loverly Pando Illustration

Since launching its visual search engine for weddings in on Valentines day 2012, Lover.ly has been inundated with user requests to add commerce to its platform. It seems that women are only partially satisfied by the ability to search for and discover inspirational imagery ahead of their big day. Many want to then be able to purchase these items with as little friction as possible.

The New York City startup announced its first limited commerce integrations in June 2012 when it partnered with Nordstrom, Kwiat diamonds, Minted paper goods, and twobirds Bridesmaid. At the time, the company made negligible changes to its product, adding a small “shop” banner to select images which allowed brides to click through to the respective merchant’s ecommerce site. In January, the company partnered with Time’s Real Simple Weddings to power the content behind it’s online Weddings channel.

Today, Lover.ly is unveiling a full site redeisgn which adds an all new shopping engine. The company has since partnered with over 1,300 brands, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Ann Taylor, Bonobos, Z Gallerie, BHLDN, Philosophy Beauty, and Envelopments, and added more than 100,000 products to its site. Users can now choose between the “Explore” experience, which similar to the traditional Lover.ly consists of both editorial content curated from leading wedding blogs and vendors, and the new “Shop” experience which is entirely commerce.

Lover.ly hopes to take the pain out of finding the perfect dress, decor, or wedding party gifts by allowing women to search the Shop portal according to color, category, price, size, brand, or style. The site initially offers 10 product categories that include dresses, menswear, beauty, shoes, accessories, intimates, gifts, decor, jewelry, and stationery. I’m told we can expect to see additional categories added in the near future

“With all the products and vendors out there for brides we felt it was time to take our visual search experience and apply it to shopping as another way to live out our mission – to make weddings easier and more fun to plan,” founder and CEO Kellee Khalil says.

Lover.ly’s redesign and rebranding was not just about incorporating commerce more prominently. Khalil tells me she took it as an opportunity to make the brand more sophisticated, less feminine, and more versatile.  The move also paves the way for the launch of native mobile apps, which the CEO tells me is imminent. Previously the design was the product of the piecemeal efforts of multiple outside designers. For the latest version, the company added a full time designer to its staff, picking up a former member of Mixel at the time of its acquisition by Etsy.

The startup has raised $968,000 in angel investment to date, and has grown its team to 12 members, including three engineers. The company is in the process of building out its account management team to accommodate the addition of the above-mentioned 1,300 commerce partners.

Khalil’s company monetizes on a cost per click (CPC) advertising basis, getting compensated for each visitor that it sends to its content and commerce partner sites. In the last quarter, Lover.ly has seen revenues grow by an average of 66 perecnt month over month, although Khalil declined to provide specific figures.

The gaping hole in Lover.ly’s model appears to be monetization beyond advertising. It has generally proven incredibly difficult to build a massive business on click-based advertising alone, and given Lover.ly’s transition toward commerce, affiliate revenue would seem to be just a few negotiations away. Khalil is rightfully concerned with coming across inauthentic or misaligned with its users, but they wouldn’t be the first content business to cross that chasm. Users are significantly more sophisticated than generally given credit for, and have proven more than willing to accept a wide variety of monetization strategies from digital businesses that deliver real value.

Lover.ly is in a crowded category, with competition coming from everyone from the Knot and Weddings.com, to Google Images and Pinterest, to fellow startup Carats and Cake. Its product continues to evolve and become more compelling with each revision. Khalil is well on the way to achieving her vision of “fixing search” in the wedding category. The challenge at this stage is to gain the audience scale necessary to defend against these multi-directional threats and then to properly monetize that scale to make it all worth the effort.