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Sidestep Takes The Lead With Dedicated Mobile Merch App

Sidestep-app-logoSidestep is a new mobile app to make it easy for fans to get music merch via their smartphone with the option of picking it up at the show or having it delivered. It's not a totally new idea but I'm finding that other such dedicated music merch apps never launched or have gone back into development. I spoke with CEO and founder Eric Jones yesterday about Sidestep's progress and where they're headed. Currently Sidestep is working with a small group of acts including Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco and Toby Mac.

Eric Jones has a diverse music background including performing with The Downtown Fiction and other industry roles such as artist management.

He launched Sidestep this summer and has released a minimum viable product for iOS and Android. Chris Cornell of Manhead Merch is a big source of support as strategic advisor, initial funder and even director of the below video.

Hello from SideStep

As Jones explained, he recognized that merch sales were still fairly antiquated at events, with long lines and other difficulties. And he came up with a solution not unlike those described by other appmakers who do not currently have products on the market.

Fans can buy tour merch from a band via the app. When they buy it, they can specify that they'll pick it up at the show or have it delivered. This means both people who make the show and those stuck at home can get tour merch that may or may not be available via the band's own ecommerce store.

The app is fairly simple and, at the moment, features just four acts, Dir En Grey, Toby Mac's Hits Deep Tour, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. Jones says that everyone involved with the app has a lot of industry contacts and that shows with such a high-profile list for a beta product.

Jones claims they've had 15,000 downloads with around $50 in sales per individual that uses the app. That may involve some impulse purchasing since they're buying more than those at the show who face long lines and related difficulties.

Note that about 75% of their sales are for delivery and much of that is coming from people not at shows. So featuring tour merch in an easy to use format for such folks already appears to be a driver of extra sales.

Sidestep Is Off To A Good Start

Sidestep is facing the classic problem of the two-sided market, you have to attract both bands and fans to use the product.

At this stage Sidestep is off to a good start attracting bands. The difficulty is getting fans to use the app especially given that they don't have to use it at the show to buy merch and, as bands continue to get more savvy about ecommerce, won't have to use it to buy merch for shows they miss.

However, as more bands come on board, fans will also be attracted especially if the band starts promoting the app. That's a doable if not easy goal. In fact, the difficulties may well be reflected in the absence of such dedicated apps.

Right now, WillCall 2.0 is the main app featuring music merchandise but it's part of a more complex offering that includes local event suggestions, artist tipping, merch and VIP packages. WillCall is a potentially strong competitor but they're limited by location and by complexity.

Sidestep is very simple at this point. You find a band, you select merch, you buy merch. Over time it will get more complicated as more bands are added but additional planned features should help users with that including geotargeting, push notifications and iTunes library access to help identify relevant acts.

The next version will initially launch solely for iOS around SXSW-time.

Sidestep's Long-term and Longer-term Goals

Jones' goal is to have at least 100 bands on board in 2014 but that will still be a curated process. Long term goals include scaling the app so more bands can get on board. That's a lot to take on but his longer term goals are even bigger with the intention of becoming the app for selling things at events.

Sidestep's strength is that it addresses an actual pain point for both bands and fans. Its solution makes sense, is relatively easy to explain and should benefit all involved. Fans have expressed positive response to an app featuring lots of bands and the Sidestep concept of a merch table that never closes.

Sidestep is definitely a startup to watch in a space that could use some practical innovation.

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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is building a writing hub at Flux Research. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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