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Removing The Middle-Man: How We Took Shopping Out Of The Stores And Into Your Hands

Business

I am always texting. I haven't been on Facebook since college, (crazy, I know), I don't get Twitter, and Instagram is growing on me. Yea, I sound a lot older than 31, but I'm not alone. I live in my texts. We all do. Emails are work, apps are annoying to download and I never remember to open them. But there's a reason that text messages have a 96 percent open rate - they're from my friends and family.


It pains me to say that apps are annoying because that's the world I'm coming from. I've built and run two iPhone apps and learned a lot - enough to never build one again. Don't get me wrong, building apps was a lot of fun. Building one for CollegeHumor was particularly fun. But we bent over backwards to get people to download it. Then we did backflips to get people to open it, and play it. It was an awesome experience that we had to beg people to have. You don't have to beg people to send texts.

I wanted to tether the real world, where your real friends and family actually talk, to a commerce experience. And that's why I started Shop Or Not, the weekly text message you can shop. We text you one new thing, once a week. That's it.

Your friend sees something you'd love and texts you a pic of it. We're that friend. All you have to do is text back 'Yes' and the item is shipped right to your door. That's it, pure texting - just one picture and a few sentences. No website, no app. So many times when I found myself out and about, I wouldn't buy much (yes, I hate shopping, and yes, I started a shopping company), but I would so often take pictures of things I saw that my friends would like. It is so simple, something millions of people already do every day, and best of all for someone who hates shopping, the whole experience takes about 30 seconds. We're taking you out of the store, and meeting you where you are these days.

Co-Founders, Kelly O'Malley and Kate Myers

Everything we text about is totally curated, from small batch coffee pods made in Montana to spicy chili granola made in Brooklyn to leather bags sewn in Tennessee and pocket squares made in Texas. Each product is one of a kind, made in America, we absolutely love it, and you've probably never seen anything like it before. If you only ever want to text about chocolate, great. If you only want items made in Colorado, great. Through the text conversation, we get to know you, chatting back and forth about what you like, and that way we'll be able to text you only the best stuff. If you text us any questions, like, “Is that chili granola super spicy? I'm more into sweet breakfast", then we remember that too and make sure you don't get texted anything you'll want to spit out.

Retail is evolving rapidly from the times of wandering stores and running your fingers across fabrics. Those were the days, when you only had so many choices and you could touch them all. Shop Or Not covers one of those crucial bases: fewer choices. In the area of 20-Tabs-Open-On-My-Laptop, fewer choices is a great thing. The in-store experience is limited by four walls and shelf space. Wandering around, revisiting, and discussing items with your shopping mates is a pretty lovely, cozy experience. We'd like to recreate a bit of that intimacy, while also making it so much simpler.

I believe texting, an old-fashioned technology, is the next best thing to the in-store experience, the perfect tether between the old and new ways of shopping. It's so intimate. Which means it's all about trust. It's not an ad or an app telling you what to get, it's your friend. Texting you just one thing at a time. From someone you know, who knows what you'll like, and knows that if you don't like it, you'll text back a thumbs down emoji.

Keeping it super simple is super underrated. I learned that from years of making fun but fundamentally complicated apps.

Texting is really good at some things, not so great at others. It's one way to reimagine the retail experience, but not the ultimate reinvention. For example, I would never buy a couch over text. That's something I need to look at for a while and probably put through the highly sophisticated Butt Test. Texting, however, is really good at reminding you of things, for instance. With every Shop Or Not text, you can reply 'Yes' to buy. After a while, we saw a lot of customers responding 'Gift' to be able to send the item to someone else. That gave us an idea. We texted our customers to ask, “Any special occasions coming up? Let us know your big dates this year." And we got an overwhelming response rate: people texted us back with birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so many special times. We scheduled texts two weeks out from every occasion to say, “Hey there, your mom's birthday is coming up, here are three gift ideas." And we watched the champagne marshmallows fly off the metaphorical shelf.

Technology moves really fast. People don't. I mean, I've run multiple tech companies and I definitely don't. Forcing apps and bots and complicated websites on people isn't what they want, it's what brands want. What people want is simply to talk to each other. Of course. So we met them there. Said hi. And texted them one awesome thing.

For SWAAY readers, text Swaay to 347-482-0881 for 25 percent off your first order.

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.