Douglas Orr is a serial entrepreneur. With a number of successful companies behind him, his latest startup, ShopChat, was founded through a problem identified in a previous project: “Why don’t women use price comparison sites?”
Researching why, Douglas found that, on the whole, women see shopping as an experience to be enjoyed and that price is less of a contributing factor. He discovered that, for women, shopping is a social activity, where getting advice from friends and family about a product is part of the decision making process.
ShopChat aims to bring this shopping experience to mobile, by offering a new dimension to other chat apps. Conversations are created around products and topics, rather than a time-based messaging stream used in products such as Whatsapp or SnapChat. The chatting functionality of the app coexists with collections (photo albums) that can be shared and collaboratively built with friends and family members, simulating the shared shopping experience.
“It’s all about context – people want to be able to keep these type conversations separate from each other and want to be able to navigate back into them when they need to. They don’t want to have to trawl through hundreds of messages that have no relevance, just to find the one they are looking for.”
It was in 2012 that Douglas started creating the first version of the app, based on his own findings and thoughts. Whilst the app performed well enough, it didn’t take off as he had expected it to, so when the opportunity arose to update the app with the introduction of iOS7, Douglas and his team started over. They looked at what wasn’t working and stripped it back to the basics, taking into account everything they had learned during the initial process.The revised app is a product driven by its customers, due largely to the process of obtaining validation through user engagement. In focus groups, Douglas and his team spoke to over 120 women who tested the product and offered feedback, including new features such as the ability to create photo collections. Some of these ideas have already been implemented and many are in the development list waiting to be released.
The app was relaunched in December 2013 and has been warmly received, especially by stylists: “We found that there’s a group of people using the app who provide professional advice: stylists who work with celebrities, magazines, business people. They have conversations with their clients about what they could wear on a TV programme, for a photoshoot or in the board room. This group has been one of our biggest advocates.”
ShopChat are now ready to promote the app, and have taken on a full-time Marketing Manager in preparation for London Fashion Week, where they hope to make an impact with designers, fashion bloggers and celebs. During Fashion Week, ShopChat will be undertaking further analysis of the app, with an event focusing on smartphones and fashion. Continuous engagement with this audience after release, will provide ongoing feedback from the user base, and will enable further optimisation that will have a direct impact on the customers.
ShopChat is free to use for both customers and retailers as Douglas appreciated that more barriers to entry result in fewer downloads of the product. The future monetisation model will be based on a catalogue of products which will be sold directly through the app, of which ShopChat will be paid a small commission. This again, ties in with Douglas’ aim to make ShopChat accessible and easy to use for his customers. The beauty of the application is that it allows users to share collective shopping experiences with friends and family in a virtual environment.
Douglas says that the customer-led approach is his biggest success, and it is clear why he feels this way. Learning from his original mistakes, and not deviating from the process second time round, has resulted in an app that has been validated at every step of the development life-cycle. Both the ShopChat team and their customers, can have faith in a product where user experience is at the heart of any future decisions.