There’s no denying that consumers of all ages are increasingly comfortable shopping online, but when it comes to younger, digitally native customers, it turns out they’re also increasingly comfortable selling online, too.
So, if you were to take that basic ease with eCommerce, add in a layer of conservation, and then top it off with a slathering of old-fashioned savings, you’d have a unique marketplace that allows Generation Z shoppers to simultaneously fill — and empty — their closets.
“I’m hesitant to make generalizations about an entire generation, but a true pattern we’ve seen is [Gen Z] is the generation where thrifting is a hobby,” Curtsy Co-founder and CEO David Oates told PYMNTS. “I hear all the time that when you’re in high school or you’re in college, there’s much more pressure to not repeat outfits, so you rely more heavily on cheap sources of clothing, like fast fashion, which now has a little bit of a negative connotation because of the lack of sustainability there.”
If fast fashion is the way to get “knockoff dupe lookalike versions” of the real thing for really cheap, Oates said, then resale is a way to get the actual thing for really cheap. While previous generations of shoppers may have just taken their unused or outgrown clothes to Goodwill or a consignment shop, Oates said younger consumers take a different view of their closet and outfit management, with many embracing a one-in, one-out mentality.
“So, it’s like accumulate, accumulate, accumulate, and then your closet is overstuffed [or] you’re moving or downsizing or whatever, then there’s this big purge that happens,” he said.
Resale Versus Rental
“I think to a lot of Gen Zs, a pair of Yeezys is a pair of Yeezys, whether they got them fresh from a retailer or they scored them from a resale app,” Oates said.
But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, Oates and his partners spent more than two years as a clothing rental app that targeted the sorority scene at the University of Mississippi, based on research that showed many coeds there required 20 unique dresses per semester. However, by listening to users, Curtsy came to realize that these stylish young shoppers were showing preference for purchasing and selling outfits, rather than renting and returning a dress, which involves certain “stressful” aspects like dry cleaning or meeting someone for pickup and drop off.
Today, Curtsy has left its roots at Ole Miss and moved to California, where with the tailwind of $14 million in funding and the backing of Y Combinator, the company is refining its operations and looking to grow its target market.
“So, we think a lot about, like, ‘How can we truly be everything for everyone?’” Oates said. “And I think that’s why we’re investing so heavily in the machine learning piece and the [outfit] curation piece that we think of as Spotify-like personalization,” as in, surfacing something that matches your particular taste.
One area where Curtsy has tried to update the reselling process is by reducing the friction that users experience on other re-selling platforms, such as listing, selecting options, photographing your stuff, and then pricing it, followed by fulfillment on the backend after a sale goes through.
“There’s a ton of friction there that can be solved with a combination of humans and machine learning,” he said. “A great example is we train a machine learning model on the selling prices of previously sold things, so when you post your item, we tell you exactly what you should sell it at to have the item sell quickly… [Pricing] is a huge psychological hurdle for people.”
Curtsy also sends sellers everything they need to fulfill orders without leaving their house, he said, unlike other apps like eBay that require supplies and a trip to the post office.
“Then you have to wait in line, and I hope you brought tape and, like, it’s just kind of a mess,” he said. “So, Curtsy by comparison is, like, dummy-proof.”
Oates said because there are so many different lines of communication today (from text, phone email to DMs, Instagram, Twitter and more) it is “super important” that Curtsy listen to and respond to its customers wherever that may be.
Building The Brand
As far as the future is concerned, Oates said Curtsy will be focusing on distribution and branding this year.
“So, I think the differentiator in 2021 is distribution, and I think building a product is easy, but building a product that has a lot of inbuilt virality is really hard,” he said. “You can have the best marketing in the world, but If you’re selling a product that doesn’t have good retention and isn’t sticky, then it’s going to eventually fall flat.”
Along those lines, Curtsy is also taking a much closer look at its own branding — or more specifically its lack of branding — in order to scale its “cute clothes” reselling concept to a wider audience, Oates said.
“Something we’re working on right now is having a really strong brand voice and standing for something,” he said, noting that Curtsy’s brand had been pieced together over the years, almost as a side project.
“We hadn’t really taken an intentional approach to it, so I think that working on our brand will certainly help with that organic piece as well,” he said.