Twitter and Facebook have radically transformed the ways in which people expect to interact with each other online, but the actual business of selling things and buying them has taken a while to catch up. Online shopping has been dominated by Amazon, Ebay and the hipster-inflected arts, crafts and vintage site Etsy. But at their best these outlets lack a built-method of making shopping social. Wanelo sets out to change that, by building a shopping site around the skeleton of a social media network.
Users collect items that they ‘want, need or love’ to save and share on their profiles. Unlike similar sites like Pinterest, Wanelo is designed to drive e-commerce. Clicking an image doesn’t give the option to reblog or repin it; instead you’ll be prompted to save the item, or redirected to where you can buy it. Users can follow brands, designers and stores as well as other Wanelo users.
The founder of the site, Dena Varshavskaya, spoke on the vision behind Wanelo in a recent interview. ‘E-commerce is exploding,’ she said, ‘yet the market has remained primitive.’ She went on to draw attention to the need for an e-commerce site that does more than offer ‘suggestions’ based on crude interpretations of your past activity, or ad-retargeting. ‘We make sense of the world through the people around us, and we have a social network for every basic human need except chopping. When we look at a piece of content, we want to know who created it, who likes or hates it, who uses it, and so on.’
In fact, most savvy net users will do this to some extent already, cruising forums and Facebooking friends for advice and knowledge about what to buy. But a network that builds that functionality into one platform? Ms. Varshavskaya claims: ‘That’s what Wanelo is building.’
Wanelo uses an activity feed, similar to Facebook’s Newsfeed, as its primary interface, and a ‘trending’ feature introduced last year has been a hit. The site is attracting a number of brands, including big hitters like Urban Outfitters, which are keen to establish a Wanelo presence, paying Wanelo a portion of the money for each sale for the right to use the network.
Their enthusiasm is because of the high number of active users: Wanelo has six million registered users, and at least 70% of them visit the site at least once a month, according to data from the company itself. Members save Wanelo’s array of items 700m times, or eight million each day: a level of engagement more in tune with the site’s social networking roots than with the traditional model of e-commerce. And the growth in membership has been fast; in November 2012, Wanelo had only one million members, many of them women, and is developing a strong toehold in mobile technology.
All this fast-growing, active membership means Wanelo is the perfect place for the kind of inexpensive, on-trend apparel and accessories that people buy to with the basics they still frequently buy locally. And it’s compatible with other social networks too: Wanelo members are offered the option to sign up through their Facebook accounts, though Ms. Varshavskaya insists the site isn’t leapfrogging on existing networks from Facebook or elsewhere: ‘Only a portion of the users connected their Facebook’ accounts, she said. ‘Facebook has been an important part of the mix, but it wasn’t the main driver of growth in any way. It’s really word of mouth, not any viral loop that we’ve created’ that Ms. Varshavskaya credits with the growth of the site.
Wanelo has been under the mainstream radar so far, despite interviews, media events and those six million members. But it’s recently embarked on a fundraising spree, pulling together what TechCrunch reported to be over $100m (though the company itself says only that it is ‘well-funded for growth’) and looks set to step into the spotlight.