Pashash: the online social network for offline shopping

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Pashash is a location-aware mobile app that lets you share the things you buy or like in brick-and-mortar retail stores. You can think of it as an online social network for offline shopping that allows you and your friends to express your tastes and discover great deals on items you fancy.

Born out of Umbono, Google’s Cape Town based tech incubator, Pashash is shaping up to be a welcome weapon against showrooming.

Showrooming

Showrooming is a term used to describe the trend which sees people visiting a physical store to check out a product, only to purchase the product online. Brands are going to great lengths to generate walk-in traffic for their stores. Why? Well, quite a few reasons actually, but one of the main reasons is related to conversion. A person that walks into a brick-and-mortar store is more likely to make a purchase than a person browsing an online store. Studies done by Verdict Research in 2010, put the probability for a sale at 20% for walk-in customers and 2 to 3.5% for eCommerce customers.

Walk-in stores also deliver brand experiences that their eCommerce counterparts cannot. Apple Stores for example, are meccas for legions of loyal Apple fans. They are more than just showrooms; a visit to an Apple Store is an experience. This type of relationship building is invaluable to a brand and there’s been much interest in emulating Apple’s success.

Brands that have yet to figure out how to woo walk-in shoppers’ hearts, still have instant gratification going for them, but even as competing online behemoths such as Amazon grapples with same-day delivery, others like eBay are putting renewed effort into the idea. It’s only a matter of time before someone cracks it. When that happens brands will need to be ready to offer customers unique incentives to visit brick-and-mortar stores.

Having a consumer facing retail presence is costly, so online items — often sold without sales tax — will continue to appeal to consumers. Unless offline retailers can match or better online prices, showrooming is likely to continue.

Some brands are fighting the trend. In the US, retailing company Target wants to offer exclusive “Target only” items, and gadget retailer, Best Buy, once replaced standard bar codes with special Best Buy-only codes so they couldn’t be scanned and compared online.

Meanwhile, other retailers are embracing showrooming to breathe new life into their walk-in experiences. They are touting cash payments and adding things like dedicated return centers and pickup locations for online purchases, free shipping outlets, payment booths and even drive-through customer service centers for online sales. It’s the sensible approach as online shopping is set to continue its rise.

Third party solutions are also stepping forward. Services like Shopkick use an in-store device to accurately reward customers for visiting brick-and-mortar retail outlets. Spaaza creates mobile and Facebook apps that lists retailer inventory online, allows for social discovery and points users to brick-and-mortar shops nearby to instantly pick up items. Then there’s Pashash.

Pashash

The word “Pashash” is South African argot for something that is said to be “cool”. A pair of jeans or a sale on muffins can be “Pashash”. Pashash co-founder Faheem Kajee tells us that the seed for the idea was in fact buyer’s remorse, planted when he bought a pair of shoes that he liked, only to have a friend tell him about a better deal at a different store later on.

Kajee was a tech stock investor for the Sanlam Global Best Ideas Fund before moving to investment holding company World of Avatar where he analysed potential acquisitions for the group and worked extensively on the purchase of instant messaging service, Mxit. He teamed up with UCT computer science graduate, Lawrence Webley to create a service that would introduce a new way of discovering the best buys in the offline shopping world.

Launched in March this year, “Pashash is focused entirely on sharing real shopping and therefore organises posts in the most useful way for our users. For example, we are the only app that allows users to enter the price of an item they see, making it possible for others to compare and find the best deals for what they are looking for. What’s more, Pashash is focused on all shopping. It’s not just about cool new things, but about finding great deals in anything you’re interested in,” says Kajee.

So, how does Pashash work? If you see a great buy or an item you like, take a picture with the app and share it with your friends on Pashash — or Facebook. Kajee hopes that users will strive to become authorities on the best prices and coolest stuff in town.

The app allows users to add things like store locations, item categories and price tags. Remember, the idea is to help the community compare and discover the “Pashash” things they want, so the more meta data the better.

Pashash also offers location-based discovery. If you’re at a mall for example, the app will attempt to surface great buys close to you.

Pashash received angel investment of US$50 000 through Umbono and looks to monetise the service in two ways.

Brands or stores can pay Pashash to reward users for sharing items associated with them. For example, Nike could choose to reward users with discounts when they post a Nike product on Pashash.

Brands or stores can also pay to feature items on the trending list for each category. The local grocery store can for example, pay to list an item on the trending list for groceries for that particular area.

Internationally, Pashash looks set to compete with Tip or Skip, an iPhone app that will tap into the upcoming iOS 6 Passbook feature, to coax users into buying items they favourited in the app. According to Wired, the app will also sense deals nearby for users’ favourite items, pushing you to support a physical retailer by pinging you when you’re close to the physical store. There’s also similarities between Pashash and Digg founder Kevin Rose’s now defunct Oink.

Kajee cites Jotly, the app that attempts to “rate everything” as its biggest potential competitor. Jotly was cleverly marketed as a fake app and launched with a funny parody video poking fun at social apps, the trend towards over-sharing and the app itself.

Kajee says that Pashash is entirely focused on international growth and hopes to utilise the app’s Facebook integration — a core feature of Pashash — to grow virally.

The app is currently in closed beta, but Kajee tells us that it will be launching very soon.

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