3 Lessons Retailers Can Learn From "Personal Style" Services

Tailored retail
Photo by Flazingo Photos / CC-by-sa

Personal shopping is a growing trend, both online and offline. Professionals and companies dedicated to these services edit and sort items according to their customers' preferences, saving them time and picking the products that are more likely to suit them.

"The (personal shopping) industry is growing because the segments of the population who are inclined to use personal shoppers are prospering." - Zayna Mosa, vice president of marketing for the Association of Image Consultants International.

These prosper shoppers have the money, yet, not so much time. This is what makes personal retail companies stand out among the overload of retail companies, and the added value they provide: personal assistance and convenience.

Of course, traditional personal shoppers provide the closest and most personal experience, compared to online shopping services. But the online alternatives are growing in popularity each year. They are different experiences, each one with their own advantages.

For example, some of the online companies offer the personal shopping advice service for free, or they offer 24/7 help. And all of them rely on boosting their customers' confidence by making sure they're wearing clothes that flatter them.

Still, the reasons to hire these professionals are very variate. Some clients need them because they require styling advice for a photo shoot or a single big event. In other cases, the usage extends over longer periods of time, when clients appreciate the convenience and affordability compared to going shopping in real life. Others try it for a while because they need guidance to know what colours and styles suit them better, to learn how to make the most of their body shape and "fix" their style. Some don't really want to buy new clothes, but they need help to find ways to combine the existing ones in their wardrobe and a professional with a more creative eye is all they rally need.

Adapting fashion products to the personal needs of every client involves very deep knowledge about different body shapes, as well as insight about customers' personalities and preferences.

Here are some of the brands leading the way in this new scenario where retail has to become more flexible, personal, and knowledgeable. Although you'll notice that all of them follow more or less the same pattern, and they are similar to the well-known "subscription boxes", they offer so much more than just that. Same pattern, same trend, yet each one of these businesses is different from the rest.

Related: Check this CollegeHumor video if you think subscription boxes are getting lame.

5 Examples of online personal style services

Stitch Fix opened in 2011, and they've become huge. They currently hire over 5,000 people, including more than 3,000 stylists and over 70 data analysts.

As most of these services, the journey begins answering a test with questions about your style, your measurements, and price preferences. But one of the nicest features about them is that they send you 5 pieces of clothing - hand-picked for you - without having to pay a subscription. You only buy the clothes you like, return the rest, and the shipment is free.

They offer some other interesting services for free, like fashion tips and the possibility to ask questions to their stylists.

Read more: The stitchfix blog.

Sarah LaFleur is the founder of MM.LaFleur, launched in 2013 with the collaboration of the luxury designer Miyako Nakamura and Narie Foster.

Their brand's personality combines high quality and freshness. It's fun, stylish et très chic, aimed at professional women. They help them pick the sophisticated and versatile pieces of clothing that they need to fit their lifestyle, to create a professional wardrobe that isn't difficult to maintain. The clothes in their "Bento Boxes" are travel-friendly, and machine-washable. They know all the little details that matter to their clients, both aesthetic and practical.

The procedure is the same: answer questions, get clothes, try on, pay for the ones you keep, send back the rest. No subscription.

One lovely thing about MM is that they design their own clothes. They also have a normal online store for those interested in the clothes but not in the styling service.

If Stitchfix was unisex and MM was aimed at professional ladies, Outfittery is a personal styling service for men. The idea sounds like it makes sense: Men, as a general rule, don't like shopping as much as women do. Or at least they don't usually spend so much time looking for clothes and trying different looks. This service offers an opportunity to put together really good-looking outfits without wasting time on something they don't enjoy.

It works like the others: Style consultation, hand-picked items delivered to your door for free, and you only pay for what you keep.

Despite the classy look of their website's front page, it's not only for businessmen. They have outfits for every type of style and price range, from sporty to casual, conservative, and formal.

The procedure at Keaton Row is a bit different from the others. It's aimed at women, and it doesn't focus so much on the delivery of hand-picked items, but instead on the professional style assistance.

You still get clothes delivered to your door, as you can browse and buy pieces of clothing from many different brands through them. But the emphasis is on the relationship you build with your stylist, and the fact that you can contact them anytime for help; for example, if you need style advice for a special occasion.

As time goes on, the picks become more accurate as they know more about your personality and tastes. This would be true for the other services as well, but it's not so clear how important the direct communication is.

What makes wearwell unique is their values. They're a personal shopping service for women that makes sure all of their clothes are supporting good causes. Unlike others, this one is a subscription service, although you can order just one to try it too, and you only pay for the clothes you keep.

They started the project at Indiegogo with one goal in mind: to make a change in the apparel industry. The quiz you have to answer when you start using their service doesn't just ask about your size, favourite colours and patterns, it also asks about the causes you care about most to send you clothes that protect the things you value.

3 Lessons to learn:

1st. Create profiles to better understand each client.

All of these companies gather individual information about their customers, to create accurate profiles and send each one exactly what they need.
When you see so many data analysts working at StitchFix it doesn't come as a surprise.

These businesses only work if they really hit the mark and send customers clothes they adore. If they fail to understand their preferences, their style, the client won't return and will lose trust in the company's criteria.

Although this doesn't have to be true for all businesses, gathering information to send the correct offers or suggest the ideal product to each customer is worth considering.
You need to gather just as much information as you feel is required to hit your own marks and provide the best possible service.

How to get this data?
The best way would be to simply let your customers tell you what they like. You can do this by allowing them to create personal profiles on your website, where they can save the products they like, and you can keep track of their purchases, among other things, such as what products they've visited, and on what product pages they have spent more time.
If you want to take it one step further, you can even ask them direct questions, send surveys, or run interviews, depending on your products and services and how close you feel the relationship with the client should be.

Just one warning: Don't force customers to create a profile in order to complete a purchase on your shop. It's one of the main reasons for shopping cart abandonment.
Let them have freedom to decide if they like you enough to have an account on your site.

2nd. Be an expert in your business area.

Those customers who pick these personal style services don't just want just anybody to pick clothes for them: they want a professional stylist.

Knowing what to wear and wearing it with style are skills that not everybody has. That's why having an expert telling you what to do and what to avoid is so valuable.

This holds true for almost any sort of product and area.
Your customer doesn't need to be an expert in your product, no matter if it's makeup, tech, books, clothes, or toys; but you should be one.

Here's an example: A couple of weeks ago, I made my first visit to a shop dedicated to selling just Korean beauty products. Korean makeup and beauty routines are different from European ones, and everything looked very pretty but alien to us.
The reason we had decided to go to that particular shop was because one of my friends had spent all the afternoon telling us how knowledgeable and helpful the shop owner was. He knew everything about skin types, skin conditions, recommended routines and treatments, differences between brands, and particularities of certain products.
Even if you entered the shop completely clueless, he'd ask you what you wanted to improve and recommend you the best options, explaining every detail.

Assistance like this is incredibly valuable for customers, and they value it. That's why my friend couldn't refrain herself from telling us how much this shop owner knew about Korean beauty products and she had to recommend the place to us.
Giving good, unbiased advice is highly appreciated when there are so many products to choose from and such an overload of information.

And it's not just about knowing your own products. It means to keep studying and learning to stay up to date with the latest and upcoming trends and to understand the needs of each person.
For example, you may know that a certain DSLR camera is better than a compact one; but if your client has no intention to learn how to properly use a DSLR, then you should probably recommend the compact one, which will be more convenient to use and provide a better result.

3rd. Consider the oportunity cost.

If there is one thing that all of these businesses are leveraging that's opportunity cost.

Their clients could go to the physical location of a personal stylist, or go shopping themselves, but instead they choose their service because of the things it saves. It isn't just fun to try, it's convenient.

Think about it. Going shopping takes time, more so if you need to check shop after shop and try on clothes at each one of them. It usually takes money as well, since you need to get there by car or taking public transport. And then sometimes you make a bad choice and you have to go back to the shop or keep an item that you don't really like.

If you compare that to having items picked by an expert to flatter you delivered to your door, and keeping only those you love, while returning the rest for free via mail...
The answer is: What do I have to lose?

What can you offer to make your clients think you're the most convenient choice of all?

Sources and additional information:

Although not everyone is always happy, and criticism can be useful too. Here are a few opinions fom clients who have tried services like the ones mentioned in this article:

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