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JewelMint, Send the Trend and ShoeDazzle follow a similar recipe: a fashion celebrity designs or picks the styles (or just attaches his or her name to the project). Shoppers take a style quiz, confiding their go-to nail polish shades and whether they most covet the wardrobe of Nicole Richie or Reese Witherspoon. Each month, the site selects a handful of items and the shopper buys one for a set fee, skips the month, or forgets about it and gets charged that month’s fee, which can be applied to purchases over the next year.
“When you type in anything to search on the Internet, it’s almost terrifying the tidal wave of information you get back,” said Kate Bosworth, the actress who is the celebrity face of JewelMint and one of its designers. “The idea of harnessing search for different, sought-after things on the Internet is really the new frontier.”
Investors seem to agree. Send the Trend plans to announce Monday that it has raised $3 million from Battery Ventures and angel investors. ShoeDazzle, the first of these sites, has raised $20 million. BeachMint, the site behind JewelMint that plans to start others like StyleMint, which will sell T-shirts designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, has raised $15 million.
“The first generation of e-commerce was about taking care of your chores — that’s Amazon,” said Jeremy Liew, managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners, an investor in ShoeDazzle. “That’s not what gets people excited in the real world about shopping. This is about making shopping fun again.”
The shopping sites are the latest in a long line of Internet companies to try to use algorithms to determine personal taste. Pandora does it for music, Netflix does it for movies and eHarmony does it for dating. But the idea of applying a software algorithm to determine something as unique as someone’s personal style might seem anathema to dyed-in-the-wool fashion lovers.
The sites say they can do it because they learn enough from the style quizzes people fill out and their activity on the sites, like whether they view or buy certain items or mark them as favorites.
After a three-minute style quiz on ShoeDazzle that asks whether a shopper prefers Stella McCartney or Giorgio Armani and pumps or strappy sandals, the site proclaims, “If you were a shoe you’d be a calf-height embroidered-suede peep-toe bootie with a fringed cuff.” According to ShoeDazzle, that means she would like to buy steel-gray pumps with 4.5-inch heels or brown platform wedges with turquoise straps.
Google, which applies algorithms to nearly everything, is borrowing a similar concept for its high-fashion e-commerce site, Boutiques.com. Users take a style quiz and, based on the results and a shopper’s activity on the site, Google shows items they might like, including selections chosen by celebrities.
But the new shopping clubs add another element: monthly subscriptions. That gives them an excuse to send shoppers e-mail messages and pressure them to make a shopping decision on deadline as Gilt and Groupon do.
The strategy eliminates much of the business risk of ordering inventory, said BeachMint’s founders, Josh Berman and Diego Berdakin, because customers are urged to make a purchase each month and the companies learn to predict which items shoppers will buy.
Selling directly to consumers eliminates expenses too, the companies say. They generally design the items or hire private-label designers, find manufacturers to produce them and ship items themselves.
“Getting a piece of jewelry at Macy’s or Nordstrom, it keeps getting marked up all the way down from the manufacturer to the licensee,” Mr. Berman said. “We go right to the consumer.”
The items on the sites range from $30 to $50 a month. The retailers compare themselves to stores like H & M and Forever 21 — trendy and affordable, if not the highest quality.
They do, however, have the added cachet of celebrity. In the case of JewelMint, Ms. Bosworth and her stylist Cher Coulter design the jewelry. Kim Kardashian, the reality star, is co-founder and chief fashion stylist of ShoeDazzle and its sky-high heels look like those she teeters on in paparazzi photos. Christian Siriano, the designer and “Project Runway” winner, picks the items that Send the Trend sells, and he designs a few himself.
“People look at certain celebrities as style icons,” said Divya Gugnani, chief executive and co-founder of Send the Trend, “and they trust their ability to say this is hot, this is cool, this is fun.”Continue reading the main story