Retailers have started looking closely at curated shopping experiences.
AHAlife, a small startup in downtown New York City, is one of the new "collective curating" shopping experiences that disrupts the traditional retail buying and selling cycle and solves the problem faced by most retailers — that buyers all end up going to the same trade shows, competing with each other, and placing things in stores so far in advance that it's hard to know what will sell and what won't.
And it's also turning around the idea that buyers and big retailers like Saks, Macy's and even the TJ Maxx's can determine what consumers want for them.
Shauna Mei, CEO and co-founder of AHAlife.com, learned when she was very young that the act of collecting objects while traveling created a spiritual connection between herself, the people she encountered and the place through which she passed.
Buying something she treasured and keeping it for that value meant her purchases were more about discovering something valuable in her life. They shaped her lifestyle. Her purchases made an impact on herself and on the people she interacted with when she made the purchases.
That's not really how most people shop, she says.
"That idea of conscious consumption has always been close to me. The idea never had to do with how much income one had," she says. "I think the way we consume affects the world in a massive way. People should think about this on a daily basis."
In my email this morning, I click on something from AHAlife.com. It's an image of five stunning sake glasses going for $145. I pause. It's not that I need sake glasses. I have a whole set of ruby red tequila snifters that I still haven't unpacked from another purchase a month ago.
Here is a video of Shauna Mei explaining the "signal" of AHAlife that cuts through the noise of shopping.
It's something about the clarity of the objects. They look like they could mean something. And the fact that they are cups means they need to be filled. Mei is of the opinion that this is what is missing in the everyday shopping experience.
Consumers don't have access to the experience that buyers go through when choosing seasonal lines in clothing, jewelry or cosmetics, for instance.
Curating the shopping experience gives consumers on sites like Mei's a fuller spectrum of experience and the kind of "ah-hah" moments that buyers usually have outside the normal buying seasons, when they discover what designers are really doing when not rushing to make market.
"If you look at it from the end consumer perspective—which is the only perspective I really care about—why are we not making this seamless?" asks Mei.
Consumers should have access to wonderful things they see in the world, or in a magazine (on a flight to Bangkok, perhaps), and then be able to instantly go to the Internet, find that thing, buy it, and complete their experience.
Retailers have found this idea compelling, even though they are all bulked into the same market cycles and find it hard to disrupt their own competitive interactions on showrooms and with distributors and agents, says Mei.
"The retail calendar is so clunky. All the buyers go to the same tradeshows," says Mei. "That's what is so frustrating about the offline retail space. What keeps customers going back to the stores is change. They have to have constant refreshment. They recognize that but there's not enough inventory, and the way they buy it's really hard to refresh their pieces."
But people are discovering things all the time, and wanting them. If retailers online had a chance to do this instantaneously, they would solve the biggest problem—customer acquisition.
What about retailers who like this idea, but don't think they can take the risk to implement a partnership with a site like Mei's? They are, after all, hard-baked into seasonal markets.
AHAlife solves that problem by working in the only medium that allows for instantaneous decision-making, review, analysis and appreciation of cost and risk factors. By doing all of this on the Internet, she says, the very worst thing that could happen to a retailer is that someone tweets a few dozen tweets about your product, giving them exposure and creating engagement.
"I tell them: 'This is actually a test market. We are going to test today, the worst case scenario is that we don't sell anything but you get exposure to very savvy buyers and early adopters," says Mei.
"The best thing that could happen is that it gets added to the store, and we have inventory."
The democratization of this process, says Mei, emboldens people to have a fuller life. By being able to discover what they don't know is out there, they learn new things about themselves.
They are, in a sense, like those cups for sale in my email this morning.
What people pour into those cups determines the flavor of their life. Your choice: tap water or sake.
"I think about living life on steroids. I think that life is very short. You should have the best the world has to offer," she says.
[Shauna Mei photo by Wearenytech.com, Glasses photo by AHAlife.com]