Many retail players were in the toilet before Covid-19 hit, and since the lockdown, some are downright down the drain. Right now, brands and retailers need to vet every sales-enhancing tool on the market. Several luxury-focused digital personal shopping platforms may have the magic touch they desperately need because going back to “business as usual” most likely won’t cut it.
Founded in 2019 by Bonnie Takhar, most recently of Charlotte Olympia, LetsBab is a personal shopping app that mimics old-fashioned word of mouth selling by a friend similar to a Tupperware party or Avon.
As influencer marketing was starting to wane associated with the high fees and no easy way to track ROI, the CEO realized the idea could be democratized by connecting peer to peer. “LetsBab disrupts the current model by digitizing word of mouth with a deeper connection and higher conversion rate,” she says.
With both B2B and B2C applications, Takhar likens it to “a shopping mall with a mix of high-to-low brands.” Matches Fashion, ASOS, and H&M are all on the platform, for example. The user scrolls through thumbnails or digital windows of the store to access the brands’ site directly from there. The concept is recommendation-based so you suggest by sending items digitally. The receiver doesn’t need to use the app, but if they buy it, you get a commission either as cash or donation to several key charity partners.
Similarly, sales associates can use it to pull from e-comm stock and still get the commission. Currently, many retailers can’t track online sales to a brick-and-mortar sales associate. “The sale often breaks down in the store if the desired size or color isn’t in stock because there is no incentive for the clerk to push for the sale online. LetsBab is an effective tool in closing the sale,” said Takhar.
Currently, Takhar is working with officials in London’s mayor’s office and the British Retail Consortium to salvage the local sales talent left jobless after store closings. They can’t be in the store selling, but they can use the app to suggest items to their clients. “Even when stores open, social distance guidelines will mean staggered staff. This allows them to sell without being in the confines of a store; this is the future of distribution,” maintains Takhar.
Another player in the field is EditorialistYX, founded in 2012 by former print magazine editors; Kate Davidson Hudson, who leads editorial and creative content and Stefania Allen, who manages private clients. Originally it was an editorial and commerce platform/publication without the personal shopping component.
They were aware that their shopper in the top 0.001% was time-poor and shifting to the digital space. By chance the duo was introduced to Sara Hirsch and NexTag’s Rafael Ortiz, now of Project YX. Ortiz also developed a proprietary platform that digitizes, ‘datafies’ and manages clothing wardrobes. The platform enables stylists to virtually style clients via live chat and other mechanisms. “Technology was never our strength at Editorialist; access, luxury content production, market knowledge, and styling is our forte,” said Hudson. Last August, the two teamed up and rebranded as EditorialistYX.
The new membership-based platform allows tailor-made content dropped directly to the user’s daily feed, custom-curated outfits delivered to their door, or a stylist’s advice at the click of a chat icon. The YX app’s technology also culls merchandise from multiple sites to be placed into a universal shopping cart. “Why would you ever bounce around between 5-7 e-commerce sites again?” suggests Hudson.
While anyone can shop EditorialistYX, the premium membership YX app with styling and wardrobe services consists of a yeary $6,000 fee and monthly fees up to $1,500 depending on the level of service desired. The platform has been so successful that a substantially lower, more accessibly-priced membership offering is launching soon.
When Covid-19 hit, in-person activations were shelved. Still, the organization was well-poised to accelerate new digital operations. “The editorial team was forced to get creative in working with talent to create original content,” said Hudson.
While Covid-19 has challenged everyone in the business of selling non-essential goods, Threads Styling has maintained a steady ship throughout the crisis the pandemic caused. The UK-based Instagram centric personal shopping platform took off at the dawn of social media influencer culture. Founder Sophie Hill realized the customer was connecting to online fashion retail through apps, messages, and texts at the same time, borrowing a play from sales associates who developed relationships with brick-and-mortar clients.
When lockdowns forced them home, the brands’ stylists became models, and videographers and graphic designers all worked remotely to keep the editorially sophisticated content and inspiration coming. As WFH was trending, the material not only reflected the right mood but the merchandise too. “We’ve always seen our shopper as a part of the community and asking what they want or what top ten things they saw on social,” said Hill. “It’s been a journey with them these last eight weeks.”
It’s been no surprise that athleisure grew over 250% from last year with brands such as Brunello Cuccinelli, Loro Piana, Les Tien, and Pangaia performing strongly. Meanwhile, evening wear and gowns decreased over 50% from the same time last year. “Now we see they are getting bored of sweats and buying linen items which are polished yet comfortable,” said Hill. A surprise was the beauty category, whose launch was fast-tracked due to customer demand for face and hair masks. Beauty counted for 30% of transactions in April. Everyday jewelry increased 56% in April as well.
The company starts its relationship with customers through content on Instagram or targeted, direct messages. Interested shoppers ask product questions via chat and then items purchased are sent to the customer ASAP with all relative transaction info within the chat.
What sets Threads Styling apart is its highly trained personal shoppers, who form lasting deep relationships with the shoppers. “We have comprehensive training program as we expect a high level of service and product expertise across many different products,” said Hill, noting the platform has a low 5% return rate. The shoppers aren’t restricted to specific inventories as a vertical or multi-brand sales associate is and has its pulse and connections on the most viral and coveted merchandise, and can source any product.
In January, Hill brought on digital retail veteran Samina Virk to launch a US-based operation of Threads Styling after noticing a following in the American market. “US followers started to ask what we do and how it works,” said Virk, noting one difference with she has noticed is Imessage is prevalent in the States, and Whatsapp preferred in Europe for where the sale query process takes the user. The potential is enormous in the US, even for a recently out of work sales associate with their clients. “Technically, anyone could use it,” said Virk.