EPISODE 024 : 08/19/2021

Tiffany Shi, VP of Product, ShopShops

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Tiffany Shi is the Vice President for Product and Growth at ShopShops. ShopShops is a global shopping app that mimics the fun of in-person shopping through the magic of livestream video. By enabling dynamic host sellers to grow a following based on their ability to curate and sell products they make or love, ShopShops is creating an exciting new way to shop.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Tiffany Shi

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile location smarter. SparkPlug is happy to welcome Tiffany Shi today. Tiffany is the vice president for product and growth at ShopShops is a global shopping app that mimics the fun of in-person shopping through the magic of livestream video. So welcome, Tiffany.

Tiffany Shi [00:00:30] Thank you. Happy to be here! 

Ned Hayes [00:00:32] Can you first tell us about yourself what led you to today’s role as vice president of product and growth at ShopShops? 

Tiffany Shi [00:00:38] Sure, I’ve had a very unconventional career path. I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs kind of have this unconventional career path, but I am a product and growth person at heart, and so my title really reflects, I think, what I do best. I am a builder and I’ve always kind of gravitated towards building software, helping people solve problems with an eye for growth and scalability. But it was very clear from day one that I was always launching projects on the side. I tried to launch a food business that was kind of like a tinder for food where you could swipe and it matches your taste profile with the restaurants in the area. And I tried to launch a travel business. I ended up realizing I knew nothing about technology. And so that’s when I began my career in startups and I worked in startups. Since I’ve been on the B2B and B2C side, ShopShops found its way to me, very interesting path actually, I wasn’t in retail prior ShopShops. I again was always in product strategy and growth, and my background is also half China, half US. So I actually grew up in China, my family is still there, I’m very much connected to I go back multiple times a year and very much connected to the culture there. And so when I was looking for my next thing after trying to start another travel business during COVID, which was very difficult, I was thinking about how to leverage my skillset best and I wanted to work at a place that would bridge both cultures. And so ShopShops is a very unique company because it is rooted in China. The business actually started focusing, targeting the Chinese consumer. And so half of the teams actually in China, the entire engineering team is in China. We have a large operations team there and we were there, they at the time, were just about to launch the U.S. business and needed someone to help manage that. And so that’s kind of where I came in. I’ve also always been really fascinated with how e-commerce has grown in China. I think in the US we kind of we were we helped establish like the basic infrastructure to make it really easy for anyone to sell anything online, like Shopify has made it so simple that anyone can just set up a store and sell something and make money right away. But the experiential side of shopping hasn’t really seen its place here in the US, whereas China kind of took that several years ago and ran with it. And so livestream shopping is a very experiential way to shop online, and it is such a normal thing, moms on it, grandparents are on it, kids are on it, every product category that you can think of. And I’ve always been fascinated with that aspect and knew that it was only a matter of time that it would come to the US and so looking at kind of macro trends of where where I would see a lot of growth and where I could leverage a lot of my own skill set, this felt like a perfect match. So long winded answer to your very simple question. 

Ashley Coates [00:03:40] That’s fantastic, Tiffany, thank you so much for that background and kind of talking about the evolution of where ShopShops started in China, and now it’s expanding. Can you give our listeners a thumbnail description of the company and what you offer? 

Tiffany Shi [00:03:54] Sure. So we are a livestream shopping platform, our tagline is “To shop global like a local” and what we mean by that is we enable hosts or creators, as we call them, to livestream from any store around the world to shoppers anywhere around the world. And so what you can imagine is you’re sitting on your couch in Brooklyn and you open up our app. You can then hop over to Tokyo and walk through the streets of Tokyo with someone who’s literally shopping there at the coolest new store that’s opening. You can then swipe up and maybe hop over to Greece. And actually, you have someone in Greece right now and shop at a local accessory store there and then swipe again and you’re back in 5th Ave in New York. And so it’s really enabling us to feel like we’re shopping locally, globally, and it’s to have that really live, authentic shopping experience. 

Ashley Coates [00:04:50] And so it sounds like the US expansion was underway prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has caused things to move a little bit faster. Is that right? Yeah. I mean, it was a weird it was a very weird time, obviously, and it did actually help accelerate the pace at which we decided to expand. And so ShopShops always knew that the vision was to be global. Again, we started focusing with focusing on China. And when COVID hit, it felt like stores were closing down here. They really needed help. A lot of them didn’t have a strong e-comm presence yet, and we felt like our technology would really help enable them to kind of continue to grow their business while people weren’t outside walking around shopping. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:33] So right now, the shoppable livestream experiences are really kind of cutting edge. I don’t see a lot of people doing this in ShopShops continuing to innovate in new technology domains like augmented reality and VR?

Tiffany Shi [00:05:47] We have not actually started to play with augmented reality or VR yet. That’s not to say that we won’t, but I will say our focus right now is to create a very authentic live experience. So, for example, our hosts that are streaming at these different stores, they’re just streaming directly from their phone. And part of the fun is the chaos of the actual live experience. Like we had someone waiting in line for a Gucci North face drop at a pop up store and they were literally in line live, everyone was in line with them watching. And so while we would be interested in how fun VR could be, I think right now it’s more about creating the authenticity, like feeling the buzz, feeling the people, actually getting a sense of the text that the real textures of the place. 

Ned Hayes [00:06:34] That emphasis on authenticity is intriguing to me because it seems like you’ve tapped into that kind of livestream experience of people wanting to feel like they’re experiencing somebody else’s reality or experiencing a store on the other side of the planet. Can you tell us more about authenticity and why that matters to ShopShops? 

Tiffany Shi [00:06:53] Yeah, it’s actually probably a core value across the entire company from everything that we do, from how we work with each other in the office, from how we run our business with our vendors. Everything is super transparent. Everything we don’t try to brand anything is ShopShops. We want to be the technology that enables people to be authentic. Live stream is a really, really great format for authenticity because a it’s live with a live stream. It is what it is. And so that’s always been at the heart of everything we did. And with the stores that we work with, we also seek out very authentic storytelling. That’s another big part. I think that resonates a lot with our US customers in particular, rather than just like if you need a pair of socks, you go to Amazon or something, you buy a pair of socks. You don’t get the story of where this came from. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t tell you the authentic story of why you’re buying this pair of socks. And so with live stream, we feature a lot of the designers themselves. They’re telling you about how they design this particular item. Sometimes we’ll even go to the manufacturing site, for example, of like, how they actually created this thing. Or we’ve done some food events to where we actually see someone prepare the prepared ingredients and make the food and sell that directly through livestream. And so there’s a whole storytelling element to livestream that I don’t think traditional e-comm captures, and that’s part of the authenticity that we speak of. 

Ashley Coates [00:08:19] Moving on to the pandemic, Tiffany shopping really changed across the board during COVID, and a lot of businesses pivoted to a hybrid model of shopping online, picking up in-store or curbside. I’m curious what types of challenges ShopShops faced and in what ways did this open the door for new opportunities for you? 

Tiffany Shi [00:08:40] Honestly, one of the biggest challenges was there’s still an in-person element to livestream. While stores don’t need to be open for mass consumers, they still need to be open for our hosts to go and stream. And so in some ways, we had to be very careful, there were a lot of precautions that we took. We we were the first people to buy boxes and boxes of masks to make sure that our hosts felt safe. And we took a lot of precautions to who would be in the store when they were streaming so that they can go in advance and curate and have a lot of time to do that before anyone else comes in. So there’s a lot of there was a lot of, I think, just logistics that we had to work through for our business in order for it to continue running. That being said, it did open up a lot of opportunities because a lot of these stores would have shut down if it weren’t for us. In some cases, we were able to provide enough rent for them for with one live stream, we provided enough rent for a month. And so it was really, really helpful to keep them alive and then also to give them a whole new kind of group of consumers that might not have been to their store before. So normally they might only be open in New York, but now they’re getting shoppers from Boston, from L.A., from China even. And so that helped our vendors also expand their business in ways that they might not have imagined before. 

Ned Hayes [00:10:00] And I know that ShopShops has a big presence in China. How did the experiences in the U.S. and China differ? 

Tiffany Shi [00:10:08] That’s a great question. So I would say before I joined ShopShops, I actually expected to be shopping behavior to be very different. I kind of have this assumption that the people are very different the way that people shop. We’re likely very different. And so we probably need to build this whole new product in the US for U.S. consumers. Very quickly, I learned from our beta testing that the behaviors are actually very similar. An example of this is in China, e-commerce is heavily driven by promotions and deals. People will do anything to get a deal, and if you don’t have to have a great story, you don’t need to have a great interface. Your app doesn’t need to be beautiful. If something’s like 50 percent off, people find a way to buy it. And I didn’t think that in the US, behaviors would be quite as similar. I assume that in the US, people sort of needed a better story, a better interface, all these different things. I think what we’ve learned is that’s actually not very true. And maybe it’s post-pandemic. People are looking for these deals. People are the same and it’s been really refreshing to see, actually, you know, while they’re speaking different languages and the live streams, a lot of what people are buying or even very similar people are looking for designer deals. People are looking for vintage items. Thrift is very popular in the US now and becoming more popular, and it’s also kind of gaining recognition in China. And so the timing might not be exactly the same, but the behaviors overall are pretty similar. 

Ashley Coates [00:11:39] Really interesting about the promotions and deals being what customers are looking for. And like you said, maybe it’s even changed since COVID. So you specialize in local boutique online shops over big brand stores. Do you think ShopShops has really changed the way that those smaller businesses do promotions and marketing? 

Tiffany Shi [00:11:59] First, we don’t only work with small stores, we also do partner with larger brands. But your question around whether we’ve changed how people approach promotions and discounts, potentially. I don’t know if we haven’t been around long enough to have, I think, a lasting impact on how people run their promotional business. But what we do do that’s unique is we have a lot of shopping games that are promotions in some ways which didn’t exist before us, and a lot of this is borrowed from our China experience. So, for example, we have a feature where we have like an Easter egg code that you can write into the comments. And if you know what that code is and you write it like your screen will fill with confetti and you have a chance of winning some coupon codes. So once someone types this very funny code, you see, like all the people like typing this code, it could be like we’re running a summer love event now. So it’s like Summer of love, summer of love. Everyone’s like typing Summer of love. The screen is like filled with confetti, and at some point some people when these discounts to purchase stuff from the livestream. So they’re they’re the mechanism of the promotion is not different. It’s like a discount or a coupon of some kind. But the way that we engage people is very, very new. And I think that’s something that has sparked a lot of interest from our vendors. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:20] When markets have the most success using your platform, is it clothing? Is it vintage? Are there individual things that people really focus on in ShopShops? 

Tiffany Shi [00:13:30] Yeah. So we are very much focused on in the fashion space focused. I would say like. Ninety nine percent of our shoppers are women, and we also target mostly apparel and accessories with maybe a little bit of beauty as well. Accessories and beauty are very natural. I think first category for us to enter into because there’s no sizing, really. It’s a lot easier to buy off line when you when you’re unfamiliar with the brand. In apparel, it spans pretty a wide range of categories and within apparel we do focus a lot on vintage thrift as well as designer deals. 

Ashley Coates [00:14:10] I’m curious how you’re able to separate yourself from other social media platforms that also use influencers such as Instagram and Tik Tok. Do you think your influencers focus on the same types of stores as on the other social media platforms? And how do you how do you separate yourself from those other platforms? 

Tiffany Shi [00:14:29] That’s a great question. I think if you had asked me this a few months ago, my answer might have even been a little bit different. And so we initially wanted to find influencers who had followings and other platforms and to have them come through with us so that they could bring their following with us, for example, like a big influencer on Instagram, how would that translate into an influencer on ShopShops? What we learn from some testing was that it doesn’t actually translate, and the reason is because our shoppers aren’t coming to us for influencers, they’re coming to us for expertise, and that isn’t always the same. So, for example, some of our best performing hosts or creators are people who know a lot about fashion. They have, you know, they might be retail associates, they might be stylists. They might have been personal shoppers for other people before they, might be makeup artists, and so it’s not, the profile of the person is not so much how many followers they have that makes them an influencer. It’s more their expertize in the category that they’re selling that makes them very valuable to our shoppers. And so that’s where it’s become very clear. So it’s not like getting a big influencer from TikTok that will be really helpful for us. It’s more finding the people who have shopping expertise or fashion expertise. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:48] I know you mentioned earlier that ShopShops is distinct from traditional online e-commerce. So is this entirely a different experience or is this layered on top of e-commerce? 

Tiffany Shi [00:16:00] I would say it really is an entirely different experience, and that’s part of the challenge of what we’re trying to do when we first launched the business. We literally had people coming into our app, watching the live stream and then calling the store to try to make a purchase, not realizing that this whole experience was shoppable. And so I do think in a lot of ways, it is a completely new experience from a more technical standpoint. It is layering on a live video on top of traditional e-comm in the sense that when you come into a live stream, you can click in to see all of the different products that are being featured and sold, and you can click through add to cart purchase. That whole checkout flow is meant to mimic something that people are very familiar with already. It’s more of the discovery part of e-comm that is very, very different. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:54] Got it. Well, both SnowShoe and ShopShops help retailers succeed. You’re more focused on virtual technology while we focus more on in-person technology. It seems like the future might be a hybrid model, and ShopShops is is bringing physical retail to life in the online world. Is that a fair start kind of hybrid description? 

Tiffany Shi [00:17:18] Yeah, it is. With that, I will say that we’re also kind of view ourselves is the transition we’re kind of in between online and offline because there is a huge online or there’s a huge offline component where our creators are actually there in-person. We do see New York recovering a lot of people are going back into stores. We’re starting to do a lot of offline programing as well. Where there are opportunities for shoppers shopping on 5th Ave, shopping in Soho, to actually create shopping content themselves. So that’s sort of the next phase of what we’re experimenting with. So not only bringing offline to online, but sort of almost like bringing online to offline. 

Ashley Coates [00:17:58] That’s awesome to me. And can you actually expand on what your what trends do you see coming out of this time? What trends do you see sticking around going forward? What will that shopping experience look like in the future? 

Tiffany Shi [00:18:10] They say fashion is very cyclical. I think what we’re doing is also cyclical. In some ways, the experience that people have on ShopShops that’s really positive mimics what I feel like I had when I was much younger, when I would go to malls with my friends. And it was it’s shopping was this very social thing where you would go. You would hop in a store, hop out. You chat with each other, e-comm has made shopping very lonely, I think where you’re in bed, it’s midnight and you’re like scrolling through and you’re looking and spending a lot of money by yourself. And so I do think, live stream, live stream will explode here. It will be, and it won’t just be us. There are a lot of other players. It’ll be across all different categories. And I think overall shopping will become much more social and experiential because that’s kind of the way that it’s always been in the past, and we’ve just hadn’t figured out the right way to do it before virtually. 

Ned Hayes [00:19:07] I’m curious how in that expanding world, you keep people loyal to ShopShops. SnowShoe, for example, builds out a loyalty program for in-person retail that has broad adoption. How is ShopShops going to keep people coming back to your specific platform? 

Tiffany Shi [00:19:22] A lot of it, I think, is the content at the end of the day. Having people, people aren’t coming to us today because they googled livestream shopping and they’re like, Oh, I want to check that out. No one is doing that. People are seeing their favorite stores posting about some cool live events that they’re doing, and they’re coming for that reason. Or there’s some product, maybe like we have a really amazing vintage Chanel item that we tell people about and they’re like, Oh, I want to see what that is, they come for that. And I do think eventually we’ll continue to develop more content formats that will be very unique to us. We will have our merchandizing team is very strong in terms of finding these treasures, as we call it, treasure hunting, really. When you’re shopping with ShopShops, you’re really treasure hunting, you’re looking for gems, you’re looking for one of a kind items from all around the world. And so I think it’s the content that will keep people. 

Ashley Coates [00:20:17] So what’s next for our ShopShops? What should our listeners be keeping an eye out for on the horizon? 

Tiffany Shi [00:20:23] What’s next for ShopShops? Well, we are laser focused on building out our US business this year, and so we will be doing a lot more programing. People will start, we haven’t done a lot of marketing at all, and so people start to hear more about us in the coming months. I mentioned before that we’re doing some more offline activations and so people will start to see us as well physically and so very excited for US expansion, I think, and more with more global shopping as well, expansion in other cities. 

Ned Hayes [00:20:53] Expanding on that, if we can look ahead at the future of retail, say, 10 20 years. What do you think retail and shopping will look like 10 20 years up? 

Tiffany Shi [00:21:04] Oh man, if I could look into my crystal ball, I think overall trends are generally it’s to make things easier to bridge the gap between the moment of intent to being able to purchase something and receive something. And so again, a player like Amazon made it very easy for you to go to their website, find something you want to buy and buy it, and have it delivered to your home within 24 hours. I feel like the future of retail will continue to evolve and improve upon that experience. And so in China, for example, this actually this was actually already a few years ago. I saw a bag on a woman that I really liked at a cafe was in line and I was like, Oh, mom, I really like this bag. And she she then was like, Oh, let’s get it. And it was kind of like, OK, how do we how do we get it? Like, doesn’t have a brand on it and audio works from she takes out her phone, she takes a photo of it, scans it on her app. She was using Paabo and immediately found the exact bag also found like 50 more options with different price ranges that looked like it. She we purchased that exact bag and it was delivered within the same day. And so that’s not even the future feature, right? This is the past now in China, and this is something that we haven’t seen happen in the US yet. And so I think it’s from the moment of intent to wanting to purchase and to have that be really, really streamlined. I think that’s probably where we’re evolving. We’re already seeing that in media. So like if you’re watching a movie and you see someone wear something that you really want to purchase, how do you get there quickly? Like, how do you how do you buy that item quickly? Everything is like a walking ad these days. You know, if you see something, you’ll see it on your Instagram the next day and you’ll be able to purchase it. I think the time will get shorter and shorter and shorter. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:48] So one last question for you, which is what is your personal mission? 

Tiffany Shi [00:22:52] I think my personal mission is to be able to build things that have value to the world and that delight people. It’s a pretty broad mission, but I really, really enjoy not just solving problems, and this is maybe why I left the B2B space because that’s like a very functional space, but to also add an element of delight because I think efficiency is not enough to make life exciting. Productivity is great, efficiency is great, but there’s an element of building something that delights people around the world that I really strive for. And so whether it’s at ShopShops or whether it’s my personal life, I think. That’s sort of what I’m looking for. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:37] Fantastic. Well, thank you for being with us today, Tiffany. Really appreciate your time. 

Tiffany Shi [00:23:41] Of course. Thank you for having me. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:46] Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast hosted by me, Ned Hayes, and brought to you by SnowShoe Snow.sh for smarter mobile location, SparkPlug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe. All Content and copyright 2021 SparkPlug Media.