Pandora For Pants: Are Personal Shopping Services The Future Of Retail?

Consumers are discovering the advantages of web-based personal shopping services like Wantful, Stitch Fix, and True & Co.—and it's time marketers see their potential, too.

Let’s face it: as much as shopping can thrill our endorphins, it can also be a drag. How often have you enjoyed the hunt of all-day shopping only to come home empty handed because nothing fit? Or sought out a unique item only to find the expected? Plus, most of us would love to stay on top of trends and be fashionably dressed, but who has the time to peruse all the Fashion Week videos and fashion blogs to stay on top of it all?

Enter personalized shopping, which is gaining scale this year. Not only are traditional retailers trying to bring personalization from online into the store, there are also host of shopping services that use personalization to resolve these shopping pain points (many of which are start-ups receiving incremental investment funding to scale up and reach a broader audience). In doing so, these services simplify the shopping experience and increase the odds of shopping success, while at the same time create allure and a sense of discovery by offering new, unique curated products. It’s a blend of Pandora meets Shoedazzle meets Zappos—personalized, curated shopping baskets that get more attuned to you over time, combined with risk-free returns.

Stitch Fix is one example. While the service appears to be just a shopping site, it does have a higher purpose—get women into the clothes that match their personalities to help them look and feel their best. Celebrities are lucky enough to have stylists to achieve this objective. But if one can’t afford her own personal stylist, Nordstrom doesn’t carry the cool labels she’s seeking, or she simply has no time to shop but wants to be stylish and on-trend, then Stitch Fix might just be the solution. Choose a style, get served up pieces of fashion, tell them what you like and don’t like, and Stitch Fix’s proprietary technology gets smarter over time about who you are and your personal tastes. Styles one doesn’t like can be sent back for free, keeping the service risk-free. Yet, smartly, Stitch Fix provides an incentive to hold on to those pieces; keep all of them, and get 25 percent off your order.

True & Co. offers a similar service focused on personal items, primarily bras. The pain point the company is trying to resolve is less about staying on trend and more focused on making a would-be painful shopping experience more pleasant. Finding bras that fit and are comfortable is no easy, but with True & Co. one takes a simple online survey, and the company finds the perfect bra fit to deliver an experience equivalent to what the company calls a "personalized lingerie shop." A similar model to Stitch Fix, True & Co. sends a total of five styles—three of which the shopper picks and two that the company selects—and offers a risk-free try and ship back offer.

Wantful takes on the challenging task of gift giving, again offering personalization as the answer. With the gift card getting tired, Wantful now provides a better gift solution when one simply doesn’t know what to buy. Enter information about the gift recipient’s likes and lifestyle based on the online probes, and Wantful offers up gift suggestions. Pick the top items in your price range, and Wantful adds the beautiful touch of printing and sending a personalized catalog of your gift selections to the recipient. The lucky recipients simply pick from their personalized, curated gift offers, and your job is done.

These new services are not only changing the retail and shopping experience for shoppers, but are also creating new distribution channels for marketers’ products. From start-ups to established players, these new channels can offer opportunities to reach niche consumer groups or can provide a platform to test new product concepts.

Marketers should also keep an eye on these sites for inspiration that can range from up and coming trends to possible acquisition targets.

Finally, these new services should be seen for what they are—simple, yet powerful, shopping experiences. Consumers are looking for help in simplifying their lives today, and these services do more for them while requiring less time and effort. Beyond just appearing hip and new, these new personalization sites attempt to solve a consumer problem by making the shopping experience more fulfilling and successful.

[Image: Flickr user IRebic]

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  • John McGinty

    The personalisation aspect of shopping is an interesting one with retailers having to find the balance between being personal (helpful) and intrusive (creepy). The key is pitch and fit: the tone of voice and the expectations of the individual and retailer have to match otherwise conflict and rejection/ignorance.

    Like most good things those that wait and have a longer term view of the CRM strategy tend to fair best. Building up relationships over a period based on subtle tracking, opt-in communications and awareness of circumstance on the day help. 

    Retailers will also be cutely aware on the difference between consuming and shopping; ones a trudge the other a game. And for men and women there are different rules ...


    Right on the mark Kathy! Shopping is painful for today's busy women and a trip to the mall is often chaotic. The future of apparel shopping is evolving quickly especially on the Internet as described in this video from the Chairman of Cal Poly's school of Apparel Merchandising and Management; 

    And this one from Apparel Made for You's chairman:


  • Bruce Levinson

    Great article, Kathy.  The retail world is indeed evolving to serve consumers and shoppers with more convenient, customized and value-added services.  Bonobos' Guideshop is another example, where you shop in-store, take delivery at home, and get recommendations for future purchases later.  Thanks for the insight - and for offering a bit hope for those who wrestle with shopping!