The fashion category has arguably been the most complex amid the pandemic and subsequent shift to the digital-first economy. Business models have been flipped to emphasize eCommerce over physical stores. The consumer is buying more casual clothes than they were just six months ago. It’s enough to compel a retailer to make substantial changes as the holiday season heats up.
That’s exactly what ShopStyle has done. The Rakuten-owned fashion site has addressed the various complexities of the market and the uniqueness of its own business model by adding new brands, partners and entire product categories to meet shoppers where they live – online.
“Part of our 2020 strategy was to follow our mission statement, which is to embrace individuals’ style,” ShopStyle GM Alison Stiefel told PYMNTS. “And we’ve seen that people are evolving. It’s much more about celebrating that individuality. And to do that, we have to provide a shopping platform where people can find what they’re looking for.”
“What they’re looking for” sums up the current challenge in the fashion market. Because shoppers are looking for everything, which is where a wide-ranging marketplace like ShopStyle fits in. After starting in 2006 as a fashion-specific search platform, it has evolved into what it calls a fashion and lifestyle shopping platform, which is now owned by Rakuten.
Although Stiefel doesn’t necessarily like calling it a marketplace, its variety and complexity lend itself well to that concept. ShopStyle covers all of the shopper’s bases in the digital-first economy. It has prices and products ranging from an $89 AFRM print dress to a $2,295 Erdem Yusra floral design, for example. While most of its competitors have picked a single niche among new, pre-owned and rental, ShopStyle offers all of these options, including both membership and on-demand models. Its Shop Smarter program gives shoppers exclusive access to products and sales, and rewards members with up to 10 percent cash back powered by its Rakuten relationship.
“People today are shopping very differently,” Stiefel noted. “Some want the up-and-coming, newly discovered brand that no one else knows about, and they want to be the first to wear it. Or maybe they want to shop luxury, but they don’t necessarily have the income for that, so they’re more interested in pre-owned and rental. Some shoppers are looking for newness, but sometimes they want to go rental or pre-owned for an event. So in our strategy, we wanted to make sure we could support different ways of shopping. And that included adding all of the latest, hottest brands, communicating that type of discovery to our retailers, and then allowing people to show us different categories or components.”
ShopStyle has supplemented this complex model by offering new features and categories. It has expanded its pre-owned and rental offerings. Partially as a result of the pandemic, the company has added more products in its home category. Customer-facing features have also been expanded such as personalized recommendations, a more intuitive search and discovery platform, and the ability to access rewards and cash-back offers. Being owned by Rakuten gives ShopStyle access to sophisticated loyalty technology and programs, which Stiefel says benefits its busines model.
“They have such a large network of members that are extremely loyal,” she said. “One of the important things for us, because we are introducing shoppers to other retailers and designs, is customer retention. We wanted to find a way to retain members, and it also gives them the chance to explore, discover and spend more time on ShopStyle. The cash-back offer gives shoppers that rewards hook, so they want to come back and spend time on the site.”
The cash-back and rewards program has grown significantly during the pandemic. Half of ShopStyle’s revenue comes from its members.
Although it’s an almost impossible task, Stiefel and her team are in the midst of tweaking their holiday projections and promotions as sales have shifted and the entire season is being pulled forward. She expects October to be a very strong month.
“We’ll have a lot of great sales trying to sell through some of the inventory before the election, so we’re anticipating the next few weeks to be pretty strong,” she noted. “And I do think it will be interesting to see if there will be pent-up demand post-election. Due to the pandemic, there is a lot of excess inventory. I think Black Friday and Cyber Monday will still be extremely important, and I believe that will probably be a little more business-driven to November and early December because of potential shipping delays and the risk of packages and gifts arriving late.”