From groceries to placemaking, a wide-ranging exploration of the retail industry
NTWRK is shaking up retail with its pop culture-powered video commerce app. Its CEO, Aaron Levant, discusses why hyper-urgency is the future of shopping.
Can you explain the concept for NTWRK and how the platform works?
NTWRK is a new video commerce platform that was launched in October 2018. It's a mobile-only app and, in its current iteration, is only available for iOS. On a weekly basis, we release episodic product drops that you can only watch live, featuring an exclusive product presented by a well-known personality, ranging from major sports stars to musicians, actors, influencers and designers. It’s a finite time window of 15–20 minutes, during which time the audience has to tune in and watch live in order to buy that product. After that, it’s gone for ever.
It’s driving hyper-urgency around these product drops. Brands are very much at scale now, attaching themselves to different personalities to create exclusive capsule collections and drops, but they use media companies to tell the stories of those collaborations. NTWRK is bringing all that storytelling and purchasing ability together in a live-streaming video environment with embedded native commerce.
NTWRK is bringing storytelling and purchasing ability together in a live-streaming video environment with embedded native commerce.
What is it about the combination of retail and entertainment – or retailtainment – that appeals to consumers today?
This is the direction the market is moving in. This idea of combining things is becoming increasingly popular, especially with the way that consumers are digesting media and commerce – particularly in Asia. But this type of thing is coming to America fast and NTWRK is attempting to lead the way with that combination of content and commerce. A lot of content companies want to move into commerce and a lot of retail companies want to get into content. What NTWRK is born from, and made of, is a true combination of these things.
We select one hero product for you a day, pair that with your favourite personalities, give you an almost Reddit AMA-like (Ask Me Anything) experience through live chat with the host and allow you to hear a story about how they designed and created that product. People are going to social media to get experiences like that and then they're clicking out to buy something. NTWRK is mashing it all up together. I’m not sure if the consumer expects it yet, but I think as they start to see it, they will gravitate towards it because this is where retail is headed in the long term.
What was behind the decision to make the platform video-centric, mobile-first and only accessible via NTWRK’s stand-alone app?
There are a million e-commerce experiences out there. We needed to set ourselves apart. This idea of video-based commerce, which in America usually exists in a different format – on television – was a really interesting idea for us. We hadn’t seen anybody doing that for the pop culture-driven Millennial and Generation Z audiences.
Statistically, people are spending their time on their phones, on social media, streaming stuff, watching YouTube, web-browsing. That’s where the market is, that's where the attention is, so that's where we want to play. We can always back into other platforms as we mature. Right now, we’re iOS only and the next move is Android, which obviously will give us an even bigger market share potentially.
There needs to be some story behind what we sell, some connection, something that consumers can have an affinity with.
All products sold are exclusive to NTWRK. What do brands need to take into consideration when developing products especially for this format?
We want to work with brands that organically create great products. We are looking for products that are highly collaborative, or products that have some kind of entertainment tie-back. Sometimes a brand might collaborate with a video game or with a film or with a well-known comic book franchise. We like that kind of stuff because pop culture is at the core of what we're creating at NTWRK, and we need to create content and an on-screen presence for these products. There needs to be some story behind what we sell, some connection, something that consumers can have an affinity with.
How do you maintain an authentic and transparent voice when selecting personalities to collaborate with?
In the world of influencers, certain people make sense for us and some people don't. What we do has a certain taste level and curation to it, and that's just about the team that we have here, our connections and what we want to present. But usually we want to do stuff that's aspirational and high-design with personalities that have a cult fan base – but in a positive way.
In a short time, we've launched products with Nike, Apple and Beats by Dre. The personalities we’ve had on range from Jonah Hill to Odell Beckham Jr and DJ Khaled. But just being big isn’t enough. There might be people we want to work with who have smaller followings, but have the right taste level and the right interests and the right product affiliations that make sense for us.
What’s next for NTWRK?
Trying to increase the frequency of our live shows. We’ve been doing one or two shows a week, and we want to get that to three shows a week, and then increase the verticals. Sneakers and streetwear has been a big category for us, and e-sports and gaming is a big category, but soon we're going to be launching a beauty vertical. For now, it’s about increasing the iteration and building more in each vertical, because when we do a beauty episode, it’s not just one episode. We need to have a slate of beauty brands and partners and influencers and talent lined up.
Because we select so few products, we need to make sure every single one of those is meaningful.
And that's the challenge of scaling the business: just how often can we reiterate a certain vertical? Because we select so few products, we need to make sure every single one of those is meaningful. So the balance of this business is being consistent to our audience and to continue to deliver stuff to them on a more regular basis, making sure those things are of quality, and that every time it’s entertaining and engaging.