By Kelli B. Grant
Earlier this week, Alicia Silverstone begged me to try her favorite vegan chocolate coconut bars. Kim Kardashian wants to help me pick out new shoes, and I have plans with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to go T-shirt shopping later this month.
It’s not the glamorous life of a SmartMoney.com reporter that’s keeping my inbox full, but rather, the growing trend of celebrity-curated shopping deals. Any consumer who wants similar celebrity attention need only hand over her email address — but although doing so may keep you on trend, it can also be hazardous for your bank account.
These sites started grabbing attention this spring and the field is only getting more crowded. StyleMint, which launches Friday with a collection of T-shirts designed by the Olsen twins, is the latest of more than half a dozen sites to let members choose an item monthly from rotating “boutiques” of clothing, shoes or accessories picked out by a celebrity stylist. (Among the other site-celebrity pairing, Kate Bosworth works with JewelMint, Kim Kardashian with ShoeDazzle and Christian Siriano with Send the Trend.) Boutiques are personalized to you based on your answers to an introductory style quiz. Another recent entrant to the celebrity-shopping trend, OpenSky, is trying a different model. Members get discounts on products recommended by its celebrity curators, who include Kristin Cavallari, Bobby Flay and Alicia Silverstone. You’ll receive deals only for the handful of celebrities you elect to follow.
The combo of celebrity input (however minor) and personalized choices can do a double-whammy on shoppers. “Celebrities influence want,” says behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert of digital strategy firm Churnless. “You can not like the person, but still like something about them, or recognize there’s an aesthetic that makes them attractive to others.” And studies have found that consumers are more likely to buy when faced with fewer choices, and the implication with these clubs, of course, is that you’re even more likely when your tastes have influenced the narrowed selection. “These are basically shortcuts to making a decision,” says Paul Marsden, a social psychologist and independent market researcher. (The sites say they prefer to look at it as a way to avoid the cost of ordering inventory consumers won’t buy. “We’re not taking a big risk because we know who our customers are,” says Hope Neiman, the chief marketing officer of ShoeDazzle, which creates most designs in-house.)
Window-shop and rate designs for a few months before making that first purchase as a check that the site’s formula for figuring out what you like is a good one, Marsden says. (Read reviews, too, to get a sense of the quality.) The sites charge $30 to $50 per item, and one purchase transitions you from free member to paying subscriber. Then, you’ll be charged that fee monthly unless you opt out during a short window at the start of each month, or cancel altogether. A spokesman for SoleSociety says it caps automatic charges without a purchase at three months, while ShoeDazzle allows up to five. Both say they permit subscribers to cancel any time.
It’s worth hunting for coupons, too. New members routinely get 20% to 50% off their first purchase, and access to ongoing price cuts via the services’ online communities. JewelMint offers exclusive deals on its Twitter feed, such as a recent $7 off the regular $30 charge to celebrate the weekend, while Send the Trend offers a $5 discount for Facebook fans.