For online shoppers who miss the personal element of brick-and-mortar stores, a new AI-powered app wants to be like their “friend in the dressing room.”
“We’re excited about making the shopping process frictionless and (with True Fit) we made some huge inroads,” Evans said in an interview with Sourcing Journal last week. “We’re excited to go earlier in the funnel of the shopping journey. Curation is one of the big opportunities.”
From Levi’s and Vans to Nike, Boss and Chloe, the new platform brings together in-demand brands. But what sets Shoptrue apart from other automated shopping apps, Evans says, is the personalization of the curation, something he says has been too driven by cold, hard algorithms to date.
“It’s essentially a fashion playlist,” he said. “One of the big ideas was trying to transform shopping from a single-player game to a multi-player game. It isn’t just coming from the top-down from an all-knowing recommendation system. It has editorial, peers, shops and playlists—very exciting inspiration from all directions and it puts the shopper more actively into the discovery process.”
The Shoptrue experience begins with a 2-minute onboarding quiz to gather information on users’ preferences and sizes that the platform will continually learn from and adapt to.
“It asks what occasions you shop for—go out at night? Work? Business casual? We ask you what brands do you like, signal around price and trend,” said Brandon Holley, chief fashion officer. “And there’s self-nominated portions: I’m laid back, casual, trendy, vintage… we begin to get a picture, a color print to be able to understand where we’d like to take that user when the user enters the site.”
There is nothing particularly unique about an onboarding quiz, but Holley says what sets Shoptrue apart comes after that.
“Intake is just the beginning. With some sites the intake conversation slows everything down, but now it speeds up,” Holley said. “We’ve taken the position of not being top-down; we want to be like your friend in the dressing room.”
Shoptrue designed the platform to continuously learn and improve each time a consumer engages with the app itself or at the product level. Eventually, it said, “the user’s outcomes and content will feel increasingly individualized.”
It’s that focus on ‘feel’ being as important as raw algorithm performance that the company is betting on to stand out from rivals.
“A lot of style recommender algorithms are overly prescriptive—here’s an item that matches your style,” Evans said. “What we’re trying to do is leverage AI. We have a massive catalogue; let’s find the subset you’re more likely to like.”
To drive the audience, Evans brought in John Lashlee, a former data scientist for Netflix and LinkedIn, to be Shoptrue’s VP of data science.
Evans said that by the end of the first quarter next year, the create your own shop feature will graduate from the beta stage and deliver tastemaker and peer-generated shops. At present, there are some apparent shortcomings in the site, among them that a user cannot sort according to size, but Evans says that feature is coming, which, if done successfully would play no small part in reducing the number of returns retailers have to contend with.
“We’re taking the crawl, walk, run approach and right now we’re in the crawl phase,” he said. “Shoptrue will soon have the ability to pre-filter size and fit specifications on behalf of shoppers to ensure they only see products that are available in their preferred sizing, eliminating discouraging stock outs for customers.”
That, he said, is also good for sustainability.
“[It] supports the growing trend toward more sustainable commerce, yielding fewer returns and more deliberate purchases in a category that currently sees over 70% of returns attributed to poor fit or style,” Shoptrue said.
Another kink in need of working out is at checkout where each item from each retailer is potentially susceptible to a separate shipping charge. Shoptrue says this would seldom be the case but acknowledges it’s another beta bridge to cross.
“In most cases, shoppers should expect one shipping fee or no fee at all. However, there are some combinations of products and merchants that may result in multiple shipping fees. This is an area we expect to better optimize and standardize across all participating merchants with time,” the company said. Participating merchants set their own shipping policies, which means some might offer free shipping while others could charge a fee, it added.
When the last of those kinks are ironed out and the Shop feature goes fully live, users will be able to build what is essentially their own store.
“You could theme your shop on Zendaya; you could do a retro post on Audrey Hepburn and get a holiday season cocktail dress that’s a classic,” Evans said. “That’s the great thing—anything is an inspiration and the shops are the content that’s all around you.”
Holley gave a peek behind the beta wall to show a shop she put together inspired by a friend she was playing cards with the night before who had a real taste for copious amounts of whiskey. The hangover-driven result was a shop she dubbed ‘Egg and Cheese Sandwich.’
“It illustrates the point that there are infinite themes people can create for themselves,” Holley said.
As inevitable as the takeover of online retail was before Covid, it’s been accelerated even moreso since.
Shoptrue pointed out that since 2020 online marketplaces have accounted for 67 percent of online revenue with twice the growth and three times the profitability of traditional retail.
“Seventy-five percent of shoppers are trying new behaviors, new brand formats,” Evans said. “Amazon dominates product search, if you know what you’re looking for… but only about 20 percent of Prime members shop Amazon first for fashion. In fashion, people don’t always know what they want. People are looking for inspiration—not just to buy, not just us telling people what’s good for them.”
Evans wouldn’t share any details of Shoptrue’s financial expecations for 2023, sticking to his crawl, walk, run mantra.
“We’re going to start driving traffic into our site; just inviting people to come take a style quiz and take a journey with us,” Evans said. “In a nutshell, we’re trying to create a one-stop personal shop for everybody — for you, by you.”