As online shopping gets easier and shoppers become savvier, the retail landscape is evolving so fast it can make your head spin, and driving revolutionary change throughout the industry. In our "State of Shopping" series, we're breaking down these changes with in-depth stories about what brands and retailers new and old are doing to adapt, both in stores and online.
Retail isn't dead, but it's continuously evolving into new formats, like pop-ups; tech-enabled spaces with photo booths and VR; customer service hubs with no inventory; and community gathering spots. We've followed along as companies like Warby Parker, Everlane, Reformation, Outdoor Voices and even Nordstrom have stationed themselves at the forefront of retail's evolution over the past couple of years, and now there's another one worth looking at: Depop.
The European mobile marketplace, where youths can sell their stuff in their own little Instagram-like shops, is the latest digital-first retailer to use a major funding round — $20 million, to be exact — to get into brick and mortar. After London, Los Angeles is home to Depop's largest user base, which is why its first physical location, set to open Saturday, made a home in the city's hip Silverlake neighborhood. (Stores like A.P.C., Clare V., Creatures of Comfort and Mohawk General Store are within walking distance.) Locations in New York and London will follow later this year.
When I entered the space on Wednesday, I was surprised by how little inventory there was on display: just three small racks with cool vintage finds from brands like Fila and Tommy Hilfiger, some adorably ironic In-N-Out and La Croix merch, a collection of hip tiny sunglasses and vintage cameras. I assumed they just hadn't finished merchandizing the place, but in fact, while they may have been waiting on the arrival of a few pieces, Depop isn't what we've come to think of as a store, where every square inch must be optimized to sell product.
The rest of the space is occupied by a small office for Depop staff, a couple of seating areas and even a seamless which local users can book for free on the app to do shoots for their Depop stores — trained employees will even take the photos for them. In addition, it will host free workshops on "learning how to style fashion and lifestyle photoshoots, source vintage, build a brand and other skills to help them grow into creative entrepreneurs," according to a press release.
The items I saw are part of what Depop Founder Simon Beckerman calls a permanent collection. "They are things that we select — we think they are the most iconic from our marketplace," he explains. "We buy them ourselves and basically resell them here; we don't make money on them." All the items are thus priced very affordably — especially as compared to many of LA's frequented vintage shops, where a well-worn concert T-shirt could cost upwards of $100. Most T-shirts and jackets here fall within the $20-$50 range.
While Depop the company won't be making much money, some of its users are making a lot. "There are people on Depop who make more money than most of the people that work at Depop, including me," says Beckerman. Depop will also invite top users to essentially host their own pop-ups, lasting anywhere from a day to a week.
Depop makes a 10 percent commission on items sold (and not until they're sold), but with the overhead of having a physical storefront with employees — and the fact that selling items is merely one of the things people can do there — Depop confirms it won't be making a profit directly from these locations. In addition to being a gathering space and resource for the app's social and creative community of users, the stores will also act as Depop's main form of marketing: So far its growth has been largely organic, and in addition to the stores, Depop will hire PRs in each city that will act more as Depop "evangelists" or "community managers," Beckerman says.
It all may sound odd, but Depop has its finger on the pulse of a demographic that most traditional retailers are struggling to reach: millennials and Gen Z. Seventy-five percent of its user base is under the age of 24, many of them teenagers. Given that the app looks almost identical to Instagram and encourages selfies, it's easy to see why; but if Depop can get these people into stores, too, it's easy to wonder if this is what the future of brick-and-mortar retail looks like.