A number of startups, including Magic, Operator, GoButler and Fetch, have been developing mobile shopping apps that function more like personal assistants, allowing users to submit commerce-related requests by voice or text for items ranging from products they want to purchase to airline tickets and more.
The latest to join this busy space is Scratch, an online and mobile shopping service that connects consumers with “experts” who send recommendations for things like gifts, clothing, home decor and other items.
The company has now raised $3.6 million in seed funding in a round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Other investors include NextView Ventures, Red Swan Ventures and Aspiration Growth (Matt Salzberg, CEO of Blue Apron).
Like several of its competitors, Scratch is also focused on helping consumers communicate their requests simply by way of a short message that an actual person picks up on the other end. This shopping expert then replies with personalized recommendations typically within 24 hours.
The new app is largely aimed at those who are looking for more common items – like gifts or clothing, for example – and not some of the more unusual requests that other services had seen. (For example, remember when someone tried to order a tiger through Magic? That’s probably not a fit for Scratch.)
What sets Scratch apart is its more price-sensitive nature. While Magic initially tacked on extra fees to help it generate revenue, Scratch says its prices are the same as buying directly from a retailer. In addition, the service offers a “Best Price Promise,” which is a guarantee that if you find a better price online within 30 days of purchase, Scratch will refund the difference.[gallery ids="1182666,1182659,1182660,1182661,1182662,1182663,1182664,1182665"]
In addition, the service extends itself beyond functioning as only a shopping utility to offer product discovery, too. Its shopping experts curate specialized lists of interesting items, which are then displayed in a feed within the application. When you find something you like – whether from the feed or through a direct request – you can tap to buy the item in Scratch. The app saves your payment info and shipping address to make the purchase process quick.
Currently, Scratch generates revenue by taking a percentage of the retail price from brands and retailers it partners with; there are a few hundred partners in place, the company says.
Meanwhile, the more you use Scratch, the better its recommendations become, as it saves details on your style preferences and needs. It can also make note of who you’re shopping for and when, in order to proactively remind you about upcoming birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and more.
Though the company says recommendations are sent within 24 hours, Scratch’s shoppers actually reach out in less than an hour to make the initial contact. And they’ll continue to send items to you until you find something you love and want to buy.
Another differentiator for Scratch, versus some of the other shopping assistants, is that it’s also available on the web in addition to mobile.
But it’s the personal touches that the company hopes will win over customers. While some shopping sites like Amazon can often overwhelm users with options, and shopping assistant apps can sometimes lean on things like inbox data or past searches to get to know your tastes, Scratch’s shoppers instead try to learn what you like based on their real-world interactions with you.
According to Scratch founder and CEO Matt Zisow, a Harvard Law School graduate who previously worked at McKinsey and then served as COO of CustomMade before starting Scratch last year, the inspiration for the startup came from his own personal experience.
“I came up with the idea for Scratch stemming from my experience as a busy husband, father of three young kids, and start-up COO,” explains Zisow. “I noticed that myself and lots of people in my life — friends with demanding jobs, families with young kids, stay-at-home moms — were experiencing a version of the same problem: a long list of personally meaningful things to buy…but no time or energy to shop.”
“With so many options out there and such limited time, people settled for whatever they could find quickly, or didn’t make the purchase at all, adding yet another item to their already long to-do lists,” he says.
The 14-person team in Boston will now use the new funding to expand its product to Android, enhance the app’s functionality, build out its partner network, and fill out its shopping team with more third-party experts and tastemakers, notes Zisow.
The app is live today but is in invite-only status behind a waitlist. However, users can sign up here to test it out.