Heather Marie had always found online shopping unreasonably difficult. So the former retail and digital ad-sales executive did something about it, launching a company in 2011 that lets people add items to a global shopping cart no matter where they are on the web.
Last week, L'Oréal became the first brand marketer to use Ms. Marie's company, Shoppable, and its checkout technology to create a universal shopping cart that can be used across its brands, divisions and digital content.
She came to L'Oréal's attention through its Women In Digital Next Generation program, which aims to identify and honor female-led digital startups. The collaboration is exactly what Rachel Weiss, VP-digital strategy and innovation, was hoping for when she launched the program in 2012. Her goal was not just to boost the underdeveloped pool of female-led digital startups, but put them to work solving problems for L'Oréal.
In the process, the beauty marketer has helped shape Shoppable. Ms. Marie's company was initially called 72Lux and focused more narrowly on linking the universal shopping cart to ad units on publisher sites when L'Oréal named it as one of three winners of Women In Digital pilots last year.
In more than 30 meetings with a variety of L'Oréal executives over the past year, the company helped her broaden that focus to the full web and address some of the technological fundamentals it would need, such as making its checkout process compliant with Payment Card Industry security standards.
"They've really made the whole team very available to us," Ms. Marie said. "It's very hard for an entrepreneur to get that kind of access. For us, seeing the brand's perspective on the different ways they can use the technology has been important."
L'Oréal also has helped Shoppable make connections with the e-commerce units of retailers such as Walmart and Target to build its business, which aims to work with as many retailers as possible, she said.
While Shoppable started in beauty and fashion (which Ms. Marie describes as "more inherently shoppable" because people are thinking about products when they're reading about them), it now has a catalog of 7 million products spanning a broad range of categories.
In the case of beauty products, if women see mascara or nail polish they like on a website or blog or in native content, they can immediately add it to their cart, then check out later when they have enough products to qualify for free shipping from participating retailers. Most baskets are fulfilled by at least two retailers, Ms. Marie said.
People don't have to navigate away to close the transaction, something that traditionally has been a deal breaker in e-commerce. "The more windows are open in a browser," Ms. Marie said, "the less likely the conversion."
It's a seamless concept that seemingly should have been done long ago and fills gaps she discovered both as a consumer and an ad-sales executive with Monster and its Affinity Labs unit.
"It came out of my personal frustration as a consumer that there are so many products you see, but actually tracking them down can be hard," she said. At the same time, she heard from advertising clients buying banner ads that they really wanted some way to get into the content, which she said Shoppable will help them do.
"It was great to find someone like Heather who could build something that would make a difference in our business," Ms. Weiss said. She began hearing of Ms. Marie and her company from multiple sources last year, including other entrepreneurs and venture-capital investors on the board of advisers for the Women In Digital program. Ultimately, L'Oréal executives, including Frédérick Rozé, CEO of L'Oréal Americas, signed off on the choice.
Now in its third year, the Women in Digital program went from simply honoring female-led startups its first year to awarding them pilot projects last year. But beyond the three winners, the application process has allowed L'Oréal to compile a database of 2,000 startups that Ms. Weiss searches to address various needs throughout the year.
"It's a great funnel for entrepreneurs to come into our company," she said. While it makes sense for L'Oréal, whose consumers are predominantly women, to focus on female entrepreneurs, she said she's also gratified that the program appears to have preceded similar mentorship efforts by Google and AOL, among others.