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Q&A: How Fashion Tech Startup Cherry Pick Turns Social Sentiment Into Shopping Actions

“In the attention economy, anyone trying to connect with an audience must treat the user’s time as the ultimate resource.”

Let’s face it: virtually every fashion brand or apparel retailer can relate to these words from Danish Ph.D. Jakob Nielsen. The retail landscape is changing rapidly: upstart brands seem to sprout up every other day. Social media is the new battleground for consumers, with these platforms offering a voice to shoppers who previously didn’t have a tool to connect with their favorite brands and retailers. On top of that, attention spans are plunging as digital distractions promise new sights and stimulations with just another tap on the ever-present smartphone.

So in the madness of the attention economy, how can brands cut through the noise—and forge meaningful connections with shoppers making themselves known?

Startups like Cherry Pick, a member of the New York Fashion Tech Lab’s latest cohort, are investigating new ways to help brands act on social media feedback—driving conversions in the process.

Sourcing Journal turned to Cherry Pick co-founders Justin Stewart, CEO, and Melissa Munnerlyn, COO, to learn about more effective ways to reach and respond to consumers in the age of social and how new technologies can improve product ideation, new launches and more.

Sourcing Journal: What’s your background? Have you worked in fashion? Tech?

Melissa Munnerlyn: Before Cherry Pick, I spent the past eight years developing marketing organizations for multiple fashion and beauty e-commerce startups. I started my career by leveraging social media to create unique community experiences and to build relationships between brands and their customers. I’m obsessed with how social media has impacted our culture, especially around how we consume information.

Justin Stewart: I started out as a fashion model before pursuing a PhD in game theory. I moved to New York to focus on data science full-time, and I’ve spent the past five years building machine learning products, focusing on natural language processing, predictive analytics, and social media. I’ve built a wide range of tools from recommendation engines to a data acquisition technology to help disrupt illegal sex trafficking networks. Two years ago, I solo founded a start-up in the influencer marketing space before deciding to pivot to start Cherry Pick.

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SJ: How was the idea for Cherry Pick born?

JS:  I was doing extensive work in the influencer marketing space with social data and was dumbfounded by how literally consumers tell brands what they liked, wanted, disliked, etc. in social comments. I was actually shocked—and excited.

I saw that brands would manually respond to some of these comments, but mostly to put out customer support fires or deal with negative reviews. It wasn’t possible to use the data to either understand how your brand’s products were performing across your industry or trigger any action like marketing automation or lead generation. After some quick experimentation and market validation, we decided to start Cherry Pick in June 2017.

SJ: It seems like in the past two years, we’ve really started to see a push toward monetizing social media but that’s focused on shopping plug-ins, shoppable ads/posts, etc. Tell me how CherryPick plays in that ecosystem.

JS: Absolutely. Again, brands still struggle to understand the direct impact that social has on their business bottom line. We see Cherry Pick as an essential player in that ecosystem. As platforms like Instagram and Pinterest become shoppable, the question we ask brands is: what about the 99 percent of people who viewed the post and may have even shown intent for that product that did not purchase? It’s similar to website behavior, where a high conversion rate in e-commerce is 2 percent, except consumers are spending more than two hours every single day across social and only a max of 10 minutes on a website—and that’s only when they visit. Currently, all of that consumer social data is vanishing off into the ether or is just becoming another interest attribute owned by the social platform. Our proposition is very simple: brands and retailers need to use this information to better understand and engage with their customers.

SJ: On the brand side, which parts of the business would use and benefit from Cherry Pick?

JS: There are a number of orgs within the business that greatly benefit from a technology like Cherry Pick. Our platform tracks real-time consumer intent for every product in an industry; we’re initially starting out in beauty. Primarily the digital and marketing teams can leverage our platform to better understand and target their customers using social intent signals. By connecting the brand’s customer list to their social profiles, Cherry Pick enables brands and retailers to send a product-specific marketing actions to consumers who express intent in real time.

The merchandising teams, especially at retailers, also use our platform to better optimize their site and even the in-store setups with brands and products that are receiving the highest consumer intent on social. The buying team can also discover brands they would like to retail by paying attention to the indie brands that are quickly acquiring outsized levels of product intent.

Our market insights are also valuable at the corporate or the brand group level by offering a unique way to benchmark their brands against the entire market.

SJ: AI adoption is taking off in many industries. How else is Cherry Pick thinking about applying artificial intelligence in retail?

JS: We utilize AI and machine learning in the broadest sense and aim to utilize its effectiveness at every stage of our business. That is, both for aspects like our intent classification system, which is core to our product, and also in places like lead qualification. We think a lot about how our technology can evaluate influencers—using AI to identify who generates the most intent for which product categories and would make ideal allies for brands to partner with and launch products in those specific categories.

Fundamentally, we believe in a long-term vision where the use of AI helps anticipate consumer needs at every touch point, even at the product development stage—making product launches more targeted, effective, and ultimately, more customer-centric.

SJ: How can a technology like Cherry Pick strengthen brand-customer relationships?

MM: Cherry Pick is built to strengthen the emotional resonance between consumers, products and the brands they love. Today, brands are producing tremendous amounts of content on social media and consumers are engaging with that content even more quickly. However, most of the rich content in the consumer interactions gets lost or aggregated up into a simplistic engagement metric.

Cherry Pick is finally making it possible to capture what each individual consumer is saying and attributing their comments back to the products they’re talking about.

Historically, brands have used lots of different techniques, like focus groups, surveys, website behavior, etc. to better understand their customers, but social media is far and beyond the best channel to engage your customers, especially in the beauty industry in which most product discovery is happening on Instagram. We’re helping brands build a consumer-first strategy by surfacing consumer preferences and empowering brands to create dynamic content based on what they’re saying.

SJ: How does Cherry Pick work with a brand or retailer’s other systems and technologies?

JS: Cherry Pick directly integrates with a brand or retailer’s technology that manages their customer database to enrich their profiles with valuable social intent attributes. We also integrate directly with any marketing platform to allow social segmentation for dynamic content across advertising and email channels.

We also integrate with a client’s BI solutions like Domo or Looker to make all of our data and insights accessible and leverageable by other parts of the brand org.