When the shopping start-up Spring debuted in August 2014, it did so with the belief that a multi-brand app could make for a compelling buying experience, if only the design were elegant, brands motivating and checkout incredibly easy. Spring had a website, but it just directed the user to download its app, a scrolling product feed not unlike Instagram. Its launch generated a flurry of attention from the press, thanks to its strong stance on mobile, broad PR outreach, big-deal backers and a well-known co-founder, David Tisch, a prominent tech investor.
The press cooled off, as it does, briefly picking up again in April when Spring raised another $25 million in funding from names like Groupe Arnault and Google Ventures. Otherwise, the start-up has gotten down to business. Having launched with about 250 brands ranging from Warby Parker to Public School, Spring's platform now features more than 900 labels, a number that co-founder and CEO Alan Tisch, David's brother, says is growing by about five to 15 each week. Because we're in the midst of retail's biggest season, Spring is currently courting holiday shoppers with a series of digital pop-up shops. Some of the goods are approachable, like a $10 beauty product set; others, like a $5,000 afternoon of personal styling with designer Marissa Webb or a $14-million blue diamond ring, are either very indulgent or so exorbitant that their purpose seems less to be bought than to titillate shoppers and drum up some cheer.
And despite its initial focus on mobile, Spring made the rather practical decision to cater to consumers' current habits by offering the option to shop on desktop earlier this month. (Mobile is still growing in popularity, though: A recent study from Google reported that smartphones' share of online purchases has increased by 64 percent over the past year and now represent 30 percent of total purchases.) Buying from Spring's site is similar to doing so on its app, since there's no shopping cart and you purchase directly from each item's page. But browsing through a category like women's apparel feels no different from any other e-commerce site out there. So what does Spring offer customers — and brands — at this point?
For the five labels I spoke with, the main incentive to hook up with Spring was, and remains, exposure. It's easy to see why: Brands can join Spring for free, paying a small percentage on each sale. There's not much to lose even if sales don't turn out to be very strong.
The direct-to-consumer men's sneaker brand Greats got onto Spring in time for the app's launch because, as co-founder and CEO Ryan Babenzien describes it, it was better to be on the platform than not. Greats now enjoys the sort of popularity with sneakerheads that lands news of its drops on sites like Hypebeast and Highsnobiety, but it was just a year old when Spring went live, and looking for channels to help people discover it. Babenzien's expectations for Spring were low at the start — he didn't anticipate scaling his business off the platform — but he says that Greats has done relatively well so far. (He, like Alan Tisch, declined to discuss specific sales figures.) Babenzien thinks that's because Greats has the right price point for mobile commerce — $49 to north of $200 for certain collaborations — and that its core customer base of millennial men are particularly apt to shop on their phones. David Bruno, the director of merchandising and sales at Todd Snyder, says that Snyder's sweet spot on Spring is also the sub-$100 price bucket.
Bruno, too, says that Spring has been "incredibly helpful" for customer acquisition and discovery, noting that the vast majority of Todd Snyder's spring sales come from new shoppers. And the brand's Spring customers are more heavily female than they are elsewhere: While women represent about 15 percent of customers on Todd Snyder's own e-commerce site, that proportion is about 50 percent on Spring. As Bruno points out, though, it's impossible to tell whether men are just shopping off their wives' and girlfriends' phones, or whether those customers really are women.
A friend of mine who works in tech PR, Tara, has in fact bought a leather jacket for her (male) fiancée on Spring, one of nine purchases she's made in the past year. She says she uses the app primarily to discover new brands, especially those in the footwear and accessories categories, but that it's also helpful for keeping up with sales, since certain promotions are unique to Spring. Some product is, too: Corey Epstein, the chief executive and co-founder of the Los-Angeles based denim brand DSTLD, says his team will occasionally put pieces on Spring that didn't work out during their test phase on the market, or that only remain in a small handful of sizes. With Spring, DSTLD can avoid damaging its brand by selling through closeout stores, and it doesn't have to put a limited range of sizes on its own site, which isn't very appealing either.
Asked what she would want to see from the start-up in the future, Tara says she wants even more independent brands, especially ones local to New York City, where she lives. And a shopping cart.
The need for a cart came up with brands, too. On its own site, Greats does well with bundling offers, which let customers save money with each additional pair of sneakers they add to their cart. Because Spring doesn't have a basket and only allows users to purchase one item at a time, Greats can't offer shoppers that sort of deal on the app.
"What I'd imagine happening is that some customers who learn about Greats from Spring buy from Greats because they can save more money," Babenzien says. "I think that's a missed opportunity for Spring."
When I ask Tisch whether Spring would consider adding a cart, he says the team doesn't have any concrete plans on that front but is always listening to brands' and users' feedback. "But we see repeat customers fall in love with the ease of checkout, so we wouldn't want to put a headache in the way," he explains. "From our point of view, we don't ever want to build a traditional shopping cart. We think that's outdated and relates to the physical world, not how things are done digitally."
So how much are brands making off Spring? Corey Epstein, the CEO and co-founder of the Los-Angeles based denim brand DSTLD, says about 3 percent of his company's overall sales come from Spring. Bruno put Todd Snyder's Spring figures at about 2 to 3 percent. A staffer at a men's brand who asked to remain anonymous expressed with frustration the fact that the brand only moves about $50 worth of merchandise on Spring each month — many, many orders of magnitude under its overall sales.
At the end of the day, the employee said, it's not about making money. It's about being featured on Spring's email marketing. In short: Exposure.