This company wants to bring shopping with friends online for Gen Z shoppers…
For years, Gen Z has been heralded as the savior of in-person shopping, the “saving grace of malls.” It’s true that younger consumers prefer shopping in-store: 71% of Gen Z believe that shopping should be an experience. But one of the main reasons is because younger shoppers (Gen Z is still at their oldest in the teen years) want to shop with their friends: 60% of Gen Z agrees with the statement “Stores are a place for me and my friends to hangout.” Gen Z is more likely than Millennials to say they enjoy shopping, that they want to take their time shopping, brick-and-mortar has had enduring appeal to young shoppers because they are shopping as a social experience. But online shopping has been built as a solo-experience, whether they’re scrolling through their social media feeds or looking at a website, there’s no natural way to group-shop.
But as much as Gen Z might like to shop with friends in-store, the future of shopping is looking increasingly ecommerce focused—especially in the wake of Corona. YPulse’s exclusive research found that 42% of 13-39-year-olds are doing more online shopping during Coronavirus, and our upcoming research on the shopping post-COVID found 86% of Gen Z agree, “Because of Coronavirus, I won’t go out shopping for fun as much as I did before.” So is shopping with friends a thing of the past? Not if the experience of going to the mall with friends can be brought online.
Enter: Squadded. This company is bringing group shopping to ecommerce, allowing young customers (they target 15-25-year-olds) to shop together via “Shopping Party” browser extensions for consumers and brands. Consumer users can use the plugin to shop with their friends online, sharing outfits and products, getting real-time feedback, and interact with the Squadded community while browsing their favorite fashion sites. Brands can also add Squadded Shopping Party to their own sites, giving young shoppers “real ‘mall-effect’ by letting them invite and shop with their squad, just like in the mall.”
We spoke to Squadded Co-Founder Elysa Kahn about how the company is bringing group shopping online, how COVID-19 has impacted their brand and accelerated the usage of their Chrome extension, the need for social interaction between brands and young customers, and how they plan on enhancing the shopping experience for Gen Z:
YPulse: How did Squadded get started?
Elysa Kahn: I used to work at L’Oreal, where I was a brand manager, so I was managing all aspects of it. I saw that there was this real need for authenticity and social interaction for brands to communicate with their customers. My co-founder comes from the retail industry—from a more offline world—and we saw that retailers wanted to mix and create this seamless interaction between the physical store and online store. At Squadded, we differentiate between buying and shopping. When I’m in front of my phone, I feel like I’m only buying because I’m endlessly scrolling and I’m on my own, and I don’t have this fun interaction that I usually have when I go to the store or the mall, and I interact with the sales advisors, my friends, or other people in the mall. This is how Squadded started. We really wanted to bring brands these social interactions inside their ecommerce, and give shoppers the opportunity to have the “real” shopping experience online.
YPulse: How does the service work?
EK: Squadded adds a social layer on the ecommerce website, which includes two parts. The first part is the regular “Add to Wishlist ” button that we have on the ecommerce website and becomes a social button. For example, every time I add an item to my wishlist, my friends will be able to interact with the item and comment, like, or create content around it. The second layer is a side panel on the ecommerce website where I can invite my friends and create content. So, it’s the usual item that I have, but we wanted to give the possibility to create content, like a poll if I’m hesitating between two dresses. During a shopper session, we saw that Gen Z would screenshot and share links in WhatsApp asking friends what they prefer, and we wanted to bring this interaction in the most comfortable and natural way on an ecommerce website. So, we have polls, or I can upload photos and tag an item.
The service also works in that we have two tabs. The first tab, we wanted to reproduce what we feel when we go to the mall and I can add my squad—my close group of my friends, like my sister, and my two best friends. The other one is the Community, so, if my friends aren’t online right now, I can get advice from more people. The Community is all the members that are currently online and who share, inspire me, and can help me discover interesting content or, and I can even ask them for advice, so this is the two sides we have.
YPulse: Who is a typical Squadded user and what kind of experience are they looking for?
EK: Our first users and early adopters were Gen Z. We went for the younger target, because they’re used to social media. They know to adapt easier to technology. They’re looking for advice from their friends. They really see shopping as an experience—as a bonding activity. So, this is the typical Squadded user.
YPulse: What are some of the brands you’re partnered with?
EK: During the pandemic, we opened our technology on the Chrome extension and it works on ASOS, Missguided, Pretty Little Things, Naked, and we’re currently adding more. We have users coming to us and asking for other brands and other industries, like beauty.
YPulse: What countries are you currently seeing most success in?
EK: Currently, we’re seeing the most success in the UK and the U.S. But, we’re seeing a trend recently where it’s popular right now in France. We saw a bit in Singapore, Spain, Germany, but mostly in the UK and the US.
YPulse: Many people have said that Gen Z prefers in-store shopping—does that align with what you’ve learned about young shoppers?
EK: When talking about shopping as an experience, I think Gen Z prefers in-store shopping because that is the experience. They can talk with the sales advisors and can see all the people. I think that if we are able—and that’s our goal—to make online shopping as part of their experience that maybe in-person shopping and online shopping won’t be differentiated anymore, but an omnichannel experience when we are at the store. What we wish to do is that we would like for a user to be able to upload their photo while in the fitting room onto Squadded, and members can interact that way, too. By making online shopping part of their experience, we’re enhancing the overall experience.
YPulse: How has COVID-19 impacted your company?
EK: COVID is like a time machine—it really accelerated technology adoption. What was interesting for our company is that brands always knew there was a digital and social need, but the pandemic helped make the leap to adopt it because they saw it from the consumers with known services like Netflix Party and Instagram Co-Watching. Brands didn’t have any other option, and I think that’s how COVID-19 impacted and accelerated the adoption from brands because consumers were already adopting it really fast.
Do you feel like the pandemic has changed how Gen Z shops? How so?
EV: I think because COVID-19 forced online shopping, brands had to become more involved with their shoppers. Gen Z gave more importance to their interaction with brands, and what the brand representations in terms of conversation. We saw during the pandemic how brands used Instagram Live more and started conversations with their followers. It affected Gen Z because it created this interaction with brands, and this real relationship with them. By creating these relationships, it gave a more emotional side to shopping with brands. And having these brands as a friend is influencing how they shop.
YPulse: What signs are you seeing that group shopping could become an even bigger shopping habit to take off with more young consumers in Western countries post-pandemic?
EK: I saw recently that Facebook and Instagram have launched their own shopping platforms, Snapchat has a VR filter to try on shoes, TikTok just implemented a few new features too—and we’re seeing that shopping is becoming more social and digital. That’s definitely a sign that we’re headed there post-pandemic. With the technology adoption of social and digital, it could be the next habits that come from the young consumers. That huge social companies are adding shopping features seriously could be a good sign.
With Squaded, we launched our technology to the public during the pandemic for free as a Chrome extension and within a few days, we had incredible feedback and a lot of press coverage—so it’s a sign that it was something people were waiting for and that it could be the next big shopping habit.
YPulse: What are you finding are some of the most used features of the platform?
EK: The most used feature currently is the Wish List and the simple interaction of being able to chat with friends. From what I saw recently, the picture with the tagged items is popular because it’s something we know and are used to seeing on Instagram. But we always have that barrier where we have to click on it and go to another website. But by having it and posting it, by putting myself in front of others, anyone will be able to choose the item and see it directly without using moving to any other link or website, and will be on the same window. It’s a seamless interaction for influencers who want to share their looks.
YPulse: What’s next for Squadded?
EK: The next step for us is to open as many brands as possible. Our goal is to be the go-to destination for shopping so everyone can “social shop” on every website, and for it to be as smooth and easy and fun as possible. We want to open it up to more industries. Even though we talk about fashion first, we get requests from beauty brands. We’re talking furniture brands as well, and hope to make online shopping an overall fun experience.