One of the most talked about segments of the retail industry today is the subscription box fad. A great example of this is Stitch Fix. For any who haven’t heard of it yet, the basic premise is this: to transfer the personal shopper service to the online subscription world.
It goes like this. Customers fill out a preferences quiz each month, which then gets sent to their “personal shopper” who will pick out 5 items that they think the customer would be interested in based on their results. When the customer gets their selection, they keep (and pay for) the items they love, and return the ones they don’t. It has grown significantly in popularity recently as a result of their successes in social media and word of mouth marketing. Other companies that take a similar approach to the subscription service are Birchbox, JustFab, Loot Crate, BarkBox, etc.
The appeal of these types of services to customers is simple. They get to feel like it’s Christmas every month with surprise merchandise waiting at their doorstep. They don’t need to tell their shopper exactly what to pick, but are still able to get things that please them, essentially freeing them of the responsibility to choose.
What keeps customers subscribing is the service’s ability to “surprise and delight,” something all retailers should constantly be aiming to do.
So how can traditional brick-and-mortar stores look to Stitch Fix as an example of finding new ways of surprising and delighting customers? Certainly, traditional retail stores can never provide the same kinds of services as Stitch Fix to all customers. Shoppers will always have to make decisions, by the very nature of shopping. Furthermore, the kinds of conversations consumers have with services like Stich Fix and with traditional retailers are very different as well. We wouldn’t find it intrusive for Stitch Fix to ask us if we have any vacations coming up because the answer might affect what our assortment for that month looks like. Meanwhile, we might a bit flustered if one of our favorite traditional retailers sent us surveys each month asking about our plans. What can be done despite these obvious differences is to give customers an assortment that matches what they’re looking for using the data already collected.
To visualize the crossovers between Stitch Fix and traditional retail, think of Stitch Fix’s preferences quiz as a more direct version of how you collect all of the data about how your customers shop. Think of the personal shoppers as your virtual assortment optimizers. Think of the monthly delivery to the customer as your in-store assortment strategy that aims to offer customers the right products at the right prices and the right times. What it boils down to is that the two are already very similar, the only difference is the method of delivery to the customer.
While every store can’t possibly employ personal stylists for every customer for no extra charge, they can deliver customers with what feels like a personalized selection by using assortment optimization services. Especially as news about failing traditional retailers continues to spread, it could be time to start incorporating more nontraditional elements into assorsttment strategies.