There’s something special about the mall. The smell. The squeaky-clean floors. The blinding light and ethereal music that seems to emanate from the air itself. The suburban mall has always been an essential communal watering hole, a place to see and be seen, and a place to window shop. But — the golden age of the mall is over, it seems. During the 2013 holiday season, US stores got half the foot traffic they did three years ago, says The Wall Street Journal.
Instead, we’re shopping online and shifting our attention towards new watering holes — apps like Instagram, Pinterest, and Wanelo — places to show off our new designer jeans and designer vacations. It is estimated that by the end of 2014, nearly a third of all online shopping will be done on mobile devices. But something has been lost in the process.
The fun of window-shopping has largely disappeared on social media sites where products are organized and curated by friends, and by the clout they have have accumulated — not by the brands you’ve come to love. "Brands are creating their own apps, but you’re not going to download 50 different apps to go shopping," says David Tisch, co-founder of Spring, which launches today on iPhone. "E-commerce has been built so much around utility, but what does walking through SoHo for three hours on a weekend look like in an app?"
Tisch is from New York, where SoHo is the trendiest "mall" you can find, but the idea is one and the same. "There should be a single destination where customers can shop from all their favorite brands," says Tisch. So he built Spring, a shopping app that includes products from all the brands you’ve chosen to follow. Spring looks and feels a whole lot like Instagram, news feed and all, but with one key difference — Spring has a buy button.
Replicating Instagram’s look is a smart move — countless brands and retail stores have found success building digital storefronts and hyping up new products on Instagram. The average Instagram user follows between 10 and 20 brands, Tisch says, but they’ve had no way to consummate their relationship on the platform. Some brands let you comment under a photo to say you want to buy something in real life, but the process for getting in touch with that brand can get messy. Spring, on the other hand, lets you enter in your credit card and address once to buy from any brand on the platform.
Aside from its product feed, Spring also includes a Discover tab where curators like The Man Repeller or Cool Hunting can post collections of products. Then there’s the Browse tab, where you can find categories like Men’s Shoes and Women’s Tops. Spring’s catalog isn’t scraped from other sites, which keeps the quality level high. The company is working directly with 100 brands (at launch) — everything from Everlane to Harry’s to Helmut Lang — all of whom have their own profile pages you can follow. The app’s navigational features and selection are nice, but what truly separates Spring from other apps and services is how quickly you can buy something you’ve stumbled upon.
Ordering a shirt is as effortless as buying a song on iTunes
In our tests, ordering a shirt was as effortless as buying a song on iTunes. Tap to buy, tap to confirm, and you’re out. There’s not even a shopping cart. Tisch’s user-testing group has described the app’s buy button as "dangerous." So — don’t give a drunk friend your iPhone. The app’s buying mechanic is what will ultimately separate it from "collecting" services like Keep, Wanelo, and Pinterest. In these apps, the Buy button kicks you off site, where you’ll need to enter your credit card and address again and again.
This is important. A 2013 study said, "While the majority of smartphone and tablet owners (68 percent) have attempted to make a purchase on their device, two-thirds (66 percent) failed to complete a transaction due to obstacles encountered during checkout."
"We’re not a utility. We’re trying to create an experience."
Amazon does offer the same, dangerous "one click to buy" appeal as Spring, but its mobile apps and websites aren’t built for browsing — they’re built for finding and buying. "If there’s a specific item you want, you can check another site," says Tisch. "We’re not a utility. We’re trying to create an experience." Amazon and eBay have been working to build out browsing modes for fashion fans, launching new verticals, creating a feed-style layout, and acquiring companies like Svpply, but so far they haven’t acquired much mindshare transforming from a search experience to a shopping experience.
Tisch, who grew up selling baseball cards, first in AOL forums and then on a new site called eBay, seems to understand that shopping is different from buying. A trip to the mall is much different from a trip to Amazon. So, "Go Shopping" is Spring’s slogan, not "Go Buying." For Spring to succeed, however, it will need to show brands it can deliver customers. That may be the one disadvantage it has compared to services like The Fancy, which began as a social network for people to share their favorite items, but now allows users to browse through feeds and buy with one click. "It’s a two-sided marketplace, so our challenge will be balancing the supply of merchants and customer demand," says Tisch.
Spring perhaps most resembles a department store — a giant catalog of curated items from various brands. But with its follow model, Spring lets you build a department store of your own.