As consumers' shopping preferences continue to change, with shoppers no longer loyal to to department stores and traditional brick-and-mortars, and veer towards all things experiential, personalized, ephemeral and — most importantly — digital, many brands and retailers are struggling to keep up and find a strategy that sticks for them. They might be integrating AI, VR and other buzzy technology into physical locations, or building hype and a cult-like community of fans through social media or an online marketplace, or pouring resources into slick pop-ups, or simply going all-in on building a seamless ecommerce platform, all in an effort to circumnavigate the tired wholesale business model — and go after the highly coveted Gen-Z demographic.
While there are myriad variables for success at play, one factor any retailer would be unwise to overlook is the power of mobile: According to the Business of Fashion and McKinsey 2018 State of Fashion report, mobile transactions are projected to reach approximately $930 billion annually in the U.S. by the end of 2018. This has spurred the development of one-stop shopping apps for both designer brands — the most widely covered being Spring, which launched in 2014 — and resale, like Depop, which has raised over $20 million to fund its expansion. In the case of the former, Spring leveraged participating labels' own direct-to-consumer infrastructure, inventory and customer service, allowing customers to shop hundreds of designer collections without ever leaving the app, as well as follow their favorites on a personalized home feed. Despite a swift fizzling out of industry chatter, Spring raised $65 million in 2017 (and around $100 million in total), with investors' belief that this retail model will prove to be "the department store of the future."
On Saturday, a new destination for boutique online shopping with a universal shopping cart launched in the App Store, and it's aesthetically geared to the discerning menswear set. Seam was founded by Justin Hruska, Jake Woolf and designer Nate Brown (whose creative direction roster includes the likes of Kanye West, Alexander Wang and Nike); through word of mouth and a very clever social media strategy alone, Seam earned over 3,000 downloads in the first 24 hours it was live. It also debuted its first branded product, a logo hoodie, that's already popped up on many a tastemaker's Instagram feed.
"When you have an app, the name of the game is customer acquisition, so in order to get people to download [Seam], if they know that by doing that they'll have access to a unique product, that's a win for us," explains Co-Founder and Editorial Director Woolf, who left his four-year gig at GQ to help build out the vision for the startup. What sets Seam's model apart is the fact that the founders have essentially cut out the middleman when it comes to curating inventory selection; while buyers for wholesale retailers often choose colorways, silhouettes and styles that are most likely to sell through, Seam shoppers have access to every piece from partner brands' collections, including those that may have had less commercial appeal. And thanks to the in-app feed, Seam customers needn't visit a dozen or more labels' sites. "You're getting to shop top fashion brands in one place, in one transaction, while having access to their entire collection, due to the fact that we integrate with their direct-to-consumer site," Woolf says.
Hruska not only points to customer convenience as a key factor in the creation of Seam, but also the ability to empower brands, which earn significantly lower profit margins when selling through wholesale partners. In addition, wholesalers don't necessarily take labels' branding or messaging into account when marketing and displaying their products, while Seam pulls the brands' own photos, styling and copy into its shoppable app, allowing them to keep their voice. "In this day and age, for a brand to establish itself, they want to have more creative control in that respect," Woolf notes. "We decided it was best to give them that autonomy to create their own imagery and all we do is aggregate it in one place."
Currently, Seam's roster of partners is tight — about 15 brands — alongside the in-house hoodie design, which is available in four different colors. It's also brought on Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy fame as a member of the "Seam Team," with the promise of more high-profile fashion enthusiasts to come on board in the future. It's honing in on several retail buzz-terms from the get-go, too: There's product scarcity, in the form of brand exclusives, private label drops like the aforementioned hoodie and items otherwise only available through labels' direct-to-consumer sites; there's community, which Woolf has fostered through the Seam Instagram page, a carefully honed content strategy and a series of pre-launch meet-ups where rare tie-dye hoodies were given to fans; and there's experience, which both Woolf and Hruska aim to keep at top of mind, bringing online shoppers together IRL for unique Seam-branded events, in spaces designed by Brown's team. Lastly, the "drop" model will be somewhat employed via push notifications from brands, alerting users to the latest products available for them to cop before it's too late.
The ultimate challenge, however, will be getting shoppers to head directly to the app for their retail needs — but neither Hruska nor Woolf seem too concerned about that. "In terms of content and activations, of course there are people out there who do dope things, but at the end of the day it's about creating something new," Woolf says. "Something special that people will come to us for because they can't get it anywhere else. From a brand perspective, we're in our own lane, we're just competing for the customers. We're so comfortable with the product that once people are on the platform I truly think they'll be so impressed that it'll become their primary mode of shopping."