digital disruptors | Jul 29, 2021 |
AR startup Wescover expands into a marketplace

When it launched in 2019, Wescover was on a mission to turn the world into a showroom, partnering with Google Lens to let users search for cool decorative goods they encountered, like the pendant lights at a trendy restaurant. Think of it like using Shazam to identify a song playing in a public place, but for decor instead. Recently, the augmented-reality-powered platform has decided to close the loop and expand into a marketplace—with an eye to monetization. “We always imagined that we would eventually grow into a marketplace where we were able to connect users and creators and serve them both,” says Wescover founder Rachely Esman. “We want to encourage discovery but stay very relationship-based.”

The new Wescover lets users discover items based on location and then buy directly from creators in a given area. Users who aren’t interested in the discovery-based service are able to navigate the platform just like any other home-goods marketplace.

Esman was spurred to found Wescover when she moved from her native Israel to San Francisco a few years ago. She asked around for recommendations on furnishing her new place, only to be pointed toward West Elm or RH, which were a bit too mass-market for her taste. In search of a more original look—and often finding inspiration in new restaurants or boutique hotels—she created her company with the goal of a visual database of interesting products. The aim was to give people a simple way to connect with local makers in the home space, and Esman sees this new chapter as a natural extension.

To make Wescover stand apart from its more established competitor, Etsy, Esman wants her site to be a more curated experience, focusing specifically on furniture and housewares and providing a comparatively limited range of makers (there are currently around 550). “Our creators might have started as crafters, but they matured beyond Etsy and now have their own independent brand,” she says. “This is where they are a fit with Wescover. We look to see if they already have a professional portfolio, and if they’re working professional interior designers or their work is in notable spaces.”

Pieces on the platform, Esman notes, do not need to be handmade, and many of their creators have manufacturing partners. Owning the designs is the only important criteria. The median price point is $500, which she sees as an indicator of high quality; experienced makers on the platform include New York–based interior and product designer Marie Burgos, who also sells her furniture and lighting on 1stDibs, and brands like Fyrn or Neal Aronowitz Design/Art, which are more likely to be seen at a design fair than at a maker showcase.

From a user experience standpoint, Wescover’s site design is sleek and clean, showing the customer only a few products at a time and always in situ, a touch that harkens back to Esman’s original idea of discovering pieces in physical settings. Items that are immediately available to ship have a small lightning bolt next to the product name, clearly showing the user which pieces are quick-ship versus longer-lead, made-to-order items.

Given the higher cost of items on Wescover, the platform encourages customization, allowing users to inquire about this option on many of its listings. This feature has drawn the attention of the design trade and commercial developers (Soho House is a recent client), and the company plans to launch a trade program complete with a designer discount later this month. “We’re very excited to work more with this audience and connect them with more creators who are working from sustainable materials, building a better future for all of us,” says Esman. “We’re happy to give designers more opportunities to source locally, instead of just buying commodities from big-box stores.”

Figuring out how to monetize a startup can often be tricky, as founders struggle to stay true to the original intent while also turning a profit. For Esman, it was about deciding the best way for the marketplace to take a cut of the sales it perpetuates. “We looked at a few different business models, like listing fees or charging creators a subscription fee, but when we discussed those possibilities with the designers and makers, they overwhelmingly said that upfront fees like those are harder for them to buy into—it’s harder for their business,” says Esman. “So we landed on a 15 percent fee on sales made through the platform. I think that the [monetization] will continue to evolve with time as we grow, but this is where we’re starting. Hopefully, we can build something of a community for these creators.”

Homepage photo: Wescover uses Google Lens to identify products | Courtesy of Wescover

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