I recently wrote about the massive shifts in the retail landscape we’re going to be seeing over the next 5-20 years. Many of the changes we’ll see will be focused on disrupting legacy systems and processes, recreating the supply chain and making logistics even easier and faster. All of these are worthy initiatives, and I may end up investing in startups that do these things to transform retail. But right now, I’m looking for the fun, specifically the joy of discovery.
I’m looking for companies/technologies that bring the joy of discovery back to the shopping experience. Do you remember when shopping used to be fun? You would go to a mall, store or urban center. You would browse around, see interesting stores with unique product and merchandising that had a point of view (remember when Banana Republic sold safari clothing in the 80s?). You’d find something that you fell in love with and just had to have. It was fun – and it was a process of discovery. You didn’t necessarily know what you would buy when you left home in the morning, but you were excited to see what was out there.
Fast forward to today. Most malls and chain stores feel like a sea of sameness or are just plain awful experiences, with crumbling physical facilities and stores that hawk 40-50% off on a regular basis, with minimal foot traffic, even on holiday weekends. (For real-time updates on what’s happening in malls today, follow my friend @retaileye on Twitter.)
And ecommerce? It’s just an infinite scroll of product, and it works best when you have a specific item in mind that you’re searching for, not when you’re “just browsing.” Here’s an example: if you click on Women’s Clothing at Nordstrom.com, you get a list of almost 30,000 items. That is not browsing and discovery, that is torture. I’m seeing more and more ecommerce and mobile sites adding lifestyle images or “trend” sections to make discovery a bit easier, but it’s just not enough.
There are a few glimmers of hope. Chatbots are being used to help you discover new items. Reply Yes* has created a conversational commerce platform that focuses on helping you discover new items in particular categories via Messenger or SMS. Other startups are tackling discovery by making social media and published content more shoppable – and taking discovery off of the actual shopping platforms. But I’m looking for even more creative solutions to this huge problem.
Are you a startup founder working on bringing back the fun and discovery in retail? I’d like to hear from you.
*I’m an investor in Reply Yes.