For women who have been planning their weddings since the moment they read their first fairy tale, the world cannot deliver enough romantic and whimsical bridal imagery. On the other end of the spectrum, less well prepared or otherwise busy brides require solutions to simplify a creative planning process.
New York based Lover.ly began as a visual search engine for wedding content to solve both these problems, to help brides and those who aspire to one day stand at the alter. Today, the company announced partnerships with several top lifestyle and luxury brands to provide users with direct access to relevant ecommerce content.
Despite her site’s visual tile layout, founder Kellee Khalil hates the knee-jerk comparison, “Pinterest for weddings” that her company too often receives. “We’re more like Google Images than Pinterest, because there’s so much data behind our images. Our goal is to be a portal for search and discovery.” What she won’t say, is that because it’s targeted and curated, in a lot of ways, Lover.ly is better than both.
While brides may have previously used the site to seek inspiration and found themselves in a gallery of pink bridesmaids dresses, for example, they will now have a means to purchase several of those products in a single seamless experience. Lover.ly’s newly announced brand partners include Nordstrom, Kwiat diamonds, Minted paper goods, and twobirds Bridesmaid, with others on the way.
The new brands have already been integrated into the platform so that users see select items denoted with a “shop” ribbon in the upper left corner. When hovering over these items, a shopping “basket” icon is added to the pre-existing “love” and “bundle” options.
Clicking on the basket takes the user directly to the brand partner site, such as Nordsrom, where they can complete a purchase. Available items range from fashion and accessories to jewelry and stationery.
Khalil has always had a vision of beauty and simplicity for Lover.ly. This dictated her site’s early strategy of curating photos through editorial partnerships with leading bridal and event planning websites. Khalil says, “Of 100 weddings submitted by our publishers, we include five. Of 1,000 images, we select 30.”
The images are tagged and categorized in every way imaginable, making the site searchable by keywords, color, category, season, location, featured items, and popular images. Each image has an average of seven tags, such as romantic or vintage, pink or yellow. This is actually one of the biggest differentiators from Pinterest and because it’s done by hand, qualitative tags like “whimsical” can be applied.
Users have never been invited to upload content. Instead they can simply “love” (favorite) and “bundle” the hundreds of thousands of images Lover.ly has curated for them into collections. Users can follow one another within the network to find oustide inspiration. Lover.ly also offers editor-curated inspiration boards such as ones for honeymoon ideas or beach weddings.
For its content partners, Lover.ly solves the “blog bury” and information overload problems by giving a permanent home to their best visual content. The site provides SEO while also driving traffic to the original publication, helping blogs sell display advertisements and drive social engagement.
For Khalil’s company, the curated content is evergreen. As the CEO says, “Beautiful black and yellow themed images will still be relevant in three years.”
While Khalil always planned to add an ecommerce engine, the timing and implementation has been a result of inbound request from brand partners asking, “How do we get our stuff in the engine?” Lover.ly expects to drive a significant level of traffic to its partner sites and knows, based on their search and personal curation activity, that they exhibit strong buying intent.
It is from this point of view that Lover.ly’s CEO justifies her somewhat surprising decision to forego an affiliate sales model and focus instead on CPA advertising. With this model, however, Khalil can avoid ever having to place an ad unit on her otherwise pristine site.
Khalil comes from an entrepreneurial family. Her brother Jacque, is a former MySpacer and currently works Los Angeles big data startup Gravity. Her older sister, Leila, runs a bridal industry PR and consulting firm Be Inspired PR where Kellee once launched and ran east coast operations. This and her experience as maid of honor and chief curator of design inspiration at sister Leila’s wedding formed the basis for her Lover.ly inspiration.
The company was met with rave reviews within the industry and raised an early $500,000 in angel financing earlier this year after launching last October. Khalil hinted that her company was exploring further financing but was not ready to comment on activity in that area.
Khalil revealed that 20 percent of Lover.ly’s traffic comes from mobile devices, and an overwhelming 80 percent of that is from iphones. As a result, she and her team have been working to roll out an iOS app version early this summer. Lover.ly’s main site is built in HTML 5 making it iPad and Android friendly.
While Khalil declined to discuss user figures, Lover.ly’s Facebook page has more than 25,000 likes as of the time of this writing, while it has nearly 10,000 Twitter followers. What Khalil would reveal is that 25 percent of Lover.ly’s users aren’t engaged or actively planning a wedding.
This is a good sign for overall engagement and longevity of each user considering that weddings are generally (hopefully) a one-time event for most brides.
The process of perusing and bundling images is rather addictive, as I can attest by observing my wedding planner girlfriend spend hours endlessly navigating the collection. Lover.ly seems to be providing a real solution and with today’s steps toward monetization, we will soon have a clear picture of its ability to build a sustainable business.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]