In the 1890s, the Sears-Roebuck catalog delivered 500 pages of product options right to your mailbox, offering the height of shopping convenience. Today, that "Consumer's Bible" has moved to your web browser via digital storefronts and sites like Etsy and Amazon .
Yet, there aren't many options for discovering new products from your favorite brands or designers without bookmarking each site and checking in on a regular basis. Even then, you'll stumble through a slew of content on your way to the "What's New" tab before you can even begin browsing.
On the other hand, sites like Pinterest feed you products if you know what you want or are following the right people; but many of those products aren't available for purchase, and you need a trained eye to spot the ones that are.
But social discovery site Wanelo — short for Want Need Love — is here to change that.
Wanelo is a unique social shopping experience. At first glance, you'll be reminded of Pinterest; dig deeper and you might start seeing Amazon-like tendencies. But Wanelo is doing more than feeding you products from your favorite brands and influencers: It's democratizing ecommerce and empowering the consumer in the process.
We spoke with Wanelo founder Deena Varshavskaya about what is so different, useful and successful about the platform.
Q&A With Deena Varshavskaya, Founder of WaneloHow did you come up with the concept for Wanelo?
I was thinking about advertising today and how it interrupts our experience; how it doesn't create value for us. I started thinking, "What is advertising [going to be] 30 years from now?" It’s not going to survive in its current form — but without advertising, how will we find out about products and stores that are relevant to us? That’s where I began.
In order to avoid interrupting the user experience on Wanelo, there’s no promotion and no advertising; the entire experience is driven by you. You follow your favorite stores and people and see a feed of their recommended products. There’s no interruption because you opt in to the content you see.
So, how does the site function? Where are all of these products coming from, what's in it for the user and how do brands upload their own products?
We have over 200,000 brands, which range from tiny Etsy sellers to all the big brands you've heard of, both low-end and high-end. It’s a way for you to optimize your shopping on a single platform. Your feed is constantly updating, and it becomes incredibly entertaining and addicting.
When you upload a product, it's for future reference; you're bookmarking it.Maybe you're not ready to buy this second — you might want to consider it for a gift for yourself or others. As you get involved in the community, other users start to recognize you for your taste, which becomes an additional driver. Most products are uploaded by users themselves. For brands, products are aggregated automatically based on the brand's url. For example, any product posted to Wanelo from the Urban Outfitters website will be on the brand page on Wanelo.
Conversion is an issue for many other social platforms. What kind of feedback is Wanelo getting from brands?
It’s hard for us to have aggregate numbers because we are dealing with Etsy sellers and really large brands. We do talk to brands that tell us our conversion is very high, often the highest of all the social platforms.
How did people first find out about Wanelo?
The first 1,000 users came after spending $20 a day on Facebook ads. I was spending my own money and was deathly scared of overspending because that advertising can go crazy.
Initially I was just testing on Facebook to see if anyone would even like the experience, rather than to acquire users. I kept tweaking the ad until it became really successful. It was at that point that people started to use the site; I was really shocked!
The Wanelo interface is very simple for the amount of product and tech that goes into it. How did you decide on a minimalist design?
Originally, the features were very messy and non-minimalist. The turning point was when we did user testing and faced the fact that nobody cared about what we had built. Then I decided to start removing things. I just went on this moving spree and it felt very scary, but also very empowering.I saw that when you remove things, you create incredible focus for the content.That was a big turning point because the two things that I could not remove were people and products. That was the basis of the whole concept.
Can you speak to the unique experience that Wanelo provides?
I find the most amazing things on Wanelo, which I would never otherwise come across. I just ordered these crazy glasses from Europe from the same store that supplies Rihanna and some other stars. People come back because it’s an incredible form of entertainment and an incredible form of self-expression.
I think that for women specifically, there is something very special about creating our physical environments. We really care about the things we wear or put in our houses. We take joy in that, and I think Wanelo is the first step to creating those special environments.
Story has it that you guys finally launched an app because of user feedback.What else are users requesting?
Yes. I actually was really fighting [the app]. I think it’s really hard for any business to be on multiple platforms, and especially a startup when your resources are so constrained. I was really against spreading ourselves too thin, but we were getting really consistent requests from our users — so I basically gave up and said "Fine. Let’s just get something simple out."
Now, users on Twitter are talking about using Wanelo for Christmas, saying things like, "Don’t even ask me what I want for the holidays — just go to my Wanelo." So we're about to release a gift registry feature called "Wanelo for the Holidays" that makes it really easy to share your profile and holiday wish list with friends and family. We're also building out improved features for brands to take advantage of promotions for Wanelo users.
You've mentioned that Wanelo is democratizing commerce — how so?
We’ve seen this in publishing. We’ve seen that it has become possible — unlike 10 or 20 years ago — for an individual to show up on a platform and build a big community in a grassroots kind of way.
That hasn’t yet happened for retailers. As a result, small designers and vendors end up having to sell either to big distributors or to bigger brands, and there are multiple layers of inefficiencies before the product gets to the final buyer.A platform like Wanelo enables any maker or retailer to reach the customer directly. The long-term vision is to make sure those businesses can be built on top of Wanelo.
How do you make sure that those retailers are trustworthy?
Reputation management is very important for us. When we are connecting you to boutiques you’ve never heard of, the first thing you want to know is if that boutique is trustworthy. We actually have people who manually go in and verify retailers. That’s the number one step. The first layer is for us to look for certain characteristics: legitimate company information, return policies, etc. In the future we will be taking this verification to the next level.
See also: The 7 Species of Social Commerce
Wanelo prides itself on being a platform that empowers the individual.What does that mean?
It’s about giving you choices so you can have a voice or build a business, small or big — whatever you want. From a consumer’s point of view, it means really understanding what is valuable for you as a user or as a buyer.
If you think about what is happening today with retail, it's 100% fragmented.There are tens of thousands of stores, boutiques and brands that you have no human capacity to organize without a platform that does it for you. On Wanelo, I can stay on top of 1,400 brands, which is otherwise not possible. So, to empower the user, the space has to be unified. The second step is following specific brands or people to figure out what is most relevant to you.