Thursday, July 18, 2024

Flip, The TikTok Shop Competitor, Expands Social Commerce By Acquiring Curated

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The emergence of social commerce flips traditional e-commerce digital retail on its head. Instead of a brand opening a digital store and using digital marketing to push it out to shoppers, social commerce pulls shoppers in by engaging through their social media connections.

Social commerce has really taken hold in China, thanks to TikTok Shop, Alibaba, WeChat and other platforms, yet it is just getting a foothold in the U.S. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that the social commerce market in China will grow from $350 billion in 2021, or 13% of Chinese e-commerce sales, to around $900 billion in 2025.

By comparison, McKinsey pegged the U.S. social commerce market at $37 billion in 2021 and projects it to reach about $80 billion by 2025. BCG sees it going even higher to $110 billion; however, a potential TikTok ban could upend that trajectory.

TikTok Shop only launched in the U.S. last September and now reportedly has some 500,000 merchants in its affiliate program selling products via influencer-produced shoppable videos with creators sharing in a take from sales. Bloomberg reported TikTok Shop expects to reach $17.5 billion in sales by the end of 2024.

However, another social commerce player, Flip has been on the scene since late 2021 and shares similarities to TikTok Shop – video presentations anchor product presentations. But its significant differences could make it more appealing to consumers in the U.S.

So far, the Flip app has been downloaded by 5 million users and has more than 5,000 brands featured on its site. And unlike TikTok Shop, Flip curates every brand it features. Over 70% of the sellers that apply to be featured on the platform are rejected, giving customers confidence they are getting the real thing, not being sold a bill of goods.

Venture capital firm WestCap has gotten behind Flip in a big way. In April, it participated in a $144 million Series C investment, which more than doubled its $60 million Series B funding in 2022. To date, Flip has garnered $236 million in venture capital.

And Flip just made a major move itself, acquiring social commerce company Curated for $330 million in stock. Flip and Curated operate under different business models and target different types of customers with different buying needs, but they share a conviction that e-commerce has eliminated the personal touch in digital retail. They intend to put it back.

“With the acquisition of Curated, we are accelerating our strategy to reshape e-commerce by emphasizing authentic human interaction and high-quality products,” Flip founder and CEO Noor Agha said in a statement.

“In an age where most shopping platforms rely heavily on algorithms, our focus remains on creating a people-powered shopping experience that fosters genuine connections and personal recommendations, ensuring our customers receive the best possible guidance and satisfaction,” he continued.

WestCap’s founder and managing partner Laurence Tosi believes in that mission. “Flip has thoughtfully stitched together complex technologies to redefine and elevate the way we discover products and shop online. Their cutting-edge social commerce model is here to stay and ready to scale.”

Flip Features Real Customers Telling Their Stories

Unlike TikTok Shops, which has a mercenary quality through its paid influencers, Flip upholds strict standards about who can post and gives them free rein as to what they say.

Flip policy prohibits paid influencers from creating posts to promote a brand’s products and restricts brands from influencing product reviews. Only real customers can post reviews, limited to one minute of screen time.

“People are genuinely craving honesty when it comes to product recommendations, as there is an overwhelming amount of content on everything everywhere,” Agha shared with PYMTS. “Consumers are immune to this, and we see it in the numbers. Interestingly, the most successful creators on Flip do not even have an Instagram account.”

Video creators must first be validated as buyers of the product on the site – the site’s camera feature is only enabled after the product has been delivered to the customer’s location through integration with the company’s logistics system. And creators get scaled rewards based upon sales and views, which can be used for additional purchases on the site or transferred to a bank account.

Flip app users also can gift their social network connections with credit to spend on the site, adding the viral element. Personally, I’m not inclined to invite cherished friends to be inundated with commercial messages, but then, I’m not the customer that Flip was designed for.

Between 60% to 65% of Flip users are aged 25 to 45 years, and the 30 and younger crowd is its fastest-growing segment. For them, I see the appeal, especially as beauty is Flip’s cornerstone and inspiring impulse purchases is its main draw.

Curated’s Consideration Buying Model

Unlike Flip, which excels at retail therapy and instant gratification, Curated was designed for considered, high-investment purchases where the advice of an expert greatly benefits prospective customers. The average order value on Curated is $700.

Curated got a foothold in the outdoor sports category where carefully-vetted experts in skiing, snowboarding, camping, fly fishing, golf and tennis consult with prospective buyers to uncover their needs and give reliable and authoritative product recommendations. It has since added home products to the mix, including cookware, knives and other kitchen tools, coffee and espresso machines, air purifiers and floor care.

“People love the ability to talk to somebody knowledgeable before they are about to make a big purchase,” Curated founder Eduardo Vivas shared. “We do this everyday in our personal lives, but we don’t have somebody for everything. We built a platform to connect these people with experts who can advise them objectively.”

Meeting of the Minds

While there is little overlap between Flip and Curated’s customer bases from an age perspective, both target customers with disposable income for discretionary purchases. And they share a commitment to the people-power in retail, most especially in e-commerce where it’s largely missing.

“Flip is about discovering cool, new products by flipping through posts by people who bought something, loved it and want to share it. Curated is about chatting with an expert who’s super-passionate about the category and can help the customer find what’s best for him or her,” Vivas said.

Over the past year, he and Flip’s Agha got to know one another to share advice and war stories. Vivas is a big believer in the value of network connections, having sold his last venture to LinkedIn.

“One of my investors suggested that it might make sense for us to come together since we both have unique models in the social commerce space. So I called Noor and within minutes we decided to do it,” he said.

Going forward, the two companies will continue to operate independently, but Vivas will step into Flip as its chief operating officer. And they plan to bring experts onto the Flip platform and add customer videos to Curated. The expectation is through the acquisition, the company will double last year’s combined revenues.

“By combining our strengths, we are committed to ensuring an honest and genuine shopping experience, powered by individuals who are passionate about sharing what they love. Together, we will continue to champion authentic recommendations and create a vibrant, community-driven marketplace,” Vivas concluded.

See Also:

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