WisBusiness: Madison company looks to mobile tech to change the way people shop

By Lynn Paszek

For WisBusiness.com

MADISON – The Style Shuffler, a Wisconsin-based company founded by Aaron Larner, has the potential to change the way people shop simply by using a scan function on their mobile phones.

The Style Shuffler has been compared to the popular music source Pandora, which chooses songs that are similar to the original selection through algorithms. The Style Shuffler won’t be choosing music, but instead will make in-store suggestions that hold the potential to change the way people shop and buy their clothing.

The Style Shuffler is among about two-dozen finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The contest put on by the Wisconsin Technology Council brings together entrepreneurs in a six-month process to create, design and plan early growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. The participants are mentored and given advice through judges that will ultimately lead to media exposure and finalists receiving more than $200,000 worth of in-kind prizes and seed capital to help launch and maintain their business after the contest.

Larner got the idea with his co-worker at Build Madison, a competition to create something interesting or useful within 24 hours, and they decided to create the first form of the Style Shuffler. It was called “Brainsy,” and was exclusively used for the online store Etsy.com . The business has since been modified and expanded into the Style Shuffler.

The Style Shuffler and Larner have big goals for the future, including being a 30-person company worth $6.5 million by 2016. This valuation is based on implementing their product in 295 retail stores around the nation by that time.

The Style Shuffler comes in two forms, a mobile application and a new online application found on their website Styleshuffler.com that allows the customer to install a “bookmarklet” that allows the customer to select the “Style Shuffler” button when shopping online and the viewer will receive other recommendations for the product currently on view. The online application is only available on Zappos.com for now but may be broadened to a bigger market in the near future.

The mobile application — which comes at no cost to the customer, only the retailer — allows the customer to scan an item of clothing at a store and the Style Shuffler will automatically give other options within the store that will style well with that item. The goal is for the customer to leave the store with a new and trendy outfit.

“Behind the scenes, Style Shuffler is powering your mobile experience and apparel recommendations. Style Shuffler’s proprietary technology identifies the attributes of your style and makes personalized suggestions,” Larner said.

According to Larner, the Style Shuffler is unlike anything on the current market. Similar applications work by keeping track of purchases previously made by the customer. The application then looks at who else bought that same product and refer other products bought by that customer.

“This works great for some things, but everyone’s fashion sense is very personal, and just because you and I happen to like one piece of clothing in common doesn’t mean that we have the same sense of style,” Larner said.

The Style Shuffler recommends based on different attributes of a piece of apparel. The Style Shuffler categorizes each product it recommends with 10 to 30 attributes and with that the customer builds a profile over time.

“We’re the only recommendation engine that focuses exclusively on apparel, and we’re the only company that is offering in-store mobile recommendations,” Larner said.

Larner hopes that the Style Shuffler will ultimately be the “formula for fashion.” He is trying to fill a void in the fashion industry for retailers and manufacturers to take advantage of different types of tools to make decisions on what their customers actually want.

“With enough data we’ll be able to predict style trends before anyone knows about them. We’ll be able to help shoppers find what they want, even if they have no idea what they are looking for,” Larner said.

— Paszek is a student in the UW Madison Department of Life Science Communications.