The Internet has improved many aspects of the shopping process. We can now shop in the middle of the night or in a cab, quickly survey a brand’s entire inventory in a single scroll, and read other customers’ reviews about how an item of clothing fits. But there’s always been something missing from the digital shopping experience: the ability to shop with others. The one great pleasure of shopping at a brick-and-mortar store is the opportunity to browse the racks with a friend, discuss the relative merits of the latest fashion trend, or get her opinion about whether or not you should buy those skintight leather pants you’ve been eyeing.
Luxury fashion shopping website Net-a-Porter is hoping to change all this with a brand-new app available on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch that allows you to shop on a digital platform with other people. The app, called Net Set, has elements of social media in it, allowing you to build a profile and connect with other people, with the conversation focused squarely on issues of fashion and shopping. “It’s a social shopping platform,” explains Natalie Massenet, the founder and executive chairman of the Net-a-Porter group. “It allows women to create public shopping profiles so that they can go shopping together.”
Net Set is highly visual, much like Instagram or Pinterest. Users can take picture of products they love in stores or in a magazine, then upload them to their feed, or alternatively, select an item from the Net-a-Porter catalog. They can also double tap images on other people’s feeds to add them to their own list of most-loved items. In the process, users can locate other people with similar tastes, then build relationships with them by chatting about favorite designers and trends. They can also follow designers and brands, much like they would on other social media sites. On Net Set, users can form little micro-communities–what the app calls “Style Tribes”–that are based on shared interests in, say, monochromatic styles or black-on-black looks.
The app is entirely shoppable, so if a user sees an item she likes, she can purchase it immediately. If an item posted isn’t available on Net-a-Porter, the app’s image-recognition technology will find a visually similar item that the user might like to purchase. The benefit of this approach is that it makes the shopping process less overwhelming, since users can shop from other people’s curated list of products, rather than having to wade through all the possible products and designers out there.
One of the more unique aspects of the Net Set app is that these online communities of users can influence brands. Net-a-Porter has deep, long-term relationships with designers and often collaborates with brands to create limited-edition collections and commission new products. This app will allow users to have more direct conversations with brands to request particular articles of clothing. For instance, a style tribe might love the new black Burberry trench coat, but agree that it would be even better with gold buttons. “The conversation with designers can now go way beyond the Net-a-Porter buying team to include consumers’ opinions,” Massenet says. “It’s a little bit like throwing a party: You put together the venue, you invite all the right people, and you hope that those people are going to have a good time with one another.”
While the app allows spontaneous communities to form based on consumers with shared tastes, I could also see this as a useful tool for people who already love shopping together offline or who regularly share links to products they like. The downside, though, is that all the products available for immediate purchase are from Net-a-Porter’s inventory of luxury designer goods, which might be expensive for the average user. This app will likely be a hit among Net-a-Porter’s existing followers, which Massenet says includes 4.1 million people across their social networks and 6 million monthly unique visitors to their site. This base will serve as an important critical mass as the app takes off. And Net-a-Porter hopes the app will attract users who are interested in the social aspects of the app, even if they might not be able to afford the clothes and bags that are being shared. “There’s a whole new group of people who will discover us through Net Set, and for them, this will be Net-a-Porter,” Massenet says. “They will never even have a desktop experience.”
Massenet was committed to creating the app because she believes that digital shopping is quickly moving to mobile devices: Currently, 40% of Net-a-Porter’s transactions are taking place on mobile, but she believes that desktop shopping will soon be entirely obsolete. “Net Set was essentially us entirely rethinking Net-a-Porter, as if we were building it from scratch today,” she says. “We created it with the expectations of the new socially connected consumer and the latest technology in mind.”
For Massenet, who has always been keen to invest in the latest technology, this new app is par for the course. When she founded Net-a-Porter in 2000, her goal was to create a website with all the visual appeal of a glossy magazine, but that consumers could shop from. However, this was at a time when most people still used dial-up Internet and it was impractical to create an e-commerce site with high-resolution graphics. Still, Massenet insisted on including high-quality photography on the site, believing that the technology would eventually catch up. And she was right. With Net Set, Massenet hopes that she’s hit on the next wave of digital shopping technology: Rather than shopping directly from an online magazine, she believes today’s customer is eager to shop directly from social media platforms. “The Net Set is to mobile in 2015 what Net-a-Porter was to desktop in 2000,” she says.