Pinterest Has Users, Fancy Has a Business Model

Social discovery site is expanding its e-commerce play

Fancy isn't Pinterest. Not even close. But Pinterest may start looking to emulate its business model.

A startup Web application that blends bookmarking and shopping, Fancy just recently crossed the million-user mark. That's impressive, but Pinterest is about 10 times larger. At their most basic level, both social content-discovery sites have users record stuff they like. On Pinterest, those records take the form of scrapbook-like pinboards with titles like “Products I Love” or “Places I’d Like to Go;” on Fancy they’re lists like “Sports & Outdoors” or “Gadgets” that can then be compiled into a user’s catalog.

However, while Pinterest is a hot topic in marketing circles, “Fancy is not even being discussed” because it lacks scale, said Scott Gillum, president of the digital agency Gyro’s D.C. office.

Brands gravitate to Pinterest because its users’ pinboards represent purchase intent, but in February Fancy closed the loop by actually letting its users buy the products they "fancied" (its version of the pin, or like), and rolled out the e-commerce capability to its iPhone app a few weeks ago. “We’re a straight shopping utility," said Fancy founder Joe Einhorn, who noted that Fancy receives a 10 percent of every sale made on the platform.

That's a lot further along than Pinterest's nascent business model, despite the platform's seemingly perfect fit with e-commerce. (To be fair, Pinterest has a business model through its use of affiliate links, but doesn't like talking about it.)

For now, Fancy is most useful to trendsetters and tastemakers, particulary those with disposable income. Lots of it. Its bread and butter merchants skew super high-end. One of its investors is French fashion giant PPR, home to pricey brands like Gucci, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent.

Einhorn said the plan is for Fancy to start by aiming high, then eventually broadening its base to everyday products because, as he explained, “When you’re at the bottom of the brand pyramid selling overstock crap, it’s really tough to get up to the top.”

Of course, it takes more than gravity to get to the bottom or even the middle. Regular folks won’t likely scour Fancy daily to buy items like a $1,595 bejeweled collared shirt. But Einhorn’s hope is that they could fancy an American Apparel shirt and receive a notification from Fancy if American Apparel ever starts selling the tee on the site.

“The future is, I’m going to declare as a consumer my position, and merchants and brands are going to have access to that data. And it’s going to be up to them how they want to harness it,” Einhorn said. Fancy’s e-commerce strategy—underscored by its Tumblr-esque site design—is “serendipity versus search,” he said.

But Einhorn doesn’t want to limit that serendipity to just what users find on its site or app. Later this year, Fancy hopes to roll out the ability for its app users to snap a photo of a product—be it in a store or worn by someone on the street—and then have Fancy’s image-recognition technology determine that the item’s not only on Fancy but available for purchase. If successful, that offline-online commerce connection could set Fancy up for Einhorn’s wild ambition.

“A year from now, we want to be thought of by consumers the way they think of Amazon, but we want to even be better,” said Einhorn. “I think Amazon is always going to be great for buying toilet paper, paper towels, roach traps, garden equipment and shit like that, but we want to be the Amazon of everything cool that you didn’t know about, and we want to matter as much to consumers as Amazon does today.” For that to happen, though, Fancy will need to scale faster than its current growth rate of 10,000 new users per day.

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