Over the recent holiday shopping season, SF-based Shop It To Me brought out into public beta its reimagined personalized shopping assistant site Shop It To Me Threads.
This service enables shoppers interested in new clothing and accessories to customize their shopping experience at a personalized landing page updated daily with the latest products and styles, in their specified size and price ranges.
Users can follow, in their own "threads," any fashion trend, designer, brand, retailer, type of clothing, expert-curated list or some combination of these from the roughly 150 online retailers Shop It To Me works with.
The merchants include a range of department store sites, specialty retailer sites, online boutiques, and outlets.
When a user visits her landing page (80 percent of subscribers are women), she sees a personalized overview of what's new that day, such as markdowns, discounts or unusual amounts of inventory on items she's previously indicated as on her radar.
She can also add new threads or remove old ones with a single click, which allows her to keep from being overwhelmed by too much content over time.
When it comes to the personalized online shopping space, Shop It To Me has been around longer than just about anyone else–since 2005, when founder and CEO Charlie Graham was still in grad school.
“It's a much more crowded space than when I started in ’05,” he recalls. “Shop It To Me was a side project of mine at Harvard Business School. I tried it out with friends and classmates, focusing just on clothing and fashion. We would give you a simple email alert when your size was on sale.”
The company’s story over the past seven-plus years has been about staying focused, growing patiently (it now has four million subscribers), while avoiding the temptation to chase after the latest trends that might or might not stand the test of time.
“You need to stay true to your core need and not go for the trends,” says Graham. “There are huge opportunities if you think about the world differently. I've watched a lot of trends in shopping go up and down. Sales sites like the Gilt Groupe were big for a while, and then deal sites like Groupon.
“We looked at those models carefully, experimented with them but realized they tend to get overcrowded and lead to user fatigue. And that they may not prove to be viable over the long term.”
When it comes to today’s big trends, Shop It To Me has continued to proceed cautiously.
“More recently social and mobile are the hot trends and lots of companies are trying to move into those spaces with shopping apps…there are now lots of ‘Pinterests for shopping’,” notes Graham. “But because we're an email based model it already works on mobile. We'll develop mobile phone apps in 2013.
“There will be a social layer, too, but that has not been our focus. You now can create lists in Threads and eventually you will be able to share those lists. You will also be able to follow friends' lists.”
Based on his experience of having been in the online shopping business for a relatively long time, Graham calls into question the strategy of shopping sites that focus on driving users to make quick purchases:
“In the shopping space, a lot of sites are optimized around the sale but that builds no loyalty over the long run. The sites that will win are those that are looking to build a relationship with the shopper. In shopping, if you have a smile on your face when you go there, that site will win.”
The company’s top source of revenue is advertising and it also receives commissions from retailers. “It is a great fit for retailers because it results in an awesome targeted inventory where the items are shown to people who really want them,” says Graham.
So the site is ultimately about shopping, not sales. “We don't do fulfillment; we looked into it a lot but chose not to,” says Graham.
Shop It To Me, which currently has a team of ~ 20, raised a round of financing late in 2007. “We haven't needed to raise any more since,” says Graham.