Poshmark And Reclaiming Personalized Retail In The Digital Age

If one flips back in retail history — and not even back all that far, maybe a little over 100 or so years —  the nature of retail was very personal, Manish Chandra, founder and CEO of Poshmark, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation. It was routine, he noted, for consumers to know the people who served them where they shopped, and for those workers to very specifically tailor orders to individual shopping needs.

That, Chandra noted, largely fell by the wayside in the era of the department store. Though stores originally focused on having personal services on hand — the shoppers, the tailors, etc. — such services were abandoned as stores expanded and looked to cut costs. Then digital shopping came along and made the whole experience even more impersonal, he said.

But the world has a way of evolving in cycles, Chandra observed, and consumers have found they want more than just efficient access to a variety of goods. They also want a personal touch to go with it.

Creating a digitized version of that personal touch is the goal that animates Poshmark — building a mobile-centric, socially oriented home for unique eCommerce on the web.

What Poshmark sellers sell is varied — there are 4 million sellers offering up 14 million new goods a week. Those goods are all fashion items, but they range across categories — women’s, men’s, children’s, luxury — and the goal is make a place that is easy for anyone to buy or sell on.

At almost seven years in, he noted, the firm is still in growth mode: of those four million sellers, half a million were added last quarter alone.  Part of that, he noted, is technological: Poshmark is customer built to serves its markets, using a custom stack built from the ground up to make it easy to create a listing, accept and collection payments, hand returns and disputes.

Because we can do all of that, our sellers don’t have to worry about that stuff,” he said.

Another part of it, he noted, is in the unique attitude of the site itself. Sellers are also stylists — they develop followings as they would on a site like Instagram, and shoppers follow them. “And we have a unique curation and styling engine, so that our seller/stylists aren’t just curating their own stuff to their followers, but also other people stuff as well,” he explained. “When I am shopping I see not just items from my sellers, but what they are curating from other sellers as well.”

It is not only not unusual for sellers to direct customers to other sellers — it is routine. The average seller/stylist on Poshmark spends about half their time actually posting other sellers’ content.

It is unique to Poshmark, Chandra said. There are probably very few other marketplaces where sellers spend so much time promoting other sellers, but it’s baked into Poshmark’s business model as social commerce marketplace: the best way to generate followers in the community is to be an active participant in it by referring shoppers around.

It’s an attractive model, and as such Poshmark is growing: it currently has north of 75 million fashion items for sale across its 4 million sellers.  And while those goods are already highly curated, because of the seller/stylist system, the team felt that they really could be doing more.

And so the Posh Markets concept was born.

The goal of Posh Markets is to allow customers to zoom in on the discovery zones that interest them more directly and that match up most naturally with their style interests. So a customer shopping for menswear can narrow down to the men’s Posh Market. The customer shopping for back-to-school items can stay focused in the kids’ shop. The luxury customer can look at luxury goods.

All of that specialization is there, Chandra noted, but the customers keep their essential social identity in the site no matter which sub-site they navigate to. If one is following 10 seller/stylists, then those are the seller/stylists they see in their Posh Market, with only goods relevant to the shop surfaced.

“It is effectively like having multiple apps in one. When you switch it is like shutting down one app, and opening up another. But everything about the customers is saved — their profiled, their payment and shipping details — so they have that consistency. And by really opening up those options the entire experience transforms into something else. When I am in shopping mode, anything that is off the target of what I am shopping for is a bit of a distraction.”

Moreover, he noted, the system is scalable so that Poshmark can expand into other areas. Today, he noted, the firm is mostly concerned with fashion items, but the Posh Market format is open to including things like home goods, or beauty and wellness products, or fine jewelry, or even specific seasonal offerings. The goal, he said, is to allow their customers to have as many different shopping experiences as they actually want to have — and offer it to them in a curated, social environment.

It is, to be sure, a different business model — and a challenging one. Posh Market doesn’t have a central shipping operation, but is “shipping out from the four million “mini-warehouses nationwide. Some of those are really just houses, though some are actual warehouses,” Chandra said. But no matter where the journey starts, he said, it always ends within two days at the door of a customer — a customer who can easily find a seller and directly address them about the item, good or bad.

It is, Chandra said, a “very alternative ecosystem, even though we are very systematic.

But, in his estimation, in a place like fashion where standing out is so important, it’s not the worst thing in the world to be different.

“For us one of our founding principles is embrace your weirdness, because it is what makes you unique. Focus on it, double down on it — and for us that means creating and recreating a more personal mode of shopping that might otherwise have gotten lost to the annals of history.”