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Unicorn Tribe: Rebuilding Retail With Social Connections

Online retailer Unicorn Tribe, started and run by San Clemente couple Erin Adams and Chris Adams, has taken off with rapid sales growth using a high-tech version of cable network selling.

Rather than using TV, it connects with shoppers via its app, ditching the overly slick productions of some of its larger peers in favor of something more akin to friends gabbing with one another.

 
Formed in 2016, Unicorn Tribe sells across numerous categories, including clothing, accessories, beauty and health, gifts, home, and even food.


A conservative revenue projection by the company for this year aims to have the business surpass $10 million in sales as the roughly 20-person firm now looks for more warehouse space and expands on its in-house clothing label.

 
A recent broadcast saw some shoppers admiring the acrylic nails of the host, Amber, while others tried to figure out a particular shade of lip crayon sold in another segment of the fashion retailer’s live selling app.


Another viewer asked Amber: “What pants [are] Summer wearing in the app pics?”


Selling With a Twist


The concept of live selling is not a new one, and Unicorn Tribe is swimming in an ocean of larger peers that include the likes of QVC, HSN, evine, ShopAtHome Network and America’s Store.

 
It’s a shrinking industry. The $6 billion cable shopping network industry in the U.S. fell 2.7% between 2015 and 2020 and the decline is expected to continue, according to IbisWorld, as more consumers turn to the internet to shop.

 
Unicorn Tribe isn’t banking on cable TV to move product. Instead, it’s going directly to where its community of shoppers are: social media and apps.

 
“We definitely consider ourselves a social seller and a social business,” Chris Adams, CEO of Unicorn Tribe, said.

 
The company runs Facebook groups, one for the broader customer base and another, private social club for those core customers that are repeat buyers.

 
Both groups help build a sense of community, whether customers buy from Unicorn Tribe through its website, during live selling through the app, or passively from the product listings on the app.

 
Live shoppers remain the largest customer base for Unicorn Tribe, with the company attracting shoppers anywhere in age from 35 to 80. The company’s size-inclusive range for clothing—small to 3X—has helped it resonate with a broad base.

 
“It’s like going to a store with your friend and you can ask your friend ‘How does that fit?’” Chris said of the community the company has fostered, particularly in the live selling channel.

Selling Through Community

The company’s live broadcasts can generate anywhere from 250 to 800 viewers who are either engaging with each other or engaging with the host in real-time.

 
Dee Goodman joined the company as a live selling host in December. Goodman, with a background in broadcast journalism, was looking to get back in front of the camera.

 
She’s one of several hosts moderating live broadcasts. There are three daily with an audience across the U.S., the majority of which are watching from California, New York and Texas.

 
It’s a fast-paced job with hosts moving multiple items in a segment.

 
“Whereas QVC, they’ll sit and talk about one product for half an hour, this is faster paced. I’m probably showing 36 items throughout [a two-hour segment],” Goodman said. “For me, it’s been a learning curve selling because there’s techniques to selling versus ‘you need to buy this.’ I have my water up there, so I definitely stay hydrated but it’s high energy.”

 
Goodman, like the rest of the hosts, fields live questions from viewers ranging from a fabric’s stretch to how it personally fits them.

 
“I think it’s the community feel that keeps people coming back for more and more. You can watch the lives and never comment, but plenty of people watch it and you’re interacting. It’s a very positive place. There’s not really any negativity,” Goodman said.

Personalization, and Analytics

Erin Adams, the company’s president, has a knack for remembering many of the viewers and their sizes so that she can respond to questions and interact in a personalized way.

 
“A lot of our customers have been with us since we started, so that’s how I’m able to get familiar with them,” she said. “It’s been really cool creating the community around the business, so it’s not just the clothing, but it is about me facilitating the ability for these women to feel more confident about themselves based on what they wear.”

 
“We get a ton of posts and comments and emails about ‘I only wore black until I started shopping with you,’ which makes this so much more rewarding and worthwhile,” she said.


While Erin has been good at connecting on a human level, Chris has perfected the data and analytics side.  


In just one example of tech being leveraged, software begins recording video from the time a host begins talking and scans an item into the system until the next item is scanned. It automates the process to create product videos that are then attached to product listings on the website or app. As a result, Unicorn Tribe boasts a return rate of less than 1%.

 
Nearly 90% of the clothing it sells has a video attached to the product to better show sizing across different models.

Entrepreneurship

The Adams are hardly strangers to entrepreneurship.

 
The pair started a hard drive distribution company for Western Digital in 2004, and sold that business in 2010, continuing to offer consulting services to the buyer, which counts a large Irvine presence.  


Erin expressed a desire to get into fashion. At the time, the couple had a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old.

 
“I felt like I kind of just lost my identity in motherhood and wanted to start doing something that was uplifting for me so I didn’t feel like I was just a mom,” she said.

 
She had always loved fashion and styling. Her mom often tells the story of Erin as a 2-year-old, when the family was living on a 32-foot sailboat in San Pedro harbor, and how she used to set up clothes in the dining room mimicking a small store.

 
It wasn’t until her late 30s that Erin realized her love for fashion and also noted more small business owners selling through Facebook Live.

 
She and Chris decided to try their hand at selling in the summer of 2016, with modest success using Facebook and also in-home parties where women could hang out with friends while shopping.

 
It took until September 2019, when the company changed its business model to one that sold multiple brands across several categories while paying better attention to their metrics and acquisition costs, before sales took off. By December 2019, with further investment in data and analytics, the company notched a tenfold growth in sales.

Looking Ahead

A laser-like focus on the data will remain key to scale. The company is also weighing additional options.

 
Unicorn Tribe last year began producing clothing under its own brand in Los Angeles, with plans to expand that business line, as apparel remains the dominant category overall for the company. Taking on manufacturing ensures sizing consistency, Erin said.

 
Chris pointed out that the data system allows for hot-selling styles to be reproduced at a faster clip, in addition to there being more margin that can then be funneled back into customer acquisition.

 
There’s also the possibility of a subscription offering. Unicorn Tribe has done mystery bags where customers will buy four shirts worth $100 for $40.

 
“They love that kind of stuff. I think there’s so much untapped potential, just in that tiny, little corner of the apparel industry. We’re just warming up,” Erin said.

 
Chris, meanwhile, has been studying customers’ average spend to see what they might potentially pay on a monthly basis for a subscription program that could include club perks.

 
“It definitely makes a ton of sense for us to a do a [subscription] box,” he said.

 
Ultimately, being relatable remains important as the company grows.

 
“It’s the way the women feel when they get stuff from us and the way they feel when they hang out with us on a live [broadcast],” Erin said of what has helped the brand resonate with so many.

 
“We talk about body normality. You are who you are right now. Don’t think about who you want to be 20 pounds from now. You’re missing out on the present by waiting for something to happen in the future.”

 
That messaging has helped the company retain customers, with over 60% of shoppers having purchased more than five times with them, according to Chris.

 
“Essentially, it’s the truth. Erin is telling the truth; all of our live sellers are telling the truth. When they say something’s comfy and will fit a size 10, it’s actually comfy and will fit a size 10,” Chris said.

 
Added Erin: “We’re just relatable and we make people feel good about themselves.” 

Getting Smart About Digital

Unicorn Tribe’s secret sauce has focused on the balance between human connection and artificial intelligence.

While founder and President Erin Adams believes in the power of self-expression through clothing and the importance of real connection with shoppers, husband and CEO Chris Adams is big on data. The duality has gotten Unicorn Tribe far.

Getting even smarter on the analytics will be crucial as it scales, and knowing where their customer’s at has been a key contributor on the digital marketing front. Instead of casting a wide net and giving in to the latest fad on social media, the couple understands where their shopper is at.  

“TikTok, the bell curve is right around that 12 to 19 [age range]. People are getting crazy returns on those channels,” Chris said. “The super-young age bracket for us, we’re definitely going to experiment with it, but our users skew in the wrong direction for TikTok and Snapchat. A huge portion of our audience is that Facebook audience.”

The company’s started to talk with influencers, an area of untapped potential for the business. The idea could be to have a roster of anywhere from 30 to 40 influencers helping market product, including even collaborative collections.

At a more granular level, Chris—a long-time marketer—said retargeting customers continues to be the challenge. That is, getting a visitor to come back to a company’s website once they’ve left. That became even more difficult with Apple’s iOS 14 update last fall and the associated privacy restrictions.

Thus, old-school ways of marketing could make a comeback, the CEO said.
Unicorn Tribe recently did a test with mailers and saw positive results. Email, he said, is also making a comeback.

“It’s more and more important to be super effective,” Chris said. “All of the least effective forms of communication over the last decade are coming back. So, email. Email’s so 2000s, but intelligently targeted emails, personalized emails, physical mailers, SMS text messages, those are going to become widely used retargeting tools because we’re not necessarily going to be able to target as good as we have just strictly based off a web purchase.”

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