DEEP DIVE: Letting Online Apparel Shoppers Try Before They Buy: New Multi-Channel Models

KEY POINTS

  • Apparel is one of the biggest categories in e-commerce. But while the online channel offers a convenient way to shop, a perennial barrier to purchase is the inability for customers to try on items before they buy them.
  • This report showcases some new ways online apparel retailers are allowing their customers to try before they buy. These include stock-free stores from which shoppers can try on the collection and buy online; 3D-scan mirrors fitted in changing rooms to help customers identify the right size; the option to reserve products online and try them on in-store before buying them; and apps that enable shoppers to virtually try on clothing and that allow customers to have items shipped to them to try on before paying for them.
  • The solutions illustrated in this report have limitations, but the retailers offering them are helping to break down the barriers to buying apparel online. Models such as the stock-free store, while not always replicable on a large scale, can be successfully incorporated in regular brick-and-mortar stores to provide a new generation of multi-channel outlets that stock fewer items and encourage people to order online.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The inability to try on clothing when shopping online is a perennial barrier to getting consumers to buy apparel on the Internet. This report showcases some new ways online apparel retailers are allowing their customers to try before they buy, including examples of retailers bridging the online/offline gap with innovative store concepts. The companies covered and the solutions they are offering are the following:

  • Lincherie: 3D-scan mirrors fitted in stockless stores help shoppers to identify the right size before ordering online.
  • Bonobos: A stock-free store from which customers can try the collection on before shopping online.
  • Try.com: A tech company that enables a “Try” button on retailers’ portals, and ships the items to the shopper to allow them to physically try them on before buying.
  • Sears’s Reserve It: A service that allows customers to reserve items online and to try them on in store before purchasing them.
  • Rebecca Minkoff and Zeekit: An app that allows shoppers to virtually try on an item by overlapping the photo of the customer with the garment selected.

While the solutions offered by the retailers highlighted in this report have limits, they are all valuable ideas to improve customers’ online shopping experiences.

We think Try.com is the solution that responds best to the need of online apparel shoppers to try on items before deciding whether to buy or not. However, while it can help to drive sales for the participating retailers, the solution is also likely to put pressure on their stock-management systems and on their logistics, as well as add associated costs, as it implies a higher volume of returns.

The stock-free store examples by Lincherie, Bonobos and The Idle Man are highly innovative. However, we believe that the pure stockless format will function mainly as a showroom in a few, key locations for many of the retailers embracing it, although exceptions to this trend might emerge as Bonobos’s relatively large stockless store network suggests. This is due to the implied limitation of not allowing customers to physically buy items from the store.

Nevertheless, we think that some elements of the model could be successfully incorporated into regular stores—as it has been at M&S Kalverstraat. This could provide a new generation of multi-channel outlets that stock fewer items and encourage people to order online, even when visiting the store to touch and try on the collection.

 

INTRODUCTION

Apparel is one of the biggest e-commerce categories in most mature markets. But while the online channel offers a convenient way to shop, a perennial barrier to purchase is the inability for customers to try on items before they buy them.

letting-001letting-logoOnline retailers such as ASOS and Zalando have tried to overcome this issue by offering convenient and free returns policies in order to encourage consumers to shop, even if they are unsure about the size or whether the purchase will fit.
This report showcases some new ways online retailers are allowing their customers to try before they buy, including new store concepts that bring together online and offline retailing. In the following sections, we profile new concepts from Lincherie, Bonobos, Try.com, Sears and Rebecca Minkoff.

 

LINCHERIE MEASURES YOUR SIZE ONCE FOR ALL

In September 2016, Lincherie, a Dutch lingerie retailer, opened a stock-free store in Amsterdam called Lincherie Styling Center. The store features four fitting rooms equipped with 3D scan mirrors that take up to 140 measurements per minute to find the perfect bra size for the customer. This information will then be used to assist the shoppers in their online purchases.

Once the measurements are taken, the customer can browse the collection through tablets and speak to in-store stylists who can recommend the best style for the client. Shoppers can also physically try on the collection, as samples of each item stocked by the retailer are available in store.

However, it is not possible to walk out of the store with the purchased products. Once the customer decides which product to buy, she can purchase it online from the tablets available in store or through her own devices. Once the order is processed, the item will be delivered in two days.

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Our Verdict

Lincherie Styling Center was devised by the retailer to meet the growing demand for online lingerie shopping and to promote its
e-commerce offering. We believe that Lincherie Styling Center is intended as a showroom for the retailer’s fitting service, its online store and its product range rather than as a new format that will be replicated elsewhere. Its presence in a prime location in Amsterdam reinforces this impression. The 3D scan mirror technology in the fitting rooms is already available in Lincherie’s regular stores where customers can also buy items on the spot.

In 2013, British retailer M&S opened a store in Kalverstraat, Amsterdam, which looks like a forerunner to Lincherie’s concept store. The M&S store is fitted with the world’s first “virtual rail,” composed of physical rails holding clothing samples and wide screens which showcase the latest collection. Through the virtual rail, shoppers can try on the latest collection, browse the entire collection online, buy in store or order online through screens located in the proximity of the virtual rail or with the assistance of style advisors equipped with IPads.

By integrating the range in store with the full range available online, this innovative multi-channel approach allows M&S to showcase and offer the whole range available—either ready to be physically purchased in store, or to be bought online from the store—without having to stock all items all the time.

 

BONOBOS HELPS YOU FIND THE RIGHT FIT IN A STOCK-FREE STORE

US menswear retailer Bonobos operates brick-and-mortar outlets where customers can try on items from the retailer’s collection with the assistance of a Bonobo Guide, a style assistant employed in store. Once the customer has chosen what items to purchase, the style assistant can process the order for him online, and it will then be delivered to them. The concept is therefore very similar to Lincherie’s stockless store, as the outlet does not keep stock to be sold, but only samples to be tried on.

letting-f2British menswear pure-play Internet retailer The Idle Man imported a similar business model to Bonobos’ guideshops in the UK. The retailer opened a brick-and-mortar store in London on October, 2016, to enable customers to physically try on clothing items before buying online. Fung Global Retail & Technology visited the store and analyzed the concept more in-depth in the report The Idle Man Store: A Multi-Channel Showroom.

 

Our Verdict

With its guideshops, Bonobos provides a tangible solution to customers that are still reluctant to buy fashion online by giving them the opportunity to try on the collection with the assistance of a dedicated advisor. The number of outlets that the retailer operates—at the time of writing there are 27 guideshops throughout the US—suggests that Bonobos sees this as a real multi-channel solution and not just as a showroom for the brand.

 

TRY.COM LETS YOU TRY IT ON AT HOME

Try.com is a tech company that enables customers to try on clothes at home for free. The shopper downloads a Google Chrome extension from the company’s website. This enables a “Try” button on transactional portals of major retailers that support the extension, such as J.Crew, Zara, Topshop and Urban Outfitters.

Once the customer clicks on the “Try” button, the item is ordered through Try.com. The intermediary company then ships the item to the shopper, together with a prepaid postage label. The customer at this stage tries on the item at home, and returns it if it is not suitable. If the shopper decides to keep the item, Try.com will charge the customer’s card for the corresponding amount. Try.com makes revenue by charging a fee to the supporting retailer. The service was launched in 2015.

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Our Verdict

The layout of the “Try” button on the participating retailers’ pages makes the use of the service very straightforward for the shopper, enables customers to physically try on items without paying upfront and, at the same time, provides the participating retailers with a service that can help to drive sales conversions.

 

SEARS SHOPPERS CAN RESERVE IT BEFORE BUYING

US Department Store Sears introduced “Reserve It,” a free service that enables customers to reserve items through the company’s website and try them on in store. The service, launched in November 2014, is offered to customers that are members of Sears’s loyalty scheme called, “Shop Your Way,” which entitles shoppers to other benefits including accessing to exclusive deals, earning redeemable coupons and loyalty points.

The service is similar to the buy-and-collect and reserve-and-collect services offered by many retailers; its advantage is that, similar to try.com, there is no financial commitment by the shopper if they simply want to try items on.

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Our Verdict

While not extremely innovative, the concept gives a tangible solution to shoppers by enabling them to physically try on clothing before buying. Moreover, Reserve It increases footfall and the possibility of generating upsells, as customers are encouraged to visit the store.

We think many multi-channel retailers could offer similar convenience by placing their click-and-collect points adjacent to their fitting rooms to enable shoppers to try on their order right after they collect it and to return it immediately if it is not suitable. Currently, many stores do not co-locate their fitting rooms and collection points. 

 

REBECCA MINKOFF AND ZEEKIT LAUNCH A TRY IT ON APP

Customers of fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff can virtually try on items though an app developed by tech startup Zeekit. Through the app, shoppers can upload their photo, tap on the item they want to try on, and see how it looks on them, as the item is overlaid on the image of the customer. The app also enables shoppers to try on multiple items simultaneously, to share the image with friends and, of course, to purchase the item. The app was launched during New York Fashion Week in September 2016.

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Our Verdict

The concept enables shoppers to try on the items, but only virtually. Therefore, the inability to try on clothing before buying is only partially solved, as it remains impractical to determine whether an item fits or is the right size by simply overlaying the picture of the customer the garment. Nevertheless, it is a simple additional solution that can help clients to screen what they are looking to buy, before physically trying an item on in store or once received.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The solutions highlighted in this report offer valuable ideas to improve customers’ online shopping experiences.

 

letting-002We think Try.com is the solution that responds better to the needs of online apparel shoppers to try on items before deciding whether to buy or not. However, while it can help to drive sales for the participating retailers, the solution is also likely to put pressure on their stock-management systems and on their logistics, and add associated costs, as it implies a higher volume of returns.

The stock-free stores examples by Lincherie, Bonobos and The Idle Man are very innovative. However, we believe that the pure stockless format will function mainly as a showroom in key locations for many of the retailers embracing it. This is due to the limitations of not allowing customers to physically buy items from the store: a key advantage brick-and-mortar retail traditionally has over e-commerce is the immediacy of getting the product.

Nevertheless, we think that elements of the model could be successfully incorporated into regular stores—as it already has been at Lincherie and at M&S Kalverstraat —to provide a new generation of multi-channel outlets that stock fewer items and encourage shoppers to order from a fuller range online.