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In 2010, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey launched a second company,called Square. Until now, it's been best known for a piece of hardware—a credit card reader that plugs into a smartphone or tablet. You've probably come across it at a local boutique or neighborhood coffee shop (or at Starbucks, for that matter—Square is the processor of all Starbucks credit and debit transactions in the United States). But this month, Square has expanded with the launch of Square Market, an online marletplace that might just revolutionize indie shopping.
"What we're trying to build is the easiest way for local merchants to sell online," Square Director of Discovery Ajit Varma told Racked in a phone interview yesterday. "We want them to grow, we want them to be successful."
Square Market is designed for small boutiques, emerging designers, and local brick-and-mortar businesses that don't yet have their own e-commerce site. They launched with 100 or so merchants a few weeks ago, and the numbers have been increasing since. Varma says he and the Square team spoke with many merchants in the process of developing the site and they noticed a pattern. "It's not that they want to be small or local, it's that they don't have the tools to expand," he explained.
Product page from Racked Young Gun Nominee Tiffany Kunz, one of Square Market's launch merchants
Square Market enables anyone to open a store—for free—with items, photos, and a profile for their business. The merchant pages are designed simply, with a small Square logo in the upper lefthand corner, the merchant's name and store logo, and a carousel of product images including prices and item details. Any store owner already using the Square Reader as a cash register can create an instant online store within the app. It sounds about as painless as e-commerce can possibly be.
And Varma says he hopes it will be equally painless for shoppers, too—inspiring, even. "We want people to come to the market, and just how you would imagine someone walking down Main Street, you get inspired by what you see in the windows."
The site's homepage is clearly designed to instigate browsing. Similar to Fab and Aha Life, pretty pictures of beautifully designed items float across the page, practically hypnotizing you. (Varma says products featured on the homepage are selected manually by the Square team, so merchants can't pay for placement.) The minimal design makes it easy to focus on the product, and there's lots to look at.
In fact, we wondered if the site was almost too product driven, too minimal. One complaint about marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon is that it's difficult for merchants to brand themselves the way they can on a customized e-commerce site. It's possible that the shopper doesn't realize where she's buying from; just that she's found an item she wants.
Varma insisted he's had good feedback from merchants on that issue, however. "I feel that all the brands support each other and that its more of a community marketplace offering people a complete shopping experience rather than trying to make your brand stand out more than another," Tiffany Kunz, an LA-based jewelry designer (and Racked Young Gun nominee) who was part of Square Market's initial launch, told us.
In the end, the biggest advantage for indie shop owners may the link between Twitter and Square Market. Wired explains:
You may not know that Twitter has something called a "product card" that turns a link to a product online into what amounts to a catalog listing embedded in a tweet. The product listings on Square Market don't look much different than these cards, which is no accident. When a store owner—or anyone—tweets a link to a Square Market listing, the product card will include a buy button that flips right back over to Square. In effect, Twitter becomes the storefront.
That's a lot of potential to turn popularity into profits, maybe even giving independent merchants some leverage to compete with the big brands. And wouldn't it be great to see the little guy win the social-selling battle?
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