I recently saw a tweet congratulating the website The Fancy for surpassing the one-million-user mark. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I knew virtually nothing about The Fancy. A website with more than one million users about which I was unfamiliar? This needed to be remedied. I signed up for The Fancy and also did a little investigating into the background of the site. One topic that I repeatedly came across in my research was the comparison between The Fancy and Pinterest: does The Fancy trump Pinterest? Is it Pinterest’s newest rival? Does Pinterest need to start worrying its pretty little pins because of some formidable, Fancy competition? I wanted to dig a little deeper into the Fancy-Pinterest comparison, and by doing so, discern whether The Fancy marks the launch of a new era of ecommerce. I willingly dove headfirst into the digital rabbit hole, and immersed myself in the world of money, merchandise, and materialism.
The Background and the Main Features
The Fancy has been billed as “the ecommerce version of Pinterest.” This catchphrase can be used to give unfamiliar people a simple, condensed explanation of the site, but it’s kind of like Cliffs Notes: a bit oversimplified. It’s impossible to really understand a novel by reading Cliffs Notes, and it’s difficult to truly comprehend The Fancy without actually using the site. I could read about The Fancy all day long (and I pretty much did), but I became an official Fancy user (Fancier? Fancian?), so I could experience the world of innovative ecommerce first-hand. Here’s the unabridged version of the site:
The Fancy was founded by 31-year-old Joseph Einhorn. On first glance, it looks a lot like Pinterest: there is an assortment of beautiful, intriguing products that users can “fancy,” the equivalent of a Pinterest repin. Users can organize their “fancy’d” items into lists, follow other users, and browse different categories (men’s, women’s, crafts, sports, art, travel, etc.) They can also upload their own images to the site.
Now, this is all very Pinteresting, but what makes The Fancy distinguishable are these features:
As a Fancy user, I can buy “fancy’d” items right from the site. This is obviously vastly different from Pinterest. If I want to buy a skirt or shirt that I see on someone’s Pinterest board, I will be directed to the site from which that skirt or shirt is sold. On The Fancy, I can buy products without ever leaving the site. I found this ring while perusing; when I click it, I am presented with an “Add to Cart” option. I can then make my entire transaction without ever being directed to a third-party site.
I can even book a stay at a picturesque French hotel through the site! This makes purchasing easy and convenient, albeit possibly dangerous for the compulsive shopper within all of us.
There is a catch (isn’t there always?): in order to be able to buy an item via The Fancy, a seller has to claim that item. If I upload a picture of J. Crew ballet flats from J. Crew.com and J. Crew does not claim this item, people will be redirected to the J. Crew site for purchasing.
Whenever users share a product that they’ve fancy’d on a social networking site, they receive a link with a referral code. If a friend or follower finds the fancy’d item through the link and buys it, that user gets 2% of the sale (this 2% comes in the form of credit to their account).
The Fancy is force to be reckoned with, not only because of its streamlined purchasing and affiliate marketing features. The site also boasts a solid number of A-list supporters. Ashton Kutcher invested in the site. Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes sit on the board. And, Kanye West tweets about it.
“Imma let you finish, but The Fancy has the best website of all time. OF ALL TIME!”
The jury’s still out on whether Taylor Swift fans are boycotting The Fancy given Kanye’s endorsement.
Also, as of June 8, 2012, Mark Zuckerberg is also on The Fancy, with the humble, cute username “zuckd.” What better endorser than zuckd, who reigns over a social networking site that is a contemporary-culture staple?
Visions of Vogue
The Fancy doesn’t just have star power; it has brand power. One of the site’s biggest investors is PPR, a $25 billion French firm headed up by Francois Henri-Pinault that owns some major, global, high-fashion brands: Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta. Because of PPR, many other Vogue-esque brands, like Alexander McQueen and Gucci, have Fancy-social commerce integrations. A dress on the Alexander McQueen site has a “Fancy” option:
The Fancy is establishing its presence in the fashion world, one cap-sleeved Alexander McQueen dress at a time, though the Fancy button very much reminds me of the “Pin It” button. The comparison between The Fancy and Pinterest is inevitable, and people are billing The Fancy as the heavyweight in the ring of social-sharing, image-driven sites. Is this accurate? Can The Fancy, which has a much smaller user base, take on the beloved, wildly popular digital pin board site?
I decided to answer this question by identifying the pros and cons of The Fancy: the strong points that might pave the way for a Fancy-led coup d’état of Pinterest contrasted with the cracks in the foundation that might cause The Fancy to flounder.
The ecommerce functionality of The Fancy is the thing that most distinguishes it from Pinterest, and it’s one of the best features on the site. I use Pinterest frequently, and I see things I like all the time: home goods, clothes, shoes, etc. But, the path from seeing an interesting product on Pinterest, to hunting it down, to actually purchasing said product is obstacle laden. Consider this example:
I repinned this pin of custom Tom’s to one of my Pinterest boards, and I wanted to buy them. However, when I clicked on the pin, I was directed to wanelo.com, a website that features the latest trends. The trending products on this site change daily, so naturally, these Tom’s were nowhere to be found. I even tried to find them on Etsy, which is mentioned in the pin description, but there were no such shoes on Etsy. Cue frustration and disappointment. Oftentimes, pins lead to the home page of a website, rather than the specific page from which the image originated. Sometimes pins lead to a tumblr that offer no information. On Pinterest, there is often a gap between a pin and the “Add to Cart” option; The Fancy helps bridge that gap. In a Fast Company article, Einhorn says he wants to give people “an integrated experience” when it comes to shopping and purchasing, and he’s done this extremely well.
Another pro is The Fancy’s incentivized sharing program. Who wouldn’t want to cash in by broadcasting their love for edible Instagrams or Louis Vuitton garbage bags? (Yes those are real things, by the way).
When I first perused the items on The Fancy, I felt more a part of the 99% than I ever had before. The only way I would be able to afford the clothes, shoes, accessories, and tech gadgets was if I suddenly found out if I was all the while heir to the throne of a European country—Princess Diaries style. Some of the things I spotted: $885 Versace pumps; $4,000 gold-chain sunglasses; a $300 Jil Sander bag that is virtually indistinguishable from a brown paper bag.
Designer bag made of “coated paper” or brown paper bag an elementary school student uses to store their lunch? You decide.
To be fair, there are several things on the site I can afford, but the site seems to be mainly high-end, luxury items. Are there enough people buying luxury items to sustain the site?
I read a few articles (one from The New York Times) citing the popularity of an Oscar de la Renta silk sweater on The Fancy as an example of the site’s success. Twenty-four hours after Oscar de la Renta’s fashion show, over 500 people clicked on a photo of his green and white sequined sweater on The Fancy. But, there is a big difference between looking at an item and buying an item. Out of those 500 people, only 5 actually purchased the sweater (which cost a cool $2,490). I would question whether this de la Renta sweater sensation can really be defined as a success. This suggests that more people browse on The Fancy than purchase products, and it also reveals that the audience for high-end, luxury items is very small. Is this limited audience large enough to financially prop up The Fancy?
Maybe it is. TechCrunch reported that in May, The Fancy saw $50,000 in sales per week, though I’m not sure what percentage of that goes to the site; after it added commerce functionality to mobile apps, their sales increased to $70,000 per week. One of the features of The Fancy that might relieve some of the sticker shock is the opportunity to unlock deals. A few hours after I became an official user, I received this email:
This email inspired me to browse the ThinkGeek collection on The Fancy, and while I haven’t purchased anything, if the right deal came along at the right time, I probably would.
Luxury items certainly dominate Pinterest just like they do on The Fancy. I’ve seen numerous boards born out of a solid dose of wishful thinking and a hefty helping of romanticism: boards of the “Dream Home” and “Dream Wedding” variety for instance. Part of the fun of pinning is the fantasy element: people pin things they want—not things they can afford—because Pinterest is a social media site about self-expression and sharing images. Pinterest is a chance for people to indulge in imagination: creating boards filled with designer clothes and rooms in million-dollar houses complete with Italian marble countertops. Pinterest is not an ecommerce site, so it doesn’t have to be grounded in reality. The Fancy, on the other hand, is, so sales matter.
You Fancy, Huh?
The Fancy clearly has an edge on Pinterest when it comes to buying products, but I think the question of whether The Fancy can “beat” Pinterest might not be as simple as yes or no. Here’s why. Comparing The Fancy to Pinterest reminds me of a frequent happening when I go out to eat with my mom. When we go to restaurants, my mom takes an inordinate amount of time deciding what she wants to eat (sorry, mom). She narrows it down to two options (both of which are usually completely different). Then, she asks the waiter or waitress which one is better. He or she always gives the same response, without fail: “Well, that’s a tough question, because they’re such different entrees!”
The Fancy and Pinterest are just that: different. Comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges. On Pinterest, boards are creative statements, and pins are meant to be distributed and shared. Yes, a lot of companies market on Pinterest, and there are numerous statistics that reveal that Pinterest inspires people to buy products (I’ve written on that before), but Pinterest wasn’t created to sell anything. Excessive self-promotion is actually against Pinterest etiquette, and some of the most followed brands on Pinterest don’t use the site for the exclusive purpose of pushing their products. Whole Foods promotes a healthy lifestyle, not solely the Whole Foods brand. West Elm has a board entitled “Smilebooth” that features pictures of friends and family smiling for the camera at various West Elm locations and events; this isn’t about selling West Elm furniture or home décor, rather, it’s about encouraging people to associate a positive, feel-good energy with the brand.
The Fancy, on the other hand, is certainly about social sharing, but it’s also about ecommerce. So, is the Pinterest-Fancy comparison even justifiable?
In the future, the comparison might become more relevant. Pinterest might be headed towards ecommerce: the site just received a $100 million round of investment, half of which came from Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce platform. In an interview with Forbes, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani addressed critics who say that Pinterest will become a “virtual shopping mall” with ecommerce integration:
There are so many copycats of Pinterest already who are focusing just on shopping but they are not getting as much attraction as Pinterest because they are too commercial. You need to get the right level of balance.
If Mikitani is referring to The Fancy, I would argue that The Fancy is not just a Pinterest clone. Yes, there are many similarities, but with each change The Fancy rolls out (affiliate marketing, for example), it further distinguishes itself from Pinterest. If there was a United States of Pin Board Sites under the Pinterest umbrella, The Fancy would have seceded long ago.
Hannah Elliott published an interview with Joe Einhorn in Forbes, and in the comments, she says this:
While Pinterest is having to retrofit itself into more than just a social network, Fancy was created to be able to monetize from the get-go.”
I think this perfectly captures the major difference between The Fancy and Pinterest.
When it comes to discerning whether Pinterest needs to worry about Fancy competition, I think it depends on what users want from a site. If they want an integrated shopping experience and a community-like feel built around products, then they might take a fancy to The Fancy. If people want to create an inspiration board or collect ideas for DIY projects from their friends, then Pinterest would be more useful.
One Thing That’s Missing from The Fancy
The Fancy seemingly has it all: big-time backers, high-fashion support, Louis Vuitton garbage bags. But, one thing that Pinterest has that The Fancy does not is a parody Twitter account.
@PicturelessPins is “the best of Pinterest without having to look at the pictures.” Tweets are spot-on in their mockery of Pinterest clichés:
I think there’s a gap in the market for a satirical Fancy account. @Fancy-lessFancy, perhaps? Possible tweets:
Tilt shot of a vintage, gold $1200 wristwatch.
An unidentified attractive male modeling a $400 seersucker sport coat complete with a cable-knit sweater draped effortlessly over the shoulders.
A $500 cashmere-lined Hermés wallet expertly engineered to repel anything other than Benjamins.