McIlroy Empowers E-Commerce Consumers Young and Old

By Joe Bush

Sarah McIlroy is engaging about engagement.

So strongly does she believe in the power of social media that she is building a second start-up around it, named, and is using crowdsource fundraising tool Kickstarter to help finance it.

McIlroy, who will deliver a keynote address at the 2014 CNP Expo on May 20, founded and ran FashionPlaytes from 2008 to 2013. The site, mainly targeted at girls aged 5 to 12, meshed crowdsourcing, sharing and e-commerce to attract more than 1 million users who spent 30 minutes on the site per visit and returned twice a week.

“I attribute much of the FashionPlaytes audience engagement to the vibrant, engaged voices of our girls—they kept content fresh by posting, sharing, commenting, and designing, giving the community a reason to come back,” says McIlroy. “They influenced our product decisions, often creating some of our best-selling graphics and garments, and we’re hoping to leverage much of this for EllaSole.”

The girls designed clothing for manufacture and wear, and McIlroy is now a board member, ready to use her lessons from FashionPlaytes for a new and older audience to try its hand at design.

Aimed at women 20 to 45, will enable users to design jewelry, preview it, share it

on social media, and buy it, followed by even more sharing, McIlroy hopes.

“EllaSole is targeted at modernizing the jewelry industry, an extension around the community engagement we are hoping to garner on our site,” she says. “Not sure there is a better way to start building a community and engaging an audience than Kickstarter.”

But the attraction of Kickstarter’s modus operandi to McIlroy’s belief in engagement is not the only reason EllaSole is launching on Kickstarter today; interestingly, McIlroy sees Kickstarter’s value as a showroom of sorts, a virtual presentation to not only investors but initial customers.

“I look at it as kind of a marketing opportunity,” she says. “It’s almost like a marketing platform. A brand can start to gain some awareness, they can test their product, they can hopefully bring in some pre-orders to validate the business and I think they can really cultivate a loyal, early-adopting audience.”

“We’re really relying on our network to bring this awareness out” McIlroy continues. “It’s really an individual effort, you’re really putting everything you have into this campaign, sharing it with your own friends and your own network to hopefully embrace it and share it. It’s a little nerve -wracking to be honest, much different than going out and raising money. Both are incredibly difficult but I think this is a good way to validate the brand and when it’s time to scale and raise more money we will have proven it out.”

The goal is to raise $25,000, she says, then capitalize on the tactics that spurred the success of FashionPlaytes—most notably, building a strong infrastructure and a great team.

“Everything I did at FashionPlaytes we’re incorporating here, but the truth is, if you don’t have a great product you’re probably not going to have success,” says McIlroy. “A lot of it is making sure your product choices are really strong and something the audience really likes.”

McIlroy says the new demographic her site is targeting will make her life a little less complicated. Because the girls at FashionPlaytes were too young to have their own social media accounts, McIlroy and her team had to create one. Now, they can use those platforms, already built and used by tens of millions.

And that‘s not all that the older crowd will help with.

“Knock on wood, it’s easier. One, because I’m in that demographic, but a real key is that

we’ll be talking to the demographic that will be making the purchase,” she says.

McIlroy says though the site is open to women from 20 to 80, the “sweet spot” is from 20 to 45.

“Women who are maybe a little more technology savvy, who are spending more time on social media,” she says. “I honestly think Pinterest will be a big piece of our business in that it tells an aesthetic story. I envision that rolling into other programs, like referral.”

The business is built around “some of the very powerful social commerce and mass-customization concepts that we refined through years building FashionPlaytes,” says McIlroy. Specifically, she’s tapping into experience with e-commerce, mass-customization, branding, engagement and community creation.

“It’s about creating custom jewelry for women,” she says. “We believe luxury jewelry shouldn’t cost a fortune. You choose the metal, you choose the gemstone, you choose the style, you can engrave it and really make it something unique. We think it’s a great opportunity to capture memories or celebrate a milestone, whether a graduation or the birth of a child or a bridesmaid gift.”

Join Sarah McIlroy at the CNP Expo May 19-22, 2014 in Orlando, Fla where she will deliver a keynote address: Empowering Shoppers Through Community, Content and Commerce. In her remarks, McIlroy will share why FashionPlaytes customers spend more than 30 minutes per session on the site, how the FashionPlaytes community grew and empowered its young audience and how those characteristics inform her new venture, EllaSole. “When companies not only listen to their customers but empower them to influence product design and development,” she says, “it can be a winning scenario.” For more information on the CNP Expo and to register, visit .

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