Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Improving the Experience for Online Apparel Retailers' Customers

Image source: Flickr.com
Today I am pleased to present a guest post by Andrew Konoff.

Retail business is in a remarkable state of flux. Brick and mortar stores are seeing sales flatline as e-commerce soars to new heights. The face of selling is changing dramatically as new technologies evolve, but for industries like fashion, it’s hard to replicate the in-store experiences that customers have grown accustomed to.

It turns out that technology may just offer the solution. Whether you’re worried about sizing, quality, or whether or not you’ll look good in the garment, today’s e-commerce retailers are cracking the tricks behind better apparel-shopping experiences.


Tackling Vanity Sizes
Take a trip to the mall, try a dozen things on, and you’ll know pretty keenly that one size is not the same size everywhere. Lack of standardized sizing across the clothing industry already makes fitting a gamble. With ‘vanity sizing’ and imported merchandise, people can have three or four sizes of clothing in their closet at any given time.


One system is honing in on the problem of vanity sizing fit using 3D body imaging. Me-Ality provides scanning booths, called Size Matching Stations, at malls in the US and Canada.  A wand is passed around the fully dressed client for about 15 seconds, recording 200,000 points of reference  from which exact measurements are taken.


Customers are then given a printout of the sizes that they’ll fit into from a variety of different brands, effectively removing guesswork and making their confidence in online purchases just that much higher.


Online Dress-Up

Some questions customers ask are more challenging to quantify than sizing. Consumers want to know:

  • How will this look on me? 
  • Can I wear this color? 
  • Will this top go with my burgundy jeans? 
Then again, purchases can fail to excite simply because some small detail makes an item unsuitable – like badly-placed pockets, an awkward drape to the fabric, or poor construction.

Metail is a virtual fitting room that addresses these tricky questions. Working online, customers create a personalized 3D model using basic measurements and two photos.  This model can then be saved and used with all Metail retail partners.

Metail is easy to use and gives a realistic view of how clothes will look in a specific cut or color. For fun, clients can also experiment with different hairstyles, emphasizing the “dress-up” factor.


Coming in low in technology but high in effectiveness is Amazon’s attempts in the area: product videos. As you can see by pressing the video icon on some of Amazon’s clothing pages, having a short video can show the flow and movement of a garment better than any still photograph could – even if it’s a photo of you!


Metail seems more focused on the before-the-mirror-moment, when the shopper holds up the garment against himself to check variables like cut or color. Although it’s not able to give all the answers, their solution still provides valuable information for the consumer. As the sophistication of the technology involved increases, the degree to which augmented reality apps can help in purchasing decisions will increase. Imagine if those Amazon product videos were built by combining 3D models of your body and the clothes you’re trying on? That would be even easier than trying clothes on in real life!

 
Bespoke: Made Just For You
While technology catches up with the market, the answer to online shopping satisfaction seems to rest in bringing affordability to timeless products, and perhaps the best example of that is the bustling made-to-measure (MTM) menswear industry.


Online MTM companies like Indochino are taking the “bespoke” experience to the masses. It used to be that custom suits were confined to only the most wealthy of patrons, but that’s no longer the case. Indochino will cut, sew, and deliver a suit based on your unique measurements for under $400.


Another service they’re offering helps to bridge the gap between online and offline experiences. Because Indochino requires you to take your own measurements (preferably with the help of a friend), they’re sending a “Traveling Tailor” across the USA to help those customers who might not trust their own measuring job.


The finishing touch on Indochino’s success has got to be their exceptional customer service. To get you started on your measurements, they’ll send you a free tape measure. And in case you make a mistake, every suit they sell includes a $75 tailoring credit – and if that doesn’t get you the fit you want, they’ll remake the whole suit for free. By placing an emphasis on personalized customer services and giving unequalled value, Indochino has become the market leader. Though you have to wait four weeks before you’ll experience your custom suit, no one seems to mind the wait for their truly unique products.


Make it Memorable
Rock star businesses collect kudos from happy customers by using evolving technology to solve shoppers’ problems. Delivering a bit of an extra oomph for skeptical customers can really be what takes your initiative to a whole new level. Whether it’s by learning your complete sizing profile, seeing what a dress looks like on a real person, or having a real-life helping hand, you can’t build a truly exceptional online customer experience without giving your customers something unexpected.



Andrew is the marketing manager at GoInstant, a developer of cobrowsing technology. His writing is primarily focused on bringing customer experience management to a broader audience. You can find him on Twitter as @andrewkonoff.


9 comments:

  1. Interesting post Andrew

    For me the biggest driver of improved on-line shopping is customer service and trust. Amazon effectively run a no quibble refund policy, without that most of their customers wouldn't take the risk and head for the stores instead.

    I think all of the technological advancements you discuss (which are great) effectively reduce the e-tailers burden of refunds rather than reducing customer risk, as with the great e-tailers there is non.

    James

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    1. Hi James!

      It's probably worth distinguishing between what's necessary and what's sufficient for great customer experiences. Without trust, you're stuck without customers. It's something that literally everyone needs to establish in order to stay in business - a baseline that no one can go without. Indochino faced trust problems big time, which is why they offer enormous tailoring credits, free tape measures, and the offer to return or remake any unsatisfactory suit.

      Which brings us to what I focused on in the article, which, as you point out, are mostly features that don't reduce customer risk. Instead, they're options for delivering better, innovative customer experiences. Better CX may have the effect of reducing refunds, but mostly, it should have the effect of making happier customers. They may still return stuff, but that's not what we're worried about. We want them to have so entirely loved the overall experience that they keep coming back. Doing that involves a lot of disparate elements, a lot of different departments, and a lot of coordination. A great customer experience is the set of jointly sufficient things for business success: in less jargony terms, it's about doing all the things that make customers love you. We can get 'em to tolerate or consider us, but love? That's harder, but also more rewarding.

      Hope that clears things up!

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  3. The key to retail success it taking a a diverse approach. Many shoppers are going online for what they want and using scanners on their phones to locate merchandise. There are also consumers who prefer a personalized, localized approach to shopping. Customer service for both types of customers is crucial to remain competitive.

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    1. Agreed. Again, Indochino seems to nail it in both ways - they have an easy-to-use online ordering system, and they're ready to bring a tailor to you as well. Sometimes high-touch is the right solution; sometimes it isn't.

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