Smartphones have revamped the retail experience for lots of people, but for the young male demographic, the entire e-commerce process—from browsing styles to buying—can happen completely on their phones.
"Mobile is insane for us," says Jason Ross, founder and CEO of JackThreads. The site, a "members only" service that offers subscribers daily sales of hand-picked street, skate, and surf clothes up to 80% off. It has 6 million subscribers and features over a thousand brands.
Unlike women, whose shopping habits consume a handful of media and tools both real-life and digital, JackThreads has learned through analytics that men like to shop on their phones—full stop.
To exploit that male demographic, JackThreads has fine-tuned its digital services for their dude shoppers. Here's how.
It’s not exactly news that nowadays dudes like clothes: Last year, the Guardian reported that British men under 45 spend more money on footwear than British women in the same age group. Another study found that fashion accounts for 83% of young men’s total online spending in the U.K.
And it is heavily digital. According to a recent study, men shop on mobile devices more than women do..
"Over half of our sales and two-thirds of traffic come through mobile," says Devon Giddon, communications director at Thrillist, the men’s lifestyle media company that bought JackThreads nearly four years ago.
Fast-forward to 2014, when JackThreads saw a whopping 51% of all revenue come from handheld devices. The company says that’s more than any of its competitors. And it’s because the company has zeroed in on the trend of young men shopping on their handheld device.
"Mobile is no longer the second screen," says Ben Lerer, Thrillist CEO and cofounder. "It’s the first screen."
JackThreads launched its first mobile app back in January 2012, but Ross admits they really didn’t know what they were doing quite yet. But once the company made mobile its main focus, and really targeted the way young guys use phones to shop, Ross says the revenue growth was explosive.
The company noticed that the majority of their email clicks were on a mobile device. That’s one of the reasons the company started ramping up mobile efforts, such as a souped-up app and mobile-optimized emails.
Lerer says mobile is where all other companies should be focusing their energy, too.
"Mobile is definitively the first place where everything happens," he says. "It’s where the majority of our money is made, and where the majority of interactions with our guys is."
In addition to focusing on mobile, the company has studied its users’ shopping habits in other ways. For example, it turns out dudes like to bounce style-related questions off a woman. So JackThreads created a feature that gives its customers such style advice on demand.
One of the pages on the JackThreads site reads: "As the all-knowing Ja Rule once growled, ‘every thug needs a lady,’ and this rings especially true when it comes to wrapping yourself in fresh threads.’"
That’s an introduction to "Jill": an across-the-board moniker for the site’s female shopping assistants. The site describes "Jill" as "our female stylist, bringing the freakishly fine-tuned shopping chops of the feminine mind to JackThreads."
As guys browse the site, they can chat with these stylists on demand, who can give tips, like how to care for jeans or how to nail a certain look. The service is called "Jill Says."
"We had noticed many of our guys had been asking to speak with a female customer service rep, and we realized how reflective this was of the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experience," says Giddon. "When a guy goes into a store, he appreciates advice from a stylish sales woman helping to instill confidence in his purchase decision."
A quarter of the company’s business is generated by six private label brands that were created after users’ sartorial preferences were scrutinized.
"We took the data that showed what styles, colors, patterns, materials they were buying and actually created merchandise based off of that feedback," Giddon explains.
JackThreads used that data to create original lines that include six categories of menswear: athletic, street, tailored suits, shoes, accessories, and basic clothing.
"Our database tracks every purchase of every user so we are able to drill down to the item level to see what is getting traction," says Giddon. "Also, using Google Analytics, we are able to see what categories of products over-index on ‘add to cart’ rates, giving us early signals as to what users are looking for."
Last year, Internet Retailer magazine named JackThreads one of the fastest-growing men’s e-commerce sites that focuses on mobile. JackThreads may be on countless of dudes’ smartphone screens, but it started out in Jason Ross’s bedroom in 2006.
He says he’s always been a fashion-focused guy, and when he started the site, he was jonesing for "cool fashion and cool shit." But he felt like he was part of a niche demographic that businesses hadn’t tapped into yet. So Ross started that business himself.
Ross says JackThreads is telling guys how to look cool, and how to be cool.
"When we started Thrillist, we looked at national men’s magazines like Maxim and GQ," says Ben Lerer. "They resonated tonally with us, and spoke to general wants and needs a guy had. Most brands tended to be sophomoric or aspirational. At the same time, we felt the content we needed had to be local."
And so Thrillist, as a standalone site, made itself known by telling young men where to eat, drink, and hang out in their home cities. That service-driven element geared toward men-about-town made JackThreads a no-brainer acquisition. A couple years later, JackThreads turned its attention to iOS and Android apps, eventually seeing great success.
JackThreads and Thrillist are wading into increasingly crowded waters, however. Indeed, the modern guy does care more about what he looks like, and is wont to follow trends like sniffing out top tailors, where to buy the latest $300 sneakers, or what the "in" color for spring is going to be.
Media outlets like Complex, Hypebeast, Freshness, as well as competing online men’s merchants like Topman, Bonobos, Ministry of Supply, Gilt, Brandid, Shufflehub, and Plundr, are all fighting for that relatively new market of fashion-minded young men.
Other men’s style sites abroad helped prove mobile’s effectiveness, too. Business of Fashion reported that in 2012, Japanese fashion e-tailer Zozotown saw 40% of its revenue generated by mobile, which are numbers that give JackThreads a run for its money.
To stand out, sites are going to have to individuate as much as possible. At JackThreads, for example, there are flash sales, where goods go for cheap for a brief time.
"We have a mixture of traditional e-commerce, but also the flash element. There’s literally something new to see every single day. We’re giving consumers a reason to come back—a lot of traditional retailers don’t do that," says Ross.
Despite being a leader in e-commerce, at least among young men, JackThreads’ mobile-heavy strategy might pose challenges.
"The issue with cross-platform is the time element," says Dr. James Bowen, an adjunct professor at University of Ottawa who specializes in tech, startups, and entrepreneurship.
"Mobile devices, and someday wearable computing, are the future. Such devices will become ‘do everything’ devices," Bowen says. "So having a mobile device means that our interest in a product can be temporal, and a retailer can design promotions on the last part of the customer’s buying cycle—which is the purchase itself."
"Even at the time of purchase," Bowen says, "a last-minute deal can change a buyer’s mind from one brand to the next."
Advice Ross gives to other entrepreneurs (other than going all-out on their mobile strategy) is to stay in touch with customers. "Behaviors change," he says. And that includes how your customers are viewing and buying your products. Monitoring your users' behavior and coming up with relevant services (like Jill Says, in this case) is key.
"If you’re thinking about starting an e-commerce business, start mobile first," Lerer suggests. "Fish where the fish are. That’s on mobile. It doesn’t mean you need to be mobile only—but if I were going to launch an e-commerce business today, I would launch mobile first. No matter what."