As Generation Z grows to be retail’s largest group of consumers with an estimated $44 billion in buying power, businesses are rethinking their strategies to appeal towards a group of digital natives who value seamless shopping experiences, authenticity and transparency. Their idea of shopping isn’t simply going to the mall or flipping through a Delia’s or Alloy catalog as was the case with previous generations. Instead, it’s watching shopping hauls on YouTube, scrolling through a brand’s Instagram page and looking to their favorite influencers for outfit inspiration — straight from their smartphones.
Mobile shopping and social app Dote is keeping up with these habits and aiming to be “Gen Z’s Dream Mall.” “From our perspective, we see these retailers who haven’t fully identified or caught up with that shift,” says founder and CEO Lauren Farleigh. “They really are trying to use old marketing techniques for this new generation, but not authentically engaging these social creators and their Gen Z followers.”
After launching Dote in 2014, Farleigh — who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, studied at Dartmouth and kickstarted her tech career in mobile gaming in San Francisco — has raised up to $10.6 million in funding and garnered Gwyneth Paltrow as a mentor and an advisor while appearing on the show “Planet of the Apps.” As mobile shopping rises within the e-commerce space — potentially reaching $284 billion, or 45 percent of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by 2020 — Dote is already ahead of the game.
The way that Dote works is that it’s a one-stop shop with at least 140 of Gen Z’s favorite brands and retailers — think Brandy Melville, Madewell, Urban Outfitters, ASOS, Sephora and more. Once you create an account, add items to your shopping cart and place an order, the app sends it to the retailers for processing and shipping. Plus, based on your favorite stores and purchases, a selection of products and offerings are curated just for you. There’s also updates on discounts, giveaways and a loyalty program to gain Dote coins for free shipping, a pop-up photo shoot or a chance to be featured on Dote’s Instagram.
What truly sets this app apart is its social component. A Dote user’s profile is essentially home for content creation, like polls (a newly launched Dote feature), videos, quizzes, giveaways and lists upon lists of favorited items. Those with larger followings on YouTube or Instagram are verified as a “Dote Girl,” including Ellie Thumann, Summer Mckeen and Hannah Meloche, to name a few. If they tag @doteshopping in an Instagram post, that feeds into their Dote profile, which followers can instantly shop on the app. “A lot of them had built their followings by creating content that was shoppable,” says Farleigh. “Makeup tutorials, ‘Get Ready With Me,’ summer hauls are all shopping-related content. I get probably 10 emails a day saying ‘How do I become a Dote Girl?'”
One Dote Girl in particular, YouTube star (and the newest obsession of the Fashionista team) Emma Chamberlain, announced on Tuesday an upcoming project (called Low Key by EmmaC) to be sold exclusively on Dote. (From the looks of her teasers and new website, we have a pretty good feeling it’s fashion-related.) “This is really the largest undertaking and partnership that we ever had since our inception and we’re super excited to be working even closer with Emma,” says Farleigh. More details will be released next month.
The typical Dote user is a female between the ages of 13 and 22 years old. She visits the app about four times a day and spends an average of 40 minutes on it. According to Farleigh, each shopping trip consists of about 75 viewed products total. “We’re sort of this interesting hybrid between a traditional shopping app and social,” she explains. “We’re creating a platform where it’s not just about the purchase, it’s really about the community. Even if you don’t buy today, you can come back, you can take a fun quiz, you can explore the shoppable Instagram, enter a giveaway and really still be a part of that world and that community. I think that’s a good reason why we see this super sticky engagement and retention numbers.”
Dote is building a community outside of the app, too. On weekdays at 5 p.m. PST is “Dote Daily Live,” when a few select staffers go live on Instagram to share their outfits of the day, chat with their followers (dubbed “Dote Nation”) and play games for shopping credits or swag from Dote’s San Francisco-based office. Plus, Farleigh has taken select Dote Girls on influencer trips to Miami, Malibu, Aspen, Coachella (or “Dotechella”) and soon, in August, Fiji.
During a Dote trip to Austin, TX, Farleigh’s parents, who moved there a few years ago, hosted a dinner for the girls — along with their moms/guardians — at their home. “My mom is still pretty much like, ‘Is your job real?’ So this was a fun way to show that it is,” recalls Farleigh. “Actually, her neighbor was freaking out because she’s a middle school girl and all of her idols like Emma Chamberlain and Marla Catherine were at our house. I think that’s why it clicked with my mom that this wasn’t super random.”
Note: This post has been updated from its original version to clarify that each shopping trip on Dote averages 75 viewed products, not purchased products.