Wednesday Aug 15, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz
Countless mobile apps enable consumers to browse retailers through their smartphones, yet 90 percent of all retail transactions still happen offline. Merging the mobile, web, and in-store shopping experience was the premise behind Swirl Networks, a Boston-based fashion and technology startup that launched a website and iPhone app on Monday. They purchased the Swirl.com domain from DailyCandy, which discontinued its flash sale site on the domain last year.
“A lot of the shopping experience starts at the store, and a lot of people are browsing the web looking at fashion sites for inspiration,” says Rob Murphy, Swirl’s VP of Marketing and an alum of consumer-facing companies including Rue La La and Circles. “We wanted to marry all those together.”
TechCrunch reports that Swirl’s first round of funding totaled $6 million. Founder and CEO Hilmi Ozguc’s previous ventures include Maven Networks (which was acquired by Yahoo!) and Narrative Communications (which was acquired by Excite@Home).
Consumers log into Swirl using Facebook, then browse fashions and offers from over 200 major fashion brands. A feature similar to Pinterest allows them to “clip” styles they want to buy, add styles to their “collections,” follow favorite retailers, and see what styles their friends have clipped. They can access clips and offers through their laptop or smartphone.
While Pinterest’s social discovery capabilities focus on style inspiration, Swirl’s functionality is more practical, says Murphy. “We’ve created features that allow friends to collaborate on collections together,” he explains. For instance, groups of friends could coordinate outfits for a vacation or wedding.
“We know from our research that they love to share their style with everyone,” says Murphy. “It’s a self-expression mechanism. By sharing all the things I love, I’m telling people who I am and what I stand for.” However, users can also create private collections for gifting or other purposes.
Swirl is one of several fashion tech companies recently launched in the Boston area, but while most startups focus on mobile or ecommerce, Murphy says Swirl’s distinguishing trait is the way it merges those with the in-store shopping experience. “Retailers have a lot of information about online activity because they can follow click streams,” he explains. “That analogy doesn’t exist in the physical world because most shoppers who come in the physical world are anonymous. We can give information about what consumers are doing in the real world.”
Capturing information on consumer behavior is one part of Swirl’s value proposition to retailers. Murphy says Swirl also creates value by “driving traffic to the stores for them, helping to drive business for the brands” through affiliate programs.
On the consumer side, the platform is free to use and creates one place for offers and favorite products instead of downloading ten brand-specific apps. “We believe that bringing these things together into one app will create a streamlined experience,” says Murphy. “This thing is like a Pandora for fashion. It’s a single place where all the offers are coming together. The more you use it, the more effective it is as a tool for you.”