Storenvy brings the mall experience to online shopping

By Richard Nieva , written on December 6, 2012

From The News Desk

Facebook has been trying to build in shopping to its social network. The company’s Gifts marketplace is an attempt to spur buying from people that just happen to be clicking through the website. One San Francisco-based startup, Storenvy, is attempting to do it the other way around: build a social site out of shopping.

Storenvy allows independent merchants to build their own online stores using the company’s resources. But unlike something like Etsy, the stores are standalone websites that a merchant can brand however he chooses, with a custom URL. Shopify also lets merchants build their own branded online stores, but it lacks the community aspect of Storenvy.

Every product from every shop on Storenvy is available through the company’s website. Allowing shoppers to either enter through a store's own URL or through Storenvy's front door gives storeowners a sense of autonomy but also eases the burden of them having to generate all of their own traffic. “It takes the best parts of social shopping and brings you to a place where you can actually buy,” says Jon Crawford, the company’s founder and chief executive.

The site – which has gotten backing from some high profile investors like Kleiner Perkins and First Round Capital – has a decidedly creative bent, geared more toward stores that sell handmade crafts or art. The company says it hosts some 26,000 stores and half a million products. Some relatively bigger brands use the company’s service to host their stores; the streaming music service GrooveShark uses Storenvy to sell its merchandise.

Today the process got a little more social, though it's not a full on traditional social network. The company unveiled a redesign and introduced profiles for its shoppers. Storenvy says 300,000 people bought from individual stores, and because they have already interacted with the site, they will be the first theoretical members to populate the social network. They can upload a picture, and their face pops up next to items they’ve browsed – which could spur a friend to look in the same store. The site’s obligatory social stamp of approval is “envies,” instead of Likes.

Of course, joining the social network fray means navigating through all the familiar concerns that come with the territory. Privacy is an issue. The decision to let your friends know which items you’ve perused is opt-out, which is good to know if you think you’d be embarrassed by your shopping habits. Because maybe I don’t want my friends to know that I browsed an Abba record and I don’t have to explain myself to you damn it.

The company also mentioned that it would soon begin charging commission for items purchased through the Storenvy marketplace, though the profits from products sold directly from merchants’ standalone URLs would still all go to the storeowner. The change will go into effect sometime in the next year, Crawford says, though there is no specific timeline yet and the company hasn’t announced how much it will charge. His rationale is: “We want an incentive to drive sales to merchants,” a let me work harder for you mentality. His reasoning seems a bit car salesman-esque, but the idea actually seems fair. After all, storeowners at a physical mall need to pay rent for their real estate.

The idea is intriguing. It won’t ever become a go-to retail site, because its stores are too tailored toward only the creative set. Amazon has been called the Web’s mall because of its breadth and ability to attract customers to a good deal. But this feels more like a mall in a pop cultural sense -- the kind of place where Jay and Silent Bob hang out. It’s like the online version of a 14-year-old kid loitering the mall after a half day of school and walking into a Spencer’s Gifts. It almost makes me want an Orange Julius.

[Image credit: chippenziedeutch at Flickr]