allows you to see products that are being sold in the U.S., I could not find anything that I really wanted to buy. I also did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on something that could possibly get lost in international mail or be held up in customs for a month.

Here’s how it went down:

I ordered a Tag Heuer watch from The RealReal. I had very limited knowledge about watches going into this purchase, however, the brand and make year of the model were very sentimental to me, so I went through with it. The description of the watch said that it was working, which was important to me because I did not want to go through the process of getting a new battery. Unfortunately, I overlooked the wrist measurement, assuming that I could probably squeeze my hand into an average-sized watch. It turns out that a 4.25 in. wrist is essentially child-sized and I have very large wrists. I had to bring the watch to a Tag Heuer certified jeweler who could then order the exact links needed (that are not used on any active models) to make the watch fit. That was a crazy experience, and not a cheap one, but a story for another day. Overall, I was satisfied with this purchase. The watch was sent in a nice dust bag with authentication paperwork. I should have just looked at the wrist measurement with more certainty.

Moving on to Tradesy…this was not as great and easy as my experience with The RealReal. I ordered a Moncler jacket because I thought that it was priced incredibly fair. It was about a $150 less than any other Moncler jacket that I had seen, but the price wasn’t low enough for me to question authenticity. Tradesy has options to both sell on your own (like eBay) or to send them your items to consign with them. This jacket happened to be listed by an independent consignment boutique, which I assumed was a luxury consignment boutique.

When the jacket came, it was in a printed ziploc-type of bag that said it was made of recycled materials. I thought that was cool, but it also lacked paperwork or any kind of fanciness that you can sometimes get even when a luxury item is secondhand. At this point, I didn’t question the purchase. I was on the fence with the jacket in terms of style and fit, though. I decided to wait it out for about a week.

When you buy something on Tradesy, you can only return it for site credit. I had my eyes on another Moncler jacket at The RealReal, so I figured that I would try and consign the jacket I had with The RealReal so that the next purchase would even out or even make me some money. Wishful thinking, right?

So, I sent the jacket to The RealReal to consign with them. It got sent back quickly with a message saying that the item was made with incorrect construction. OOF. I quickly reached out to Tradesy assuming that I was screwed becuase I was now outside of the return allowance window.

Thankfully, the Tradesy team was super helpful. They first wanted pictures of the jacket to be emailed to them to be sent to “authentication experts,” who then emailed me back saying that I should mail the jacket to them with a prepaid shipping label.

In the end, Tradesy verified that the jacket was inauthentic and fully refunded me to my original form of payment, which I am extremely happy about. I am not happy that I received an inauthentic jacket from a site that guarantees authenticity. Needless to say, I will not be purchasing from Tradesy again and I went and bought a different jacket from The RealReal instead

When you buy things secondhand AND online there will probably always be a bit of a risk with the purchase. I’ve never been a huge fan of consignment and have always questioned the business model, but I do now have more trust in the consignment process for secondhand luxury. That being said, there have been plenty of issues with authenticity and The RealReal despite having the consignment and authentication measures in place.

In the end, The RealReal is the way to go for almost anything luxury, and there are plenty of other luxury resale sites dedicated more specifically to bags such as Fashionphile or shoes such as GOAT or StockX.

My changing consumer habits amidst the quarantine

When self-quarantining became a true reality with stores shutting down everywhere, it’s not surprising that my first thoughts on this change revolved around how consumer behaviors were also going to drastically change. There are plenty of people working on studying these changes, but I thought it would be interesting to write about my own personal experience with adjustments to my normal shopping habits. Here are 5 changes to my normal consumer behavior profile:

  1. Curbside grocery pickup. I have been utilizing grocery pickup at Target for about 6 months, but was not relying on it, using it mostly when the temperature was less than 0 in Minneapolis. Now, I am using curbside pickup wherever I can, which for my location in Minneapolis means Target and Cub have been my saviors. Walking through the stores felt panicked and almost dangerous because of how many people touched things, so I started to rely on these curbside pickups. Cub has a significant advantage in that you can purchase produce and frozen foods, but I was let down one day by my order getting canceled right before I was supposed to pick it up. I don’t blame them, though, with how crazy the world has been. Being able to pick up produce was important enough for me to let it slide. An Amazon Go location in Minneapolis seems like a great idea right now.
  2. Getting into health and wellness products. I live an active lifestyle and try to eat as clean as I can, but I have never been a consumer of standard health and wellness products under the belief that I don’t need them. Lone behold, I have now purchased not one, but three, new vitamins that I’ll most likely buy again each month now. I also now have 100 packs of Emergen-C. Overall, these purchases are really out of character for me, yet I think that I’ll continue making them just to be on the safe side of life going forward.
  3. I am doing a lot of online shopping. This is obvious for most people, but I went from having one shopping cart opened in a tab to about nine that I will probably abandon at some point. Almost every retailer has some kind of sale going on, which means that I am actively hunting for the best deals and am digging deep into my sources to get as much information about the things that I am considering buying as possible. This means that the retailers that don’t have the best prices or don’t have the best product listings (details, pictures, my size in stock, etc.) are not getting my business.
  4. I’m paying attention to all of the promotional emails that I get. There comes a point when you get so many promotional emails that you stop paying attention to them. Due to boredom, I have now started to pay attention to all of the things that pop up in my inbox each day. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with all of the brands that have “picked items just for me,” but have been pretty disappointed with those products often being out of stock in my size. It happens, but I enjoy the false feeling of a brand truly caring about me and wanting to interact with me.
  5. I downloaded TikTok specifically to see the content that popular brands create. I’ve been incredibly hesitant to download TikTok, but in a period where I have more free time than I’ll probably ever have in my life, I figured I’d might as well. Brands on TikTok are doing a really great job with content targeted toward the Gen Z audience, I just find that it does not put me over the edge of wanting to make a purchase. I still prefer watching Youtube videos of people trying on different products or reviewing different products with the brands that I love. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the live content that many brands are putting up on Instagram Live or IGTV, such as Levi’s series of concerts, product drops from independent designers, or videos of styling products from different brands. I love connecting with my favorite brands via social media, but at the end of the day, I want a pretty technical video of a product before I purchase it (think Topo Designs videos on Youtube showcasing all of the features of their products).

I’m interested to see how my behaviors will continue to change and I am anxiously awaiting for the overall impact his will have on physical retail.

Can magazines/catalogues be relevant to Gen Z consumers?

I received a “LifeWear” magazine from Uniqlo the other day that pleasantly surprised me and inspired me to consider if magazines and catalogues could ever be relevant for the standard Gen Z consumer.

I’ve been a loyal fan of Uniqlo for years now, and while I sometimes question their sustainability claims, Uniqlo is by far the best place to go for clothing items that you need but do not have a large budget for. I am always impressed with the quality that I get for such low prices and the majority of my work clothing and about half of my athletic clothing are from this brand.

I ordered a pair of pants from Uniqlo, and in the packaging came the LifeWear magazine. I titled this post with “magazines/catalogues” because this magazine, in my opinion, blurs the line between magazine and catalogue in that it is filled with only Uniqlo products and their item numbers and pricing, yet the content is largely editorial and the focus is primarily on the images and the stories of the people featured within the magazine.

Needless to say, I was surprised that I got a magazine and was instantly brought back to my childhood when I would wait all year for the Toys “R” Us holiday catalogue to come out and I could flip through the pages while folding down the corners to mark the products that I wanted for Christmas.

A few years later, I looked forward to getting the PBTeen magazines as I would cut out the products that I liked and would save them on a corkboard in my room, pretending to be an interior designer. I don’t think that I have received a magazine since that stage of my life, which was probably around ages 10-13.

My first thought was “What ever happened to magazines?”, which was soon followed up with, well, the internet, but something about this Uniqlo magazine inspired to think about whether or not magazines could ever be relevant again for Gen Z consumers.

The LifeWear magazine showcased Uniqlo products being worn on ordinary people styled in ways that I would have never thought of when just looking at the products online by themselves on a harsh white background, and there was something truly intriguing about flipping through the pages of a physical item rather than clicking through slides on my laptop. The content seamlessly aligned with the title of “LifeWear” as each of the people featured in the magazine wore about three different outfits, all catered towards different daily activities yet manyof the products worn had cross-functioning abilities. The magazine of course also featured new releases and upcoming collabs, but overall did its job in that I now have a whole lot more Uniqlo products in my online shopping cart because I found inspiration in the way that these products were worn in the magazine.

Obviously magazines and catalogues disappeared for a few reasons, some being that they’re a large waste of paper and all of the LifeWear magazine content can probably be found online. However, I felt pretty special receiving a well-done magazine, as if Uniqlo had targeted me as a consumer with a high purchase rate who would probably enjoy looking at pictures of their products being worn in real life.

Where I think there may be potential for magazines to become popular again relies solely on how shockingly excited I got flipping through this magazine. It was nice to feel something and to have a companion while I continue to shop online, especially because I don’t live near a Uniqlo store (and those are usually even harder to shop than the website).

Magazines being produced at the rate that they once were will hopefully never happen again, but I do think that a brand creating a magazine twice a year (SS/AW) that is only sent to a select group of shoppers could be of potential impact for a brand. If the magazines could be made from recycled materials or old shipping supplies, that would be pretty awesome, too.

My last point to make is that by focusing on previous consumers that have come back to make repeat purchases, a brand has the ability to strengthen that retailer-consumer bond and increase the customer loyalty. Magazines were distributed to absolutely everyone for higher customer acquisition rates and brand awareness, but maybe a more targeted distribution strategy will be what’s in store for the future of magazines and catalogues.

10 Online UX Features that WON’T deter me from making a purchase on your website

I consider myself to be somewhat of a professional online shopper. I can spend hours and hours putting together shopping carts of things that I most likely won’t ever buy or won’t buy for weeks (sorry retailers- at least I don’t abandon the cart?) and with a background in retail and design, I often ask myself about which UX-related features either incentivize me to follow through with a purchase and which ones send me away from a website immediately.

With years of scrolling experience under my belt, here are 10 UX features that are critical for me (your slightly-more-informed than average/relatively average consumer) to not leave your website right after getting there:

  1. The design of your website is nice to look at. It sounds like this should be obvious, but there are so many retailers (very prominent retailers, I might say) that have website presences that are janky, disorganized, and confusing for the eye. Clear lines and white space are your friends! When I get to your homepage, your website should adapt to the relative size of my screen, I shouldn’t get hit with 1,000 pop-ups, and the different sections of the homepage should scroll in blocks that are fluent to the size of the screen. Examples of nice, clean websites: Everlane and Topo Designs. Examples of hard to look at websites: Old Navy and Macy’s.
  2. Pop-ups, not Blow-ups. Upon getting to the homepage, a few pop-ups are okay. These would include current and relative promotions, a chat bot, or an email box for a promotion. It should be incredibly easy to click out of them and they shouldn’t take up the whole screen. If I get to your website and the whole thing goes black so that a plethora of popups that I have to spend time figuring how to get out of pop-up, I’m out. Going off of that…
  3. Give a little, get a little. One of my favorite features is a pop-up that asks for my email for a first-time purchase discount in return. I usually fall for this all of the time and it 100% incentivizes me to make a purchase because of that 10-20% off discount (preferably the 20). I then tend to find that I like the products, not just the brand, and I come back to make repeat purchases.
  4. A submissive chatbot. In the last year I have utilized chatbots A TON and have actually found them to be incredibly useful. A chatbot that can connect you to an actual human who can answer questions about your product is a great way to get consumers informed about what they’re buying and why they should buy it. I’ve found a great deal of help with chatbots when buying a car, looking at new cell phone plans, and deciding on buying a secondhand luxury bag. Chatbots can also be super useful when you head to a website on a very specific mission and they pop-up right away, directing you to where you need to go. What’s not helpful, however, is when chatbots pop-up every time you click something new or go to a new page and you then are forced to click out of or minimize them every 30 seconds. That is incredibly annoying, but one pop-up at the beginning of my search and easy access to open the pop-up are great features to have. I want to control the power of the chatbot, and not the other way around. Lastly, I don’t expect there to be a real-live person behind the chatbot 24/7, but during normal business hours is great. Speaking of getting help…
  5. The “Contact Us” tab is easy to find. Think about it. If I’m a customer that’s dissatisfied with something about my experience or purchase, and I have to struggle to find where I can get help, I’m not going to be any more satisfied. A clear place to contact for order help is so important, and getting a response within 24 hours is even better.
  6. Out of stock’s are clearly marked. Is there anything more awful than scrolling past a product that you love, clicking it like any other one, and then seeing that it’s not even available? I’ve always wondered how hard it could be to manage labeling the out-of-stock’s clearly so that I don’t have to bother clicking unless I want to get on a waitlist. My favorite type of listing is when an entire product is out of stock, there’s a big box on the listing saying “out of stock,” and when there’s a size or two out of stock, the in-stock sizes are listed under the product when I scroll so that I know whether or not it is worth my time to click through.
  7. Remembering where I was in a scroll. Something that I have come to no longer tolerate is when I scroll and scroll and scroll through pages of listings, click on a product, and then go back to the product listings and the website forgets where I was and just sends me back to the top of page one. It is not worth my time to try and mega scroll back to where I was, especially if I was just scrolling and didn’t have the option of clicking through page numbers. If I experience this, I immediately leave the website because it is 2020, thousands of other retail sites can perform this function, and there is no excuse.
  8. Remembering my cart, at least for awhile. It warms my heart when my computer dies, I have to create all of my tabs again, and what was in my cart at a specific retailer is there again right when I open up the website. Pure bliss. While I don’t expect a site to remember my cart for months, it is a really useful tool when you go back and forth on deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
  9. Products are styled on a person or where they should be used. It’s really hard to imagine how a product will look either on me or in my life if the only pictures of it are laying flat on a white background. I have also found that depending on the way that products are styled, I can easily be swayed to make more purchases because I love the way a sweater was paired with a pair of jeans or they way a pair of sneakers was styled with a cool pair of socks. One thing to look out for- making sure that the things worn in the product pictures are available in your store and are listed underneath the product, this is easy money! Back to that sweater, if I can’t find the jeans that I liked that are in the picture, how am I supposed to buy them?
  10. Products are represented on different-sized models. Lots of retailers are getting better at this, however it’s still not good enough. If your products are modeled only on one person, it’s really hard to think about how they will fit on me and how the colors will play with my skin. Obviously not every retailer has the budget to get thousands of shots for their websites, but having at least two models of differing sizes wearing different colors of the product if applicable truly helps me imagine myself wearing the items. ALSO- tell me what sizes the models are wearing!

Overall, there is a lot of room for improvement on the online retailing side when talking about user experience, and I’m hoping that someone will find this useful when testing the usability of their site or wondering why their traffic and/or conversion might not be where they want it to be.

The bursting of my D2C dream bubble

The Business of Fashion reported on the stepping down of Ty Haney, Outdoor voices CEO, a few days ago, and of all the CEO step-downs that I have paid attention to since starting my internship, this one has hurt the most.

I discovered Outdoor Voices in 2016 via an Instagram ad and instantly fell in love with the brand and its message. As someone who never got into lululemon and never really understood the hype behind it, it felt as if Outdoor Voices was made for me.

What drew me to the brand was what drew all of OV’s loyal customers to the brand, which was their distinct colors, shapes, and the impressive marketing strategy behind it all. Once that first OV ad showed up on my feed, I can confidently say that one has popped up at least two or three times per week ever since then. The images posted on their Instagram feed have always been beautiful, have emphasized how to use the products for recreation, and have emphasized showing women of all sizes wearing the products.

For me, the brighter colors appealed more than the neutrals of lululemon, and I was never into athleisure the way that lululemon customers are. I’ve never needed my workout clothes to function as work clothes and for the short time that I was really into athleisure, I was doing it for the fashion potential rather than the comfort. Lululemon is probably the clothing brand that is closest to having items for any occasion (working out, walking, hiking, going to work, shopping for groceries, etc.), minus formal events. Something about the brand, though, has never appealed to me.

That’s why hearing about OV not performing well financially hurts so much, and it really puts a damper on all of the hype surrounding the D2C industry, which is what I have grown up with and come into my spending power surrounded with. D2C has been the buzz for as long as I can remember, so it’s hard to think about the brands that you have loved for a few years not performing well compared to a few huge retailers in their categories. I always tell people that I have a few brands that would I die for, those of which are Everlane, Allbirds, Glossier, and Outdoor Voices, and when the activewear department of your wardrobe takes a hit, it hurts.

Today, I’ve thought a lot about why this is happening to some D2C brands and not others. I read a couple of articles about this OV news, and while it makes sense that you can’t reach profitability without your operations being as efficient as your marketing, it’s still hard to understand when D2C is pretty much all you’ve known in your adult life.

On campus, you regularly will see students wearing the blue baseball cap and canvas tote bag that Outdoor Voices is known for, but I realized that I’ve never seen it on someone who doesn’t look like a college student. I can also guess that people within about five years of my age were disproportionately targeted with social media ads, which means that you get a couple of milennials but a whole lot of Gen Z’ers who don’t have disposable income and probably only own the baseball cap and bag that comes with from Outdoor Voices, which in the long-term is not a very sustainable business strategy because we won’t have that kind of disposable income for awhile.

The last concept of OV that I always loved was the message that yes, you can wear the products just for athleisure, but there’s more depth to the products and the brand, which is something that I’ve always felt that lululemon lacked. OV products are meant to be used for intense gym workouts or strenuous hikes as well as more casual forms of exercise because you feel good about getting out there and participating in recreational activities and you get to wear products that aren’t as commonly seen as lululemon. I’ve always loved the initial concept of the brand that Ty Haney has talked about in interviews for years where she was running in what seemed like olympic-level apparel when it definitely didn’t have to be, there just weren’t any other options.

In the end, there are a lot of problems regarding customer acquisition for OV. Sure, with their initial funding they got me and others like me good and got us devoted to the brand, but anyone outside of this small demographic probably doesn’t even know of the brand. Their ads feature a diverse group of females, but a diverse group of people within a very small age range. They also have an entire men’s line but there are essentially no men in their ads. While I subscribe to the OV idea and lifestyle, having the loyalty of 21 y/o’s with limited disposable income is not a profitable nor sustainable customer acquisition to have.

Lastly, did you know that you can subscribe to the Business of Fashion for free as a student? How did I not know that? All you have to do is head to the BoF Professional page, look at the different memberships, and then click the line below the three types to set up a student account!