Project September Wants To Bring Social Shopping Back Into Fashion

ProjectSeptemberSocial commerce sounds good on paper, but turning likes into purchases has proven difficult in practice.

Project September, a social shopping app from the founders of Gilt, aims to change that. Named for the start of the fashion year, the Project September app, which launched in April, has “tens of thousands of users” so far, according to Leah Park, its co-founder and chief design officer.

“The opportunity for this is finally ripe,” said Park, who spent more than four-and-a-half years as the VP of creative at Gilt, which is now owned by Hudson Bay.

But the answer isn’t to slap a buy button on an image and call it a day.

Nearly every social network out there – Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram – has experimented with buy buttons, with results that have been less than inspiring.

Only 35% of millennials said they’d be likely to use a buy button on Facebook, while just 24% said the same about Twitter, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In late May, Twitter dissolved its commerce team and put the kibosh on commerce-related product development, including its buy button.

One reason buy buttons seem to have withered on the vine is because social networks are trying to retrofit themselves to accommodate a shopping experience. Although it’s undeniable that users are influenced by what they see on Facebook or Instagram, they’re not necessarily there to shop.

“When I’m on Pinterest, for example, I just want to see beautiful imagery and not feel like they’re trying to sell me something,” Park said. “And that’s what our app is, really – beautiful image after beautiful image.”

Users of the app can follow influencers and design icons – Christy Turlington, Nina Garcia, Nicole Richie, Patrick Janelle and other fashion-plate types are all on the platform – and scroll through a seemingly endless collection of fashion photography. Each clothing item or accessory in the image has a small green dot on it. Tapping on the dot brings users to a page within the app where they can get more info and buy the product.

Until you tap for details, there’s almost no text anywhere in the app. That’s by design, Park said.

“Unlike other image-based platforms like Instagram or Pinterest, this is meant to feel like a fashion magazine,” she said.

But unlike a magazine, users can earn a commission by uploading images from their camera roll or Instagram and tagging brands or retailers. Tagging the image automatically makes it shoppable. In return, users get somewhere between 8% and 15% of the sale price when someone makes a purchase.

Project September already has partnerships with more than 5,000 brands and retailers, including COACH, Lacoste, Revolve, Nasty Gal, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and, of course, Gilt.

The startup raised seed capital (sum undisclosed) from a number of institutional investors in April, including BBG Ventures, F3 Ventures, First Round, Greylock Partners, Montage Ventures, Venrock and WME Ventures.

AdExchanger caught up with Park for a peek under the hood.

LeahParkAdExchanger: What trends are you reacting to with the creation of Project September?

LEAH PARK: At Gilt, the idea was to create a new kind of online shopping experience when high-end fashion was something you just didn’t see online. About four or five years after Gilt was founded [in 2007], social media started springing up, and it became clear that mobile commerce was also starting to pick up speed.

If you’re on Pinterest or Instagram, you want to know where products come from. People are continually leaving comments on those platforms like “Where is that from?” or “I totally want to buy that. Where did you get it?” And that’s where the idea came from – to make the world’s most beautiful images shoppable within an immersive experience. There have been a lot of companies trying to do this and a lot of little hacks here and there, but no one has been able to make it as effortless as it needs to be.

What makes you different from Instagram, Pinterest and other image-based platforms?

Every single image posted to our app is purchasable, and every image is beautiful. It’s about inspiration as much as it is about shopping.

How do you think about data collection, targeting and CRM?

We put a lot of work into personalization at Gilt – it’s something [Gilt and Project September co-founder] Alexis Maybank has always believed in. We’re heading there, but right now, we don’t have all the capabilities we want in place. We only have a few months of data so far, but it’s something we’ll be investing in.

The main goal for now is to focus on discoverability and helping people see the things that they’re interested in. When you go to search now, we show the top trending profiles and posts, and we’re quickly expanding that to items, categories and themes. Soon, you’ll also be able to filter by gender and price, as well.

How does the back-end technology work?

We partner with the likes of Stripe, Relay, Commission Junction and LinkShare, which means our brand partners can access a lot of analytics through their dashboards. We work directly with each brand, and each brand has a separate commission structure and earnings structure.

We’re integrated with thousands of large brands. We can pull directly from their databases and product feeds to make millions of products immediately available for purchase. We have our dashboard where users and brands can see every image they upload, along with the number of views, clicks and sales. We’re also building our own database that will include more reporting.

Are people actually buying stuff?

We have brands on the app retailing everything from vintage Chanel bags to sneakers. There’s quite a spectrum of items, and we are seeing purchases. But at the moment, most of them are in the lower price range.

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