Operator is bringing the gig economy to fashion.
The Buzzy San Francisco-based app is marshaling the shopping savvy of independent entrepreneurs to help consumers buy online — and get paid in the process.
If that sounds like Uber for fashion, it is. At least, kind of.
And while there are lots of companies looking to tap into some of the Uber magic, Operator has special access to the mind-set that made the company a giant: cofounder and chairman Garrett Camp is also a cofounder of the taxi disruptor.
Adding to the company’s tech cred, Operator’s cofounder Robin Chan has served as a top executive at gaming giant Zynga and was an early Twitter investor, while the firm’s chief technology officer and cofounder, Philip Fung, was one of Facebook’s first mobile engineering managers.
The company raised more than $25 million and is betting that a human touch — via messaging — will make for happier shoppers and drive e-commerce sales in fashion.
Users connect with Operator experts live through messages on the platform and can ask for recommendations, advice and other help before purchasing.
Chan, who also serves as Operator’s chief executive officer, said messages — and their cousins, texts — are like telephone conversations for younger people.
“That behavior is going to roll over into the way they shop,” said Chan, stressing the importance of having a human on the other side of the conversation. (Operator does take users through a few automated prompts to make the right connection, but the emphasis is on the human interaction.)
The company’s networks of independent personal shoppers come from all around the U.S.
“There are four billion smartphones,” Chan said. “You have a lot of people who have knowledge that we can unlock. If you have someone who has some form of passion or retail experience, they can provide a lot of help. In any city, there are people who are pretty well-trained on selling goods.
“We partner with the merchants and they give us economics for selling the products and then we share those economics with the experts,” the ceo said. “It’s that human impact. You get to talk to someone who’s actually brought you exactly what you want.”
As holiday shopping got under way over the Black Friday to Cyber Monday stretch, Operator users gravitated toward “ugly” holiday sweaters, Champagne flutes and Bluetooth speakers.
Conversions grew 30 percent during the period while gift sales rose 333 percent.
The average purchase price on fashion rose 28 percent to $97 during the period.