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Big Interview: Kate Thornton, Founder of TBSeen.com

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Kate Thornton may be someone you associate more with the bright lights of the entertainment industry than the boardrooms of the retail world, but as a woman who was editor of Smash Hits magazine at just 22 and founder of the new discount retail website TBSeen.com, this may require rethinking.

Aside from causing her loyal domestic following to rethink her business prowess, Thornton’s eight-month old venture into the retail market is also encouraging online shoppers to rethink rewards based retail.

TBSeen.com aims to blend the cashback and rewards schemes that have risen to prominence in recent years with top-end high street brands, coupled with the friendly, informal approach to customers on which she has built her career.

“It’s kind of three businesses in one. We have been quite ambitious but I didn’t want to do something that had already been done,” Thornton explained.

“We wanted to create a site that was akin to shopping with your friend. A friend that you trusted to always find you the best deal and the best price, enabled you to shop your year, we took a lot of time mapping out what you spend across the year and every need you’ve got.

“Be it your gas supply and your utilities, through to travel, food, clothing. You name it, we host it. We wanted one place where we could get school shoes at a good deal and get money back, no one wants to ever pay more than they have to. I wanted it to be my mobile, laptop and TV all into one space.”

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At first glance TBSeen.com comes across as more of a blog than a retail website. Offering videos and masses of social content from Thornton and the “TBSeen Girls” who include similarly familiar faces like Myleene Klass and Denise Van Outen. The thinking behind this is simple: use the wealth of followers they already have to explain an idea many are yet to embrace.

“We had an owned and earned audience of three million between us that we would talk to on social media, the social aspect was our route to talking to them. We wanted to talk to potential users in a friendly way," Thornton said.

“With TBSeen that one extra click can make you massive savings. We are targeting women like me who are responsible for buying pretty much all of the household needs, always the bottom of the list. TBSeen lets our users build a pot of rewards for themselves.”  

There is more to simply using this social aspect as a USP. Thornton knows exactly who she is targeting and has years of experience to draw upon in knowing how to appeal to them.

“We’ve spent three years researching our audience. The women we’re targeting spend £460 million a week online and she’s really good at it.

"Trying to be all things to all men is too ambitious, go where you know. Fortunately, what we knew was where the money sits, and this woman is massively valuable.”

Despite a widespread and loyal audience on hand and an in-depth understanding of them, TBSeen.com targets a particularly difficult market. Discount sites and cash back schemes are yet to break free of the stigma Thornton refers to as “discount bias”.

“We identified it as one of the big barriers to entry," she said.

"There was so much confusion about what cashback was, what rewards were. We decided to come to market with cash back because it needed the most education.

“In focus groups, no one knew what cashback was, they were all amazed it was so simple. There was no easy user experience for cashback sites, nothing for the time poor.

“These women wanted to be assisted, someone to do the heavy lifting. It's so social because it gives us the permission to talk and explain. There’s an element of trust because people have grown up around the TBSeen crew for the last 20 years.”

With a new partnership with Swarovski secured and a user base growing by the day, TBSeen.com may well work to alleviate the stigma of cash back sites and prove to "become a treasured digital friend" as its founder hopes.  

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Published on Thursday 22 September by Ben Stevens

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