Interview with StyleSays Co-Founder Jess Lam

Co-founder Jess Lam describes StyleSays as a place for friends to meet up online and shop hundreds of curated stores. Shoppers create wish lists across all the stores which they share with close friends and receive sales updates for. Last week I talked about how I first found out about StyleSays via some clever marketing and how I got in touch with Jess.  What makes StyleSays different is that their objective isn’t just to make online shopping more social as others claim, but to help shoppers make more confident purchases.  In time it might be a great community to leverage for a brand’s e-commerce.  After the jump is the interview about the emerging platform perfect for fashionistas who are savvy in social.

How did the idea for StyleSays come about?

After college our group of friends dispersed all over the country. Communication became almost entirely digital. We were exchanging lots of emails and Facebook messages asking for second opinions on clothing and outfits. These certainly weren’t great channels for shopping online with friends so we decided to build something better.

When did StyleSays launch?

We launched the alpha version at the beginning of October. We’re planning to launch the beta version in early 2012.

Can you explain the integration with Facebook a bit more, especially having items pop up in Facebook chat?

Facebook seemed like the best way to reach our target audience (women 18-35 years old) and help them shop with one another. When the site first opened we used Facebook’s chat API to allow users to chat seamlessly between StyleSays and Facebook. I could chat with my friends on Facebook even if they hadn’t joined StyleSays yet. We wanted to provide real-time communication for friends planning shopping dates or needing an immediate response on a purchasing decision. The items that pop up in the chat windows are suggestions based on what friends are talking about. For instance we might display bathing suits for friends planning a spring break trip.

How often do you see people using StyleSays?

It can range from daily to weekly. The inventory turns over quickly as stores update their sites and new users join the community. An avid shopper who is creating lots of wish lists may use it daily while others may only use it once a week to browse their friends’ collections for fun. The time spent on StyleSays is heavily correlated to the amount of time someone already spends shopping online, but that might be obvious.

How does this compare with sites like Pinterest or Polyvore?

Pinterest and Polyvore are both excellent communities for self-expression. They allow users to broadcast to a wide, often anonymous audience with diverse interests. StyleSays was designed for shopping and sharing with a smaller, intimate group of friends. Think back to the last time you were in a dressing room and wanted a second opinion. Did you walk around the store asking the dozens of people what they thought or did you ask your best friend who went shopping with you or at least shoot them a text? We’re focused on these real life relationships that haven’t been designed for  e-commerce yet.

What differentiates StyleSays from other social shopping sites?

Our goal isn’t just to make online shopping more social as others claim, our goal is to help shoppers make more confident purchases. Frequently people receive clothing in the mail that they are unhappy with. To help alleviate this problem StyleSays focuses 1) on validating purchasing decisions with trusted friends and 2) personalized pricing updates. We notify shoppers when specific items in their wish lists go on sale. Other services like ShopItToMe are great if I don’t know exactly what I want. For our users it’s much more powerful to receive a personalized sales email on items I am explicitly interested in buying.

Any brands or advertisers you are working with?

Currently we are only working with local designers and store owners in San Francisco. We will begin to ramp up the ways in which brands can benefit from StyleSays early next year. If you’re interested in working with us please email jess@stylesays.com for more information. As for advertising we plan to keep the site ad free for the time being.

While it seems fashion is your focus, I see a lot of other design products.  How will StyleSays expand?

We have primarily focused on our web experience and will soon build a mobile version of the site. In terms of product categories we will focus mainly on women’s retail but expand into other countries. We are already growing strong user bases outside of the US but many of these countries will need their own version of the site specific to their national brands and stores. Since items are added by users, most of which are women, many men have requested a separate site. So there is also the possibility of making a “brother” site.

If you are fashion focused and social savvy, sign up for StyleSays.

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