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This App Wants to Change How Gen Z Shops

The way Gen Z buys clothes is changing—and Mada wants to be the future online space for these young shoppers…

Online shopping has become an increasing focus for all brands with lockdowns still in place, and the trends being created now are paving the way for the future of shopping. YPulse’s COVID-19 special report on spending shifts found that 29% of 13-18-year-olds are online shopping more during Coronavirus, forcing brands to accelerate their efforts to reach them in social spaces and smartphones. Now, as their shopping behavior becomes even more digital, there’s more opportunity than ever to use data to create the right product suggestions for them. 

Pre-pandemic, Gen Z and Millennials were already rapidly changing what successful retail looked like. Our 2018 Shoppability report found that social media was influencing more purchases than traditional advertisements, and smartphones were their new shopping carts. All of that online shopping created new trends in retail personalization—like quizzes to customize product selection and bespoke beauty lines. Now, as retailers and brands work to replace in-person experiences with online ones, AI could be an even bigger part of the shopping future—and getting into the carts of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers. Which is exactly what the digital personal stylist app Mada has planned. 

Glossy calls Mada the “Tinder for shopping,” for good reason: the app asks users to swipe left or right to select outfits, using AI technology combined with customization to match users with clothes and styles Gen Z shoppers actually likeand want. We spoke to Mada’s Founder and CEO Madison Semarjian about the inspiration behind the app, how it’s integrating AI to reach young shoppers, how COVID-19 has impacted their business, and how young consumers are shopping today: 

YPulse: How did Mada get started? 

Madison Semarjian: During my freshman year of college, I was rushing to get ready for a date, and I couldn’t find anything to wear. My best friend, Taylor, who I turned to for advice, said to me: “Why don’t you wear whatever makes you feel most like you?” That got me thinking about why people get dressed the way they do. It also made me think: “Why can clothing be so emotionally charged?”

After doing some research on these topics, the answers to these two questions always came back to confidence—even if you’re not into fashion and could care less about clothing. As might be typical for a Gen Z-er, I thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that could just take all the worry out of getting dressed, so you could just automatically feel confident?” With that, Mada was born. I called up a family friend who was in the retail-tech space, and I asked him if he thought what I imagined was possible. He told me, “Madison, anything is possible in tech.” Retail was in a tricky position at the time as well. There was a lot of talk of AI entering the retail space, but everything I saw was gimmicky, or not serving any long-term value. I saw a hole in the market and spent the next four years trying to fill that hole.  

YPulse: How does the service work? 

MS: When you first download the app, there’s a quick style quiz and on-boarding process to learn all about your preferences and shopping behavior. Then, based on those results, Mada begins to recommend outfits explicitly curated for you in the “Get Styled” section. You can swipe right to “like” an outfit or swipe left to “dislike” it. Customers can even swap different products out to fully customize the outfit. The more you interact with Mada, the smarter the algorithms become, and the more the outfits will be tailored to individual taste. You can buy everything straight through the app. We partner with thousands of brands, so you can find a lot of designers and labels on Mada. There’s also a “Featured Outfit” section of the app that features outfits put together by top celebrity and editorial stylists who have previously worked at Vogue, Glamour, and other fashion publications. Once you hit purchase, our partnering brands fulfill and ship out the order. 

YPulse: What are the customers’ preferences that your AI learns? 

MS: To start, we focus on the customer’s overall style. For example, the customer might have answered that they dress edgy in the “Style Quiz”, but we’ve noticed from their swiping behavior that they dress trendy and a little free-spirited too. From there, we focus on the idea of “the occasion” of wear. Does a customer tend to dress a little edgier than usual when you go out? Do you tend to dress sportier on the weekends? No one is just one style. Mada’s A.I. also considers body type, budget, and most-liked products when learning user tastes.

YPulse: Why did you think the swiping feature used in the “Get Style” part of the app would resonate with young shoppers? 

MS: I wanted customer adoption to be as seamless as possible, so I thought it would be best to introduce Mada in a format that most consumers were already familiar with— things, like swiping on dating apps, and scrolling through social media—came to mind. We tested the swipe functionality out to optimize it for customers. Swiping is easy for the customer but also always for them to decide how involved they want to be, since there is also the “Featured Outfits” that showcases looks that are not specific to a user necessarily but illustrate current trends and popular products. 

YPulse: How does the app determine what type of outfits to put in front of a user? 

MS: That’s the secret sauce! It’s a complex process, and it’s being changed every day as we learn more about the customers. But we consider customer behavior and style quiz answers. 

YPulse: How important is personalization to young shoppers? 

MS: Personalization is such a buzz word that people throw around, but I believe it’s too broadly used in the retail space. At Mada, we try to keep it as simple as possiblewhat is the product and/or outfit that is best suited for the customer? We want to show that to the customer. Our algorithms recommend outfits based on the individual’s unique behavior.     

YPulse: How has the COVID crisis impacted your brand? 

MS: COVID-19 has allowed us to strengthen our relationship with our retailers, especially those that heavily relied on brick-and-mortar. We are fortunate to be able to help our brand partners connect with the customer in a new way. We are learning so much more about the customer right now, too. More people are spending time in front of a screen, which has increased customer engagement. This engagement is helping my team identify areas of opportunity in terms of app features we plan to roll out over the coming months.

YPulse: News headlines are talking about how influencers and consumers are now pivoting toward wearing more loungewear, athleisure, and clothes that make them feel more comfortable at home. Since the start of the pandemic, have you noticed a shift in the kind of things your users are shopping and looking for? 

MS: There has been an increase in lounge and activewear purchases since that’s what is being worn the most right now. But I also see many optimists buying summer clothes for post-social distancing. Wearing sweatpants every day was fun for the first few weeks. Still, I think people are permitting themselves to fantasize about the return to everyday life again, and the recent purchases are reflecting that. 

YPulse: Are you seeing signs on whether home and mobile shopping are going to be more common now after the pandemic?

MS: Regardless of the pandemic, I believe mobile shopping will continue to increase. We are glued to our phones, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I’m a firm believer that in-store experiences are still needed. They can be the starting point of a purchase that is then made online.