With RNKD, Zappos Co-Founder Wants to Reinvent Social Shopping

Part Photo-Sharing Hub, Part Loyalty Program, RNKD Sets Sights on Disrupting eCommerce

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Would you want to share what's in your closet? Zappos co-founder Nick Swinmurn thinks you might want to "share what you wear," and he's launching a startup RNKD to enable that , as well as reinvent loyalty programs for clothing brands and retailers.

RNKD (pronounced "ranked"), which launched in beta Wednesday morning, is tapping two of the most popular trends in emerging media - photo-sharing and game mechanics - in an effort to reinvent loyalty programs.

Users are asked to share what they wear by uploading photos of their clothes and then tagging them by brand. RNKD then looks at the virtual closet and assigns users a rank (hence the name) and awards them corresponding badges.

The idea behind RNKD is about acknowledging the commitment an individual has already made to a brand – past purchases – with the hopes that retailers will use that information to build a deeper relationship with those loyal patrons through early access, discounts, and other exclusive rewards.

Right now, the rewards part is still mostly an idea. RNKD launched in beta without any partners. Nick tells me that 's because he doesn't really know yet how people will use the platform at the outset, or how it will be useful to brands. He said he plans to bring retailers on board after he sees the brands of clothes people share. Initially, the rewards will consist of Zappos gift cards.

While it's risky to launch without any brands on board, but if they can amass an early user base, the benefit to potential future partners extends beyond loyalty programs to the delivery of personalized and affiliate ecommerce while accruing lots of valuable data on correlations between brands, made evident through the badge system.

As people share their fashion and apparel preferences, they would be delivered an increasingly personalized shopping experience and rewards from the brands to which they've proven loyalty.

"The longterm vision is that each consumer has a unique shopping experience based on their past relationship with each brand," Nick told me. "You and I can both be browsing the same site but would see different pricing and selection based on our current rank. For example, you might have a closet full of Levi's while I have none. When we both browse Levi's the price on your screen would be $72 while I'd see $78 for the same pair. You'd also have access to some products that I wouldn't be able to see. There's a better way than one size fits all selection, discounts and incentives."

From there, it's not a stretch to imagine someone shopping directly within a friend's virtual closet – a true social shopping experience that could evolve into an affiliate program with rewards for the referrer.

There are a lot of "ifs," "maybes" and other assumptions in this pitch, but ecommerce is ripe for personalization. I also like the idea of returning to loyalty in a way that acknowledges consumers for their investment in a brand.

Marketers spend a good deal of money on social media programs, oftentimes giving away free products to Facebook fans and Twitter followers – who may not even be customers - in exchange for esoteric consumer 'engagement,' the value of which remains hotly debated. Investing that money into a data-driven personalized shopping experience that only rewards those who've proven themselves patrons may actually help the bottom line while still motivating people to promote your company's products.

David Teicher is Ad Age 's social media and event content manager. Follow him on Twitter @Aerocles.
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