Sonya Lennon, stylist and TV presenter, is turning her eye to fusing technology with retail. Together with her fellow presenter Brendan Courtney from the RTÉ fashion show Off the Rails, Lennon is behind a new digital platform for independent fashion retailers called Frockadvisor.
Lennon, who has 25 years of experience in the fashion industry as a stylist, broadcaster and designer, said she came up with the idea for Frockadvisor together with Courtney about a year and a half ago.
Describing Frockadvisor as a “dedicated fashion social commerce platform”, Lennon said the goal is to give independent retailers an online destination on which to offer a personal service to customers.
She said just 19pc of Irish independent fashion retailers are online.
“We thought, ‘how can we respond to that given our expertise and our position and profile?’,” said Lennon.
Retail’s response to online commerce is fast and furious, she said, adding that this is very easy if you are a multinational with a department dedicated to e-commerce.
“If you are an independent retailer, where is that time, money and knowledge coming from? That’s what we are going to provide.”
Frockadvisor at LaunchPad
The start-up is currently taking part in the LaunchPad accelerator programme at the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) in Dublin. Along with Lennon and Courtney, the team now comprises a designer and a lead developer.
Lennon said Frockadvisor will be a responsive app, so retailers will be able to build a profile and invite their community online.
When a user puts up a post about an item they are seeking, Lennon said a retailer will be able to respond directly.
“A retailer will be able to take a photo in response to something that is posted within or outside of their community.”
According to Lennon, Frockadvisor will almost be like a soft landing onto e-commerce for the retailer and a very specific search tool for the end user.
She said fast fashion is extremely well serviced online, as is more high-end, expensive fashion for older and wealthier age groups. Somewhere in between, the independent retailer may get lost in the online world.
“What we’re looking at is giving a voice to a whole middle sector. It’s really important that, as part of a community, this sector survives and thrives. They have existing loyal customers and fanbases who aren’t being serviced online at all,” said Lennon.
Another goal is to include geomapping in the Frockadvisor platform.
“We are looking at fashion geomapping and geofencing so that people will be able to get not only their favourite boutique but also other boutiques in the area,” she said. “If we can map what is out there people can really define their offering online.”
In addition, Lennon said users will be able to use Frockadvisor to see what’s happening in pockets of independent retail fashion – be it in Dublin, across Ireland or Europe.
“The point of Frockadvisor is that retailers will be able to respond,” she said. “So, rather than advertising into an abyss, what you are actually doing is responding to communication from the end user.”
Lennon said the platform will allow independent retailers to communicate in a very specific way with existing customers and also gain new customers.
“The way to do that is to be visible online to your own community who can do their research, see what you have and include you on their shopping list,” she said. “And also to spread your message to greater communities outside of your geographical zone.”
When Frockadvisor launches it will initially work as a promotional tool for retailers. The plan is to then transit to a payment gateway within 12 months.
At the outset, Lennon said the platform will be all about engagement, promotion and visibility for shops.
“As the app develops and as we gain more data we will be developing a payment gateway,” she said, adding that retailers will not have to set up a payment system in order to be able to carry out a sale on Frockadvisor.
Lennon and Courtney already have experience in e-commerce via their website Lennon Courtney, which features their new clothing range.
“We know what it is like to be up in the digital space and the difficulties involved in that – visibility is a huge one,” said Lennon.
The team will be beta testing Frockadvisor within the next month and will then launch the platform in the next six months.
“We’re working with about 20 shops at the moment and an end-user community of 200,” said Lennon.
Down the line, the plan is to expand the platform’s formula into other countries. Lennon said Frockadvisor is highly scalable and can be adapted for new territories.
“We will be looking at the UK first and then moving onto mainland Europe,” she said. “We will be talking to bloggers, stylists, and opinion leaders in the territories that we’re planning to enter.”
Lennon said this will give the retailer and the end user the ability to communicate in a local voice. The plan is to also advise retailers on how they can best engage their customers on the platform.
So far, she said the response has been positive from potential customers, with people ready for such a platform.
“People want the immediacy of see, like, buy. What we are doing with Frockadvisor is giving people the opportunity to share pictures of things they like and then furnish a sale at the end of it.”
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 12 May
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