Woonsocket Call

Smart­phones did to web­sites what Ama­zon did to the mall



Young, dis­tracted and styled just-so, Anissa Kh­eloufi is part of a grow­ing genus of In­sta­gram junkies. As the 21-year-old flits around the Paris sub­urb of Saint Ouen, she’s in­ces­santly snap­ping pho­tos and videos. Usu­ally they’re of her friend Cyn­thia Karsenty, who preens for the cam­era in swanky clothes rang­ing from high-waisted shorts and pin-striped jumpers to big, fuzzy slip­pers.

It is, by all ap­pear­ances, a pa­rade of self-in­dul­gence-a life over-edited and ul­tra-shared. But what the eye-rolling on­looker doesn’t un­der­stand is that Kh­eloufi is build­ing an ap­parel em­pire one snap at a time, one that pulls in close to $40,000 a month. Her so­cial me­dia fod­der sends a steady stream of shop­pers to Belmi­raz, the ap­parel com­pany she founded after tir­ing of law school. It in­cludes a web store as well as bou­tiques lo­cated in Casablanca and Paris. Mostly, how­ever, Kh­eloufi’s cus­tomers pur­chase their items in the same way she sells them: by app.

“I think I have the phone sewn onto my hand,” Kh­eloufi told Bloomberg. “My loved ones are fed up with it.”

The fu­ture of re­tail isn’t e-com­merce or omni-chan­nel or pop-up shops or ge­ofenced flash sales. The fu­ture of re­tail is palm-sized. As so­cial me­dia con­sumerism cul­ti­vates a grow­ing crop of scrappy brands, these re­tail en­trepreneur­s are skip­ping the com­puter al­to­gether (let alone brick-and-mor­tar shops), in­stead dis­play­ing and sell­ing prod­ucts ex­clu­sively via smart­phone.

And the phe­nom­e­non is ac­cel­er­at­ing. Two big rea­sons for this en­tre­pre­neur­ial shift are video and In­sta­gram (and video on In­sta­gram). In re­cent years, both have had an in­creas­ingly out­sized im­pact on how con­sumers shop, one that shows no signs of abat­ing. Big re­tail­ers have grown wise to it, too, as more of them are lured away from a tra­di­tional fo­cus on desk­top trans­ac­tions.

Back in Au­gust 2016, Face­book-owned In­sta­gram be­gan let­ting its users click through the phone app to a brand’s re­tail site. It also added “Sto­ries,” a Snapchat-like feed of tem­po­rary posts bet­ter suited for video. A few months later, In­sta­gram let 20 se­lect com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing J. Crew, Macy’s and Warby Parker, tag prod­ucts in In­sta­gram posts and route peo­ple to a store link where they could “shop now.”

Just like that, a vir­tual shop­ping mall was born.

Un­like the old kind, re­plete with dingy food court and shabby Sears, In­sta­gram doesn’t have any prob­lems gen­er­at­ing “foot traf­fic,” given the 800 mil­lion peo­ple ac­tively scrolling through its por­tal ev­ery month. In May, the com­pany took the next log­i­cal step, qui­etly en­abling a fea­ture for users to add credit or debit cards. Soon, In­sta-crowds may not have to leave the plat­form at all to make a pur­chase.

Sales­force.com says 5 per­cent of dig­i­tal re­tail traf­fic now flows through so­cial chan­nels. ViSenze, a vis­ual search com­pany, found that, of peo­ple who use so­cial me­dia, one in three makes a pur­chase ev­ery month through a plat­form such as In­sta­gram, Face­book, Pin­ter­est or Snapchat. At com­pa­nies like Belmi­raz, which mostly sell to young buy­ers, the num­bers are far higher. Kh­eloufi says 90 per­cent of her com­pany’s rev­enue flows through In­sta­gram, where she con­nects with 119,000 fol­low­ers.

Not sur­pris­ingly, dig­i­tal plat­forms that cater to as­pir­ing e-com­merce ti­tans like her are hus­tling to tweak their prod­ucts for iPhone-only use. Tic­tail, the do-it-your­self mar­ket­place where Kh­eloufi’s Belmi­raz sells her wares, over­hauled its plat­form re­cently to al­low ven­dors to post di­rectly to In­sta­gram’s Story fo­rum. It also lets re­tail­ers add text “stick­ers” and links that make it eas­ier for shop­pers to click through to pur­chase or fig­ure out their ship­ping costs. When Tic­tail rolled out a fea­ture al­low­ing sellers to di­rectly post video prod­uct list­ings, the plat­form promptly saw en­gage­ment on those items al­most quadru­ple, ac­cord­ing to Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Carl Rivera.

“It’s very Snapchatty,” he ex­plains.

Tic­tail made the shift to­ward hand­held re­tail­ing after notic­ing that mo­bile pur­chases had jumped from be­ing 40 per­cent of its trans­ac­tions to 70 per­cent in the span of 18 months. Rivera fig­ured that if shop­pers were switch­ing to smart­phones so fast, sellers would quickly fol­low. The trans­for­ma­tion, he says, has every­thing to do with how mo­bile tech en­ables vi­su­als to dom­i­nate in­ter­net re­tail.

“What it re­ally is is a shift in what the main in­put type is,” he says. “If you sit in front of a com­puter, it’s easy to en­ter text and re­ally dif­fi­cult to en­ter pho­tos and videos. With a phone, it’s the op­po­site.”

Shopify, which hosts dig­i­tal stores for some 600,000 mer­chants, has made sim­i­lar moves, launch­ing its deep in­te­gra­tion with In­sta­gram in Oc­to­ber. Half of Shopify’s clients are ac­tively us­ing a mo­bile app it built ex­clu­sively for mer­chants. Over the past year, the shop­ping site has seen a three­fold in­crease in re­tail­ers who do busi­ness en­tirely by phone, ac­cord­ing to Lynsey Thorn­ton, vice pres­i­dent of user ex­pe­ri­ence.

 ?? Bloomberg photo by Gi­u­lia Marchi ?? A cy­clist looks at his smart­phone as pedes­tri­ans walk on a side­walk in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict in Beijing on June 1, 2018.
Bloomberg photo by Gi­u­lia Marchi A cy­clist looks at his smart­phone as pedes­tri­ans walk on a side­walk in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict in Beijing on June 1, 2018.

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