It's Sunday afternoon, you're scrolling through Instagram and you see someone wearing an awesome pair of shoes. You want them. You need them. You just don't know where to buy them.
We can't yet march into your local Zara or H&M and demand they put certain items on their shelves. But a new app is getting us one step closer.
At least, that's one way to view the launch of the Net Set, a social networking app built by luxury online retailer Net-A-Porter. Debuting Wednesday in Apple's App Store, the app combines the best of Instagram, Pinterest and online shopping so users can post photos of fashion items, like each other's photos and then click to buy them (if they're stocked on Net-A-Porter).
"Net-A-Porter has been a one-way conversation — we've picked this, we're telling you, we're recommending, we're inspiring you," Net-A-Porter founder and executive chairwoman Natalie Massenet told Mic at the company's New York headquarters. "By opening up these social doors, we're actually saying 'Tell us, we're listening to you. Tell each other, advise each other.'"
That means as a retailer, Net-A-Porter will see not only what their customers are buying, but also what women on the social app are liking, tapping, posting — in short, what we want want before we even buy it.
Power to the shoppers: If you've ever wanted to buy an item but couldn't find it in your favorite stores, The Net Set might be the first step to addressing that aggravation.
Even if you've never bought anything on Net-A-Porter.com, what you do on the Net Set app — uploading photos of items from Net-A-Porter, product shots from other stores or "inspiration" pictures (flowers, food, vintage style icons) — will be visible to Net-A-Porter's buyers, aka the pros who decide what's sold on the site.
And if hundreds of women are enthusiastically posting or "liking" certain products, Net-A-Porter will notice. "The buyers will be able to use the popularity of current stocked items and upload images of potential purchases for feedback," Net-A-Porter's vice president of social commerce, Sarah Watson, told Mic.
That also gives shoppers the power to bring new brands to Net-A-Porter.com, or bring vintage items back. "We're actually toying with putting a little button that says 'Dear Sarah Rutson, please buy this,'" Massenet said, referring to Net-A-Porter's vice president of global buying.
That real-time data will also be made available to the hundreds of brands that sell their wares on Net-A-Porter, including Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and J. Crew. "Just using the app will give brands a wealth of information: which are their most popular products, who is admiring them, etc," Watson said.
"What's exciting is that for the first time in 15 years, we're allowing the brands and the consumer to have this direct conversation," Massenet said. "You could have Victoria Beckham in the design studio saying, 'I'm thinking kitten heels or high heels?' And then the consumer can say, 'Kitten heels, Victoria!' and she can go, 'Thanks!' We're giving a gift of direct data-mining."
As Massenet put it, "It is going to be a big data play for us."
The customer in the driver's seat: How new is The Net Set's innovation? Fashion retailers have always relied on customers to inform what they offer in stores, simply by seeing what we buy. Maxi dresses sold out? Time to stock up on more. Miniskirts languishing on the shelves? Looks like customers aren't in the mood for bare legs this season.
But social media has been allowing retailers much greater insight into what customers want, beyond what they've already bought. Instagram has proven useful for brands, Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said in 2013:
"I've seen plenty of times when a brand, whether it's Kate Spade or Cole Hahn, they'll post an image of some shoes, and the comments are 50 people asking, 'Where do I get these?' 'What sizes do they come in?' 'Do they come in this other color?' 'When are they available?'"
Nordstrom went a step further by collaborating with Pinterest, tracking customers' pinning action on an internal app that then informed buyers and salespeople on how to stock stores. Then there are third-party innovators like LiketoKnow.It that feed data from social apps to "show brands which products sell better than others," according to Racked.
There may be critics who question the level of data sharing, or who note that there are still other factors that influence why a store sells what it sells.
But bringing the shopper, the store and at least 400 brands together onto one social media app — and having our likes and interests channeled from our tap-happy fingers right on up to the brands — could be the start of something major for shopping.
"Our community will become editors and will become buyers, and it starts becoming very powerful when you go back and forth," Massenet told Mic. "This is going to enable the fashion conversation, the transactions and the way that we dress ourselves."