Depop’s Becoming the AirBnB for Vintage Clothes

Depop vintage appIf you haven’t come across Depop yet, think of this app as Etsy meets Instagram. The UK business first launched in 2013 and gained nearly 2 million users in its first year. While that growth may not be stunning compared to say, Snapchat, it’s gained considerable traction with millennials – the demographic that typically drives new channel adoption. Depop is chock full of vintage stuff (100,000 items at the last count). Mostly clothes, but plenty of shoes and a smattering of vinyl records.

It works because the app does everything a contemporary mobile experience should do. The Instagram-style layout is easy and familiar. It has a useful set of search tools that add to the product relevance. There are neat little buttons to comment, like and most importantly, to buy the items. It’s almost as simple to sell on Depop. Take a picture, upload it, add a price and off you go. The success of the app comes from this combination of an immediate, frictionless experience and a collaborative approach. Or as their CEO says, ‘it’s designed with the mobile in mind and is social at its very core’.

Depop has the opportunity to be distruptive in the retail space. However, collaborative apps are not without criticism. AirBnB rents more rooms the The Hilton Group, but they are not subject to the same taxes or regulations that a traditional hotel chain has (and I won’t even mention the controversies associated with Uber). They’ve also attracted not just those with a spare room for the night, but people investing and making a living from AirBnB properties.

Depop also appears to have commercial traders, but thanks to the strong social element, it retains a homely feel. When it comes to vintage retail, the market isn’t dominated by large businesses (unless you count Oxfam), nor does it have many of the regulatory issues that hotels or taxis endure. In fact, the opportunity for Depop is by bringing the vintage market into one neat place, right where their audience is.

There’s plenty of optimism for the app. They’ve already ironed out a few complaints about buginess. At the start of the year they gained £5m in VC funding, opened a New York office and hired Ex-Reddit GM, Erik Martin. Whilst Depop are not the only player in the vintage market, it looks as though they have the right UX for the right audience to succeed.

Are Smartwatches The New Sandwich Toaster?

There is a theory that most sandwich toasters lie in the cupboard unused (I suspect that you could also include ice cream makers). A sandwich toaster is exciting (ish) for the first few months as you discover all of the random things you can shove between two bits of cooked bread. After that, it largely takes up space in the cupboard.

It looks like smartwatches could go the way of the sandwich toaster. Someone recently told me that he had a Motorola smartwatch but didn’t bother wearing it. The watch was decent enough, but after a few months of use, he realised that there was little need for it. He wasn’t alone. A study in 2014 found that 50% of fitness trackers were left in the drawer.

If smartwatches want to remain on people’s wrists they have a number of challenges to overcome:

  • The devices can be very buggy – in some watches, the software has simply not been up to the job. Apple’s Watch will work superbly, but the predicted 18 hour battery life is going to make constant usage tricky
  • Fashions change – unlike a phone, the look of a smartwatch is absolutely key to its adoption. They are firmly in the accessories market and the technology companies are competing against the likes of Fossil, Swatch and Tag Hauer. And all of them are competing with the fickleness of fashion
  • Smartwatches are not essential, core devices – whilst I can’t imagine leaving home without my phone, I don’t see any real inconvenience if I forget to wear my smartwatch. Sure, some people get addicted to them but a combination of the small screen size and limited functionality puts them in danger of being novelty items.

Many commentators have pointed out that it’s the apps that will make or break adoption. Simply reducing phone apps to a mini screen is not going to hack it. Developers need to think differently for a more personal, wearable channel. Without some killer apps, there’s a possibility that smartwatches will become a short-lived fad. With the impending delivery of Apple’s Watch, it’s certainly exciting times in the world of wearables. The company has been a game-changer with their phones and tablet devices. However, it remains to be seen whether they can make the smartwatch enough of a necessity that it doesn’t end up languishing in the cupboard next to the sandwich maker.

2015 Predictions: Mobile, Wearables and Connected Technologies

It’s a pretty safe prediction that iBeacons, Apple Watch, drones, 3D printing and VR will continue to receive a considerable amount of hype next year. Who knows, someone might attempt a Crowd Sourced 3D-Printed QR Code Live Streamed Via Go Pro for real? A combination of cheap computing, rapid prototyping and new funding will bring many more gadgets and connected devices. All very exciting, but what’s hype and what’s actually interesting?

In 2015, don’t get too excited about:
Beacons. They will not save retail . In some unsurprising news, a study in 2014 found that consumers think beacons are largely annoying. There are some opportunities where the technology can offer a good solution to problems. The (award winning) Nivea Protection wrist band is a good example of where this type of technology works well.

Is anyone really interested in beacons?

Wearables, whilst popular with techies, don’t expect an uptake like that of smartphones or even tablets. In fact some categories such as fitness bands may become redundant through smartphone health monitoring apps (think, Apple’s Health apps)

Smartwatches will not simply have to compete in the tech space – they also competing in the fashion accessories market. So consumer choice is not simply about functionality but also about image and style.

– Brands may try, but wearables are probably not a place for advertising (although Indian Company, Techsol have announced a wearable ad server). For brands, it’s isn’t simply a matter of down-sizing for a smaller screen – they will need to consider the whole engagement.

AR/VR in the form of Google Glass and Oculus Rift will remain as essentially prototypes. There are specific industries or applications, such as medicine, that will benefit but this does not make them mass market.

This might actually be a good use of Google Glass

Things to be (slightly) more excited about in 2015:

Messaging channelsWhat’sApp/Line/WeChat will continue to grow in place of SMS. Visual messaging through Snapchat and Intsagram will also see growth, especially with a younger audience. Significantly, Instagram’s user base overtook Twitter in 2014 – perhaps the latter has reached its peak.

– For brands the challenge in social is an interesting one. Users, especially younger demographics, are switching channels rapidly. The role of Facebook and Twitter as content channels will be less important. In fact, some are already predicting the demise of Facebook. Whilst brands would do well to focus their attention on delivering service in messaging apps, although they will probably struggle to get the attention of a younger audience.

As home screen notifications/replies become more common, we will see fewer app openings. That’s a problem for the likes of Facebook, but it’s also going to be a challenge for brand advertising. What’s the point in buying ads in an app if it’s not going to be opened?

– So what will be the successful apps of 2015? In essence it will be those that bring an additional the service layer beyond the functionality, especially those that make clever use of gamification and APIs. Good examples are Duolingo or City Mapper

– Along side service layers is the growth of the collaborative economy, delivered through apps. Think AirBnB, Waze, or Hailo (I’m NOT advocating Uber as a good example of the collaborative economy though)

– The mobile payment space will become a key battleground for brands in 2015. Many people were exciting by the potential of Apple Pay but it has already run into corporate obstacles

Peer to Peer Payment is set to grow in 2015. Barclays PingIt is a (rare) good example from a brand – it has become their largest channel for new customer acquisition. My money is on the third party providers though. P2P creates opportunities in the startup space, as demonstrated by the excellent Droplet. My guess is that’s where the success will be and brands/corporates will be playing catch up.

Big Data is interesting (really, it is). The true potential hasn’t been realised yet and amazing things could happen if we combine the potential of the vast amount of data from personal devices (wearables or smartphones) with the AI development from Google or IBM’s Watson. (or even this simple idea)

Here’s a few trends that might be interesting in 2015.

The Internet Fridge. Something not to get excited about in 2015. Or ever.

Beacons, the Saviour of Retail? Probably Not.

Since Apple launched their iBeacons, a Bluetooth-based proximity channel, some marketers have seen them as the saviour of in-store engagement. Retailers from Macy’s to Tesco’s are trialling the technology. In France, the supermarket chain Carrefour is putting them in 1000 stores. However, beacons present a common digital marketing challenge; technology itself is never a brand marketing solution. In the late 90s nearly $200 million was put into a scanning device called Cue Cat. It was sent to over 1.5m million people in the hope that they would scan bar codes printed in magazines instead of typing in URLs. In spite of the backing from major brands and publishers, the project was a failure. From a user perspective it didn’t solve any problems. When Beacons first launched I wrong a blog, Bluetooth the Revenge, pointing out the limitations of beacons as a marketing technology. The two practical hurdles are that people need an app installed and their Bluetooth turned on. Whenever I have researched it, that number is around 30% of people (there’s some research here). So 70% don’t have their Bluetooth on. For brands, as always, the key is to get the engagement right. They need to give their customers some pretty good reasons to use iBeacons. I’m not sure if giving offers is enough. To get users to engage, brands will need to use it to solve real problems, not just encourage more purchases. There have been a couple of recent studies, that suggest, unsurprisingly, that users don’t want to be stalked by brands in store. Opinion Lab, for example found that 77% of people don’t want to be tracked in shops. Our phones are personal and it seems like we have enough marketing already. My worry with beacons is that they will simply be consigned to the dustbin of technology history. In a few years time will we look back and say ‘do you remember iBeacons’, along with the Apple Newton and the Cue Cat?

The Challenge for The Fashion Brand, Apple

Updated, March 2015

Whilst some are calling the Apple Watch a game changer, many tech observers have missed the point. The Apple Watch is a fashion accessory and it makes Apple a fashion brand. Whilst previous products from the iPod onwards have had a lifestyle element to their branding, the watch puts Apple firmly into the fashion accessory market. The industry bible, Women’s Wear Daily pointed out that Apple’s real competition is not from other tech providers such as Samsung, but the from the mid-range watch manufacturers such as Swatch and Guess. Both of these companies are developing their own products due out within the next 12 months.

Apple understand the importance of being a fashion brand. They have made significant hires from Burberry and Gap, not to mention the addition of leading designer Marc Newson. A number of fashion and watch journalists were invited to the launch event, which further demonstrates the importance of the sector to Apple.

What was the fashion industry’s reaction to the Apple Watch? Generally favourable, but not totally blown away. It’s probably best summed up by Alex Blanter from A.T. Kearney, who specialises in fashion insight:

“Everybody is still trying to figure out how to make a smartwatch a truly must-have device, rather than an interesting and curious novelty,”

An interesting take on the Apple Watch came from HSBC Research who looked at the market for the product in China. They pointed out that luxury watches are bought not to tell the time, but as a status symbol. Is the Apple Watch a sufficient status symbol for that market? They pointed out that the most significant market in this area were as gifts. On that basis, Louis Vuitton or high end sporting goods are competitors as much as watch brands. Perhaps that is Apple’s biggest challenge. Whilst smartphones are (arguably) an essential item, the Apple Watch is not. As an accessory, watches are replaced much less frequently than smartphones. Whilst there is clearly a market amongst the early adopters, does it have what it takes to compete in the higher end accessories market? Understanding the retail challenge, Apple announced that the Watch would be available in selected retailers such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and Selfridges luxury hall in London.

One thing that is in Apple’s favour is that they’ve created a product that has watchmaker’s credentials. The Hodinkee watch blog declared the Apple Watch to be a bona fide time-piece, from the overall design, through to the straps, the astronomy face and the rotating crown. The review makes a convincing case for the Apple Watch as a genuine watch. Following the official launch in March 2015, commentators generally agreed that the Watch meets the stylish credentials that consumers are looking for. However, the watchmakers blog pointed out after the launch, Apple will not be in the high end $17,000 Edition, but rather, from shifting a large amount of $500 mid-range watches.

It’s not just the existing watch makers – brands from Motorola to Huwei have also launched equally attractive smart pieces. This is not the first time that Apple has entered an existing market saturated with products. Aside from the brief partnership with Motorola, Apple had never launched a phone before the iPhone.  However, when it comes to smartwatches, in spite of some predictions, as the tech analyst Benedict Evans points out, no one really knows the answer. The ultimate questions is whether Apple brand is sufficient to drive the large scale adoption that the company is hoping for.

Why Can’t We Use Mobile to Manage the Ebola Virus?

I recently spoke at an event about the role of mobile and big data. The two most useful examples related to health. The first was how the movement of mobile phones in Kenya helps to identify the movement of mosquitos and thus the spread of Malaria. The second was how Swedish and US researchers used mobile movements track people in the Haiti disaster area, and the number who had left subsequently. From this they could identify the number of missing people.

Could the same approach be made to manage the spread of Ebola? If health organisations could use location from the mobile operators it would be possible to see where people  from infected areas have moved to (including overseas). From this they could spot where the virus might appear next. That could deliver a much faster response and to isolate the outbreaks more quickly. Just a thought. Or maybe it’s already being done?

Mobile and The Big Data Question?

How can brand marketers leverage ‘big data’ to engage more users? That’s pretty much the question that I was asked to speak about recently at the DMA. The explosion of mobile is certainly creating a lot of data, from active channels such as social media updates or sharing, to passive data such as location services or WiFi connections. However, using that information in brand marketing is not that simple. Whilst it’s straight forward on a technical level, but even where individuals are not identified, they are wary of intrusion because mobile devices are so personal. Perhaps the answer lies in focusing on the user, being useful and delivering a better service. The best examples of this come not form brands, but from using mobile data to bring improvements in areas such as healthcare.

The following Slideshare is from my talk, ‘Mobile and The Big Data Question’.