This week, a look at retailers’ attempts to gain an edge via fashion styling services.
Sofia S, my assigned Saks Stylist, had her work cut out for her. Based on my “style profile,” which resulted from me taking an online quiz of about 20 questions, my choice colors to wear are black, white and nude. Yet “uniqueness” is more important to me than comfort and versatility. Oh, and the designers I’m most interested in are Balenciaga, Gucci and Khaite. But my style is “never” romantic. And I don’t like to spend over $300, even on accessories.
Still, within four hours, I had a “style board” in my inbox featuring 11 styles I would wear in a heartbeat. The ’90s Leather Pinched-Waist Pants by Agolde have since been living in my cart.
Saks introduced the complimentary styling service, powered by 3-year-old online styling platform Wishi, last week. It’s the latest among retailers that have recently launched or fine-tuned a fashion styling service with a human touch, the likes of which have long been out of reach for the everyday shopper. With more shopping moving online, where the options are endless, providing the one-two punch of AI-driven personalization and the type of styling assistance often offered in stores is becoming table stakes for luxury fashion retailers. Along with investing in paid search and running a compelling loyalty program, it’s a strategy that’s working to win sales amid increasing competition.
That’s not to mention that many luxury shoppers are still getting comfortable with purchasing higher ticket items without first seeing them IRL. Stylists can help smooth the transition.
“We view this as a customer service,” said Emily Essner, CMO of Saks Fifth Avenue. “We want customers to discover it, experience it and start creating a real relationship with their stylist. The number of transactions made will be a great proxy of that relationship and an important marker of [this program’s] success.”
According to Wishi co-founder Clea O’Hana, quoting market research on the Glossy Podcast in May, customers have a 70% higher average order value, on average, when shopping with a stylist.
A Saks Stylist quiz question
Prior to Saks Stylist, Saks’ online styling offerings were “less high-tech,” largely centered on customer requests and style recommendations facilitated through email, said Essner. With Wishi, Saks can offer scale, as well as new levels of expertise in both technology and styling. Wishi co-founder Karla Welch is known for styling clients including Justin Bieber and Tracee Ellis Ross.
There was clear demand. According to a survey of Saks’ luxury shoppers, 70% said they would work with a stylist if available at no cost. Forty-two percent said they’d be interested in working with a stylist for a wardrobe refresh.
What’s more, in April 2021, Saks saw a 560% increase in customer requests for its available digital styling services, compared to 2020 monthly averages.
“Our customers are definitely growing accustomed to digital services,” Lisa Bruni Vene, managing director of luxury services at Saks Fifth Avenue, said in May. She referenced the program Saks was offering at the time, through Salesfloor, which linked online shoppers to in-store associates for virtual appointments at their local store. “Customers can shop any store via video chat and receive personalized digital lookbooks from a Style Advisor,” she said. Saks launched the program in 2016, far ahead of the crowd that rushed to go there mid-pandemic. While customers can still connect with a Saks store associate through a store’s location page on the website, Saks replaced the chat-based portion of the Salesfloor experience when it signed on with Wishi in December.
Select associates were instrumental in growing the original program, regularly taking to Instagram to spotlight new products and share styling tips. In doing so, they gained large followings. The account @styled.bymary, with the profile name of “MARY. Stylist. The Saks Girl,” has 15,500 Instagram followers. “DM or text to shop with me!” her bio now reads.
With Saks Stylist, customer communication with stylists happens via the chat feature on saks.com, with emails notifying shoppers when their stylist has responded. Saks is promising a 24-hour turnaround for style recommendations after a customer completes the online quiz. The stylists, who come from a range of retail and tech backgrounds, earn a commission on each sale. “My [Saks] stylist has a master’s from FIT and has spent a lot of time around retail,” Essner said.
On the website’s homepage and app, Saks Stylist is listed first within the section dedicated to “Saks Services.” Essner said further spotlighting the service – for instance, on the landing pages of product categories “where a customer could benefit from the advice of a stylist” – may happen down the road. Currently, only women’s and men’s products can be “styled.” Eventually adding beauty, home and kids’ categories to the mix would “make sense” for Saks, Essner said.
“We’re really focused on making luxury shopping exciting, but also really easy,” she said.
As for early reads on the service’s success, Essner said a “surprising” number of men have taken advantage of it. But most users are women requesting recommendations either for events, including weddings, or for their new norm, so to speak. Their style has changed or their size has changed over the last two years, and they’re starting a new routine, be it work- or lifestyle-related.
“The timing [of the launch] was fortuitous; this has been in the works for a while,” Essner said. “But our customers have been home. And we’re hearing from them now, more than ever, that they need a whole new wardrobe or want to invest in pieces that feel new.”
Essner said Saks has been building out its technology team, which has been busy working on site additions and improvements. In other words, watch this space.
A Saks Stylist quiz question
It’s worth noting that Farfetch also linked with Wishi, in February of 2021, but only offers the service to its Platinum- and Gold-level loyalty members, spending at least $6,000 and $2,400 with the company, respectively.
Meanwhile, Farfetch’s loyalty members spending at least $12,000 can access to a Fashion Concierge program. With it, their stylists can tap into Farfetch’s global network of partner retailers to source specific products.
“Imagine telling your personal stylist that you want to know what the hottest new trends are in Korea or that you want to see the latest pieces from Japanese brands,” said Jamie Freed, global vp of Private Client at Farfetch. “We can have a stylist on the ground in Tokyo who can take you on a virtual tour of the best boutiques in their city, [for example,] all while you shop from the comfort of your home, anywhere you are in the world.”
Other luxury retailers that have recently released or expanded styling services, contributing to heightening shoppers’ expectations, include Elyse Walker and Neiman Marcus. When the former launched its latest iteration of a website earlier this month, the signature styling assistance it provides in-store was prioritized. As with Saks’ offering, shoppers can be connected to a stylist for curated recommendations delivered via a digital collage. And last summer, Neiman Marcus announced plans to acquire SaaS platform Stylyze, which it had just begun using to connect online shoppers to its stylists in-store.
In September, OG styling company Stitch Fix expanded its offerings beyond a curated box with tacked-on stylist’s fee of $20. Its new Freestyle program eliminates human stylists and the fee, allowing shoppers to browse and buy on its website from an AI-personalized assortment of products. And Amazon’s first apparel store, opened last week, claims to provide shoppers with real-time style recommendations via app.
Timing makes sense, as – like Essner said – it’s peak wardrobing season.
“People are craving the concept of making choices again,” said Jessica King, style director at Latitude, an app that recommends outfit choices based on the news and the weather. “Putting on clothes is a way of exercising control over how the world views you. We all had that power taken away for a long time, and now we want it back.”
But it’s not as easy as reverting to the way we used to dress, said Leesa Evans, stylist, costume designer and entrepreneur: “I have clients who now refuse to wear anything that isn’t as comfortable as sweats. And almost all of them say, ‘I want to wear something that makes me happy.’”
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