BrainTrust Query: Is Hointer the Future of U.S. Clothing Stores?

Discussion
Mar 28, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a series of recent articles from the Lenati blog.

Visiting Hointer, a men’s denim store in Seattle, is a bit like crawling inside a website. As it turns out, the physical interior of a website can be a pleasant place to shop.

The interior feels more like a denim showroom rather than a boutique. Instead of stacks and racks of inventory piled high, one pair is hung of each style. Hointer intentionally separates the browsing experience from the shopping logistics of finding your size and gathering potential purchases to try on. Shoppers only need to choose styles they want to try on or purchase. The store’s technology takes care of the rest.

The first time visiting the Hointer store you are asked to download their smartphone app. From there you can do all your shopping on your phone. Each offering has a tag with the style, description, price and QR code. Scanning the QR code of a particular style adds it to your virtual shopping cart. The Hointer app then asks you to select the size(s) you would like of that particular style. No rifling through a pyramid of folded jeans to get to your size and style — just a clean set of clicks.

Once you have made your choices, you click "Dressing Room" on the app. The items you added to your cart electronically are all waiting for you in the dressing room as though they had been placed there by a salesperson in advance. In fact, you have just been served by a robot.

After trying on all your styles, discarding your unwanted items is just as easy. Each dressing room has a chute where unwanted items go. Tossing items down the chute gets them out of sight and automatically out of your shopping cart.

Founded by a former Amazon executive, Hointer’s experience is enabled by an innovative behind-the-scenes inventory system that takes technology from automated picking systems used in shipping warehouses and brings it in-store. This model offers numerous benefits that aren’t found in a traditional store:

Customer experience benefits: Finding their jeans of choice is easier than at traditional retailers because each style is clearly on display and there isn’t the clutter of all the size options on the floor. Finding the right size is literally just a click of a button in their app, and self-checkout means no waiting in line.

Operational benefits: The model eliminates the need to keep up a unit density for visual display purposes. Merchant inventory planners no longer have to send stock to a store just to keep racks full, or maintain a visually pleasing assortment variety. A Hointer store could have 200 styles on display, but generate 80 percent of their sales from five styles, and optimize their inventory stock to support these sales with no customer experience impact.

How would you rate the benefits of Hointer’s hybrid e-commerce/brick & mortar model from a customer and operational standpoint? What features of e-commerce shopping could be brought to brick & mortar to simplify the shopping experience?

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18 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Is Hointer the Future of U.S. Clothing Stores?"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Impersonal shopping at its best. Even better, the whole store is in white, without music and lit by florescent lights. Where’s the fun? The service? The creativity?

Fashion combines all of that for an experience at the store. That’s why you go to a store, to be inspired. I do not see this as a store of the future.

Max Goldberg
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I saw a video about Hointer a while ago and was fascinated by the concept. The thought of getting the right fit, not having to search through piles or racks of clothes to find your size, uncluttered dressing rooms and a more efficient shopping experience is appealing.

Hointer has successfully utilized apps, QR codes, robots and consumers’ own smart phones to create its shopping experience. Other retailers might be able to do the same. It won’t work for all retail categories, but could be tried in many, reducing showroom size, retailer footprints, out-of-stocks and manpower costs.

Ed Dunn
Guest
8 years 8 months ago
I would like to thank Martin Mehalchin for posting about Hointer’s in a previous discussion topic. Very impressed with Hointer’s “mechanical turk” concept of providing the “physical e-commerce” experience to mobile users. We discovered this similiar concept while doing retailing research in Tokyo. We saw the bottom floor was a showroom, then were invited upstairs to see a fulfillment warehouse resembling a mail order business. I believe Volkswagen has this same concept in Wolfsburg, Germany where they have their cars in a glass building that can be brought down to test drive or purchase after viewing in a showroom. This hybrid business model peaked my interest for the following benefit: Loss Prevention – allows retailers to open business in areas where loss prevention has been a deterrent in the past. E-commerce – enable smaller entrepreneurs to operate as both a store front and e-commerce operation to expand their revenue stream. Job Creation – this model create more jobs in terms of keeping marketing, manufacturing and fulfillment close to the point of sale. Customer Service –… Read more »
Steve Montgomery
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

This approach sounds great for a limited assortment retailer whose target customers are tech savvy Millennials. Is the offer so compelling that I want to load the Hointer app and then have to learn how to use your app in order to buy from you? Not for me.

Ian Percy
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Damn the rain—I’m moving to Seattle!

This concept will immediately ignite just because people haven’t seen it before. But unless it can continually be fed variety and innovation it will soon fade like a game of pong.

It says 200 styles but there are “styles” and then there’s “STYLE!” Sounds like a phenomenal selection and buying process, it just has to have product that’s just as inventive and cool. And just like at the self-checkout machines, you need a human there to help—just be sure they have a pulse.

Zel Bianco
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Not having to pile items in your hand as you lug around bags and whatever else around a store? Not rifling through tons of inventory and being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of offerings? Items magically appearing in a dressing room? Smart check-out features? Sign me up!

Hointer’s is a wonderful advancement and a great example of technology moving us forward. Some people like to browse and shuffle through selections and I don’t think a traditional store will be replaced in that respect, but for those who have more specifics in mind, or wish to enjoy a simpler shopping experience, this is a dream come true. The only downfalls I can see are making sure there are enough chargers and dressing rooms, and readily available high speed WiFi to avoid connectivity issues. I suppose if you don’t own a smart phone you can’t shop at this store, but I’m sure they’re reaching their target demographic.

Debbie Hauss
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I think this can appeal to the generation of shoppers looking for new mobile experiences, but it could take away from the appeal of the in-store shopping experience.

Brands considering this approach should be sure they know exactly what their best customers want and need in their in-store experience.

That said, I do like the idea of incorporating the e-Commerce and mobile experiences into the store. This could decrease showrooming and sales losses to competitors.

This approach also makes it easy for retailers to quickly open a new permanent location or pop-up store. It eases the entire supply chain process.

Lee Kent
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

From an operational perspective, I can certainly see the benefits. Reduced inventory, less theft, less payroll, yada yada. But this sounds plain boring to me.

Now if they would make it easier for me and put some friendly, helpful staff around, I might go for it. Sure, take all that inventory away from the shopping area and make it clean and easy for me to see my choices. Let me touch something in order to select an item to try on. Don’t make me fuss with your app.

Then have that friendly staff put my selections in the dressing room. But of course they need to stay nearby because sometimes I need someone to say, “Oh that looks so cute on you!”

Gene Detroyer
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

As I have said many times in these discussions, in 10-years brick and mortar stores will be nothing more than showrooms where customers can buy on site or online. Obviously, Hointer’s is approaching this, but better. Any retailer who ignores this is doomed to failure. Hointer’s has copied the most customer centric retailer in the world, Amazon, and done it well.

Don R
Guest
8 years 8 months ago
For two reasons will this concept work : 1) as a faddish way to sell something, but for only a short time ; and 2) for a longer amount of time, for something in clothing classifiable as mere commodity. As in, jeans by, more or less, generic design. But to imagine this working as a way to promote style does not “compute.” True, clothiers and clotheshorses do not benefit by the assistance of employees merely there to try and make a sale. However, to establish the removal of personality out of that which needs it on some very basic levels is a ill-fitting precedent. Not just for fashionistas, but for those who wear clothes as more than just protection. Whether as men’s or women’s, sports, or dresswear, we don apparel very often to try and project who we are as real people. To think at the get-go that any other presence, more than just a robot and you, is unnecessary sets a tone that’s inconsistent with one of the great reasons why we even bother… Read more »
Jack Pansegrau
Guest
Jack Pansegrau
8 years 8 months ago

I like the idea and see its applicability to tees and jeans…it also reminds me of Lechmere Sales, a Cambridge store of the 1960s that had a single item on display with tags, turned in at checkout and miraculously, ones “Lava Lamp” or Bose speakers came down a conveyer belt from the warehouse above.

This seems like an updated version of the same. It permitted a smaller first-story footprint so rent could be reduced, and of course in a “sized product,” it permits easier access to ones own size. But the offset is a large investment in technology—tough for most smaller businesses to accommodate at this point. But still an interesting development.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

The Jetsons have arrived! Obviously this scores big for innovation and—as long as it’s new—for novelty.

But, (1) what if you don’t have a smart phone? A lot of people don’t (full disclosure: not only am I one of them, I still have a rotary phone at home); (2) there are reasons why people are “rifling through a pyramid of folded jeans” beyond style and size: it’s also looking for defects, seeing how the colour looks in light, impromptu matching with that shirt across the aisle that you may-or-may-not buy, etc. This “gee-whiz” tech approach seems to hinder rather than help this.

In short, I sometimes think these (allegedly) improved systems are dreamed up by people who don’t actually ever do any shopping.

Ed Dunn
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

To answer the question about consumers without mobile devices, sales associates on the floor can have mobile devices and work directly with the customer (better commission tracking).

In other implementations, a numeric code can be listed underneath the QR code tag and manually entered into tabletop touch screen kiosks located on the sales floor.

We have tested this hybrid model for several years and it is a very disruptive retail model. People love to play with their smartphones and this type of retailing offers that playground.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I think bits and pieces of the technology can be adopted for different formats. I was in New York last week and visited the Top Shop store and the Todd Synder 3 day popup showroom at Soho. My observation is that there are always different customer experience models and there is no one-size-fits-all.

The Hointer model supports the retailer efficiency of display and checkout, but probably lacks the retail excitement for some shoppers. Ultimately, the consumers and the volume will decide whether this model works well enough for financial success. I can see this model working in a department store department for specialty items integrated as part of an overall store experience.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
8 years 8 months ago

Thanks to my fellow panelists for some great comments, especially Ed Dunn for pointing out additional benefits of this model.

One clarification for those who found this model impersonal, the store does have staff on the floor (often the founder herself) and they are quite knowledgeable about the product. The difference is that they can spend 100% of their time engaging with customers since they need spend none of their time fetching stock from the backroom or resetting displays.

Todd Sherman
Guest
Todd Sherman
8 years 8 months ago
Being in Seattle, I had the opportunity to shop at Hointer yesterday. I’m still thinking about the experience and have not yet arrived at a final conclusion. But here are some thoughts. For the shopper, it was technology intensive. Download the app, scan the QR codes, enter size information, and enter dressing room number into the keypad for checkout. Requires comfort with the end-to-end process, which isn’t that difficult but does require a commitment. The majority of the store was high-end jeans ($150 and up) from many different brands, which is an odd choice for a technology-heavy shopping experience. If you don’t know which brand you’d like (your style, how it fits, price range…) it would be good to have a sales person help you narrow the options. What problem they were trying to solve? As a shopper I enjoy going to Nordstrom and getting knowledgeable help. As a retailer, it does offer advantages in merchandising and storage. If there is positive ROI for the retailer would that be passed along to the customer as… Read more »
Joe Diamond
Guest
Joe Diamond
8 years 8 months ago

This concept only reminds us how hugely Nordstrom will lead the industry. Automation getting in the way of a rich personal selling relationship will never save a store enough money to be cost justifiable. While novel—it’s a joke and not one I expect anyone who is looking for longevity or market share will adopt. Those believing this is the future long for the understanding of what truly motivates consumers in my most humble opinion.

BTW, where are all those kiosks that were promised in the fast food industry 10 years ago? Flash meet Pan. *yawn*

Alexander Rink
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I think this is a technology that will appeal to both the creative and the efficient shopper. For the efficient shopper there is nothing better than saving time by not having to rifle through sizes, being able to instantly request a different size if the one you’re wearing doesn’t fit and the self checkout. For the more creative types, I would disagree that it takes away the in-store shopping experience. When we chatted about this in the office, some of the female employees mentioned how frustrating it is to see an outfit on display, but not be able to find it on the racks—with Hointer this isn’t a problem. They also pointed out that they appreciate not having to carry all the different things they want to try on.

All that said, I have to agree that this may be a solution more easily adopted by Gen Y. I cannot see my mother, for instance, adopting this kind of shopping style. For the Millennials however, I think it’s the perfect blend of in-store and online shopping.

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