Consumers are inherently visual, which makes photos the ideal medium through which to sell products. The problem facing brands, however, is that they engage with their audience on platforms that are not conducive to commerce – namely social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr.
PICT is a new startup entering private beta today to solve this issue with its shoppable photos product. In conjunction with today’s launch, the company has announced $1.4 million in Seed financing from Lowercase Capital, Forerunner Ventures, Opus Capital, Angelpad, 500 Startups, Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott Belsky, Steven Alan, Seth Berman, and other angels.
Through PICT, brands can create content-rich photos that can be distributed via Facebook or another social platforms to drive commerce. When users encounter a PICT within their social stream, they can hovered over that image with a mouse or tap it on a mobile device to reveal a product description, additional photos, in-line purchase options, and social sharing tools. Consumers can also bookmark favorite products for future shopping.
In other words, the platform allows brands to turn social networks into giant showrooms.
By integrating with third-party ecommerce platform, such as Etsy, Shopify, Magento, Demandware, and others, PICTs can be linked directly to a brand’s product catalog. Relevant products are then simply tagged in each photo much as one would tag a friend in a Facebook photo. Also, with a single click, the app delivers consumers directly to a brand’s shopping cart. In the background, the platform collects and delivers rich analytics on consumer behavior, including which photos and products drive the most engagement and generate the most revenue, as well as via which distribution platform.
PICT is currently free, but the company will likely monetize via a data-metered freemium SaaS model in the near future, with paid subscribers getting greater access to rich analytics and other premium features.
The company has the opportunity to solve a major problem for brands which have spent years building massive social followings, but which lack the ability to convert them to customers. With Facebook’s ever-changing EdgeRank algorithms and pricing models restricting the distribution of brand content, this once promising channel is beginning to look less and less appealing. If PICT allows these brands to increase engagement and ultimately conversion, it could see massive adoption of its platform.
The risk in this model is pissing off the famously-temperamental social networks. The PICT product has been in the market in private alpha for months without issue, but this could easily change as its volume increases and if, for example, it adversely affects brands’ willingness to pay Facebook for Promoted Posts or Twitter for promoted tweets. PICT is not overly reliant on one individual social network, but Facebook, Twitter, and have each been inconsistent in their past dealings with third-party developers and monetization strategies. Like any other product that is dependent on an external platform(s), PICT will need to hope it can continue to play nice with the gatekeepers.
We’re in the very early innings of the social commerce market. Tools like PICT and others are bound to play a key role in turning users into consumers. There are a number of questions that remain to be answered, including whether PICT can exist as a standalone product, or whether it belongs as a feature of Facebook, Magento, or the like. PICT’s investors include several industry heavyweights, among them Lowercase’s Chris Sacca and social marketing maven Gary Vaynerchuk. The experience and relationships of this team should go a long way toward helping PICT’s founders navigate these otherwise treacherous waters.