Few things can set eyes rolling like a brand fumbling to insert itself into the myriad social conversations between influencers and their followers. And yet, all too often, that’s precisely what companies do, whether with crammed-in product placements or intrusive paid ads.
One newcomer, ShopThat, believes there’s a better way — and it’s grabbed the attention of some major players.
This take on conversational shopping reads like a new approach to affiliate links, but tailored for the photo- and video-sharing generation: When a participating influencer shares an Instagram photo or YouTube video, fans simply “like” a ShopThat-enabled post to add the products to a universal shopping cart. Applicable posts are marked by subtle icons, a little shopping bag and hearts, and the shopping cart resides in Facebook Messenger.
From there, people can keep shopping, edit their baskets or quickly check out, courtesy of a Stripe payment transaction. No standalone app download required, though users will need to have added ShopThat as a Messenger contact.
The fundamental idea of using “likes” to trigger transactions is to take the irritation and complexity out of social shopping. Consumers often face frustration, with multiple transactions required across numerous apps, just to shop a single look. Instead, ShopThat envisioned social-powered e-commerce that would feel more like an organic part of the relationship between tastemakers and their followers.
“The ease of purchasing is a very important part of any shopping experience,” said Anne Keating, the marketing and communications veteran from Bloomingdale’s. “On the social platforms, that ease does not measure up to the expectations of the savvy customer. Brands need to be able to capitalize on the conversations that are happening [there, and] ShopThat does exactly that and so simply.”
The company landed on Keating’s radar thanks to New York investment banker Arthur Altschul Jr. and Tom Glocer, former chief executive officer of Thomson Reuters. Now she’s the company’s brand consultant. “When I decided to leave my full-time position at Bloomingdale’s and become an independent consultant, I was anxious to become involved in unique projects that could benefit from my retail background,” she explained. “I was intrigued with [ShopThat’s] concept and thought it would be an amazing opportunity. After meeting Ami I was sold.”
ShopThat ceo and founder Ami Moore has had a front-row view of lumbering attempts to connect brands and social channels. As a producer and product manager at places like OgilvyOne and RedRover, she’s seen plenty of lackluster experiments. While social media may be a robust megaphone for generalized outreach or branding, it’s rife with unique transactional challenges for social-powered e-commerce.
“Brands and influencers have been trying to figure this out,” said Moore. “We’ve connected the dots. We’re the connective tissue between the two.” ShopThat developed listening technology that monitors influencers’ feeds on Instagram and YouTube. When selected products are identified, ShopThat can tie the various transaction points together and inject shopping icons into the user interface.
It’s an interesting approach, particularly since Facebook and Google products usually don’t work well together. But the startup’s open platform sidesteps any technical limitations stemming from the tech titans’ feud. The company will launch with the two social channels. That may be short of the entire social space, but it’s still a hefty slice: Instagram serves 800 million monthly users, and YouTube boasts 1.5 billion monthly users. The service could expand further in the future.
“It’s super simple to integrate with and turn on brands,” Moore said. “Takes about seven minutes to turn them on, and it sucks in all of their inventory.” One of ShopThat’s integration partners is e-commerce platform Shopify, and other partners and retailers have shown interest.
It sounds ideal, at least in theory, but there’s not much wiggle room for problems. Social media users can be fickle, and glitches tend to be common for new platforms, even those that have taken years to develop. In ShopThat’s case, evolution can be measured in months, not years.
Moore described a mad-dash journey that started with conception in November 2016. A few weeks later, ShopThat had a proof of concept, and a few months after that, the platform was in beta. Now it’s preparing to move from beta to public launch, and the system will get stress-tested by the real world at a potentially massive scale.
The company moved fast to fill what it saw as a gap in the market. But little things — like transaction glitches, or whether those intentionally unobtrusive shopping icons are too subtle — could become major issues. The next few weeks and months will be critical. They will either be necessary lessons in the growth of a social commerce giant, or insurmountable obstacles derailing yet another promising newcomer.
“We’ll launch and learn,” said Moore. “I’m very anxious to go live, because that will inform a lot of things.”