Removing The Middle-Man: How We Took Shopping Out Of The Stores And Into Your Hands

Removing The Middle-Man:

How We Took Shopping Out Of The Stores And Into Your Hands

I am always texting. I haven’t been on Facebook since college, (crazy, I know), I don’t get Twitter, and Instagram is growing on me. Yea, I sound a lot older than 31, but I’m not alone. I live in my texts. We all do. Emails are work, apps are annoying to download and I never remember to open them. But there’s a reason that text messages have a 96 percent open rate – they’re from my friends and family.

It pains me to say that apps are annoying because that’s the world I’m coming from. I’ve built and run two iPhone apps and learned a lot – enough to never build one again. Don’t get me wrong, building apps was a lot of fun. Building one for CollegeHumor was particularly fun. But we bent over backwards to get people to download it. Then we did backflips to get people to open it, and play it. It was an awesome experience that we had to beg people to have. You don’t have to beg people to send texts.

I wanted to tether the real world, where your real friends and family actually talk, to a commerce experience. And that’s why I started Shop Or Not, the weekly text message you can shop. We text you one new thing, once a week. That’s it.

Your friend sees something you’d love and texts you a pic of it. We’re that friend. All you have to do is text back ‘Yes’ and the item is shipped right to your door. That’s it, pure texting – just one picture and a few sentences. No website, no app. So many times when I found myself out and about, I wouldn’t buy much (yes, I hate shopping, and yes, I started a shopping company), but I would so often take pictures of things I saw that my friends would like. It is so simple, something millions of people already do every day, and best of all for someone who hates shopping, the whole experience takes about 30 seconds. We’re taking you out of the store, and meeting you where you are these days.

Co-Founders, Kelly O’Malley and Kate Myers

Everything we text about is totally curated, from small batch coffee pods made in Montana to spicy chili granola made in Brooklyn to leather bags sewn in Tennessee and pocket squares made in Texas. Each product is one of a kind, made in America, we absolutely love it, and you’ve probably never seen anything like it before. If you only ever want to text about chocolate, great. If you only want items made in Colorado, great. Through the text conversation, we get to know you, chatting back and forth about what you like, and that way we’ll be able to text you only the best stuff. If you text us any questions, like, “Is that chili granola super spicy? I’m more into sweet breakfast”, then we remember that too and make sure you don’t get texted anything you’ll want to spit out.

Retail is evolving rapidly from the times of wandering stores and running your fingers across fabrics. Those were the days, when you only had so many choices and you could touch them all. Shop Or Not covers one of those crucial bases: fewer choices. In the area of 20-Tabs-Open-On-My-Laptop, fewer choices is a great thing. The in-store experience is limited by four walls and shelf space. Wandering around, revisiting, and discussing items with your shopping mates is a pretty lovely, cozy experience. We’d like to recreate a bit of that intimacy, while also making it so much simpler.

I believe texting, an old-fashioned technology, is the next best thing to the in-store experience, the perfect tether between the old and new ways of shopping. It’s so intimate. Which means it’s all about trust. It’s not an ad or an app telling you what to get, it’s your friend. Texting you just one thing at a time. From someone you know, who knows what you’ll like, and knows that if you don’t like it, you’ll text back a thumbs down emoji.

Keeping it super simple is super underrated. I learned that from years of making fun but fundamentally complicated apps.

Texting is really good at some things, not so great at others. It’s one way to reimagine the retail experience, but not the ultimate reinvention. For example, I would never buy a couch over text. That’s something I need to look at for a while and probably put through the highly sophisticated Butt Test. Texting, however, is really good at reminding you of things, for instance. With every Shop Or Not text, you can reply ‘Yes’ to buy. After a while, we saw a lot of customers responding ‘Gift’ to be able to send the item to someone else. That gave us an idea. We texted our customers to ask, “Any special occasions coming up? Let us know your big dates this year.” And we got an overwhelming response rate: people texted us back with birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so many special times. We scheduled texts two weeks out from every occasion to say, “Hey there, your mom’s birthday is coming up, here are three gift ideas.” And we watched the champagne marshmallows fly off the metaphorical shelf.

Technology moves really fast. People don’t. I mean, I’ve run multiple tech companies and I definitely don’t. Forcing apps and bots and complicated websites on people isn’t what they want, it’s what brands want. What people want is simply to talk to each other. Of course. So we met them there. Said hi. And texted them one awesome thing.

For SWAAY readers, text Swaay to 347-482-0881 for 25 percent off your first order.

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