PopSugar’s new commerce play is a buy-by-text service

PopSugar is trying to trigger impulse buys with text messages.

Last Wednesday, the company’s co-founder, Brian Sugar, unofficially announced the launch of Must Have It, a new product that sends sale offers to people via text. If a person wants the product on offer, all one has to do is reply “yes,” and the item gets shipped, free of charge, to the customer’s address within five business days.

Sugar may have tweeted about the product prematurely. A full rollout, with promotion across PopSugar’s sites and social channels, is in the works for this fall. “I got in trouble with our product team,” he admitted. But he has high expectations for the product.

“Not a lot of people are using text as a commerce platform,” Sugar said. “I don’t know why there aren’t more.”

PopSugar’s move into texts comes after years of attempts to build a committed mobile app audience. It’s launched over a dozen apps over the past five years, from PopSugar Gift Guide to PopSugar Selfie, but few have taken root.

“The second-hardest thing in the world is to get [people] to download an app,” Sugar said. “The first-hardest thing is to get them to use it on a regular basis.”

But nearly 80 percent of PopSugar’s traffic comes from mobile devices, so a phone-focused commerce product felt like a ripe opportunity.

The idea for Must Have It came to Sugar while he was trying to find a way to send vinyl records to his daughters. That search led him to ReplyYes, a text-focused commerce product, and he asked his product team to build its own six weeks ago.

Last Wednesday, after a few trial runs “just to test the plumbing,” Sugar said, Must Have It sent out its first product offer, a pink Baggu backpack. The bag was getting three orders per minute, he said, though he declined to share how many were sold.

For now, Must Have It’s products will be sourced by PopSugar’s Must Have team, the company’s long-standing subscription commerce business. Their selections will be informed by Retail Rank, a tool that, like TrendRank, PopSugar developed internally, which gathers data from a network of influencers, buying data and other sources to get a feel for the products drawing the most interest.

For now, everybody signed up for Must Have It texts will get the same messages at the same time. But as the product grows, Sugar said, the plan is to send specific deals to smaller segments of PopSugar’s reader base, which will be determined based on users’ previous purchases, along with their browsing histories on PopSugar and its apps. “Once we have your phone number and the device you signed up for, we know who you are,” Sugar said. “And then we can start to build an interest profile.

“Over time, I could see us getting to many different customized offers on a daily basis,” Sugar said.

They are also going to spend the next few months experimenting with the timing and cadence of the messages. “We’re going to play around a bit, sending texts at 11 o’clock on a Friday night,” Sugar said. “Maybe you’ve had a couple drinks.”


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