Image courtesy of Studs
Retailers have come a long way during the last 24 months and many will continue to adapt to the changing marketplace in the months to come.
Multiple halts to in-store shopping, a spike in e-commerce sales, and supply chain disruptions gave up-and-coming brands challenges they weren’t prepared for, but that hasn’t stopped innovation.
Startup brands including Wardrobe, Borobabi, and Feather have all come out of the pandemic better off than they were before it and they’re not the only ones. Last fall, the earring company and piercing studio Studs raised $20 million with a strong proposition for Gen Z.
Described by Vogue as “The Glossier of piercing studios,” Studs kicked down doors when it opened in 2019. In an effort to go against the grain of traditional “mall piercing,” the brand combined brick-and-mortar locations for needle piercing with an online store backed by a strong social presence.
A hybrid solution
Using a clear hybrid of store locations and digital shopping channels, the New York-based startup aims to connect the experience of getting a piercing with the most intuitive next step—purchasing more earrings.
“We give consumers an easy way to navigate their piercing and jewelry options and are the first to combine a brick and mortar retail experience with an e-commerce platform, so customers can seamlessly continue the experience,” Studs CEO Ana Harman said.
But it’s not quite that simple. Studs and other retail startups in the wake of the e-commerce boom will need to learn how to connect with their digital audiences better than mall mainstay brands like Claire’s if they want to survive in the current marketplace.
The power of self-expression
Intertwined within Studs’ messaging is self-expression—and of course, every Gen Z brand wants to spread positivity when it comes to positively expressing not just your ears, but your fashion sense and lifestyle.
One of the more successful ways the team behind the brand has been able to align their products with self-expressive messages is through their selection of “earscapes.” As described on their site, earscapes are “The combined art + science of decorating one’s ear with personalized piercings + earrings, resulting in a form of extreme self-expression.”
Self-expression doesn’t stop at earscapes, either, as the company’s messaging guides its social media strategy and storytelling. In fact, broadening the scope of different social channels while finding unique strategies for each has never been more imperative.
Lisa Bubbers, Studs chief brand officer, argues that consumers often get piercings “based on milestones,” and that a recent campaign featuring five YouTubers was the perfect way to explore their customer journeys.
“[It shows] the personal storytelling, why they’re getting their piercing, what’s motivating them… To get the background of the psychology of why someone’s going to get that piercing and what they’re commemorating, YouTube is a really good platform for that,” she said.
Innovation never ceases
Youtube also isn’t the only platform that startups in the retail space are targeting. At Feather, a furniture rental service for the “new generation of renters,” Instagram is a leading driver for both brand awareness and word-of-mouth interest.
“…We’ve found that much of our customer base has discovered us through mobile devices. On Instagram, we primarily engage with Feather fans and potential customers to share information about new products, company updates and promotions, as well as provide educational content and design inspiration,” said the company’s President and COO Ilyse Kaplan.
For Borobabi, a startup children’s clothing retailer, the pandemic forced the team to leverage their online audiences through their blog and data-collection solutions.
“Our backend is similar to blockchain technology, where we track historical ownership of each unique item in our inventory. These tracking capabilities give us insight into garment’s durability, style demand and lifecycle,” explained its founder Carolyn Butler.
“On the consumer front, this data is also key to building our own unique community based on human connectivity, which we will introduce in 2022.”
But collecting data and staying active on social media doesn’t guarantee community and the above brands are using the pandemic, the e-commerce boom, and direct-to-consumer strategies to meet their customers where they’re at.
The learning curve
Social channels have broadened in the last few years with wider audiences on TikTok, Pinterest, Youtube, and even Reddit.
Reaching specific demographics requires intention, and sending out a uniform message across platforms isn’t going to provide the connective tissue between consumers that it may have ten or fifteen years ago.
Last year, Studs released a New York collection with MetroCard earrings and dangly martini glasses. To ensure the product drop reached its fast-paced, trendy audience, the brand spread the word on TikTok.
“You have the right merch for Gen Z, you go to the channel they’re on, and you partner with the right Gen Z-oriented content creators. That’s the right drop strategy for Gen Z,” exclaimed Bubbers.
No doubt social channels will continue to adapt to younger generations and new styles, but brands have an opportunity in 2022 to double down on the platforms that work for them.
In-store shopping is also back after a turbulent couple of years, and startups like Studs are using a unique approach to brick-and-mortar that encourages community instead of ignoring it. If anything, 2022 is the year to follow in Studs’ footsteps, align social channels with audiences, and find the mediums that proliferate storytelling and brand awareness.