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Meet The New Wave of Tinder-Like Shopping Apps

Given Tinder's viral success in the dating world, shopping apps are following suit with similar swipe to like app formats.

In the world of dating apps and websites, Tinder has proven to be something of a breakaway success. People download it for myriad reasons: Some are looking for love, others a casual hookup or an ego boost. Some just feel like playing "Hot or Not" with their friends at the bar. Whatever the reason, it's working. The app cleared 10 million matches per day in February.

So it shouldn't come as any surprise that other startups have imitated Tinder's super-simple user interface, which involves swiping an image card left for no and right for yes. Among them are a number of fashion-focused apps that aggregate clothing from multiple e-commerce sites and allow users to window shop their way through dozens of items in one sitting. Swipe left to dismiss a dress, right to save it to a wishlist.

Swiping through cards on an app isn't unlike shopping in a store, points out Brian Louko, one of the founders of the Tinder-for-fashion app Kwoller. In a shop you flick through garments on a rack of clothes, quickly sizing them up on gut instinct. When something catches your eye, you might look more closely at the price tag, the equivalent of tapping a card to see a few more details on an app. But unlike real life shopping, the learning algorithms behind these apps can help generate more relevant content the more you swipe. 

Now, it's hard to replicate the positive reinforcement of swiping right on photo of someone cute on Tinder and finding out that they're interested in you, too. It's personal and flattering. That kind dopamine hit is hugely addictive.

Missing that dosage, these apps need some kind of value-add, in addition to functioning as a discovery tool that's low-commitment and mindless enough to use on the subway or while waiting in line at Starbucks. Kwoller, which launched last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, rewards users with sales alerts when an item they've liked gets marked down, as does Stylect, an app that's focused on footwear. 

Meanwhile, the UK-based Mallzee has added a social component to its Tinder-like UI. Users can share items they've liked with their friends who also have the app to get feedback in the form of up- and down-votes, or they can seek advice from Mallzee's styling team. The idea is to create a community that gives users honest opinions to keep them coming back.

While these apps are perfect for the one to two minutes you spend in the line at your local coffee shop every morning, session times often stretch on much longer than that. Stylect founder Giacomo Summa says that while the average session time is about seven minutes and the median is about the same, some users are swiping way above that. One power user has hit 45,000 swipes, Summa says.

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Session duration varies for Mallzee, says Mallzee CEO Cally Russell. Most interestingly, use of the app peaks on Friday and Saturday nights when people are either watching TV at home or out at the pub — not unlike Tinder itself.

So are people buying through these apps? Yes, but not as much as they could be. Generally speaking, convincing people to make purchases on mobile rather than on a desktop screen is a nut that e-commerce companies still haven't managed to crack. Mallzee relies on its tablet app and desktop website as platforms on which shoppers can take a second look at their wishlists before moving on to purchase. 

"I think the mobile experience is much more tailored to people who are just browsing," Russell says. "We have an iPad version. What we’re seeing with the two is that people are browsing on their mobile phone and purchasing on their iPad."

Russell wouldn't say what Mallzee's conversion rates are since the app has only been available in its current form since December but did note that its monthly active users are in the tens of thousands. 

Stylect, on the other hand, is 100 percent mobile. The app launched in October of 2013 and as of April, roughly 1.5 percent of its user base had made a purchase.

"We haven’t done too much effort to promote the desktop component," says Summa. "All of our users are based on mobile, which is also something that retailers are liking a lot because they don’t have many really good affiliates on mobile."

Summa says that there's still a lot Stylect can do to improve its conversion rates, like allowing users to purchase within the app rather than linking them out to an affiliate website. Mallzee, too, is putting effort into pursuading users to buy on mobile. 

Of the three apps, Stylect is the most mature, with the cleanest, most intuitive experience — it also has $530,000 in venture capital financing to back it. Kwoller is still pretty buggy and only pulls its products from a handful of e-commerce sites, but it's also only a week old. Some of the images on Mallzee are grainy, likely a result of low-res images from its retail partners, and its numerous tabs can be a bit overwhelming to first-time users. But they're fun, and that's the point: Gamified shopping on the go.