Romney Evans, co-founder of the apparel fit technology firm True Fit, is launching a new curated online fashion marketplace called Shoptrue that uses AI-driven data algorithms to personalize its fashion catalog for every user based on style, brands and size.
The site, which launched this week, features over 2,000 brands. According to Evans, users on Shoptrue.com will be asked to take a brief style quiz about their favorite brands, style, personality, color preferences and pattern preferences etc. Users will then have a personal homepage with an initial set of curated recommendations.
This homepage will have a combination of content — editor-driven shops, algorithmic and programmatic-driven shops (ranging from collections about workout clothes to clothes for work) and other product recommendations. The personalization experience is intended to improve over time as users engage with the brands, save items on their feed, create shops (collections) and actually make purchases on the platform. So far, Shoptrue’s website features labels like workwear brand Carhartt, luxury brand Burberry, North Face and Nike among others.
Analysts said Shoptrue’s data-driven approach to curation is theoretically possible, but added that there are substantial challenges to overcome from customer acquisition to retention. Retailers like Farfetch, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have invested in similar capabilities heavily and are still developing them. Separately, Pinterest this summer acquired an e-commerce platform The Yes which is also powered by artificial intelligence to help transform the shopping experience on its platform.
Evans described the Shoptrue experience as creating a “fashion playlist” and putting users back into the driver’s seat on the path to online shopping by inviting them into the discovery process with options to curate and share their own shops or collections, eliminate items they don’t like and build collections reflective of their style, brands, fit and size.
“Algorithms don’t buy clothing, people buy clothing. And what we’re trying to do is put the controls into the hands of the shopper, put them into the driver’s seat and really put the person back into that personalization journey,” said Evans. “These collections that people create for themselves can become a source of inspiration for others and it really means the inspiration doesn’t just come top down from the software algorithm,” he added.
Shoptrue will operate under a standard marketplace model and act as a “matchmaker” between the brands selling on its platform and the users, said Evans. Shoptrue said it will charge retailers a commission on orders placed via its platform. The company will not own or hold inventory and the retailers will ship products directly to their customers after the order have been placed. “We’re making all of our investments in product discovery. Our bread and butter is really around style curation and style discovery,” said Evans.
According to Shoptrue, they have a “no shopper left behind” philosophy when it comes to brands selling on the platform, so the large selection of brands improves the likelihood that customers will find something they love. The company said it intends to cover all customers and price points from luxury to value shoppers and appeal to a wide variety of styles, sizes, etc. across both men’s and women’s fashion.
Shoptrue’s launch comes at a when online shopping in the U.S. is becoming highly competitive with formidable players like TikTok entering the space and reportedly testing its products with select merchants and vendors in the country.
“It takes time to develop a user interface that’s intuitive and streamlines the path to purchase,” said Matt Moorut, director analyst at research firm Gartner. “You need to have the data to see how customers are using your platform to really know how to guide them – so it’s not something you can easily do out of the box on day one, or with a limited amount of user testing,” pointed out Moorut.
Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst for retail and e-commerce at Insider Intelligence said customer acquisition could be a costly proposition for Shoptrue. “Costs associated with them can be justified if there’s a sticky customer experience that keeps shoppers coming back. In the algorithmic shopping space, retention has always been a significant problem though, and I’m not yet convinced that something as subjective as individual taste is easily solved by algorithms,” Lipsman added.
The likes of Amazon and Google have tried to develop curated fashion experiences that have yet to hit the mainstream. Italian online fashion retail giant Yoox Net-a-Porter Group did not achieve success overnight and has built its audience of over 4.3 million users over the last seven years. Farfetch announced this summer in August that it will acquire a 47.5% stake in YNAP in a bid to become a global platform for luxury.
The white space Evans said he’s found is that fashion consumers don’t always know what they’re looking for until they see it. “So the Amazon model, I believe, historically has been really good at satisfying users who know exactly what they’re looking for, but if you don’t then it can sometimes be a little bit overwhelming.” As for customer acquisition, the company said its big marketing push includes press outreach, digital ads, SEO, social media and influencer campaigns.
Moorut added that it will take a lot of optimization until Shoptrue’s algorithm reaches a point where it is able to surface perfect recommendations. “You need the customers to get the data to make the improvements to engage and retain the customers. That whole chain takes significant resources to make work,” he said.
Another challenge will be managing relationships with all the brands listed on its platform. “If Shoptrue is aiming to position its USP around having more products from different partners than anyone else, then that will take some significant partner management,” added Moorut.
Ultimately, Lipsman said, the odds are largely stacked against Shoptrue. “There have been many startups in the personalized recommendations space, and most have struggled in the long run. Fashion shoppers may be skeptical that this iteration is the one that finally cracks the code, so getting them to invest enough time and attention to make the service useful to them could be a real challenge,” he added.