When I was growing up in suburban Cleveland, the mall was everything. It was where I hung out with friends, earned my first paycheck, and exercised my newfound independence. Now that mall is practically empty. Storefronts are vacant. You can hear the footsteps of the few shoppers echo down the hall.
We all know that shopping is not just about buying stuff, and that there are emotional and social reasons that drive us to choose certain shopping experiences over others. In the rush to get online, retailers focused on building lower-cost digital equivalents of their stores that left behind many of the human connections we once enjoyed. But in the latest wave of digital business models, e-tailers are seeking to satisfy not just functional needs but also those complex emotional and social “jobs to be done” that once made malls destinations.
This approach is typified by San Francisco-based Weddington Way, a start-up that aims to harness the group experience of shopping for bridesmaid dresses—keeping it social even when members of the wedding party live in different cities. By creating their own private virtual showrooms, brides and bridesmaids can discover, recommend, and vote on dresses and colors in a collaborative online space staffed by personal stylists available by chat session. With 25,000 dresses sold in just the first half of 2014, the company is approaching the $10 million revenue mark, a sum that includes fees from both purchasing and renting bridesmaid dresses (recognizing that lots of bridesmaids actually can’t wear it again, no matter what the bride says).
Robyn M. Bolton is partner at Innosight.