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Agora Builds a New Digital Marketplace

Riccardo Basile and Elizabeth Townsend-Rose have created a short-video based social commerce app for beauty.

In ancient Greece, an agora, or market, was the center of social commerce. Today, Agora is a social commerce app founded by Riccardo Basile and Elizabeth Craft Townsend Rose that is looking to disrupt how people buy beauty.

The app enables users to create short-form shoppable videos and earn coins for free products based on their sales, the founders explained in conversation with WWD’s European beauty editor, Jennifer Weil.

“Social commerce brings the power of entertainment and trust and discovery directly to the consumer’s phone,” Basile said. “This is what it represents for consumers. It is decentralized model that puts in the hands of individual entrepreneurs a variety of services that are typically in traditional retail provided by a variety of stakeholders. Marketing services, media, distribution services, down to content creation and creative services.”

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Basile said that social commerce started in China about 10 years ago and now accounts for 10 percent of retail sales, a figure expected to increase to 15 percent.

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While it is still a nascent trend in the West, the entrepreneurs expect it to accelerate quickly due to the penetration of mobile commerce and the increased spending power of Gen Z.

“The most important part of that is mobile technology,” Townsend-Rose said. “In markets like China, where social commerce is most advanced, mobile shopping is 90 percent of e-commerce versus the U.S., where it is 42 percent.

“The mobile phone allows for a more immersive experience, better user experience and more detailed data collection,” she said.

Townsend-Rose noted that leveraging the data enables the company to group like-minded people together — people with similar skin concerns or beauty interests or coloring. “Imagine an Avon lady with hair color x and skin color y who has rosacea and shows up in your living room and talks about what works for her — that is powerful,” she said.

This isn’t the first start-up for the duo, who cofounded the e-commerce platform Lazada in 2012 and sold it to Alibaba in 2016. “That gave us the opportunity to look into the future of e-commerce, to learn and bring microtrends in China that have changed the landscape of e-commerce to other markets,” Basile said. “The vision for the company is to not only serve consumers differently, but to create a new form of entrepreneurship.

For now, Agora is available in a variety of English-speaking countries, but the primary focus is on the U.K. market. Users today are largely female between the ages of 16-25 and live primarily outside of London. Townsend-Rose said Birmingham, in particular, is a large market. Short videos work better than long, and more than 70,000 videos have been uploaded thus far.

“Early evangelists tend to be a little younger and more willing to share. They are able to upload videos, confident in front of the camera, don’t worry too much about filtering and editing and they really want to share truly what they are thinking,” she said.