At Wednesday’s Fashion Tech Forum in New York City, the founders of Everlane, The Hunt and Stitch Fix came together to discuss the ways they’re using technology to reimagine the shopping experience.
Here’s what they had to say:
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1. On Inventory
“When we bring in traditional inventory people, they want to come in and bring in their inventory system. And we’ve sort of thought about it a totally different way that makes sense for our business … a lot of the pieces and infrastructure we’re building is totally the opposite of … traditional fashion or traditional retail,” said Michael Preysman, founder and CEO of Everlane. Everlane is an online-only retailer that sells everyday luxury staples.
“Inventory is incredibly challenging. People in this business know, but you live and die by inventory. We didn’t even have a front-facing website for the first six months of our company, because we were investing in all the inventory. And you’re placing a lot of bets and you’re hoping they work out. And that’s where all your cash ends up tied up in the early days. So more than logistics for me, it was just the awareness of how much your value is tied up in, like, dresses,” said Katrina Lake, founder and CEO of Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix provides a tech-enabled personal shopping experience.
2. On Data and Feedback
“[T]he benefit of building a mobile app these days is you can A/B test everything … Because our users are so young they’re very vocal, very passionate, and in some ways I think we’re blessed by that. We give them a lot of input … in fact [with] our very top users we have almost weekly engagement … and they’ve contributed to some of our best features,” said Tim Weingarten, founder and CEO of The Hunt. The Hunt is an online community where users can post photos and have other community members “hunt” them down.
“For us, when we design we can go talk to any customer, and know exactly what they bought in the past and we know what their feedback has been in the past. So we can really pull out a group of customers and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ and that helps decide how the product evolves over time,” said Preysman.
“When we send out a Stitch Fix with five items, we get feedback back from our customers trying things on. It’s as though you’re in a fitting room while someone is trying things on and getting feedback on how is the fit, how is the size, how is the price and freeform feedback. And the feedback you get is amazing -- it’s like crack for our buyers,” said Lake.
3. On Sharing a Background in Venture Capital
“No. 1, it obviously gives you a huge leg up in how you communicate with investors. You understand what they want to hear, what they want to see, the data they’re looking for, the results they’re looking for, and so you know when to talk to them and when to not talk to them,” said Weingarten.
“I don’t know if any of our investors are in the audience, but [fundraising is] a bit of a game. And so you don’t always tell them exactly what maybe makes your business work; you sort of tell them the part of the story that matters to them. And that definitely was pretty helpful for us in different phases of our fundraising process,” said Preysman.
“I don’t think it’s actually helped me. I didn’t use the VC connections I made to meet investors … I think having a really good general business background was super helpful, but I would have happily traded those two years in VC for inventory planning experience or merchandising experience,” said Lake.
4. On Celebrity ‘Influencers’
“First of all, we have a number of celebrity influencer investors,” said Weingarten, referencing Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher, who said certain celebrities proved to be very effective with The Hunt’s community, made up primarily of young women. “We’re mainly focused on well-known Instagrammers, Youtubers, Viners … and the actresses you see on the CW – on Pretty Little Liars or something like that.”
“We’ve done the celebrity stuff and if you get a really big name celebrity, it makes a difference. Otherwise it helps, but you don’t see the measurable lift day to day … More so it’s just everyday people are influencers for us,” said Preysman.
“We’ve done no real celebrity stuff, and our strategy is actually more around potentially smaller-audience but larger-influence bloggers rather than the big bloggers,” said Lake. She said Stitch Fix has found that bloggers with small but passionate audiences of 50,000 readers have been helpful in attracting shoppers.