website photo stream to sell lipstick.">

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How Olapic Turns Selfies Into Big Sales

Lancome pulling Instagram selfies onto its <a href=";bookmark=396452">website</a> photo stream to sell lipstick.
Lancome pulling Instagram selfies onto its website photo stream to sell lipstick.

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That photo you snapped of your new Nike kicks is no longer just jealousy fuel for your Instagram followers. Retail brands are now able to turn selfies into sales through Olapic, a visual commerce startup.

The New York-based company is completely changing the e-commerce model by integrating photos taken by customers and shared on social media into the brand's platform. Tons of major brands, including New Balance, Lululemon, Coach, Nasty Gal, Teva, West Elm, Jet Blue, Steve Madden and Dannijo are using Olapic's services to increase sales and learn about customer purchasing habits.

"We launched the company around the time people started getting smart phones. We realized everyone was taking photos and so we began working with companies to incorporate user participation with photos," Pau Sabria, one of Olapic's founders, told Racked. "Brands, since the beginning of time, need pictures to sell products because humans are visual—we need to see it to believe it. Because of the smart phone revolution, everyone has become a model and photographer and that provides an insane amount of photo content for the product brands. It is more authentic and better represents reality."

Calvin Klein pulls an Instagram selfie into its Olapic stream.

Sabria and co-founders Luis Sanz and Jose de Cabo started Olapic in 2010 after the three Spanish natives met at Columbia Business School. When it first launched, the company was merely aggregating customer photos but the service has since been tailored to make the items in the photos purchasable.

Olapic collects user-generated photos from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The company's services cost anywhere from $30,000 to hundreds of thousands. Once customers submit their photos—either directly to the brand, or by using a designated hashtag—Olapic's algorithm aggregates the images into a neat, comprehensible stream for brands to display on their sites.

The service does not violate any user ethics, as brands make it clear to customers they will use their photos for the stream once submitted. Some brands, like Alex and Ani, even place a note card in shipped items explaining how their Olapic stream works, encouraging customers to participate. While Olapic's algorithm chooses the best photos, its team works with brands directly to ensure shots are appropriate, on brand and attractive (notice how everyone featured on Calvin Klein's photostream is model-esque?).

Steve Madden's website, encouraging shoppers to sift through their Olapic photo stream.

Through Olapic's photo stream, the shopping process is more personal than ever. When shopping on Steve Madden's website, for example, you can click on a shoe and see the stock image or you can page through customer photos and see how the shoe looks on real people. The system works just as well by sifting through brands' image galleries: on Lululemon's version, you can click photos 'til you find the right yoga mat and purchase it right off the stream.

Many brands using Olapic tell Sabria the system is completely disrupting the way they'd normally showcase a product. Take West Elm, for example: in order to properly display a home item like a dining room table, West Elm would have to stage an entire room full of furniture for an artsy photo shoot. By using Olapic, the company merely pulls photos of its customers showing off the product, and lets their living rooms and dining rooms do the talking.

"Suddenly, when all this content is available, brands have to change their e-commerce experience because there is so much more to work with," Sabria said. "The online shopping experience is really the same, no matter what you're shopping for. But for the first time, brands will be able to showcase their community and have them be advocates."

Lululemon customers can buy the yoga mat of their choice after sifting through customer photos.

Olapic also works with brands to pull data based on which images do better with purchases. Using engagement metrics, Olapic essentially differentiates which elements make selfies a hit (Sabria said photos without Instagram filters perform the best). Brands can then use this data to pull similar photos from customers, or even stage their own photos.

Olapic's team of 70 employees is split between three different offices: New York, Argentina, and most recently, London. The company's founders hope to expand their product in Europe to target major European brands like Zara, H&M and Ikea.

While Olapic has no direct partnership with Instagram, Sabria said his company communicates with the social media platform, as Instagram is interested in the way Olapic has expanded the lifespan of a photo beyond a newsfeed—something the social media platform has yet to figure out.

West Elm's page of community photos.

Sabria believes Olapic's strategy is just the beginning of how businesses will fold crowd-sourced photos into their strategy.

"Five years from now, people are going to look back and think, 'we only looked at one photo before we bought something? That makes absolutely no sense,'" he speculated. "The system would do wonders for a store like Ikea, where you have to go through hell in the store just to see how a lamp looks."

Nasty Gal's shoppable instagram photos.

· Olapic [Official site]
· How Homepolish Is Disrupting the Interior Design Industry [Racked]
· Brunch and BDGs: Urban Outfitters Ramps Up Lifestyle Retail [Racked]