ShopStyle launched in 2007 with an innovative idea: creating a search engine focused solely on fashion. Fifteen years and two acquisitions later, the landscape of shopping-focused search engines has gotten crowded, with a host of new start-ups and major tech players like Google and Pinterest all looking to get in on the action. As ecommerce has expanded, so has the need for centralized platforms that collate and curate the ever-growing slate of products available for purchase online.
But even if ShopStyle is no longer alone in its aim to be the first stop in shoppers’ online journey, it does have a head start. The “style discovery platform,” as it prefers to be called, now boasts more than 100 million shoppers every year and 1.6 million loyalty members. And even as other players are seeing sales and visits slip as the pandemic ecommerce boom wanes, shopper traffic on ShopStyle increased 11% YoY in April 2022, and brands’ investment in the platform is up 47% so far this year.
ShopStyle’s continuing dominance in the fashion realm demonstrates its ability to evolve with the needs of its clients. It also has been shaped by the platform’s various owners over the years — first, lifestyle media empire PopSugar, which gave ShopStyle its editorial bent, and now Rakuten (formerly eBates) with its expertise in ecommerce and membership mechanics.
And ShopStyle continues to evolve. It has expanded into new categories like home and preowned, recently rolled out a new shopping experience and is constantly looking for new ways to integrate with the separate ShopStyle Collective division, a network that connects creators and brands.
“ShopStyle is all about curating an inspirational shopping experience that helps people discover their personal style,” said Alison Stiefel, General Manager of ShopStyle. “Individuality and people’s desire to express themselves has expanded, and it’s really fun to be able to curate for them and drive retailers’ businesses.”
Stiefel sat down with Retail TouchPoints to talk about where ShopStyle sits in today’s increasingly crowded ecommerce ecosystem, and why curation will be key to its continued success.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How do you define ShopStyle — do you consider yourself a marketplace?
Alison Stiefel: We’re similar to a marketplace, but I would say we’re more. Our core technology is about search and discovery and [unlike a marketplace] most of the sales happen on the retailer’s site, not our site. What we do is we leverage our search functionality and all our data to determine and curate trends and deals all together.
We’re kind of like the MoMA of fashion and home, where we curate the best products and brands and you get to experience them [on ShopStyle], but then we link you directly to the retailer to have that relationship from a purchasing standpoint. I’d say we’re more of a social commerce platform than a marketplace.
RTP: Who do you consider to be your competitors?
Stiefel: We’re kind of in a unique space. Search engines like Google have a component of what we do, and some of the social platforms have a component of that discovery and content, [but] we’re uniquely positioned in having both [search and discovery].
Unlike Google we don’t want to offer everything; that can be overwhelming. We’re really focused on curating the best-of-the-best in fashion and home. We also provide a point of view — we’re really into discovering new brands and bringing them to the forefront for shoppers to learn about. For example, over the past few years DE&I [diversity, equity and inclusion] has been a big priority for us, so we’ve been finding and curating Black and Asian and Latinx and LGBTQIA+ brands and telling their story.
Yes, we have a lot of products, but we’re doing it in this curated way versus offering everything to everyone and then making the shopper filter and navigate to get to what they want.
RTP: What role does content play in your ecosystem?
Stiefel: ShopStyle’s core is fashion and search technology, and then leveraging what people are searching to curate trend content. For example, one of our recent initiatives is “outfitting,” where we’re using machine learning to merchandise styles. Sometimes you know what you want, you search for it and we have it, but then also you just want to browse and discover. Outfitting is a way for you to see a jean jacket and then realize, “Oh I can wear that jean jacket with sweatpants or with dresses.” It’s about giving people that inspiration of how to curate their style or, as we like to say, “spark a fresh perspective on style.”
Where we’re headed is being at the forefront of customer behavior — leveraging implicit and explicit data points based on people’s preferences, whether that’s preference in brand, preference in size or preferences in style, and using that so when you come to ShopStyle you see an experience customized to you.
RTP: How does ShopStyle Collective fit into the mix?
Stiefel: ShopStyle Collective is our B2B influencer business. It matches influencers with retailers to advertise and market retailers and products across social platforms. We share the ShopStyle catalog and search data with them to communicate trends to our influencers, and then [conversely] we look at what’s [happening with those influencer programs] to surface new trends. So we’ll see what’s happening from our influencers and use that information to create experiences on the consumer side. You can see this within outfitting — we’re partnering with the Collective influencers to showcase their outfits on ShopStyle and then merchandise those outfits for shoppers with products we have.
RTP: Is most of your traffic through the website?
Stiefel: Our website is more new traffic, people coming to discover us and learn about what we have to offer, and then our app is really our membership experience. We have very high loyalty within our app because the entire app experience is curated. As you download the app and go through onboarding, we ask you different preference questions so that when you land on the Home tab it’s curated based on what you’re interested in.
Our membership is so big because there are a lot of benefits to being a member. Everything that you do is saved so we can provide you more information about the brands and products [you love]. We send out sales, so you can “favorite” a product across five different stores, and then you’ll be the first to know if that Gucci dress you wanted to invest in is on sale. We also offer cashback powered by our parent company Rakuten. Some brands just don’t ever go on sale, so our cashback offer gives members the ability to get a discount on higher-priced items.
RTP: What do you think are the key elements of a winning ecommerce experience today?
Stiefel: There are so many new players and it’s overwhelming — people are actually looking for one place to go. Disseminating that content from retailers to more [centralized] platforms like YouTube or TikTok or ShopStyle is really important to help retailers capture sales in that social commerce space where people are looking for inspiration. That’s how brands will reach new audiences. One of the challenges of this, though, is matching the inventory to what the retailer actually has. The nice thing about ShopStyle is, because we started with search, we’re really good at that component.
RTP: What’s next for ShopStyle?
Stiefel: We really want to get to a level that’s a little bit more personal, specifically around size. So often I find something that I enjoy online and then I click through and it’s not in my size. Within our app we’re really making it about the shopper, so if there are certain sizes that you like in different styles you can select that to make [search results] more relevant for you.
[Livestreaming] is definitely on our radar and our roadmap, and also a lot of people are shopping high-low these days. We’re a bit luxury right now, which is fantastic, but we also see an opportunity to expand into more of the contemporary and value markets to reach other audiences and help shoppers curate outfits at a range of price points.