When the Home Shopping Network made its debut a little over three decades ago, some people scratched their heads and asked: Shopping? On the TV? What’s up with that? Some will probably ask similar questions about Joyus , the Palo Alto startup which officially launches today, to sell carefully curated merchandise via video--online.
The impetus behind Joyus is simple: Fashion-loving women in their 30s, with disposable income, are digitally native and totally used to shopping online. They naturally turn to their computers or mobile devices for distraction and entertainment, but they don’t have much free time, so they look for entertainment and information they can consume in short bursts.
Combining all those threads, Joyus decided to produce simple, one-to-three-minute videos that highlight a few cute items in an entertaining way, and then tie the videos with an interface that makes it easy for users (or viewers) to buy those items. It's an altogether new sales channel, and like HSN, a potentially lucrative one.
Joyus was founded earlier this year by former Google executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy and backed to the tune of $7.9 million by Accel Partners, Harrison Metal, and other investors. The company has teamed up with fashion blogger and tastemaker Gina Pell from Splendora  (which Joyus acquired earlier this year) to produce its latest segments. Like a TV host, Pell walks her audience through a designer’s collection, while a model shows off the wares.
It seems to be working. During the company’s test sales, Singh Cassidy tells Fast Company that customers told Joyus, "I’m time-starved. I want a minute of entertainment. You showed me five things I loved, and told me why it’s going to work for me, and I bought."
Today, the videos--and the commerce--live on Joyus' website, and the company splits its revenue with the designers. In coming weeks, the segments will feature collections by Richard Chai, Project Runway’s Christian Siriano, Rebecca Minkoff, and Nicole Miller.
Unlike the Home Shopping Network, in the long run, Joyus doesn’t necessarily want to become a destination site on its own. The company doesn’t expect women to carve out time to sit down in front of their computers and pull up Joyus.com to see what the site's got going on.
Rather, Singh Cassidy expects that, as with all those YouTube cat videos, consumers will most likely discover their favorite videos and sales via links that friends share on social networks. They might not even be at their computers at the time. They could be watching and buying from a tablet or smartphone, in the dentist's waiting room, at a kid's soccer game, or in line at the grocery store.
While Joyus is producing the videos on its own today, in the long run, it expects to become a platform that any retailer can use to create videos and embed them, along with commerce functionality, on their own sites. Although the company is focusing on women’s fashion and accessories today, Singh Cassidy says there’s potential for the format to move into other verticals.
Video isn’t new to online retailing. Other merchants, from Asos to Zappos, long ago started embedding videos on their product pages as a way of offering additional insight into a particular item a consumer was perusing. The data seems to indicate that video is a powerful way of getting consumers to bite.
Internet Retailer found that  consumers who view a video are 85% more likely to buy than those who don't. Specialty retail sites with video increase conversion by 30% and shopping cart totals by 13% according to a separate report by think tank L2 .
But Accel partner and Joyus board member Theresia Gouw Ranzetta believes that Singh Cassidy and Pell are creating more than a timely tech startup:
"[It's important to] understand the merchandising and storytelling that Sukhinder and Gina have put together...The secret sauce is to marry the tech trends with good old-fashioned merchandising and selling," she says.
[Images: Courtesy of Joyus] Stumble