What, you ask, is that crashing noise? It’s the sound of consumer resistance to mobile shopping crumbling. “Every single transactional property on mobile–whether that’s Uber, or Hotel Tonight–is lowering the barrier to make significant transactions on your mobile phone,” says David Tisch. If you can hail a ride and book a room, why would not also want to buy a car or lease an apartment?
That’s what Tisch is betting on, anyway. He and his brother Alan are the co-founders of Spring, an app that debuted this fall trying to bring the entire world of fashion—high and low—to your phone. Of the more than 250 brands represented on Spring, most are middle-of-the-road, labels like Reformation and Vince, and almost half of the products Spring carries fall into the $100-$500 price range. Unlike a lot of other entrants into the mobile e-commerce (aka “m-commerce”) space, however, Spring also offers a deep selection of offering from the low and high ends of the fashion spectrum, from Levi’s to Carolina Herrera, putting Spring in a class virtually all its own.
Having the imprimatur of the fashion industry is a huge boost to Spring’s potential success. “I think that the expectation of customers today for an important brand is that you have to be present on all those channels,” explains the Carolina Herrera CEO Caroline Brown. “We’re way past the day where it’s acceptable not to be.” However, the Tisches’ ambitions are larger. They want to reintroduce the notion of a mall, making it desirable to mobile consumers. The brothers each possess impressive resumes (David is an angel investor and managing director at TechStars; Alan has his MBA from NYU) and have a list of impressive backers from among fashion folks (Andrew Rosen), venture capital groups (Google Ventures), and angel investors (Dave Gilboa) who think he’s on the right path. But for the type of person willing to spend $3,490 on a Carolina Herrera dress, the mall, with its spectacular unoriginality and oppressive variety, has been what they’re trying to escape. What alchemy does Spring conjure that could make it a gamechanger?
“There’s a few things going on here,” says MG Siegler, a partner at Google Ventures. “Spring ended up being a beautiful app, which is really important for the high end of things, rather than your typical e-commerce app, of which we’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands over the years.” Makes sense: people buying Birkin bags don’t want to dig through garbage cans to find them. Another element is their virtual elimination of the shopping cart. Your credit card is already registered. The brands you like are in your feed. You can “like” an item with the same double-tap you use on Instagram, and purchase with a single tap of the “buy” button.
Spring also lets designers maintain their own presence on the app. So instead of the zoos created by other sites and apps, where the products are removed from their natural habitat, Spring’s images of 3.1 Phillip Lim’s tops are made by 3.1 Philip Lim. The upside is that product images from up-and-coming brands like Public School reinforce Public School’s overall image and brand; the downside is that such images are limited and repetitive. They’ve backed up these offerings like curated lists from influencers like Lucky magazine editor-in-chief Eva Chen and exclusives, available for a limited time only and only on Spring, that tap into the transient factor that drove the initial popularity of the flash-sale sites like Gilt Groupe.
Chantelle Sicard, a social media manager for an NYC PR firm, found Spring through one of the influencer lists they started posting in August, 2014, when the app launched. At 24, Sicard is a little young to be Spring’s ideal customer, and she either represents their greatest opportunity, or their definitive problem: “If I was buying a $1,000 bag and I would want to go into the store and feel like I was pampered,” she said. The experience of walking through a beautiful store, champagne flute in hand, and actually touching the clothes is something people want, even if they also crave the convenience m-commerce provides. Elizabeth Spaulding, an expert in digital engagement in the retails sector at Bain and Co., notes an increased importance in physical touch when it comes to mobile apps. She points to digital players like Bonobos, who saw sales surge when they opened brick-and-mortar shops so that men could come in and try on that first pair of pants. “Some of the premium players like Nordstrom, that’s a huge focus of what they’re trying to do,” she said. “They can harness a great digital experience and they have a great advantage with the physical.”
Which isn’t to say Spring is headed in the wrong direction. “We know that mobile has overtaken the amount of time people are spending online, and that will probably continue to widen,” Spaulding says. She’s calculated that online, luxury is up 10 times what it what 10 years ago, to about 10 billion Euros in 2013, and she notes that for many brands, a third of their traffic is now mobile. “It is happening and is starting to take off,” she says.
The shirt Sicard ordered, a $168 blouse from Equipment, had still not arrived a week later, revealing another paradoxical challenge for Spring: what if those brands they connect consumers with can’t deliver—literally? A huge factor in getting customers to purchase large-ticket items online is the assurance that they can be returned, without expense or delay, a feature which Net-a-Porter has mastered. Spring’s direct connection to brands was designed, on the back-end, by former Googler and Spring co-founder Octavian Costache. He’s established a platform that can integrate with nearly any apparel brand’s existing e-commerce system quickly and seamlessly, an asset as far as liaising with brands goes, but it means that returns are not something Spring can yet guarantee or control. Tisch insists the industry is improving. “Every single brand can handle returns right now. I don’t think that was the case two years ago,” he said. “They know how to do basic e-commerce.”
Whether Spring is a whole new paradigm for mobile shopping or merely a weigh-station until Instagram figures out how to become shoppable is not yet clear, but they have accomplished something few apps can manage: they’ve tapped into our desires, including our desire to tap. “[It’s] packaged together a lot of behaviors that consumers have bought into: the tinder swipe; the Instagram appeal of the feed of visual imagery,” says Bain and Co.’s Spaulding. “If that ends up being a way to drive very high levels of engagement—those traditional online players are going to need to invest.” Nine weeks after launch, Spring would not reveal any figures relating to sales, or numbers of users, except to say that sales had doubled from the week before, which had doubled from the week before that.
Signs were already good at New York Fashion Week back in September. While waiting for a show to begin, a high-ranking fashion director could be heard discussing the app. It would be too easy, she said, to rack up thousands of dollars of credit card debt simply browsing on Spring, and ranked it alongside Twitter and Instagram among the apps that she must not use while drunk. She laughed, but her conclusion on the matter had sartorially serious undertones: “It’s dangerous.”