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Stipple Looks to Give Facebook-Commerce Another Chance

Startup Will Enable Purchases Through Clicks on Images on Facebook, Twitter and Across Web

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There's a long list of companies that have tried -- and failed -- to make social commerce work, but a startup called Stipple thinks it has the right approach.

A service that lets brands and publishers tag images with digital touch points that show product details, price, related video, and other information if someone clicks on them, Stipple announced at the Ad Age Digital Conference that it will start enabling direct purchases from an image. In other words, someone can buy the Jimmy Choo shoes they see a celebrity wearing in a photo on an entertainment website -- or on Facebook and Twitter -- without ever leaving the site they're on.

"When done correctly, it doesn't even feel like advertising," said Stipple's CEO Rey Flemings. "Users are initiating the experience and essentially asking the photo a question."

Rey Flemings, CEO of Stipple, discusses his company's image tracking technology.
Rey Flemings, CEO of Stipple, discusses his company's image tracking technology. Credit: Photo by Patrick Butler

Stipple's core premise is that e-commerce sites have millions of images being distributed across the web, but they're stripped of their metadata as they're passed around and essentially rendered useless, since consumers have no easy way to learn more about the pair of Jimmy Choo pumps that their friend posts on Facebook, for example. It's created a registry for photos that lets it identify images when they crop up on its thousands of publisher partners and add the current tags.

Previously Stipple's customers could insert a link to a retail site where people could follow through to make a purchase, but now the transaction can be done seamlessly on the page where the photo actually caught the consumer's attention. (A box opens where people can enter their payment information upon clicking on the relevant tag.)

The company pays most publishers a portion of the revenue when brands enlist it to place their tags on relevant photos, but Facebook and Twitter -- where images can only be tagged if they're published using "Cards" technology, or "expanded tweets" that support richer media -- aren't getting a cut for now.

"We are certainly willing to, but to date the platforms have not requested a revenue share," Mr. Flemings said.

Whether Facebook and Twitter will want a piece of this kind of commercial activity on their platforms, or whether they'll tolerate it, remains to be seen. Twitter last week put the kibosh on a "buy now" button that a startup called Ribbon deployed to enable in-stream payments using its Cards technology.

Stipple has raised $10 million from investors.

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