Interview: Shopping Platform MASSE Lets Friends Share Product Recommendations
To help consumers wade through the overabundance of items available online and avoid unreliable reviews, MASSE is enabling social commerce between friends and family to share and recommend products
There are millions of products for sale on the internet. As a result, many consumers become overwhelmed by choice, resulting in abandoned carts. Recommendations are an element that can hold sway in the decision to purchase or not, however, and are becoming a crucial part of the decision-making process: 84% of consumers believe friends and family are the most trustworthy sources of information.
Founded by Jet.com’s first and second product managers, Elizabeth Shaffer and Lizzy Brockhoff, MASSE is a new retail platform that accordingly leverages the power of community recommendations to help consumers make educated and confident purchasing decisions. PSFK spoke to Shaffer about their inspiration for creating MASSE and how the platform hopes to evolve alongside existing social networks like Facebook and Instagram.
PSFK: Could you tell us a bit about some of the broader retail trends that you're seeing impact your business?
Elizabeth Shaffer: Absolutely. My co‑founder, Lizzy, and I are both product managers by trade. We've worked together for about six years in ecommerce. We met at Moda Operandi. Then, most recently, joined Jet. We were really fortunate to join the very early team there. We were the very first and second product managers to work there throughout the acquisition by Walmart.
We definitely had an up‑close view of a lot of consumer trends over the past few years. The insight that we really walked away with that we feel like is not being addressed very well in the market right now is the fact that consumers are completely overwhelmed by the number of choices online. They're spending a huge amount of time researching and evaluating what to buy.
You see this with people opening multiple browser tabs, adding a lot of different products to their cart, then, ultimately, not checking out. There's a lot of comparison shopping going on. There's a lot of evaluation of the content out there. We really see this due to a couple different trends. The first one is that you've seen a massive influx of assortment online over the past decade.
More products are available online than ever before. New brands are cropping up at a rate that we haven't seen before. We, also, simultaneously to this, see an increase in the rise of credibility issues or a perception of credibility issues with a lot of the content. There's been a lot written about the rise of fake reviews online.
Then, you also have the influencer industry and the rise of sponsored content and paid‑for posts on social media. Then, added to this, consumers feel more pressure than ever before to make the right purchase decision.
Whether they're looking to make the shift to clean beauty, whether they're looking to purchase a sustainable option, or just looking for the right fall coat for themselves and their kids, they're putting more pressure on themselves to really make sure they're buying the absolute best that's available online.
We see all of these trends converging and providing consumers with difficulty. A lot of people reach a point‑of‑decision paralysis. It's very challenging to be able to navigate everything online right now. That was a high‑level trend that we saw that is influencing why we started MASSE.
Why do you think consumers are increasingly relying on peer recommendations to help them make purchase decisions? What makes them more effective at driving sales than, say, advertising or other types of recommendations such as influencer recommendations?
I think it comes down to authenticity and credibility. When influencers first came on the scene they were really exciting. It was authentic. They were offering a fresh viewpoint that wasn't being represented anywhere else. Now, it's an industry. Last year we saw brands spend an estimated two billion dollars on influencer advertising.
Simultaneous to that, you've also got the rise of fake reviews. Right now, 48% of consumers say they cannot tell the difference between a real and a fake review. I think it's a wider market craving for authenticity and credibility in the content that they're looking at and what they're using to make their purchase decisions.
You know that your friends and family have your best interest at heart. You know that you can trust them. You know that there's no other motives behind it. It's coming from a real person who has real experience with the product. I think that's a big part of why consumers are turning back to their friends and family, and the people that they trust.
Could you talk to us about the circumstances that led you to found MASSE and what gaps you noticed in the marketplace?
For us, we saw these peer‑to‑peer recommendation conversations happening across multiple different platforms. They're happening in Facebook groups. Particularly, mom communities are very active. You see them happening in group chats, over email, text messages, you name it. People are talking with each other about what products they recommend and asking questions.
The piece that we saw missing in the market was a platform that could catalog and organize all of these recommendations. If you think about it, all the recommendations in these conversations that are happening in multiple different platforms, they're all very ephemeral. They're lost in the feed, thread, timelines, etc. They're not discoverable again. This is hugely valuable data.
One of the things that we're doing at MASSE is, actually, storing and cataloging these recommendations. Then, servicing that to users in a way that's actually useful. You can search and browse the history of your friend's recommendations.
You can filter just for people you follow. You can filter for friend‑to‑friend. You can see everything that's been recommended on Masse. We think there's a big opportunity here to cut through the noise and get people in front of the most relevant product to them faster.
Could you talk a little bit more about how the platform works and how it streamlines this process?
Absolutely. It's a social platform at heart. It's a community. The first thing that happens when you on‑board is that we connect with your contacts and we ask you to follow your close friends who are already on the platform. We also help connect you with users that might be matched to you or you might find helpful if you don't have all of your friends on the platform yet. We are still in beta.
Then, what you land on is really a feed of recommendations. You can filter the feed by category. Some of our top categories are beauty, home and garden, fashion, baby and toddler is very big for us. You can scroll through a feed in chronological order or just products that your friends have recommended. We see a lot of engagement with this because it's a discovery platform.
People are discovering new things they didn't even know about. I would say the critical feature on the platform is the ability to ask and answer. You are able to ask a question out to the community. Then, when a user answers that, what they're actually doing is searching our catalog of products to find a product that they would recommend in answer to your question.
We actually allow users to add their own voice to that recommendation. They can add a comment. We have a whole selection of fun stickers that you can add. You can customize the background color. You can label things on the product image. This is all to get the voice and the authenticity of the user through.
We also have an AR feature where you can add a video and add a text. You can add a twinkle to your product—a lot of fun engagement tools that we see a ton of engagement with just in our beta period. When you make that recommendation, that would go back out to your friend whose questions that you're asking.
Then, I would say, the third component of the app is about search. That is the ability to search for any product that you're looking for. If you're looking for mascara or you're looking for a stroller for your baby, you can really easily go into the search function and search.
As I mentioned, you can filter the results by just people that you follow. You can then expand that filter to your second‑degree network. People who you follow also expands to the people who they follow, or you can just search everyone on MASSE.
Does this connect with other social media networks? Can you automatically integrate this with your Facebook friends? How does that work?
We're always looking for ways that we can integrate with existing communities. We see ourselves as complementary to existing platforms and communities out there rather than trying to provide a siloed competitive experience.
We understand the importance of going where our consumers are already are. Right now, you can share out your profile into Facebook, into Instagram. You can also share any of the products that you recommend out into those existing communities.
Could you talk about how purchasing is integrated into the platform, if at all? If so, how do you make that a seamless experience?
For any of the products that you see in our platform, you can go to a product detail page. You can see information about that product. Then we'll link you out to a retailer to purchase. It's a simple one-tap to go to a retailer to purchase.
You mentioned before some of the categories that MASSE covers. Why did you feel that peer recommendations may be especially relevant to those categories?
I would say our two top categories are beauty and then baby and toddler. I think those are two really interesting categories for recommendations for different reasons. Beauty, because that's a category that's really hard to shop for online without touching and feeling and trying out the products. We naturally see it as a category where people are asking their friends for recommendations.
People are very passionate, also, about the beauty products that they recommend. We see a lot of activity in that category. Then, to touch on baby and toddler, my co‑founder and I, actually, we're both new moms. We had our first babies 18 months ago. One day apart, actually, which is coincidental but a great experience for us.
That was really a catalyst moment for us when we had to put our registries together. When you have your first child you have to buy a huge amount of products and you don't know what you're doing. You can look at all the content online. There was so much out there that we were both overwhelmed.
We ended up asking our friends and discovered that the phenomenon of the baby lists, which are these giant Excel spreadsheets that moms will send moms‑to‑be with all their product recommendations. As product managers, we looked at each other and were thinking, “There's got to be a better way.”
Could you speak more about how MASSE will cultivate community and trust among its users?
Absolutely. One of the things that we have in the app which is really resonating with our users is very clear community guidelines up front in the experience. It's really important to us that we set clear community guidelines from the outset. We have a zero‑tolerance policy for any kind of paid‑for or sponsored content.
We ask that all conversations be very positive. I think that's really important in resonating with our users to create an environment both where you feel comfortable asking any questions that you might have, but also where you can trust any of the recommendations that come through.
You mentioned that the platform is free of sponsored posts and any type of paid content. Is there a way for brands to get involved?
Absolutely. We encourage brands to connect with us through their product feeds and make their products available for our users to recommend. It's important to know that it's our users who ultimately decide what they recommend.
That's what shows up in other users' feeds and ultimately what fills our catalog of recommendations. We're actively looking for partnerships with brands so that we can make their products available for our users.
What would you say the benefits are for brands who get involved?
I think it's an incredibly powerful and positive brand experience for any retailers that want to get involved. All of the content on the platform, it's positive recommendations only. You will only be featured if a real user is talking in a positive light about your product and recommending it to their friends. It's a great source of discovery for them.
You mentioned that you're currently in beta. Do you have a sense of how the user response has been so far?
Yes, it's been fantastic. We've had about 500 beta users. We've seen a lot of engagement with the initial features set. What we actually saw was people really engaging with the stickers and the answering. We actually saw people more inclined to answer questions than to ask and share the knowledge that they had generated doing their own research and using the products.
That was very exciting. Then, what we heard was that they wanted more of was more of the social component. We just rolled out the ability to have comment threads on recommendations. People can ask follow up questions or say, “I bought this and I loved it,” and say, “Thank you.” We'll be adding more of those components over the next couple months too.
You've been making changes to the platform based on feedback from the users so far?
Yes, absolutely. Lizzy and I are both product managers and laser‑focused on the consumer. We're always actively listening to our users. We run focus groups every other week. We're always on the phone to our users. We're in WhatsApp groups with our users. Constantly gathering and listening to feedback and evolving our road map based on that.
MASSE is helping to make online shopping more seamless than ever, providing a convenient form of social commerce for consumers. For more examples of similar inspiring retailers catering to consumer demand for more personalized shopping experiences, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.