It's been 14 years since Natalie Massenet launched her revolutionary ambition on the world: women could buy clothes online. Online! On the internet! Who could imagine? Fast forward to 2014, and it's hard to imagine anything different.
It's harder still to imagine a woman who doesn't check in on her favourite fashion e-commerce websites on a daily basis. Clicking that 'New In' menu as she flicks between tabs to check what's just landed at her favourite stores, then hurriedly scans the hundreds of products until something catches her eye.
'Save for later'. Or maybe 'Add to basket'. And on she goes to the next. In 35 minutes, she might have scrolled through more than 1,500 products. But how many of those will have been relevant to her?
The truth is, shopping for fashion online is overwhelming. There are hundreds of places to go to shop, thousands of brands to consider, millions of products to (possibly) choose from. Where do you go when you want a pair of killer metallic sandals to partner with your new cocktail dress?
Google? Good luck with that search. 'Metallic sandals to go with my new cocktail dress' returns no less than 668,000 results. Where do you even begin on sifting out the relevant ones? Ok, so what about Pinterest, or Instagram?
They offer the inspiration a shopper is looking for, at least. Indeed, both platforms will show you endless options of girls looking great in gold heels. The problem there is the lack of product - where can I get those shoes she's wearing? Neither Pinterest or Instagram have yet successfully developed a shoppable model that incorporates product with inspiration.
The whole thing, frankly, can be a bit of a struggle. So why are we still doing it? Scrolling through an endless product offering until we find one or two things that catch our eye? Looking for shopping inspiration where there's no tangible product? In 2014, shouldn't the modern woman have access to something a bit easier? A bit more streamlined? A bit more targeted? A bit better?
Enter Styloko, the social shopping site that gives women access to an online store built especially for them. With thousands of brands from almost every major UK retailer - from high street stores such as Topshop and ASOS through to high end leaders Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com.
It uses careful algorithms based on user preferences and browsing behaviour to show customers the products it knows they like from the brands it knows they love (and importantly, all the products from their favourite brands and retailers all together in one place).
It flips the current browsing experience on its head; instead of scrolling through random products until you find what you like, Styloko blocks out the background noise and prioritises the most relevant products first, cutting search time and frustration.
With each visit, a customer's shopping experience becomes more personal, thanks to the data being collected in the background. Woman 'A' consistently looks for dresses, shoes and accessories exclusively from luxury labels - Jimmy Choo, Valentino, Stella McCartney and Burberry are her particular favourites.
Woman B, on the other hand, frequently browses dresses for less than £100 on the High Street - she has a penchant for designer shoes, but she only ever browses them when they are on sale, never at the full price. Their two shopping experiences will be entirely different.
"Our aim is to make the online shopping experience more streamlined and personal. No two women are the same - why should their shopping experiences be the same? We know enough about every shopper to accurately determine what she likes and what she doesn't," says Ivailo Jordanov, CEO and founder of Styloko.com.
The approach is a sensible one, but is there a risk that this experience could become a bit static? Isn't part of the appeal of shopping online the spontaneity of stumbling across something you may have not considered - or ever seen - before?
"Absolutely," agrees Jordanov. "Discovery is at the core of our approach. Our algorithms are developed with a human manner - we want to replicate those moments of serendipity that occur when you browse. We look beyond what a particular shopper has been browsing to consider what that means in the greater context - if she likes this, what else might she like? If she admires this particular brand, what other brands might she like?
"If she shops at a particular segment of retailers, what do they have in common, and what is it about them she likes? We're constantly looking for ways to give our users those 'fashion fate' moments - we want to show them what they want, before they even know they want it."
On the point of discovery, this is where Styloko's social element comes into play. If a shopper sees something specific that she loves and wants to shop, she can add it to her boutique - a sort of 'ultimate' wish list - to curate her personal edit of favourite pieces. Other users can then follow the boutiques that inspire them, 'love' the items that catch their eye, and shop from the wardrobes of women whose style they admire most.
"It's another indicator for us of what that person is interested in on a very specific level. If someone hasn't shown interest in a particular brand but has added some of its pieces to their boutique, or has loved some of its items, perhaps we should show her more of those pieces.
"Or, if a user is adding a particular style of item to their boutique, maybe that means she prefers that cut or aesthetic. We look at every action a user takes - or doesn't take - and try to assess what that means," adds Jordanov.
With the segmentation of places to purchase fashion online and the wealth of products and brands, sites such as Styloko are adding convenience to the shopping experience.
It is easy to compare the fashion market to the way the travel market has developed, where previously travel-related purchases were done directly at the vendors, now the majority is booked through aggregator sites, such as Lastminute and Expedia.Suggest a correction