At Copious, The Love Button Drives Social Commerce

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they’re feeling deluged. But so far, members haven’t complained that they’re getting too much marketing e-mail from the company, or so Ehrlich says.

Because sharing is the engine behind the commerce at Copious, Ehrlich doesn’t mind if members spend more time clicking the Love button than they do actually buying things. “The action of loving creates a message to the graph that brings people in who may love another item or buy another item that is more applicable to the mood they’re in,” he says. “It’s that serendipitous discovery that really makes this thing work.”

Copious focused on women’s clothing as its first big product category because women are bigger online shoppers, and tend to have more unwanted items in their closets waiting to be sold, donated, or thrown out. But recently the company has added categories like men’s clothing, home products, and art that it hopes will appeal to men as well as women. “If we are going to move into other categories of items, we first have to cross the chasm of gender,” Ehrlich says.

An even bigger and more immediate challenge for the 15-employee startup, which has raised $7.5 million in venture funding from Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, and Relay Ventures, is recruiting more users. The site already has “several hundred thousand” registered members and is gaining thousands every day. And once people have supplied a Facebook or Twitter credential and logged in, they buy stuff at an encouraging rate, Ehrlich says. But the community isn’t big enough yet to be “super liquid and scalable,” Ehrlich says. Translation: there aren’t enough people around to snap up the available items quickly.

“The percentages are good, but we have more work to do on total mass,” Ehrlich says. He’s hoping Copious’s growth will mimic that of Airbnb or Pinterest itself. Both companies had user bases that grew very gradually for a couple of years “until they found the knee in the curve,” in Ehrlich’s phrase.

Ehrlich doesn’t think Copious is the only Web startup that’s awake to the potential of social sharing as an organizing principle. He says Quora is following the same principles in the question-and-answer market, as is Spotify in the music sector and Gogobot in the travel sector.

But even though eBay recently revamped parts of its site to incorporate more social signals, Ehrlich doesn’t think of the 18-year-old auction giant as a direct competitor. That’s in part because Copious’s audience is so different—it’s mainly frequented by women under 45, while eBay’s audience is older and more male. But it’s also because he doesn’t think eBay groks social.

“The greatest marketing channel today is your users,” Ehrlich says. You have to figure out how to hitch your wagon to them, and if you can’t do that efficiently it’s going to be impossible to scale. We fundamentally believe that this is going to transform every single industry. And we think marketplaces are where there’s the greatest opportunity.”

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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