From the source: Cayley and Doron Ostrin, The Urge

In a world where customers are bombarded with new sites and brands every day, The Urge is an aggregator site that helps people search and filter through products from all over the world all in one place. We chat to co-founders Cayley and Doron Ostrin about managing savvy customers’ expectations and the challenges of online retailers.

Inside Retail Weekly: Tell me about how The Urge began. You guys launched [data management platform] Productify, didn’t you?

Cayley Ostrin: Productify is still running today and it’s working with shopping centres around the world. Productify builds searchable malls for websites where you can browse products inside the mall.

We noticed that customers don’t always go to shopping centres to buy what they’re looking for. It’s moving online, so we saw a gap in the market. Why should we limit ourselves to the mall? We should expand it to everyone, so we built a prototype about one-and-a-half years ago. We put it up, we didn’t tell anyone, we didn’t do press but we just saw it grow every month. Eventually, we split away from Productify, created a new company and team and rebuilt the platform.

We turned on the new Urge site at the end of last April and the traffic is still going. We work with different retailers all around the world, large and small. Our business model is based on an affiliate network, where we get commission on sales, but then we also work with retailers where we’re driving free traffic to their site. We’ll look to monetise that, perhaps through a subscription model.

Doron Ostrin: But why are we doing The Urge for users? You might think, ‘OK, I want a pair of Nike sneakers’, so you might go to the Nike site or The Iconic, but then there’s David Jones and Myer and all these other sites. We’re seeing a lot of people get smarter about how they spend their money. They want to make sure they’re getting the best deal, especially with Afterpay and Zip now that everyone’s talking about the smart millennial and how they’re getting savvier.

Before, you were very limited and if you wanted to be savvy, you’d go to Westfield, walk from Myer to David Jones and Nike, you’d make a choice between those three locations and you’d buy. That was the process.

Now that everything’s online, there’s an endless stream of stores that potentially have products and if you want to do the research, it’s time-consuming.

The flipside is say you’re in Westfield and you want a pair of shoes in your size but it’s not in three different stores, so they’ll call different locations for you. Now with online, you’re checking [different sites] and looking for a shoe in your size. It’s just very disjointed and so we’ve pulled it together, so that all the stores selling that brand are in the one place and you can filter and find exactly what you want. You might want a white sneaker, so you’ll filter through all the stores that have it, then do the research in a comparison journey within a few seconds, as opposed to spending hours flicking through different sites.

IRW: I’m assuming that the quality of the user experience is largely based on the sites that you present?

DO: We’re aggregating, bringing stores together and making things searchable, but then when you click out, you do get a mixed experience.

Like Google has been doing for years, if users are clicking out [of our site] but then coming back to us and still searching, how can we use that data to help users shop on the best sites? So we’re all about verified stores. We’re not an aggregator of everything. Every store has gone through a vetting process to be on our site. We do that to make sure that when you find something that you love and you click through – maybe it’s a store overseas you’ve never heard of – you can trust that the store is real and they won’t steal your credit card [details].

People ask how we’re different to Google. Google’s just a broad search engine that helps you find any site where your keyword exists, but often you’ll get places like eBay, random blogposts and Pinterest posts, which aren’t necessarily shoppable. Or they’re shoppable, but you’re not sure if it’s legitimate. There’s so much uncertainty.

So yes, we’re a search engine, but we still have a little level of curation to make sure that when you’re searching and you find what you want, you don’t have any doubt.

We have access to a lot of data. The Iconic converts highly and their sales are climbing, but the service on their site is fast and easy to use. When we drive people to retailers’ sites, we’re not sure how many of those are converting in comparison because the sites are really bad.

IRW: What are some of the mistakes that you see online retailers making on their sites?

DO: We’ve designed a great experience and we’ve recently had retailers ask us to build their websites. There are so many roads we could go down, whether it’s selling back data or analytics to retailers, consulting, helping them with their platform.

There are so many things people are doing wrong in the online retail space.

If it’s built well for Google, they’d get traffic and so many sites have terrible SEO, things are broken or it doesn’t load without JavaScript, which is hard for crawlers to extract data. Google is a good crawler – you want them to crawl and index your site. There are other people crawling your site to price match, but at the end of the day, if you’re not making it easy for good crawlers to index you, it’s hard to get traffic.

Then you look at big retailers doing it well and it’s like chalk and cheese – they’re so different in terms of their platform and investment. It’s often just small tweaks that make them so much better.

IRW: How many retailers do you have on your site?

CO: We have just over 12,000 brands and 265 retailers today. It takes time because we enforce quality. We have a list of 1500 retailers from around the world and every day, we try to add to it.

Most of them are on these affiliate networks. So we work with the networks to get them approved and we’ve got to pitch why they should pay commission on successful sales. They all say ‘yes’ straight away, because it’s another traffic source for them.

DO: When we’re sending free traffic, we’re like Google, like a search engine. For a small brand, if we think it’s a good brand with good product and we know customers want their product, we’ll crawl [their sites], we’ll extract their product data and show it on our search engine. We don’t care if we’re not making money from it because it’s a good user experience and if that grows and works, there are so many other ways for us to make money over time.

IRW: What would you like to see happen in the business in the future?

DO: The main goal is to index all the world’s products and make them easily searchable, which we’re doing right now, but we want to be able to understand each user. People throw around the ‘AI’ term and I hate saying it because it’s so overused and most people don’t even know what AI means or use it.

But the main thing is if three people type in ‘jeans’ or ‘white sneakers’ then different brands and pricepoints come up. We want to really personalise the experience. There are already over a million products on our site, so in a few months, there could be five billion, and when you type ‘jeans’, it will be quite overwhelming.

The real goal is for us to totally understand users based on their prior searches and what they do on social networks, like who they follow on Instagram. We want to use that data to influence the search results so when you search for something, it’s a really customised experience. It’s easy to say, but hard to do.

IRW: What are your plans for the next 12 months?

CO: We launched in Australia in April and we launched last year in the US. We plan to expand into the UK and China early this year, then after that, it’s very easy with our platform to launch into other countries quickly. By the end of 2020, we plan to be global with different languages.

We want to release a price-drop feature. On a lot of websites, you can sign up to be notified when an item goes on sale. But no one’s really tapped into ‘notify me when these Nike shoes drop across any store that sells them’. Most sites will tell you when The Iconic’s price has dropped, but David Jones could have dropped that price a week ago and the customer wouldn’t have been notified.

Our price drop will be live later this week. Depending on the volume of things we get, we might have to turn it off, but it’s in beta mode at the moment.

We do offer a personal shopping service. We get a lot of traffic towards out-of-stock products that people are desperate for. So on our site, on any out-of-stock page that people land onto, there’s a box that says, ‘Are you desperate for this item? One of our personal shoppers can help you track it down’. I’m the shopper right now. We get a lot of requests. It’s hard work. I’ve managed to find quite a few

, but it takes a lot of time, so we might look to expand that service to get more personal shoppers on the team.

DO: In the last 24 hours, two separate people were looking for the same bag from Mimco. We want to help retailers or brands by giving them that data.

Bec and Bridge get a ton of traffic because they’re quite seasonal and when they sell out, they really sell out of products. But it would be great for them to know how much demand there is [for certain items], so they can release a similar style and access [those customers]. So if we have 100 people interested in that item and Bec and Bridge release something similar next season, the brand could let those people know straight away about the item. I think there’s a nice role we can play to help brands and shoppers better connect.

IRW: What are some other interesting features on the site?

CO: Today, you can filter by Afterpay or other payment methods, the personal shopping service and different stores.

DO: The main thing we focus on is speed. We see people on the train using the internet and spotty wifi, but then they can do all their research on our site which is super quick. Our site is focused on the personal shopper – someone who could be a shopper as a full-time job. We want to make it so easy for them to find

.

CO: We’ve also got free shipping filters, free return filters…

DO: A lot of the time, you might find things you like at a few different stores, but some are overseas and others are local. Sites like Net-a-Porter can ship it to you faster than some locals can. So it’s important to be able to filter via shipping and returns.

IRW: You guys also have a focus on emerging designers. Can you tell me about that?

CO: Every day on my Instagram, I’m getting exposed to so many new brands and designers, so that’s where we want to help these designers so they can be seen by a global audience. They might be local and have a site in Australia that drives traffic to Australians, but then someone in America might browse The Urge and come across them – they still ship overseas, but Google’s only sending them Australian traffic.

DO: I was on a work trip in Toronto and there were all these cool menswear stores. Their stuff was amazing, but I’d never heard of these brands because they only had one store. The same thing happens in New York, Santa Monica, all over the world and they all ship internationally. Whenever you go overseas, people will say something like, ‘Oh I love those board shorts, where do you get them from?’. I’ll say, ‘Venroy in Sydney’. Then they go, ‘Oh I‘ve never heard of them!’

Why is that the case? Everything is so global, but there’s no way [for people to] see everything easily and compare.

We want to also give recommendations so if you’re looking at a product, we can say, ‘Here are some similar designs from brands in the US and UK.’ There are a few ways we’re looking at doing that.

The other thing people ask us is how we compete with Amazon. Isn’t Amazon doing the same thing? In the US, Amazon is the second-biggest search engine. But it’s not the right place for fashion. Nike recently pulled out of it. They only went in to patrol fakes. People want to go somewhere they can trust, that’s real, a good experience and beautifully designed. That’s how you buy fashion – it’s emotional. It’s not a fridge or a book, it’s different.

CO: We’d like to expand into other departments one day – baby, homewares, furniture. Once we get the launch global and get all these features and personalisation under way, we’d love to expand into other areas.

DO: The other thing is because our model works on affiliates, we’re seeing the return rates. A site might say they shipped out 1000 orders, but over 300 will come back. You’re spending a lot of time managing free returns, like repackaging and you have to do it to be competitive. People want to try different sizes, so they’ll buy five, pick one and send it back.

There’s something wrong there, but I want to see if it’s something we can help with. Over the last year, we’ve seen the rate of returns grow and the impact it has on businesses and their margins are totally diminished because of it.

Sites don’t make money because of their return rates. You might say you’re doing $1 million a day but then the returns have to come back. How does anyone reduce that return rate? It’s on our minds at the moment.


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