After more than 10 years, online-only women’s fast-fashion retailer Lulus is returning to physical retail.
In 2008, Lulus sold all of its brick-and-mortar stores and transitioned into an online-only brand. It was a move that let the company grow in a way it would not have been able to if it kept its physical retail investments (roughly 50% every year since the sale). But in doing so, according to CEO Colleen Winter, it gave up a valuable tool: direct face-to-face feedback from customers.
Now, with Lulus set to launch its first pop-up store next week in Los Angeles, which Winter said is just the start of a renewed physical retail push, the brand is hoping to get some of that face time back.
“When we sold our stores, leaving behind the interface with customers was hard,” Winter said. “Only interacting with people online can be a little one-dimensional.”
Winter said feedback from customers is an integral part of Lulus’ strategy and informs nearly everything it does. The company maintains an internal document with thousands of bits of feedback from customers on everything from shipping to user experience to product, collected from social media, reviews on the brand’s site, customer service via phone and chat, and the events that the brand holds regularly with influencers at various venues in California. Winter personally looks through the data every day and sends helpful parts to the relevant teams.
“There’s not a day that goes by without a survey getting discussed,” Winter said, referring to regular surveys sent out by email to customers, sometimes with a chance to win money as an incentive for customers to take them. “For example, someone said they experienced inconsistent sizing, where two things in the same size were not fitting the same. So we actually took all of our orders from her in the past 12 months to look if there were any errors. We go really deep. We contacted her and followed up to try and make it right, and that led to our sizing being more consistent.”
After the company sold off all its stores, Winter said she would often watch hashtags related to the brand or events it was hosting for real-time feedback, but that was always less helpful than direct interaction or observation of customers. When the brand’s new pop-up opens, Winter said there will be multiple instances of feedback-gathering, including through questionnaires for attendees asking for feedback on the pop-up, its location and the product. Lulus takes customer feedback into account for product design and rollout, as well.
“We have solved some of the largest problems in UX and what our customers want from customer feedback,” said Stephanie Gaito, brand director at Lulus. “For example, we had lots of requests from people saying they wanted to see people who look like them wearing the clothes, not just models. It took longer than we expected to implement photo reviews, but we now have them and they feature a range of sizes, and you can sort by body type. We’ve gotten a lot of praise from our customers for that, which is how we know it’s working.”
Striking the right balance between following up on customer feedback and adjusting accordingly, while also sticking to the key brand identity and recognizing when feedback doesn’t need to be taken literally, is often a struggle for brands.
Nate Checketts, the CEO of Rhone, another brand that has made customer feedback a big part of its decision making, said that sometimes customers don’t always have the full context that would make their feedback more useful.
“Consumers aren’t always great at understanding the development cycle,” Checketts said. “During wear testing, even though you might tell them this is not our final product, they have a hard time [understanding] that. They might tell you to make it in different colors, but we actually are making it in different colors. It took me a while to focus on the spirit of what they were saying and not always the specifics.”
As for the future of Lulus’ return to brick-and-mortar, Winter said that it doesn’t have any specific plans for a permanent retail location just yet. Instead, pop-ups will be its main strategy going forward, starting on the West Coast and potentially branching out to other areas of the country later. And just like with all of their decision making, customer reaction will be a key factor.
“We’ll keep doing pop-up shops and watch where they resonate most, and see if that’s an area where there can be a permanent store someday,” Winter said. “That’s where we are right now. Domestically, there’s lots of room to grow.”