Remember when shopping was social? While it can seem like a relic of the distant past, in reality it was only a short time ago that going to the mall was something that Americans did for fun.
Then came the Internet and with it the wonderful world of e-commerce. Suddenly shopping was a much more solitary and fragmented experience. A more cost- and time-efficient experience, often with a much larger range of goods and services than any individual mall could ever hope to offer, but a far less social experience nonetheless.
Into the mall shaped hole in the heart of the American consumer stepped Wanelo—a portmanteau of Want Need Love—an e-commerce site that hopes to make shopping social again.
PYMNTS spoke to Rachel Youens, Wanelo’s Social Commerce Evangelist, about what the marketplace is and what it hopes to do for merchants and consumers. The concept is fairly simple and should be entirely familiar to anyone who has ever used a social media site before.
Wanelo brings together about 300,000 merchants, 12 million products and 11 million users (as of August 2013) and gives them a variety of ways to interact. Users, after downloading the app, sign in and create a profile. From there, the experience becomes pretty self directed—users can build and follow other’s pages and create a very Instagram+shopping experience, or users can browse their way across the giant selection of storefronts.
(Jump to 2:24) “I was looking for a purple bridesmaid’s dress. Rather then going to H&M, looking at Aesos, looking at Forever21, looking at Macy’s, I just typed ‘purple dress’ into the search field in Wanelo, and searched across all the stores. I could have also just searched in my favorite stores. So Wanelo makes shopping a lot more fun, a lot more functional and helps with the fragmentation that’s out there today. It becomes a really great tool for stores to socialize with their customers in a place where they are actually there to shop as opposed to tweet or Facebook or something.”
Youens went on to note that the web has found many ways to help people be social, and even specialize the context of the socializing. We have LinkedIn for work, Facebook for friends, Twitter for news—but she says, there hasn’t really been a place where the context is shopping.
This has led to many social networking sites to attempt to wedge in the e-commerce part, often to questionable effect. Trying to build e-commerce on top of an existing social network often becomes awkward Youens says —mainly because people don’t go to Twitter for Facebook to shop. This doesn’t mean these sites don’t have commercial uses, says Youens, but it does mean…
(Jump to 5:26) “More and more we’re starting to realize it is not so great for monetizing. Brands that have thrown tons and time and money into Facebook right now are seeing that they are able to reach less and less people. Facebook wants you to pay for your posts, so the organic spread that they thought they had is not really there anymore. Even when it comes to Instagram—people love Instagram you can’t even put a link in an Instagram post and even if you could I really doubt that it would lead to that much meaningful purchasing.”
Shopping, Youens says, is about frame of mind, as much as anything else, and if users aren’t there to shop, then it is hard to motivate them to do so. Wanelo, on the other hand, is first and foremost a marketplace, and it wants you to buy while you are there—its business model depends on it since its current monetization plan involves taking a small cut of the transactions done on the site.
And, as it turns out, the people are buying, and retailers are noticing. Chief among them currently right now is Nordstrom’s, a 100 year-old high-end department store chain that has recently entered into a strategic partnership with Wanelo. Going forward, Nordstrom’s will feature the store’s Wanelo feed in select locations nationwide as well as on the corporate website.
How does a 100-year-old department store chain end up partnering with a 2-year-old social commerce start-up?
(Jump to 8:24) “Chiefly because they are a 100-year-old department store chain they really have two choices: They can be a relic and be old and dusty and go the route you’ve seen JC Penny and these other legacy department stores go or they can be really innovative and stay on the cutting edge and they really have a strategy of going where their customers are, and that is what led them to Wanelo.”
Beyond working with Wanelo directly, Nordstrom’s has also begun tapping network users to curate certain collections for them, because those users have numerically quantifiable results as traffic and conversion drivers.
The mall is dying, and so at surface trying to be the digital version of a real-world service that failed can seem like a questionable business strategy. But Wanelo doesn’t want to be the mall of the past, it aims to be the marketplace of the future where shopping is as much about interacting with other customers and merchants as it is about buying. The next generation mall is also carried out on a much larger scale and is in some sense’s more democratic.
(Jump to 11:21) When it comes to your traditional mall you are really limited to mall brands. You have your malls in you area- you have you American Eagles your Forever21, but on Wanelo’s digital mall there’s 300K stores and rather than a situation where … you can take your big bucks and buy the biggest square footage in the mall, the way you buy you square footing on Wanelo is more or less with your social influence.”
And it is influence that retailers are increasingly looking to grow, since that influence seems to push actual purchases more than simple likes, retweets or pins.
(Jump to 15:19) “When a retailer adds the Wanelo button to their sight they usually see a 40 percent increase in saves and a 20 percent increase in revenue from Wanelo so that’s pretty epic. We have about 100 sites that have put on the Wanelo button right now…”
While Wanelo is best known as a fashion site rite now, fashion isn’t even the marketplace’s main focus—its largest sales area is actually electronics and “gadgetry,” and that is how the business hopes to stay.
At the end of the day, Wanelo isn’t in the business of selling clothes, or home goods, or electronics—Wanelo is in the business of selling a type of shopping experience, and that experience is the kind that provides conversions. That, Youens says, is the ultimate test of any social commerce initiative—does it make people buy?
So far, Wanelo’s answer to that question is yes.
To listen to the entire podcast from Wanelo’s discussion with PYMNTS.com please click here.
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