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InsideFMM | April 21, 2014

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We All Need A Little Retail Therapy; Interview with Brian Sugar

PopSugar: Retail TherapyIn mid July, Sugar Inc. expanded its women’s media network with the launch of its first social online game, called PopSugar’s Retail Therapy.

The online game made a strong debut, featuring popular brands such as Banana Republic, Barneys New York, Diane von Furstenberg, Gap, Juicy Couture, Topshop, and Tory Burch. FashionablyMarketing.Me interviewed Brian Sugar on the game’s astounding success.

About Retail Therapy

PopSugar’s Retail Therapy allows players to merchandise and design their own fashion boutiques, letting them dress characters in the hottest styles and brands. Retail Therapy is available on Facebook and can be played for free.

Beginning with a small and empty boutique, players are challenged to stock their stores with clothing from PopSugar’s Retail Therapy brand partners; they’re also challenged to design their store layout.  The virtual clothes are replicas of real items that players can buy. By carrying the best fashions, players earn virtual money to customize their stores with stylized furnishings, or they can grow their stores into giant department stores.

In addition to running their own boutique, players can shop at their friends’ stores or stores hosted by brand-name retailers.  Players can also download their personalized characters and outfits to social networking sites in order to share their style with their network of friends.

“Our goal is to constantly add innovative offerings that entertain and delight our large audience of women.  We wanted to create an addicting game that would appeal to one of their greatest areas of passion:  fashion.  Retail Therapy allows women to mix and match dream outfits from their favorite retailers and feel the experience of running their own high-end fashion boutique” – Brian Sugar, founder and CEO of Sugar Inc.

How Brands Can Get In On The Virtual Action

Sponsors can be involved in the game in a number of ways.  Retailers can host in-game virtual stores or provide clothing from their current fashion lines for players’ characters to wear, order, and stock in their own boutiques.  They can also sponsor in-store events, give clothing as gifts to players, and introduce limited-availability items that will be coveted by players of the game.

To start, Banana Republic, Barneys New York, Diane von Furstenberg, Gap, Juicy Couture, Topshop, and Tory Burch have all provided virtual merchandise for the game.  Diane von Furstenberg and Topshop also have in-game virtual stores that players can shop at.

“One of the most compelling aspects of Retail Therapy is that it gives players the opportunity to actively engage with our brand and clothing in a sophisticated and entertaining virtual environment” – Heather Kaminetsky, Director of Internet Marketing at Barneys New York

To provide its readers with a comprehensive experience across all its properties, PopSugar will integrate aspects of Retail Therapy into its editorial content, which includes 16 sites focused on three primary channels: Celebrity and Culture; Fashion, Beauty, and Shopping; and Home and Family.

For example, PopSugar will give fashion trend alerts based on celebrity photos. FabSugar editors will host a Retail Therapy “look of the week” contest for players’ characters with the best outfit and will write posts about the newest clothing and accessories in the game. GeekSugar will provide weekly game tips, and CasaSugar will have “get the look” posts inspired by new in-game furniture assets.

PopSugar's Retail Therapy

Interview with Brian Sugar

Macala Wright: By creating Retail Therapy, Sugar has made gaming’s potential to fashion understandable and extremely enticing.  You’ve done this by making the products engaging and providing transactional links.

That’s a win in itself. But could this be taken a step further, offering retailer merchandise forecasting opportunities?  Do you think that Retail Therapy could drive sales of limited edition apparel or virtually created clothing collections?

Brian Sugar: What you’re asking is absolutely possible with Retail Therapy. Designers will be able to host virtual pop-up events, hold sample sales, and test product colors and collections. Let’s say  designers try a skirt they were going to release in blue, black and green.  It ends up that the skirt in blue or black was virtually bought most, while green didn’t receive any attention; a designer could cut the color from their collection or a buyer could alter their order from that designer.

Macala Wright: What do you look for in acquiring websites or when you’re incorporating new tools for reaching new audiences? What trends in the media do you look for? What trends in the analytics of a website do you look for?

Brian Sugar: We look for sites that offer great technology or great services (as seen with our most recent site Fresh Guide).  Most of the sites we acquire are sites that should spend money on marketing but have yet to spend any. These are great companies for us.  Their growth potential, coupled with Sugar’s target audiences, offer us huge advantages.

Macala Wright: What are five favorite websites for information on the web (business or pleasure)?

Brian Sugar: Hacker News, Silicon Alley Insider, Daring Fireball, Kottke.Org and of course OnSugar. I’d have to say Buzz and Tres Sugar are my favorites.

Macala Wright: What are your picks for the next social networks? Foursquare? Dailybooth?

Brian Sugar: FOURSQUARE. It’s getting past early adoption now. People I know on Facebook who aren’t on the trendsetting curve are now “checking-in”.

After Thoughts

With Retail Therapy, Sugar has taken all the successful elements of marketing brick and mortar stores and made virtual extensions. We’ll be excited to see how social shopping games can integrate  geo-social activities and how retailers will want to take virtual consumers/user interactions offline.

Sugar has always been ahead of the curve in website acquisition (ShopFlick/ShopStyle) and in their explorations in digital mediums like video, mobile apps, etc. Sugar’s content is what I consider very mainstream and includes big brands, big retailers.

Will Sugar turn its attention to indie fashion or smaller, emerging brands, as well? The acquisition of Shopflick in 2007 along with ShopStyle leads me to think that Sugar will soon move toward cashing in on the indie fashion social commerce wave.

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