Why We Built ShopChat
- Instagram started the conversation with pictures
- Snapchat made video into words
- ShopChat turns products into messages
Products as messages — what does that mean? Ask any teenager how often they share pictures of stuff back and forth. They do it. A lot. And it’s not that easy — either take a screenshot and send it (fills up camera roll and isn’t clickable) or send a link (which looks spammy and doesn’t show what it is). As the world’s first shopping keyboard, ShopChat now makes it easy for people to shop and share stuff with friends. And they do it a lot — 32% of our users share a product with a friend each session.
But that’s just the start. ShopChat is about more than shopping — it’s about how we use stuff to communicate who we are with those we care about. It’s about self-expression. It’s about identity. And it’s about how sharing is the fundamental atomic unit of messaging — and the messaging age is more about sharing images and symbols than sharing words. Have you ever sent a message to friend without any text? (Read Snapchat.) If so, then you are already part of this post-text era.
It may be tempting for some to dismiss the sharing of stuff as shallow materialism — but that’s a superficial read. For our users, sharing stuff is a vital way to get ideas, reactions and affirmation of what they like and ultimately, who they are. If you think the things you wear and use every day don’t signal something implicitly or explicitly about you, there’s a ton of data that says otherwise. Since humans were living in caves the things we use and wear have been central to our lives and communities. Now that a new visual era is upon us — where emojis and snaps speak more than words — it’s time for a shopping and sharing experience that’s visual first and message native.
People now spend more time on messaging than any other platform (even social media). Many companies are pursuing robot assistant chatbots to interact with people on messaging. These efforts have been disappointing. While chatbots have certain sensible use cases, ShopChat is proving that people don’t want to talk to bots — they want to talk to one another. Robots are good at some things — but the advice and reaction of a friend is inimitable by a machine — and likely will be for some time, if not forever. And this raises an even larger question — if we were to eventually able to chat with bots instead of friends for advice, what’s the point? Are we building for the machines, or for each other? We love technology at ShopChat, but we love it most for what it can do for people, not the other way around.
Technology’s effects on society and communication are profound and mixed — but one of the clear benefits is the empowerment of the user and communities to be curators, tastemakers and influencers. While editors and celebrities will continue to exert influence and affect trends we see firsthand how much people care about the opinions and advice of their closest circles: friends and family. Word of mouth and peer recommendations are the strongest endorsements and they are the heart of ShopChat.
Profound social and technological disruptions are rocking existing power structures (as elegantly detailed by Moises Naim in The End of Power for instance). Startups unseat incumbents, and grassroots forces can have surprising impacts on established hegemonies. In our world, the immediacy of messaging and mobile means the picks of a friend carries the same (or greater) weight than that of a fashion editor. And that reversal is a mighty one, for brands, consumers and society.
Many of our users are teens (nearly 70% of our users are under 24). Adolescence is a time of transition and discovery, attended often by no small amount of anxiety (it certainly was for me). Social forces and cultural trends have powerful influences on teens, and some (like homophobia, thinspiration, and body shaming) have no place in our society. We aim to counter these negative forces by empowering our users to customize and control the images they share and to help us create a platform that is theirs.
We are constantly astounded and humbled by the creativity and emotion our users put into their messages. When we started ShopChat we had no idea that what began as a utility to make sharing easier (we were tired of having to install apps or browse slow mobile websites) would turn into a platform for self-expression. (As of this blog post people have already engaged with ShopChat over two million times in our beta alone.)
Because our users are overwhelmingly female, we are committed to using our platform as a positive voice for women and girls. We don’t believe that tech world can abdicate social responsibility under the guise of being neutral. Ultimately, we will look to our users to help us chart that course — as they already do in the brands we feature and the products we build.
Facebook set the goal of making the world more connected, Google wants to organize the world’s information. At ShopChat we want to make shopping as easy as chatting friends. And while we benefit when a transaction occurs, we know firsthand that that purchase likely began as a shared message between people who care about each other and their opinions. Without that genuine spark of interest (what business people call the top of the funnel or demand generation), nothing happens.
ShopChat’s launch is the first step along the longer path of serving and empowering our users. Our users are the center of our platform and our inspiration to create and improve ShopChat. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions as we grow and learn in this age of the new hieroglyphics.