I meet Shannon Edwards the morning after I've finished reading Tech Bitch. This seems fitting given that the book is about women in the 21st century's multimedia landscape (who according to the book must adapt or die), and Edwards is the CEO of Styloko: 'The fashion discovery engine'.
I'm telling Edwards all about the book, how the millennials in it are social media obsessed and tech savvy like you wouldn't believe, and she isn't the slightest bit fazed because Edwards has "ridden the tech wave from the start."
Styloko is a digital shopping tool that aggregates around 700,000 products from almost every major UK retailer, learning consumer preferences as they browse and swipe, so that it can suggest new products. Essentially, it's personalisation on steroids.
Styloko recently launched a fashion discovery app as part of its ‘multi-device shopping strategy’: The WantList, allowing women to pick up where they left off shopping earlier that day, week or month across any device. I ask Shannon to tell me all about it.
“We have really complex algorithms that generate very insightful data,” she explains. "Say you’re looking at a feed of shoes, once you start showing interest in specific types, we can identify that you have a penchant for luxury shoes which we then start to pull forward without you even realising. That's our algorithms learning your behavior. One of my favourite features of Styloko is its visual technology, which identifies pattern and colour similarities and eliminates the need for text based search.”
“For example,” she says demonstrating the app on her iPhone, “Say you’re looking for a floral dress and you really like this Dolce and Gabbana number but it’s a $1200 dollar dress. Instead of letting you move on, we say, ‘well here’s other dresses with similar patterns and, oh look, here’s an identical Reiss dress for £195 instead!’”
Edwards is a doyenne of internet shopping and has been heading up Styloko since November 2014. Before that though, she started out as a journalist, switching to public relations in 1999 when relocating to San Francisco, a move that she describes as “nothing I will see again in my life. The hype, the money, the hubris, all of it, is literally a story I will tell my grandkids.” Her clients included digital brands like Yahoo! as well as retailers such as Drugstore.com, but when the early 2000 market crash happened and the majority of Edwards’ peers were being “laid off and golfing all day” she hung up. In 2003 she became Netflix's newest Marketing and Communications Director and later moved on to Shopping.com prior to its acquisition by eBay. Edwards found herself launching Shopping.com in France, dividing her time between Paris and London before deciding that London was where she wanted to be full-time. “For me the frustration I had in the US, especially at the time, was that it is very segregated by industry,” says Edwards. “So you have entertainment in LA, media in NY and technology in San Francisco. Obviously it's developed since then, but with London I knew it was going to be the epicentre of fashion technology.”
In 2008, Edwards began working with ShopStyle Europe as Vice President and Managing Director, launching the business in the UK before France and Germany in 2009. She grew the European fan base to over 2m monthly unique users, from zero, as well as signing up over 3,000 fashion brands and retailers.
The year before Edwards joined ShopStyle it was acquired by PopSugar, an online media network of sites targeted at women. The merger meant that content, community and commerce came together to reach women in a way that hadn’t really been done before. “By being a part of Sugar, there was a massive SEO push for ShopStyle that came through all the blogs,” explains Edwards.
I ask about her thoughts on the lines between media and commerce becoming more and more blurred. Look at Burberry’s social media strategy and Net-a-Porter’s media business, is this the future?
“You have to ask, how do you get a person to buy a product, and what drives that?” she says. “It used to be that consumers would go through Vogue and think 'I love this' and 'I want this' and then they'd go to the back of the magazine and there would be stock lists in tiny little fonts. The goal is to almost make that process obsolete and make it easy to find at least some sort of inspired version of a product online.
"More importantly you have to consider this: people's attention is fractured across so many different mediums now, how do you pull them back to thinking about product? Where once the customer would go into a store and nothing else distracted them because they were in the store and didn't have a phone or smartwatch or laptop, now they're bombarded wherever they are. I think that the key problem we're trying to solve is lead generation across multi-device. Interestingly, there's a lot of industry that thinks of the store, the desktop and the phone as competitive, versus something as part of a holistic process. Stores aren’t going away, so it’s better to have them integrated with whatever device consumers have at that point.”
It’s only then that I notice Edwards is wearing an Apple Watch. I ask her how she’s finding it.
“The first thing people tend to say is 'it's too small, it can't do that much’. Well it's not supposed to. The point is if you're walking down the street and waiting for someone to phone you, you could be constantly taking your phone out and then fall into a ditch because you keep looking at it, but with the Watch you can just quickly check. I was at the dentist and my phone was ringing in my bag - usually that would stress me out because I have two children but I just glanced at my watch. I was bored in yoga the other day so I briefly checked my email. That's the genius of Apple, recognising that people don't realise what they need,” Edwards tells me.
She continues: “There's a general process of consideration in a retail purchase. There's awareness, familiarity, a sort of comfort level and then purchase. That's a natural cycle that everybody goes through to buy a product, how does that cross over with your multiple devices? So instead of devices being competitive, where do they fit into the consumer’s day? That really, is the crux of what we're trying to do with mobile.
So you're in the Starbucks queue in the morning and you're going to swipe, later you're on the train and you pick up from where you left off via your watch. Your desk is when you’re probably going to buy it at which point you look a little deeper, maybe use a discount via e-mail. Then at night, sitting on the couch, maybe you’re reading articles and you think ‘Oh I want that’ and search for a product on your iPad. So it’s relevant for retailers to consider how to engage on all those levels and that might also be why there is a rising interest in media - you can't be one dimensional anymore.”
I nod but really I’m still in awe that Edwards checks her e-mails mid-yoga.
It seems Styloko is personalising the shopping experience in a way far more subtle than, say, Amazon - the juggernaut of personalisation. To an extent, Edwards agrees.
“With Amazon, personalisation can sometimes be to their detriment. If I’m looking at gifts for my father, I don’t then want to see the constant ‘you might like this’ or ‘have you seen this piece of historical fiction?’ I don't actually think Amazon is personalised at all. I think Amazon is a genius platform that gets me what I want when I want it.
Our target audience is a busy woman, she doesn't have a lot of time, she's got money to spend, and we’re constantly asking ‘how do we make her life easier?’ Not enough companies ask that that, rather, create more distractions, more ways to be less efficient, more ways to waste time”
“Some of the best business are solving very simple problems,” Edwards concludes “and that's where there’s excitement."