There are many mechanisms in the market designed to help match consumers to offerings that are suited to them. Better algorithms, visual search tools and concierge services are just a handful of the ways retailers young and old are attempting to ensure customers get the “right” products.
But are they really the right products?
Sure, the consumers might like them, and the products might speak to their aesthetic tastes or fulfill a specific need in their lives. But are they really buying the good or service they are destined to buy? Is it possible we should be consulting our star chart before making major purchases? If Mercury is in retrograde, should we let that affect our retail choices?
And if you find yourself wondering whether this is an odd inquiry to consider, note that the experts over at Amazon have gotten quite a bit of attention this week for their retail horoscopes.
The horoscopes are not new – according to reports, they’ve been part of the Prime newsletter since February, though they were first noticed by Fast Company about five days ago. And since then, they’ve gotten some big reactions, ranging from amusement to rage to absolute disgust. Slate reported somewhat more mildly that if Amazon’s move into the horoscope business “is out there to begin with, the execution doesn’t do the concept any favors.”
And while Amazon certainly got a pop of attention for its move this week, it is not the only force in retail looking to the stars of late to help match consumers with purchases. So why did Amazon catch so much flak this week – and when did astrology become the new black?
Not All Horoscopes Are Good Horoscopes
The main complaint about Amazon’s retail horoscopes is that they were a bit boring and generic.
Aries horoscope, for example, said:
Your psychic and intuitive powers are in overdrive this month, dear Aries. All you have to do is sit back and relax – perhaps on a comfy new sofa, wrapped in a cozy new blankie from Amazon Home – and a new understanding will emerge. Ask yourself the big questions or not: either way, get ready for some insight.
They all read something like that – and the common complaint is that they really aren’t much fun, and that even the product recommendation could stand to be a bit more detailed.
In addition to consumers, “real” psychics also had lots to say about Amazon’s new gig as a fortune teller, and found their efforts lacking. Susan Miller – who, according to Slate, is the Anna Wintour of the psychic world – was particularly displeased.
“This is a train wreck, I’m sorry to say,” she said. “I’m saying to myself, where are they getting this from? They’re not mentioning a new moon or a full moon. They’re not mentioning a planet. There’s such beauty and complexity in astrology that it’s a shame to flatten it and mannerize it into a cartoon.”
Miller clarified that she has no problem with predicting the future for commercial purposes – she herself has been known to write horoscope-influenced gift guides for brands like Tory Burch – but she takes the work seriously and actually tries to focus her expertise into those commercial works, something she does not feel Amazon has done.
But if Amazon’s horoscopes are not resonating with customers, there’s good news: They aren’t the only retailer in the game trying to harness the power of psychic energy to boost conversions.
The Rise of Astrological Commerce
If one is looking for both fashion advice and an expert astrological reading, there is always Ann Taylor Loft, which has brought in the help of the Saturn Sisters – professional psychics who have provided their horoscopes to the retailer. The Saturn Sisters, incidentally, are not actually related: They are best friends and astrologers (astrology bloggers) who met at a New York City brunch and found their mutual “core value to make the world a better place through astrology.”
Meanwhile, if one is trying to figure out which designer look best matches their astrological sign, the good people at Barney’s have offered up a fashion guide to ensure the label matches the consumer’s truest inner being – and makes it look cooler. That means Balenciaga for Geminis as it best matches their “twin souls,” Prada for balance-obsessed Libras and Thom Browne for Leos who are “extra” and “know it.”
And then there are the businesses where astrology is not a side offering – it’s the entire core of the operation. Sanctuary Ventures, which describes itself as “the first global media lifestyle brand serving a horoscope/tarot/supernatural-seeking millennial audience,” recently raised $1.5 million in venture capital, assisted by Lorne Michaels’ incubator. As of today, the brand runs an astrology app that offers daily horoscopes for free, as well as the opportunity to book a live, on-demand reading with a professional astrologer.
But according to reports, the brand is looking to rapidly expand its base of eCommerce offerings to include all kinds of items for the mystically inclined, including tarot cards, crystals, sage bundles and incense.
The Sanctuary app started out as a Facebook Messenger astrology bot that offered free daily horoscopes. The new app offers users the option to subscribe for about $20 per month or $200 per year to access live, chat-based readings from a team of professional astrologers, including Aliza Kelly, the “astrologer in residence.” Subscribers are limited to one astrology chat per week; after that, the cost goes up to $19.99.
The app chose text as its interface, Co-Founder and CEO Ross Clark told Bloomberg, because it is the way millennials prefer to communicate with everyone, including their psychics.
“Texting is the language of millennials and younger people today, so we really wanted to harness that,” he said. “It’s not only the language they are most familiar with, but that medium also enables us to provide this anytime, anywhere experience. The text-based mechanism also provides a filter if you are someone who is just dipping your toe in the water or you’re someone who maybe is reluctant to go and do these sorts of things in person or on the phone, so there is a layer that gives people reassurance.”
Clarke noted that the interest in psychics can be viewed as “part of the broader wellness story that has been happening for the last few years,” which includes tarot, Reiki energy healing and “everything we have seen with the rise of the meditation app.”
Whether Amazon, Ann Taylor Loft or Barney’s have added horoscopes as part of a broader push to tap into the booming $4.2 trillion self-care and wellness market remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how various skincare startups and meditation app founders feel about sharing the wellness space with psychics – though perhaps those psychics could give us a preview.
But for now, it seems, predictions are becoming part of our eCommerce lives. Though, if the early reviews are correct, Amazon may need to hire slightly snappier psychics to write their horoscopes, or we foresee a future where they don’t do much to move sales.