Believe it or not, once upon a time horse manure was the biggest problem in the Western world. So much so there was the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 and it was the late-1800s equivalent of global warming. With industrialization came growth which meant more horses in the streets, which meant more excrement. It was such a terrible situation, the government in the UK predicted London would eventually be buried under 9 feet of it because the only solution to get rid of it was to employ more horses to clean it out, which only meant more manure in the street. It seemed unsolvable.
But then came the invention of the car, not as a solution for the manure crisis but as an act of innovation, and the problem literally vanished.
Why is this relevant to Anna Vladymyrska? Because this current Stanford University Knight-Hennessy scholar and one of McKinsey’s Next Generation Women Leaders (2019) believes that while retail is crashing and burning, the solution is not how to fix it but how to look at the problem altogether differently. Sort of like the crisis of 1894 whose solution was found outside of the problem, retail has to do the same thing.
In that vein, she’s is launching a platform called ShopParty which she hopes will be a cog in how shopping will look in the new era of digital retail created by the pandemic. While COVID has brought fashion retail to its knees, it has also become the catalyst for a stalled industry to find solutions in ways it never would have been able to before.
“I think that e-commerce will be different, but it doesn’t necessarily mean worse. It’s just different,” she says. “What has to change fundamentally is how the retail experience is being delivered to customers. We don’t have a full-blown e-commerce platform that combines things like personalization, socialization, entertainment all through high-speed and live-stream mediums.”
Her platform addresses these social aspects of shopping. Through her research, she was able to determine that online shopping is very lonely and that no matter what e-com has offered so far, it’s hasn’t been able to bring the group dynamics of shopping—like window shopping or shared discovery—to the online experience.
“We want to introduce group shopping by connecting the three key ecosystems—the consumers, the host or KOLs [key opinion leaders] and the brands—through functionalities like co-browsing, live streaming, and chat technology to bring to e-com the entertainment and social aspects of the physical experience,” she explains.
“Users can schedule live shopping tours with friends and family and connect with experts that lead shopping tours. Live ratings will help to select purchases. One of the bigger features is to offer opportunities for hosts and KOLs to collaborate with brands. This is particularly important given current unemployment rates in the sector stemming from the brick-and-mortar closures.”
Vladymyrska, who is a graduate of Columbia University and has worked as an investment banking analyst at Credit Suisse’s Global Industrials Group in New York, was inspired by the major job loss that has occurred in the retail sector due to COVID while simultaneously observing that Asian retail markets were not hit as hard as the Western world during the pandemic.
When she took a closer look at the Asian markets she realized they had addressed digital shopping differently than in the West, and saw there was an opportunity for the same solutions which could potentially help with the job losses in the retail sector.
“The Asian markets had systems in place that cater better to online shoppers because live streaming and social shopping is very present in Asia,” she says. “They had better-equipped vehicles to keep the jobs that helped the demand side meet the supply side.”
Vladymyrska is hardly so idealistic that she believes her platform could be the end all, be all to how we shop in the future.
“The kitchen of the world is big. It’s about collaboration rather than competition,” she explains. “It’s like a family dinner. When I see someone cooking salad, I offer to bring main course. So I want to see more companies to come up with more solutions to bring back jobs, bring back demand”.
Currently, she believes there aren’t companies in retail who are approaching socialization in online shopping and the closest brands that are getting to it are companies like the browser extension, Netflix Party, while Instagram is playing in this space and Facebook is trying to enter.
“It’s an interesting intersection between entertainment and e-commerce,” she says. “Anyone that can deliver this combination of personalization, socialization, entertainment through high-speed channels will be the ones to change retail forever.”