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How Xcel Brands’ CEO is Trying to Solve Social Commerce

ORME home screen
Image courtesy ORME

There’s no shortage of companies trying to crack the code of social commerce in the U.S. — from the biggest social media platforms to small start-ups. But Bob D’Loren, longtime Chairman and CEO of Xcel Brands (parent company of brands including Halston, Judith Ripka and Isaac Mizrahi) thinks he’s found the key.

Bob D'Loren, Co-founder, ORME and Chairman & CEO, Xcel Brands
Bob D’Loren, Co-founder, ORME and Chairman & CEO, Xcel Brands

“What everyone else is doing at the moment, in various different ways, is video commerce; what we are doing is facilitating social commerce — there’s a big difference,” said D’Loren in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Video commerce is the delivery of content. This is the state of it today, where for the most part, people see videos and then they have to go out and find the product. They have to go to someone’s website or they click on a link and navigate away to a site. Then they have to go through the whole setup on the vendor’s ecommerce site, and the amount of friction causes the loss of most sales.

Faisal Ahmed, Co-founder, ORME
Faisal Ahmed, Co-founder, ORME

“Frankly, in this whole social world today, the only two parties benefiting from any activity are the social platforms selling ads and the very large influencers that get paid a lot of money to make video content that is blasted out,” he explained. “But no one knows if it converts or not. It’s all a little vague.”

D’Loren’s answer to these problems is a new shopping app called ORME (pronounced “or-me”), which he created alongside former tech executive turned textile tycoon Faisal Ahmed, who is behind a number of premium denim brands including DL1961 and Warp + Weft. Xcel Brands holds a 30% stake in the private endeavor, with Ahmed owning the balance.

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Ahmed and D’Loren sat down with Retail TouchPoints to discuss their new shopping platform and why they think it addresses some of the biggest pain points of current social commerce offerings.

Faisal Ahmed: When we launched our denim brands in the U.S., we were hiring these influencers and paying them so much money, so I asked my digital manager ‘Where is the ROI?’ And he talked about reach and impressions, and I said ‘No, I want to see dollars and cents.’ Bob and I have some common friends, both being in the apparel business, and [one day at a party] I was talking to Bob, and he [expressed the same concerns]. That started the whole conversation.

We went out into the market, looked at what tech was available [and tried to understand] why there was no attribution [and we realized what we were looking for] doesn’t exist. The entrepreneur and the techie in me awoke. Fast forward three years and we have created an end-to-end ecosystem for brands, influencers and shoppers.

Bob D’Loren: [Everything out there] was very vague in terms of return on investment for brands and retailers and, quite frankly, very undemocratic for shoppers and influencers. If you’re that mega-influencer, if you’re a Charli D’Amelio, sure Hollister writes you a $10 million check. But how many Queens of TikTok are there?

So we said: One, we’re going to build this platform to make the everyday shopper a paid influencer, we’re going to democratize all of this; and two, we’re going to remove all the friction points. And there are a lot of them — how does a creator get a product image and a SKU number so their attribution can be applied to the product that they’re talking about, and then how does that person actually make money for sharing? There’s no attribution out there on any of these videos — so we set out to solve all of that, and that’s what ORME is today. It ties together the best of affiliate, the best of influencer and the best of digital into social commerce.

Video on ORME
Image courtesy ORME

D’Loren: Anyone can make a video on ORME. It’s easy, just like doing a TikTok video, but we made it really easy for you to grab the product image and a SKU that you embed into your video. So let’s say you, Nicole, make a video and you share it with Faisal. If Faisal buys, you get paid 6% [commission]. Then I see your content and say, ‘I don’t want to make my own content, I’m just going to use Nicole’s,’ so I share your video with someone else. If that person buys, Nicole gets a 2% fee as the creator, and I get 6% for making the sale.

Ahmed: Brands are spending millions and millions of dollars making videos and then after a few minutes on Instagram the video is gone.

D’Loren: The algorithms push it down and away. There’s no way to preserve content. We fix that too.

Ahmed: This allows for a real amplification of the brand content. If somebody spent thousands of dollars creating a video, just imagine how many people could share that video [through a platform like ORME]. What is seen, sells; what you see is what you buy.

D’Loren: Through a revenue share with the brands, but that revenue sharing happens only after a sale happens. On ORME, no one makes money until there’s a sale.

Ahmed: Every user has a feed, just like TikTok, that is AI-generated based on their preferences about categories, where you’re located, etcetera. There are 20 to 30 data points that we use to create that feed, so no two people have the same feed. Then we have an integration with almost all the major ecommerce platforms, Shopify, Magento, Salesforce, so that when a brand signs with us, they don’t have to build any integrations. Onboarding from Shopify or Salesforce takes five minutes, all they have to do is connect to it.

A digital shop on ORME.
A digital shop on ORME. (Image courtesy ORME)

Every shopper can then create a digital store of their own, and people can come to your digital store multiple ways: through content in their feed on ORME or through a micro-link they can share on [social platforms], WhatsApp, an SMS message, even a billboard if they want. [ORME users] can also post from ORME to all their social media platforms in just one click, and if someone wants to buy, they just click on the link [in the post], which will take them to that person’s ORME shop.

D’Loren: The reason we did this is because not everyone wants to make content, but people want to make money. So they could come in and set up a digital store in ORME that is completely made up of curated content from others.

Ahmed: They don’t have to do any heavy lifting, they can just grab video from the brand [or another user], put it on their shop and send it to their friends and family. It’s such a passive income.

D’Loren: It’s important to note too that when someone wants to buy from any of this content on ORME, it’s one click. They don’t navigate away [from the platform], so there’s zero friction there.

The other thing about our marketplace is we pay the vendors within two days, instead of after 60 days [like most marketplaces]. We don’t keep anybody’s money. The order is inserted into the ecommerce system as if it’s their own order. The customer belongs to them, the shipping belongs to them, they are the seller on record. We don’t touch the customer journey. But we do pay the credit card processing fee, and we pay the influencers and shoppers, so brands don’t have to worry about that.

D’Loren: First, we don’t want to touch the customer journey from a vendor perspective. Most brands want to maintain control over the entire customer journey.

Halston video on ORME
Image courtesy ORME

Also, [other platforms have] no way to pay people for sharing because they didn’t come at this from the perspective of social commerce. As brand owners, we know that if we can leverage our customers to talk about our brands, particularly through video, that’s the equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising — the scale and the conversion rates are much, much higher. That’s what we were trying to enable. No one else out there is really doing that.

And no one, for whatever reason, has been able to leverage AI the way we have across the multiple engines to serve our customers and our vendors. None of these video platforms are tied into their vendor’s inventory in real time. Our goal, coming from the merchant side of this, is why wouldn’t we want our inventory tied in in real time so that we’re not causing people to waste their time clicking on things where there’s no inventory? And if they do click on something and it’s sold out, we should show them something similar.

We have another AI engine [we’re working on], and I’m giving a little bit of a secret away here, but no one has built an AI engine that could essentially be a personal shopper. Imagine you came onto ORME and you go to, let’s call it the Personal Shopper, and you tell it you’re going out to dinner at such-and-such type of restaurant, and ask what you should wear. It will come back with a written response, and it will recommend products from brands that are on ORME. It’s ChatGPT for style.

D’Loren: That’s a very simple answer — no one else is going to pay you for sharing.

D’Loren: We’re focused on larger brands, household names, so we’re being very selective about the types of brands [we allow on ORME].

With regards to the content, Mindy Grossman [formerly of Weight Watchers, Nike and Ralph Lauren] is a close friend, and she said to me, ‘Bob, if you can’t figure out how to build a content monitor or moderator, you’re going to have reluctance from a lot of brands.’ We built an AI engine that has 30 algorithms in it looking for things like hate speech, nudity, discussions about guns, weapons, anti-religious statements. Anything that would be inappropriate, the machines knock it out and then it goes to a team for review. This is one of the criticisms we often hear about platforms like TikTok, so we built that in.  

Ahmed: Fashion and beauty is a huge bucket. Maybe in the future we might move into home, which is also a huge market, but home is more inspiration and aspiration than checkout.

D’Loren: Think about how the media world, particularly the best in the world — Discovery — builds community. They have HGTV for home; they have the Food Network for food; they have all the car channels for cars. They built community around common interest. We’re starting that way.

But anyone who knows anything about running businesses knows you start with a plan, a direction and a mission. You execute, execute, execute, but the world has a way of influencing you. And the smart ones change depending upon those external forces. So, we don’t know for sure, but for now we’re focused on building a community around this idea.

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