Online shopping is now firmly in the driving seat in the UK with the likes of Amazon or eBay showing the way. However, what if you don't want to be tied to one player and like shopping around?
Eight is a lucky number in some cultures but also part of Shareight's name, a London-based start-up came up with a social shopping app with a tile-based user interface (very) loosely based on the 2D, grid-like UI of Android and iOS.
We asked eight questions to its CEO, Grant Slatter, on what it takes to make sure that customers that want to or chose to search and shop online successfully convert into buyers rather than give up at the last hurdle.
TRP: What is your business model all about?
Grant Slatter: We're taking the pain out of shopping on mobile.
If you want to shop on your smartphone the task gets progressively harder. Standard searches lead to multiple retailer websites that, even when optimised for mobile, are hampered by their e-commerce heritage. Comparison between them is difficult and there is no central place to store what you find. Checkout is laborious and cart abandonment rates are high.
With 1.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. Solving this problem is a big opportunity.
We designed an interface smartphone-up, not PC-down, using taxonomy that allows users to reach the top 500 retail search terms in just three taps. Users can save items from multiple retailers in one place for easy comparison and get opinions from friends and family more simply than ever before.
Next on our list is making purchase simple and easy for the consumer. We are now perfectly positioned in the market to solve this final part of the problem, offering both users and retailers an m-commerce channel that works.
TRP: Why have you given us eight options to choose from instead of another number?
GS: We were looking for both an optimal way to visually search for items on a small screen, and to display the results. We noticed that as people make lists of categories and sub-categories they could name seven or eight very quickly but the next would take much more thought to recall.
Upon playing around with a 3x3 grid design we found that by simply dedicating the centre square to a navigational title we could achieve two much bigger things.
Firstly it the top seven search categories could be listed up front with the next most important ones in the remaining button, just one tap away.
This would optimise the vast majority of searches by putting the top 500 retail search categories within just three taps.
Secondly, when the user reached the bottom layer, it would be more relaxing to view the results in uniform collections rather than in an endless list. This was borne out in early testing where users spent three times longer viewing items in this arrangement.
Later we discovered that these insights are known to psychology. Arthur Miller theorised that the number seven, plus or minus one, was about the limit of immediate memory (thus eight was the maximum), and Barry Schwartz argued that too many options led to a 'Paradox of Choice' where users felt overwhelmed.
TRP: Tell us about some of the retailers you're working with.
GS: Our aim is to bring together all of the major brands and retailers in one place. A true virtual High Street if you like. People like Etsy and Wanelo are focused on bringing together lots of independent retailers and brands, At SHAREIGHT we're bringing together all the major ones.
The first retailer we secured was John Lewis with its huge catalogue of great products from hundreds of brands.
Now, we list more than 80 major retailers and over 8,000 brands. In fashion we have a huge selection for women, men and kids â€“ Superdry, Timberland, Ted Baker, Levi's, Warehouse and Converse to name just a few.
But we also cover technology, home and garden, gifts, pets, books, outdoor equipment â€“ in fact just about anything you can think of - from retailers such as Firebox, PC World, Currys, The White Company, B&Qâ€¦the list goes on!
TRP: What are the biggest challenges facing m-commerce today?
GS: Often, m-commerce seen simply as 'e-commerce on a phone' and it's no wonder when the industry reports conversion rates on smartphone around 20% of those on PCs and Tablets. The rush is towards tablets rather than a rush to solve the problems that hold back smartphones. Considering that almost 200m people own a smartphone in the UK and USA alone, this is a problem worth solving.
What has been developed online for PCs is largely superb and tablets show great conversion rates, simply because the screen size isn't dissimilar to a laptop.
In short, there's no problem to solve. Talk to people about shopping on a smartphone and they don't say they don't want to do it, they say it's too difficult. And one of the most difficult parts is checkout.
But m-commerce has a hero. We will offer a solution that solves this problem for both shoppers and retailers, shortly.
TRP: What's your funding situation at the moment? Why have you chosen to raise money on Seedrs?
GS: We have now completed two seed investment rounds and are about to raise through Seedrs.com on 28 February 2014.
We are a consumer product so there are obvious advantages to reaching out to a wide pool of investors. But more than that we wanted to be able to offer all of our current users the chance to invest in SHAREIGHT.
We are building a community and we have great plans to ensure that their community is the go-to place when shopping on mobile. It makes absolute sense that everyone can own a piece of that place. It also fits with our internal philosophy of offering employee stake ownership.
Also, it's because Seedrs are a really nice bunch and have worked very hard to enable anyone to invest in exciting businesses and own a part of it.
TRP: Where do you hope to be from a business perspective by the end of this year?
GS: We will have 100,000 engaged and evangelical users who love SHAREIGHT because they know we are absolutely committed to what we are doing and what they get back from us. We will encompass the whole of the High Street and be fully engaged with the big retailers.
Their online marketing team will tend to their SHAREIGHT account in priority to other channels, simply because we are showing them growth like no other platform.
We will have built Android (smartphone and tablet) versions of our app so that everyone can be part of SHAREIGHT. We will have secured series A funding of +Â£2m and soft-launched in the USA.
TRP: Have you ever set-up a startup before or is this a new experience?
GS: Every member of my family runs their own business and I grew up in a country restaurant where it was all hands to the wheel.
I left home for an easier life as an officer in the Royal Marines where they choose people who have an appetite for leading large teams, with limited resources, in difficult conditions to achieve ambitious goals. I then developed property for 15 years.
Every property was like a start-up. New area, new purchase, new design, new funding and new sub-contractors. I then wrote and published a series of 18 children's books called The Oddies, about where the missing odd socks go.
It was a tough business but we shifted 250,000 units, which is probably the UK's most successful independently published children's book series. I learned that distribution is the toughest and most expensive part of being an independent and that led me to the App Store.
My first app was a fitness app called Star Trainer Premium which has topped the charts in 39 countries. I learned that it was best to monetise away from the App Store and either go big or stay home.
TRP: How receptive have users been to your site? What do they seem to like the most about Shareight?
GS: People really liked us, right from the start, and the most used word to describe SHAREIGHT is 'cool' â€“ which we like. But we would LOVE it if the word was 'simple'. Since launch we have proudly taken out more icons and buttons than we have added.
We spend ages working on speeding things up but even longer on working out how we can remove a click. Once we solve the really difficult problem of making payment easy people will say we are simple!
With regards to the experience, some people are a little baffled at first by what 'Eights' are, but it's an intrigued kind of baffled; like they are missing out. In fact an Eight is simply eight items that they've saved!
The thing we like is that the majority of comments we get are that people found something they really liked, really quickly. That means we've solved the first part of the problem on mobile.