If you listen to the likes of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, physical retail as we know it is on a slow march to obsolescence, with the world today in a “pre-death” state of good-but-transitory traditional businesses sitting alongside more exciting e-commerce developments that point to the future. One such company working in the latter category is inSparq, a social commerce platform provider that develops features for online retailers such as sharing widgets, on-site live Pinboards and analytics to measure how all of that and more are performing to help sell things.
InSparq is by no means the only company working in this space. Just yesterday, we covered Piqora — the new name for Pinterest/social media analytics provider Pinfluencer — which also was launching a picture-based service, called Gallery, to help Pinterest-ify retailers’ web sites. There are many more where that came from.
The crowded nature of the space is not something that deters Veronika Sonsev, the CEO and founder of inSparq: “I think it validates the market that so many are doing this,” she told TechCrunch in an interview.
Social commerce can mean a lot of different things — Chirpify would say it’s about being able to purchase goods directly from place of social interaction (eg a tweet or status update); others believe it relates to any purchase spurred by a social interaction; meanwhile, Facebook might argue that it’s about using a social network to send gifts.
In inSparq’s case, it means using social media tools to help discover things, making it the next generation of search. “If you’re on the web, it’s really easy to search for specific products that you want, like the Samsung Galaxy S 4, and find the best price online. But the next challenge is discovery. Knowing I want an outfit for Friday or a gift for my dad, but not knowing what to get, that’s the thing that’s missing.”
If Piqora’s Gallery is a way of adding a Pinterest-like feature to a site aggregating information about how much buzz a particular product is generating on different social networks, then an inSparq Pinboard is more like a real-time Fancy experience about what’s happening on the site itself: using APIs for a site’s whole product catalog, it tracks and shows how many people are buying items at a given moment, with top items rising to the top, and then it lets you buy it right there.
“It gives you a similar sense to what you get when you’re in a store,” is how Sonsev describes it. I think of it also as a little like the Home Shopping Network, where you can see the purchases rack up at the bottom of the screen. You can also share a link to that item with your contacts on Facebook, email, Twitter and Pinterest.
(Incidentally, the use of the word ‘Pinboard’ is intentional: On inSparq’s product page it’s trademarked. Sonsev tells me in fact that the trademark is still pending. If approved, it could be interesting, considering that Pinterest has specifically outlined that it doesn’t want partners and others using variations on ‘pin’ in the names of their services.)
Here is what a pinboard from one current customer, C. Wonder, looks like:
InSparq’s Live Pinboards were launched at the end of February, and so far Sonsev says that the results have been “pretty incredible.” People visit the Pinboards three to four times per week and they spend two minutes per average while there. The click-through-rates on products has been over 15%; compare this to traditional digital ad units, which get CTRs of less than a single digit. Most importantly, Sonsev says those Pinboards are typically seeing twice the rate of conversion seen on the sites overall — meaning that inSparq’s twist on social commerce could be a keeper.
Longer term, inSparq plans to add other features to the Pinboards, such as the ability for retailers to feature certain items, and it will also be adding in more features — although she wouldn’t specify what — to encourage more interactivity. (I suggested “competitions or gaming elements,” and she said these might be two.) The Pinboards are already built with responsive design but Sonsev says there will be more mobile-specific elements in the coming quarter.
InSparq is currently angel-funded — with the amount of backing and names of backers undisclosed — but Sonsev, who prior to this was an executive a mobile advertising company Jumptap and before at at AOL, says that the company is currently in the process of raising a Series A round.