Will a combo of data and personal stylists drive online apparel sales?

Discussion
Photos: Allume
Nov 30, 2017
Glenn Taylor

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

As with subscription services such as Stitch Fix, Trunk Club and Wantable, Allume promises to offer curated apparel choices for its users based on their styling preferences. The recently-launched personal shopping service, however, takes the further step of matching users with a styling expert — a “real person, not a bot” — to fine-tune selections.

Allume makes its money by partnering with approximately 50 retailers and brands on special deals, but the personal shopper can look anywhere online for merchandise that best fits.

Shoppers first take a “style quiz” offering insights into goals, style, body shape and budget in order to be matched up with a personal shopper with similar interests. The selected stylist reaches out via text message to schedule a one-on-one consultation.

“Think of it almost like the first time you go to a new hairdresser,” founder Mauria Finley told Retail TouchPoints. “She wants to talk through your goals and your hair and how you feel about it. … She really tries to get a sense of you.”

The stylist then browses the internet and sends the shopper a virtual Lookbook of items that fit the individual’s tastes. Items can be purchased through the Lookbook and shipped directly from the retailers, who also handle any returns.

“We’ve done a lot of testing before we launched, and there’s two moments that are important to customers,” Ms. Finley said. “One moment is this feeling of ‘She got me,’ and you hear that phrase in a lot of ways: ‘I’m so surprised Megan figured me out so quickly.’ The sense of being understood is a very important part of this. The second moment is: ‘Wow, she found me clothes I love’ or ‘She introduced me to a brand I wouldn’t have thought of.’ Those two moments drive shopper happiness: feeling understood and then receiving clothes they never would have found on their own.”

Prices are never marked up, and the service is essentially free customers pay a $20 fee that is refunded with a purchase as long as the shopper spends more than $20.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of Allume’s customer service model? Do you think that matching data-crunching with personal stylists will reduce many of the impediments to buying apparel online? What other hurdles do you think retailers need to overcome to be successful selling clothing online?

Braintrust
"A very good example of combining much needed human service with technology."
"... it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an essentially “free” element to the consulting service. A win-win for busy women!"
"The Allume personal shopping service is perfectly positioned to address consumers’ expectation for a truly personalize shopping experience."

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14 Comments on "Will a combo of data and personal stylists drive online apparel sales?"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust
Personalization has become the fifth “P” of marketing. Shopping online is impersonal and often difficult, especially with apparel purchases. A “real human” stylist could make all the difference for many time-starved customers. It might be even more interesting if parts of the style interview could be done through interactive chat. While this service might be free to the customer, nothing is truly “free” in retail. Someone has to be subsidizing the staff component and infrastructure. However, results count. It should be very possible to measure conversion rates and have brands and retailers pay their fair share for value add sales.… Read more »
Nir Manor
BrainTrust

A very good example of combining much needed human service with technology. This service can add a lot of value both for shoppers and retailers. An additional point to look at is how to fit the right size without trying it on. Getting it right with the sizes will increase shoppers’ satisfaction and improve retailer operations by reducing returns.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust
Now this is the right combination that consumers have been searching for, as Allume appears to have combined the art and science of fashion to provide a personalized and curated experience. Truly knowing your customer, their preferences, interests, sizing and other critical data points will help mitigate any friction associated with bad online shopping experiences, and the eventual reverse logistics if the products are not to their liking. Emerging technologies such as virtual assistants and augmented reality certainly will help pure-play digital e-commerce companies. There are significant benefits to having a physical showroom presence, such as Bonobos, where the consumer… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The most significant impediment to online apparel sales is uncertainty about size. There’s plenty of evidence that shoppers will purchase multiple sizes of the same item, then return the ones that don’t fit. This is clearly not a winning approach and is a clear roadblock for department stores that sell numerous brands. This is a problem for which I don’t anticipate a quick fix.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

The differentiator here is human relationship and understanding. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an essentially “free” element to the consulting service. A win-win for busy women!

Celeste C. Giampetro
BrainTrust

I wholeheartedly agree, Anne. I’m a recent StitchFix customer and I was highly skeptical in the beginning. But the personalization and constant loop of data fed back to the service is remarkable. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more often than not, not only by the choices made for me but also by the sizing.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I like this because it offers the personal touch with human interaction. I would prefer it more if the clothes could be available at a participating retailer to try on before purchasing them for those customers who would like that option. However, this is still an excellent service and I can see it being successful. As technology continues to move forward, those businesses who are innovative and figure out how to combine human interaction with the technology are the ones who will achieve the most success.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Today’s best customer experiences happen when the business combines digital and human. The “heavy lifting” in the Allume business model can still be done by “data crunching” and AI support. Then adding the human factor brings it to a much higher and personalized level. Kudos for Allume!

Retailers must realize that a sterile digital experience sets a competitor up to take customers away by simply offering a more human or personalized experience. This is an important point to always keep in mind.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I think all of these apparel services have the common thread of snob appeal. And I think that continues to work well in our urbanizing society. Other product categories are gaining steam with similar appeal, however apparel may have the obvious limitation of a consumer no longer wanting to build out their wardrobe beyond a certain point. Seriously, how many shirts can I own? Still, that breaking point may be lower for me and higher for most other people, so I still think there’s tons of opportunity here.

Todd Trombley
Guest
True personalization in the online world is key. Much of what is presently touted as “curated” just for me, really strikes me as “faux” curation. This “curation” is more about what the retailer wants to, or needs, to sell. The bot’s algorithm fails the curation smell test in situations like this: I hate brown pants. So why are you showing them to me and telling me these would be “perfect” for me? The Allume model involves an actual person for the customer to interact with. That person gets to know the customer’s preferences. Isn’t this the on-line version of my… Read more »
Ken Morris
BrainTrust
The Allume personal shopping service is perfectly positioned to address consumers’ expectation for a truly personalize shopping experience. Having a real person that provides customized recommendations that are optimized for your specific preferences make you feel valued, understood and important. Leveraging insights into customer context and matching it to merchandise options from many retail brands helps consumers save a ton of time by not having to do the research themselves. It also helps consumers feel like they are making a more fully formed product decision, based on expert research and advice. Few of us can afford to have someone help… Read more »
Cate Trotter
BrainTrust
It sounds like a great model for customers — what’s not to like? Expert, personalised service which saves you trawling endless brands’ sites for a very small fee (or essentially free). I think it’s a good idea to combine the human element with the data side, as good as AI and the like is getting it’s still no match for a real human who can understand context, goals, nuances like not liking that type of fabric, or liking that colour but only if it’s metallic, etc. Plus, hopefully this type of online personal shopping approach will benefit retailers too, whether… Read more »
Dave Nixon
BrainTrust
YES, it will and it will drive the model of “premium customer service” once again. Couple this “hybrid tech and human” model with advanced technology automation (AI, AR/VR, etc.) and you have a winning combo! I am excited to see how retailers could even leverage creative delivery models like virtual design consulting from popular vloggers and bloggers. I know a lot of shoppers who would be more apt to buy from a retailer if the design consulting came from one of their favorite bloggers they already perceive to have a personal connection with. You skip the trust and credibility piece… Read more »
Jeff Miller
BrainTrust
A great service idea and as a Stitch Fix subscriber and someone who tested Trunk Club who truly hates to shop, I can see the value for sure. As a business model, I am very skeptical as this is something that I don’t see technology helping to scale much. The better the business does the more stylist they will need. Will be interesting to see financials and see if the fee + any affiliate commission they get from retailers equals out how much they pay the stylist for their time + operations + customer acquisition costs. I think if done… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"A very good example of combining much needed human service with technology."
"... it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an essentially “free” element to the consulting service. A win-win for busy women!"
"The Allume personal shopping service is perfectly positioned to address consumers’ expectation for a truly personalize shopping experience."

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