PopSugar and ShopStyle CEO Brian Sugar tells Drapers why social media tech and storytelling are key for the future of fashion.
Brian Sugar is the co-founder and CEO of the American media and tech company PopSugar, which is the parent company of affiliate shopping network ShopStyle. ShopStyle, described by Sugar as “the Google for fashion”, collates products from multiple brands into one search network and works with social media influencers to direct consumers to featured fashion items. Globally, it generates 1.2 million searches per month and it is estimated that in 2015 the site influenced more than $1bn of retail sales.
Drapers spoke to Brian Sugar about the future of social technology for retailers, the dominance of social media influencers and how storytelling is becoming an increasingly valuable tool to attract millennial consumers.
Brian sugar popsugar
How is the digital revolution changing the way people shop?
More than 50% of our shopping traffic now comes through mobile, but the conversion rate is so much radically smaller, and much lower than the conversion rate through desktop. There’s a lot of reasons why, and maybe they’ll never be at the same rate. We’re doing a lot of things to make the conversion rate better and generally make shopping much more seamless. For example, we’re launching a “universal checkout” in the US, where you can shop from all our retailers and have one basket for them all. That will launch in the UK next year. We also launched Emoticode, an app which makes shopping through Instagram and Snapchat much easier – using screenshots as a way to get the information out about products. Snapchat and Instagram Stories are so fast that URLs aren’t practical. Emoticode makes a shortened URL that the app automatically translates to the ecommerce website.
How do you work with retailers?
In the beginning it was challenging, because people didn’t really understand what ShopStyle actually was. Now there are more retailers who want to get onto the platform, we take great pride in the point of view and the merchandising. Not every retailer is allowed onto ShopStyle. There’s a long list of retailers who want to be involved that we’ll work through and integrate properly.
Do you think shopping in general is becoming more ”social”?
I think the term social is often used wrongly. I don’t think people are shopping together more, but more people are using social media channels to find out about things that are going on in the retail.
How are social media influencers changing how people shop?
There really isn’t a dominant fashion digital native. The influencers have that role, and people are turning towards their feeds to decide what they should be wearing rather than flicking through the pages of a magazine. The whole PR and marketing industry has been turned inside out by this as influencers are absolutely changing how people shop and what they’re shopping for. They have become the voice of what everyone wants to buy.
How can fashion retailers use social media to target millennials?
Retailers need to work with brands that allow them to tell a story. If you are a retailer and you want to engage with a 25-year-old female, then you’d better be creating great content across all social platforms and networks with an influencer to get your story out there. No longer can you just interrupt the world and tell them to listen to you – they’ll just scroll by. At ShopStyle and PopSugar we try to give brands a level of authenticity that they yearn for. If we’re not creating something worthy of your time, then you’re not going to engage with us at all.
Which areas of technology do you find the most exciting in terms of how they could impact retailers?
Snapchat. I think the amount of eyes watching Snapchat will dramatically increase. It will be a very empowering tool to capture a millennial audience. Instagram proved to be a much stronger consumer app than Twitter but then Snapchat came along and made Instagram look much less cool and now Instagram has released “Stories”. It’s fun to see all these different platforms emerging and competing.
Do you think there’s a future for brick-and-mortar shops?
I think there is a place for them. But in New York City or Los Angeles, the amount of money going to traditional retailers isn’t growing as fast as those offering services such as a SoulCycle gym or a blowdry bar. If you’re a retailer, your responsibility is to make your retail environment much more experience-based than pushing product. Tell the story of the brand.
Where next for Emoticode?
Emoticode is very new and at the moment we’re making sure that it’s both a product that influencers want to use and one that retailers understand. We’re watching downloads increase and retailers start to use, it but it’s really a baby at the moment. Our hope is that it will become one of a de-facto ways to create links on Snapchat and Instagram.
What are the next steps for ShopStyle?
ShopStyle is going through an exciting time. We’re moving from a desktop search engine to a fashion market on your phone. Right now, there isn’t one app where you can buy from all the different retailers that you want. I don’t believe that people will download an app for every single store they want to shop from. I think there’s an opportunity to be that app, to be the “iTunes of fashion”.