It seems youth marketing has always been a hot topic in the advertising world. As young people move from the “discovery” phase of their tween years to the “experimental phase” of young adulthood, they shift from being motivators of their parents’ buying habits to influential consumers in their own right. But today that demographic is extremely important. Not only are today’s young people the first true digital natives and harbingers of how digital media will influence how we all interact with brands, but also, as baby boomers age and their $400 billion in annual consumption slows, retail, food, and entertainment companies are counting on millennials to fill the gap.

One marketer that has been particularly successful in tapping the youth market is Erin Yogasundram, the twenty-one year old founder of Shop Jeen, an online boutique that sells everything from dollar packs of Ouija gum to $530 filigree sunglasses. Yogasundram launched Shop Jeen in March of 2012, while she was a junior at George Washington University (GWU). She started out with posting cell phone photos of new products to Instagram and filling orders out of her dorm room. The Instagram feed and the business were such an immediate hit that Yogasundram walked away from the remainder of her full-ride scholarship at GWU and moved to New York City, where Shop Jeen now has three offices, nine employees, and half a million Instagram followers.

The Way I See It

  • I see a retail industry increasingly focused on millennial and youth marketing. As baby boomers age, their $400 billion in annual consumer spending will fade. The world will turn to millennials to make up the difference.
  • I see a demographic increasingly inclined to shop at multi-brand retailers and to do their shopping online.  According to recent research by Piper Jaffray, roughly eighty percent of teens shop online. Piper Jaffray’s research also confirms millennials’ growing reliance on peer recommendations when making buying decisions.
  • I see a social media market in continued flux as young people gravitate toward new platforms; according to the latest semi-annual Pew survey on teens and social media. While Facebook still has the largest number of teen and millennial users and those users have their largest networks on Facebook, the percentage of teens citing it as their most important social network has fallen by half, from forty-two percent in the fall of 2012 to twenty-three percent in the fall of 2013. In that same period, the percentage of teens citing Instagram as their most important network doubled.

The Way the Industry Sees It

 

I sat down with Shop Jeen’s founder, Erin Yogasundram, to discuss her brand and how she uses social media to build a customer base.

 

Where did your initial vision for Shop Jeen come from? What niche or need did you want to fill?

I started the company, junior year, in my dorm room at The George Washington University. I had worked a few internships in the fashion industry in high school as well as during my winter and summer breaks in college.  I was working three part time jobs in retail, and one day I thought, I could do this myself.  I have always been an entrepreneur, and for example I sold autographs online when I was twelve and owned a shoelace selling business in high school. While working retail, I found that I had a keen eye for what would sell well.  I was always suggesting new brands for the stores to carry and had an invisible hand in the buying process.  I had about $2,000 saved from working retail and blew it all on a Celine bag (the bag was very rare, and had a wait list process at the time).  I have always been a workaholic and never a bookworm, so I quickly realized I could have used that money to start a new venture for myself.  I then sold the Celine bag for $3,000, yielding a $1,000 profit!  I decided to pool my money into wholesale purchase orders to fund my new venture.  Initially the site was to be a hub for the “best of Etsy.”  Etsy was gaining popularity, but it was very difficult to navigate and find the good stuff.  I used my keen eye, combined that with my researching skills, and I was able to find the cream of the crop on Etsy.  I negotiated wholesale terms with the sellers on there – most of which did not know what wholesale even meant when I approached them – and Shop Jeen was born.  I coded the original website from trial and error CSS writing.  I sold on campus at every event possible.  And I slowly started bringing on more well-known brands to gain traction and reputation in the industry.  Though we do carry some of the same brands as Bloomingdales, Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic, Bergdorf Goodman, Nasty Gal, Spencer’s Gifts, and ASOS, our curation is what makes us unique. So unique, in fact, that those retailers would not normally be mentioned in the same sentence.

What’s your curation process like? How do you decide what makes it on ShopJeen.com, and how have your decisions affected revenue?

Our Creative Director, Amelia Muqbel, and I work very closely to decide what products are sold, our marketing strategy, our social media voice, the look of our graphics, etc. Everything Shop Jeen stands for is a true representation of the two of us. Luckily, we somehow managed to find each other in this massive world. We share a very unique sense of style, thought-process, and outlook on the world, which is why we work so well together. I think our cohesive mindset comes across when you visit Shop Jeen.  We approach everything from a different angle than everyone else, and I’d say this has aided our success.  We quickly pull apart “competitors’” strategies and try to do the exact opposite.  It sounds crazy, but it’s been working! A lot of retailers are trying to mimic each other in order to come out on top, but if everyone is doing the same thing, how boring is that going to be for the consumer?

Why was Instagram your first platform? What did it offer that other social channels didn’t?

Instagram just started to gain traction at the same time I began Shop Jeen.  I have always been pretty social media savvy, so I was quick to hop on board of the latest tech trend.  The industry was not utilizing Instagram when Shop Jeen started becoming popular on the site, so we had a big leg up.  I would take pictures of the product, and tell everyone to “BUY IT AT SHOPJEEN.COM!” which we still do to this day in every caption.  It gives a direct call to the consumer. It says here is the product, now go get it.  To this day most retailers are still using the site for “behind-the-scenes” footage, or crappy shots of their handbags with terrible lighting.  I slowly learned how to take the best pictures, and what filters got the best results.  We started making the popular page, and the rest is history!

How has your approach to social media marketing evolved since you started? In your opinion, what do you see brands getting wrong or right about social media marketing?

We are lucky enough now to have funds to diversify our advertising methods.  Instagram was a fun, free come-up, but it could only last so long, so we have had to adapt.  We still use Instagram heavily, but are now including the product photography from the site – something I used to be totally against – due to resource constraints.  I miss the days when I had the time to sit in my dorm room and snap pictures of everything with my iPhone! Also, earlier this year we abruptly stopped making Instagram’s popular page, which hindered our business greatly.  We have tried, time and time again, to get in touch with Instagram, but have not been successful. We want to believe that after the Facebook takeover, the site put a block on companies using Instagram for business-to-consumer use.   Instagram has mentioned that they want the site to be about “sharing experiences” and I suppose I understand their issue with us, because they aren’t getting a piece of the pie.  Still, we have managed to continue to grow our following on Instagram without the popular page. We have a very unique voice across social media.  We talk to our customers like they are our girlfriends sitting next to us on a park bench drinking coffee. Our customers respond well to that.  In addition, we use humor in our captions and in our visuals.  We definitely set ourselves apart from everyone else by being as personal as possible, so that we can connect with the customer.

What’s the most interesting object in your office?

I just got a life-size standee of my favorite wrestler, Dean Ambrose – yeah, I’m a WWE fan – for our office Secret Santa, and I’m pretty obsessed. He faces my desk, and whenever I get stressed out I just take a deep breath and make eye contact with the cardboard cutout.