You’re browsing an upscale apparel store when someone enters and begins livestreaming themselves selling the clothes you’re personally browsing to a huge online audience.
It isn’t a practical joke. Rather, it’s the new era of livestreamed personal shoppers — social media influencers with great style and repartee who are going from fringe to center stage in creating the curated digital shopping experiences consumers now expect.
“I would love to say that I came up with this idea, but it is a massive industry and trend in Asia,” she told PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster. “In 2018, it was about an $18 billion industry. It’s estimated to do $430 billion this year — massive growth over the last three or four years in Asia. We were three to four years behind trend, mostly because the Asian consumer has always been early adopter of mobile.”
A not-uncommon case of COVID-19 being good for business, low foot traffic in stores catalyzed ShopThing in a big way. Its smartphone-armed influencers made short videos in-app, curating items based on comments in their feeds and filling empty stores with virtual shoppers.
“We’re taking these incredible influencers and allowing them to curate what really speaks to them,” Adhami-Boynton said. “It’s meant to be very authentic and bring you on this wonderful shopping adventure with them.”
While ShopThing is building strong brand partnerships, its handpicked influencers don’t wait for an invitation. They just go into a store, fire up the app and start selling. Adhami-Boynton explained the process, adding that influencers try on an item and take a video of it in the ShopThing app.
The influencers then input the item’s description, title, price, brand and related information, as well as what sizes are available. Then, once an influencer hits the publish button, the item goes into ShopThing’s cart. The payment happens there, and ShopThing fulfills the order.
Personal shopping via live video is becoming very popular with consumers, which helps explain the $10 million Series A fundraise ShopThing completed on March 23. The round, led by Origin Ventures with participation from Pritzker Group and Interplay, shows that the concept has legs — and feet.
“Everybody else in North America in this market is doing QVC-style two-to-five-hour live shopping,” Adhami-Boynton said. “We know that the North American consumer is not the same as the Asian consumer. For us, that means short video clips.”
It gets better. ShopThing is readying a multi-carting feature to build whole outfits in-app and launching a new membership program in April, Adhami-Boynton said.
Relying as it does on a growing army of fashion-conscious social media influencers, ShopThing selects these folks thoughtfully, always mindful to keep it real while selling.
“We have a shopper team and an influencer marketing team, and they both go through a separate vetting process,” Adhami-Boynton said. “Then we have a series of interviews and sort of like a casting call, where we bring them in and have them actually host a live shopping event just to make sure that they’re the right fit.”
There’s not as much QVC polish on these presenters, and that’s the point.
“We want it to feel very authentic,” Adhami-Boynton said. “We’re really leaning hard on the content creator economy, and they are already so good at what they do on social. But it is a little bit about figuring out if this makes sense for them and if they work well for our audience.”
As for the brands and merchants they work with, some they go to, while others come to them. Adhami-Boynton gave the example of the brand ba&sh — a brand that she knew, but which her audience was unfamiliar with. After introducing ba&sh to the ShopThing audience, the first sale resulted in about 50 items sold.
However, Adhami-Boynton added that since the ShopThing audience has become familiar with the brand, sales have quadrupled, “because we’ve now trained our audience to like it and educated them on ba&sh.”
Ba&sh is an LVMH company, so it’s a good get for them, for ShopThing and for the consumer.
Adhami-Boynton said ShopThing “isn’t there yet” with full-concierge personal shopping, adding, “I like the one-to-many [model] because we are able to service a lot of people.”
Consumers pay a fee for using ShopThing, which is how the service makes money now. Influencers host their own sales, and customers pay a 20% service fee on items purchased. Right now, the ShopThing user is typically female, aged 25 to 45.
“She’s a busy mother, she’s an employee, she doesn’t quite have the time — it’s very daunting looking through thousands of upon thousands of static images,” Adhami-Boynton said. “She really appreciates an influencer or taste maker curating style for her and bringing it forward, and she doesn’t mind paying a little bit of a fee.”
Currently in four U.S. markets and eyeing 10 to 15 by the end of 2022, Adhami-Boynton is excited about new market opportunities based on content trends and her own metrics. ShopThing’s plan for scale it to put more boots on the ground, hoping to have between 1,000 and 5,000 shoppers on its marketplace by the end of the year.
After that — say 12 to 16 months from now — ShopThing will “open the floodgates and allow truly anybody to become a shopper,” Adhami-Boynton told Webster.
“I think we are saving retail,” Adhami-Boynton continued. “Three years ago, maybe the retailers would’ve thought that we were a scary concept. But we don’t take away anything from physical retail. We enhance it. We’re a new distribution channel for retailers.”