Fashion people say that Spring was a long time coming. The shopping app, which launched on August 14, 2014, promised to do what all other shopping apps were unable to achieve: make buying clothes on your mobile phone fun and easy. Raising $7.5 million in capital from backers like Group Arnault, Proenza Schouler CEO Shirley Cook, Google Ventures and Theory’s Andrew Rosen, it also had the early support of some of the fashion and tech industries’ biggest players. Launch press was robust and positive: Instead of granting one big exclusive to a trade or general interest publication, Spring talked with every outlet it could. Stories flooded the web when the 9 a.m. embargo lifted on August 14. Most reviews were positive, citing the app’s seamless user interface, impressive roster of brands -- from Opening Ceremony to Jason Wu to Levi’s -- and welcome universal checkout. The few skeptics repeated the same criticisms over and over: Do people want to open up yet another app? Do brands have enough product to properly populate a feed? If Instagram ever does initiate live links, will Spring then become redundant?
Over the past six weeks, I’ve spoken to several brands about their experience selling on Spring thus far, and have also spent time nearly every day using the app myself. Critics typically wait three months to review a new restaurant, so the goal here is not to give Spring a definitive thumbs up or down, but rather to evaluate its current status. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Some small brands are having a hard time making Spring work, others are loving it. Spring is a feed, similar in look and feel to Instagram’s feed. Users follow brands that they like, and brands post images of product that’s for sale. (You can shop directly from the image.) Spring dutifully works with each brand to figure out how many times a day it makes sense to post, dependent on the amount of inventory the brand keeps. Many of the upstart designers I’ve spoken to find this part challenging. They don’t hold much inventory themselves, and they also don’t make as many styles each season. Which means their feeds can become quite repetitive. A few of the startup designers with whom I spoke said that the time spent shooting images for Spring hasn’t been worth it.
However, another niche designer says that she’s seen great results, selling a few items every day. And others, who have never dabbled in direct-to-consumer commerce before Spring, are enjoying connecting with their customers. One designer told me that Spring’s relatively low commission fees — and $0 monthly fee —make it worthwhile. (While it won’t offer up specific percentages, Spring says that its commissions are often lower than affiliate commissions, which are usually between 7 and 25 percent.) “It's not like we have to sell tons and tons and tons to justify the cost and or effort,” said one designer. Spring is like all icing on the cake.”
Universal checkout is different from a universal shopping cart. Because there is no shopping cart function on the app, Spring requires brands to charge shipping on individual items rather than one time for a multiple-item order. If brands don’t want to charge their customers over and over again, they need to offer free shipping. For smaller brands with tight budgets, that’s a nearly impossible feat.
Jewelry seems to be performing best. The jewelry designers I’ve spoken with have been able to generate one or two sales on average each day for fairly big-ticket items. (Say, $200-$800 range.) It makes sense: jewelry is sizeless, and designers like Jennifer Fisher, Alison Lou and Steven Alan — who are all selling on the site — appeal to the fashion-forward user Spring has courted. According to Spring, top-selling categories include jewelry, accessories, tops, and shoes.
Signing on more mass brands will help everyone. As a user, one of the things I have found most frustrating about Spring is the repetition in my feed. I’m following 101 brands, and Warby Parker posts sometimes show up one after another. When posts are strictly product oriented, this can get really boring. Signing on bigger brands with lots of unique styles — like J.Crew and Gap — will help alleviate this. (Vince is already on there, and Theory is launching soon.)
Spring launched with 250 brands. There are now 450 active on the app, with 500 more set to onboard by the holidays. “Right now, we have brands in every category, because we wanted to reflect the high-low way people really shop,” Spring CEO Alan Tisch told me. “As we’re heading into holiday, we’re bringing depth to those categories.” The biggest surprise for Spring, Tisch says, has been how much product customers want to see. “There are 8,500 products on the platform, we’re adding 250 new products every day, and that was nowhere near enough products to really quench the customer thirst,” he said. Spring is also working hard to sort content in the way Facebook does so that every time you log in, you see more new stuff.
Icing out retailers might have been a bad idea. One of Spring’s biggest value propositions for the brands it signed on was that it would give them an opportunity to directly interact with their customers. (Social media allows this, but the transaction is fragmented. Spring makes it seamless.) But major retailers like Net-a-Porter — or even a more niche store like Totokaelo — could really enrich the feed. While there’s a chance some product might repeat itself, the styling and presentation would be different. What’s more, retailers often commission exclusive pieces that a brand makes for no one else. It might not be the ideal situation for individual brands, but it would be a better experience for the consumer.
User experience is good for both shoppers and brands. I bought an Everlane t-shirt from Spring, even though I shop frequently on Everlane’s website. The checkout was the quickest I’ve experienced, and the piece arrived with a handwritten note that comes with every Spring purchase. (A nice touch.) It did take quite a while to get to me — I ordered it on August 29 and it arrived by September 9 — but that may have more to do with Everlane and less to do with Spring. On the brand side, most designers I talked to find the platform easy to navigate. In the next few weeks, it’s rolling out new initiatives to make it even easier to upload product: not only will brands be able to schedule posts in advance, but they’ll also be able to fully integrate Spring with their e-commerce platforms through an automatic feed. (That means they’ll be able to use a feed to pull every product from their e-commerce site into the app if they wish to do so.)
It’s not super popular…yet. “Loves” on posts are increasing steadily on Spring. An Everlane post on August 14, featuring the brand’s Petra bag, received 56 likes, while a post from September 26, featuring its lawn shirt, received 383 likes in three days. Many posts, however, are still receiving under 100 likes. (And that’s across brands.) Most days, Spring is not in the top 1,000 free iPhone apps, according to App Annie, a company that tracks app stores. And it’s still difficult to locate Spring in Apple's App Store. A general search for “Spring” first brings up an app that makes you look taller, although the shopping app Spring has moved up to the second slot on this search list. To help spread the word, Spring is relying on plenty of press, as well as partnerships with media brands like Who What Wear and Lucky editor-in-chief Eva Chen, who have created “must-have” lists that shoppers can browse within the app. Tisch cited Spring’s presence at the recent Global Citizen Festival in New York City as an example of the sort of offline promotions the company is excited about. And there are other avenues to explore: Tisch says he’s also in talks with some major publishers about essentially white-labeling the Spring platform to power their own mobile e-commerce.
What’s about Instagram? Right now, Spring’s biggest challenge is building an audience. The company has already generated enough good will around the fashion industry -- and enough buzz outside of it -- that it will be able to raise more money. And it’s doing quite a bit to broaden its offerings. But the company is also going to have to watch Instagram closely.
While execs from the popular photo-sharing app have said in the past that live links aren’t in the cards, retailers are whispering that they’ve heard otherwise. Either way, Spring needs to be prepared. Tisch argues that the two platforms exist for different reasons, which means that shoppers will still use both. “The intent on Spring is different -- people come to Spring wanting to shop, looking for new product and new brands rather than looking at pictures of friends,” he said. But we won’t know that for sure unless Instagram does indeed make a change. Until then, it’ll be interesting to see what Spring accomplishes. Let's talk about this again in six months.