Is anyone out there?
By Sheenah Rogers-Pfeiffer
The days of Shopping With The Girls may not quite be over, but it’s a wakeup call for retail when my 70-year-old mother now shops online.
My mom not only knows her way around the shopping apps of her favourite stores like LuLu Lemon, she’s a pro at new ones too, like Amazon.
COVID-19 has not only accelerated e-commerce (there are now 24 million stores online!) but also adoption with more people choosing to shop from the comfort of their own homes. But in my 14 years of experience founding and operating a strategic marketing and research firm, I can tell you these new adopted behaviours are here to stay.
What we’re in right now is a lag period, where technology is failing to meet the new needs of consumers. Retailers haven’t yet figured out how to create a seamless online and offline experience. And a rising demographic of Gen Zs is permanently changing the retail landscape by refusing to “play the game” and rather “be the game.”
Gen Z, like every generation before it, want the social experience of shopping with their friends. But as we know, today’s teens and young adults don’t go far without their smartphones, recording everything they do and creating content they share via post or text. They want to shop from the convenience of wherever they happen to be, using whatever digital device they happen to have in front of them.
Teens and young adults are trying on clothes in stores and sending videos to their friends for advice. They’re taking photos of products and texting them to their mothers, asking for permission to purchase. They’re doing brand hauls on Tik Tok and spending hours going down rabbit holes researching on Reddit and Quora, asking questions about others’ experiences with products and brands.
In short: They ARE the sales person and they are having to navigate a plethora of platforms. Social commerce — the buying and selling of goods and services on social media — is at its infancy but is already worth nearly $500-billion globally. The emerging industry is growing fast
with a proliferation of competing m-commerce apps (social commerce apps for your mobile) globally.
So far, social commerce has been dominated by the giants like Facebook, Amazon, Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few. Some say this market will always be owned by these big chiefs. I disagree, which is why I’ve just launched a new collaborative commerce app, ari. This is an example of how Facebook, Etsy and gang have simply paved the way for a new frontier that looks very different from what we are used to seeing.
Still in the alpha phase, ari’s is to empower inclusivity through authentic word of mouth referrals, shareable style and product advice, and the ability to shop each other’s closets in a purposeful online shopping environment. This ecosystem is made possible by evening the playing field for brands and consumers alike, such as banning advertisements or paid content and rewarding genuine connections with people and brands they love.
To understand the gap apps such as ari are attempting to fill, look no further than the so-called Finsta page — fake Instagram accounts. Today’s teens share most of their stuff on Finsta pages, where they document more real, candid posts they share with only their closest circle of trusted friends.
Gen Z have a fundamental distrust of authority, having grown up in an age of information overload, ambushed by advertising, data breaches and privacy concerns. They’ve also never been better informed than any previous generation of consumers.
The last 10 years have told this new generation that they should aim to be “influencers,” — those deemed important enough based on how many followers they have or if they look a certain way. Only then will brands pay them to blog, tweet or otherwise endorse products through social media.
Gen Zs are not playing that game. In addition to Finsta accounts, they’re forming covert trusted networks within their smartphones via special interest group conversations on chat sites such as Whats App or Telegram.
Increasingly, young adults are shopping on niche platforms. Depop, for example, is a resale app for fashion. They differentiated themselves amongst the likes of Facebook Marketplace and Poshmark by creating a platform for cool-factor street-style. Depop just sold to Etsy for over $1- billion.
It’s early days for collaborative commerce but its future is reliant upon trusted human experiences. The platforms out there so far are largely failing because they’re built on decade- old infrastructures with value propositions that predate shopping together in the experience age.
Vertical collaboration commerce is the answer, where a purposeful social shopping experience takes place within connected niche environments and conversations specific to that content. Personally, I’m not going to talk about how my jeans fit on Instagram with my grandmother and former boss watching.
And if you think about how we shop in real life, this isn’t a foreign concept. When we walk into a store we talk to a person who presents us with ideas, helps us find a great fit; we interact with other people in the dressing room “Your butt looks great in those jeans!” or “where did you find that sweater?” It’s awkward asking these questions on the giant platforms not meant for shopping or sifting through cat photos and political quotes to try to get to what you are looking for.
We are just getting started….join the movement.