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Dupe Culture and Commerce

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Dupe culture is on the rise — affiliate is sure to follow.

Written by Brook Schaaf

Dupe.com uses AI to find products with a similar appearance to high-end items, but with lower prices. You enter a URL or upload an image, and off you go. The idea, which has been something of a trend on TikTok with over 6 billion associated hashtags, is the classic “champagne taste, beer budget” approach. Fast Company heralded this as the “rise of dupe culture,” and just last week Dupe.com got coverage on TODAY. According to Similarweb, its traffic skyrocketed from almost nothing in February to 670,000 visits last month. Interestingly, it has a scant 5,000 users on the Chrome Web Store

This concept has been expanded to other areas. Browser extension Directo uses photos to match aggregated travel listings to direct bookings, which may have lower prices and perks. There is gamification with points, though no login is required. I ran it for an upcoming trip I have to Asheville, NC, and was impressed to quickly see four matching listings taking me to sites I’d never heard of. Unfortunately, none of these went to a deep link, throwing sand into a process that would ideally be frictionless. Directo has 100,000 users according to the Chrome Web Store.

And more is coming. A company called Daydream announced a $50M seed round (that’s a big seed!) to launch later this year “a powerful new, AI-powered platform that will change the way people shop online.”

Four thoughts: First, AI has supercharged look-alike product comparisons, which I remember from magazines in my youth. Consider how much more powerful these tools are than articles on dupesite.com, which must be laboriously written by hand for uncertain economic gain (the site was last updated last year). Second, there seems to be a natural affinity for verticals — Dupe.com highlights furniture, Directo does travel, and Daydream references fashion. Perhaps this is a constraint of marketing, technology, information, and opportunity for customer mindshare. Third, there appears to be a natural affinity for affiliate monetization, supporting the affiliate hypothesis (Dupe.com is the reinvention of Carrot), though it’s disheartening to see only oblique references to “commerce” and “commission-based revenue.” 
Finally, I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new category. This is naturally a data layer, as opposed to a merchant’s own offering, like Amazon competing with Temu and SHEIN using their same business model. As noted, this data layer naturally lends itself to affiliate monetization. A piece on OMR recognizes the model but casts doubt on the future because of possible competition. That competition is already there with coupons, rewards, and commerce content, so it seems to me this is likely to prove out and that we shall see in our space, as appropriate, many copycats.

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