New York-based start-up Shoppable bills itself as a “buy button” for the Internet in that its technology lets consumers purchase anything online at the point of inspiration — meaning anywhere other than a retailer’s or brand’s own web site. Earlier this month, it received $3.5 million in a Series A round of funding led by an unnamed investor, with participation from others.
Before becoming founder and chief executive officer, Heather Marie worked for six years at Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie and Limited Inc., and later worked in digital ad sales at digital media company Affinity Labs. There, she realized that often, the path from inspiration to purchase was indirect at best.
“I realized the tech solution was missing,” she said. “Something had to be created by a third-party tech company, not something from Amazon or Saks. It had to be agnostic.”
She launched Shoppable in 2011; the company’s products include a consumer-facing Google Chrome extension and a business-to-business automated affiliate product. Marie spoke to WWD about how it’s evolved from a luxury retail service to broad e-commerce distribution for 250 companies such as Theory, NARS, Helmut Lang, Oscar de la Renta, BaubleBar, Sephora, Target, Time Inc., Buzzfeed, L’Oréal, Unilever, Revolve, French Connection and Walgreens.
WWD: Shoppable lets e-commerce customers shop products from multiple retailers within a single order-and-payment process. What is an example of when this would work?
Heather Marie: Let’s take the brand Coach: The brand is mentioned digitally probably tens of thousands of times a day. We are making every single mention of that brand shoppable at the point of that mention or image.
It’s one thing to go directly to a brand’s site when you know you want that brand, but how many times as a consumer are you discovering things throughout the rest of the day? Let’s say you’re reading your favorite blog and see an outfit that you like. You can click on our browser extension, which will scan that page and pull up products based on the page. The Chrome extension will add that item to your bag, assuming that product is integrated into our site already.
We power commerce for manufacturers that aren’t holding their own inventory and who don’t want to compete against their retailers. So now you can purchase from Dove Beauty, at Dove.com. Prior to our tech, you would have to go to retailer sites. We are removing that friction.
H.M.: That is one phrase for it. It’s also called distributed commerce.
WWD: How does a company participate?
H.M.: When we work with a brand, we don’t charge them but we have to know what products they are selling — what is in stock and what sizes and colors. Part of it is taking in product data through a product feed. Then we have to connect with them so that they know to expect orders from Shoppable.
WWD: How does Shoppable detect the product?
H.M.: It’s not image recognition. It’s based on the actual content of the data on the site, so it’s reading the text on the page.
WWD: It’s up to who posts the content to give the product information?
H.M.: Yes. It works on desktop, mobile web and mobile apps. One thing increasingly of interest for mobile companies that had been integrated with a link-share or an affiliate network — without the checkout experience, they have to send the user outside the mobile app. Our APIs are a good solution to that type of issue.
The license technology that a blogger or publisher has, they can integrate on their own and they are able to get a commission for everything they sell.
We also have a tool that is direct-to-consumer that is a desktop browser extension, and you can still use it without that person having done anything.
WWD: Who processes the payments?
H.M.: We handle it in a couple different ways depending upon the merchant and their setup. Most of the larger ones want to keep their process identical to keep it streamlined, but we have our own processing and setup which is easier for small merchants and medium brands that don’t have a process set up.
WWD: How do you monetize?
H.M.: We have different streams. It’s a percent of sales, and a [software as a service] license from the advertiser or the publisher. Coach doesn’t pay unless they are doing a Shoppable content ad on a third-party site.
WWD: You just raised $3.5 million. What does the future hold?
H.M.: Integrating additional merchants and expanding our development team to work through the brands we are on-boarding. We will hit more than 30 million stockkeeping units within the next three months. We’re also going to be expanding to Asia.
WWD: It seems like “buy” buttons on platforms from Pinterest to Twitter haven’t completely taken off.
H.M.: They are completely different beasts. I think it’s still early; Twitter is small and bite-sized pieces of information, so it’s not as great a shopping place as Pinterest is.
I don’t think any of the social sites are doing it right today, and there is a huge opportunity. There are third-party companies doing the best they can, but I don’t think that’s the right way to go about t.
What they really need to do is integrate the solution directly into the site to capture those impulsive buys. The challenge that [those such as] Pinterest and Twitter have is that it is so sporadic; you don’t know what experience you’re going to get, and how do you add [shopping] back in so late in the game?
The biggest opportunity is within Instagram. The brands in fashion and beauty really embrace the platform and there is a massive audience and a great place for inspiring content.