The try-before-you-buy retail model has been gaining momentum — even since before Amazon got on board with Prime Wardrobe.
But it’s not a no-fail plan for success. As it catches on across product categories, companies are finding the system must be made more specialized to meet consumers’ preferences and habits.
Molly Kang and Denise Jin were first-to-market with the model in the bridal space, when they launched their direct-to-consumer brand, Floravere, in November 2016. But they soon found, despite consumers becoming increasingly comfortable with shopping via back-and-forth boxes, many brides-to-be still hold traditional views of an idyllic gown buying experience: in a boutique, working one-on-one with a stylist, family and friends in tow.
Here’s how they grew their company while meeting those shoppers’ demands.
Floravera launched as an e-commerce company.
“We wanted to provide a radically accessible experience, where anyone could discover our collection online and, within a click, arrange to try on a style in the comfort of their home, wherever that may be,” said Kang, noting 80 percent of brides have a Pinterest board, but the gowns they pin can’t often be tracked down for purchase.
She said providing an online option for wedding dress shopping felt obvious to her and Jin, as “you can buy everything else online,” but they knew they had to make the experience appropriately special.
So, they designed a model accordingly, with focus on the millennial bride.
Brides can go the website and select the samples they want to try on, choosing as many as they’d like: The first sample is $25, and two or more dresses is $15 each. On average, Kang said, brides select three. Samples of each style are available in sizes 2, 6, 12, 18 and 24, and brides can keep the samples for up to three days.
Floravere’s signature Bride Box accompanies all sample orders, to elevate the try-on experience. It comes with clips, measuring tape and a guide to help her fit the dress to her body and communicate adjustments needed. In addition, it features a variety of “fun goodies” that differ from box to box — think: Sugarfina gummy bears, custom bridal pins from Pintrill and wedding-day accessories to help her envision her complete look. The box is shipped and returned free of charge.
Floravere’s Bride Box
All customer service is provided through text messaging. Brides can text to alert a dedicated personal stylist that they’re ready for they’re “try-on party,” and the stylist will accompany them through the process on FaceTime.
Finally, Kang and Jin secured in-house designers and some outside ghost designers from the industry’s top brands, including Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra and Dior. In addition, they started doing collaborations to bring fresh ideas to the mix — their first was a series of jumpsuits with designer Misha Nonoo.
Jin said three customer segments have emerged since launch: There’s the tech-savvy bride who lives in a major city, has a Casper mattress and wears Warby Parker frames; there’s the “three-hour-drive bride,” who would otherwise be flying to a major city to do her dressing in a mom-and-pop shop; and there’s the plus-size bride, who is underserved in the bridal market — boutiques typically carry one sample, which is rarely a plus size.
The pain points:
Though they went in with a strong plan, it hasn’t been smooth sailing.
Jin said she and Kang hit a point last year when there was too much demand for try-on-at-home styles and they were unable to fulfill orders with the inventory they had. She said the problem was solvable, just part of the learning curve for a new brand; they had limited data going in and had no way to project the number of styles needed.
Also, she said, the fact that other retailers have entered the bridal e-commerce space (Net-a-Porter, Shopbop, Farfetch) have made it hard to convince brides that Floravere is offering something more special. “Brides want a feeling of experience,” she said. “And you lose some of that when a dress comes in a standard flat-pack box.”
And some brides are still hellbent on the fact that shopping online for a dress isn’t for them. Others would consider it, if not for the fact that it requires putting thousands of dollars on a credit card, online. “As luxury e-commerce picks up, that will no doubt change,” Jin said.
The new model:
While sorting through with the inventory issue, Kang and Jin decided to experiment with pop-up stores out of necessity. The latest was at The Inside, a customizable-furniture store in NYC’s Tribeca neighborhood. Another took place in a suite at a Mondrian Hotel.
“We asked, ‘What are the creative ways to grow and serve more customers with the inventory we do have?’” said Kang. “In a pop-up, we were able to take one set of inventory and see 20 brides in the course of a weekend.”
Maintaining the brand’s ethos, the pop-ups were tailored to millennial shoppers: the stylists were millennial women (who encouraged shoppers to FaceTime any family and friends not in attendance), their featured music was bride’s choice, and they were designed to be intimate and relaxed. What’s more, rather than a single sample, all of the brands’ sample sizes were featured.
According to Jin, half of Floravere’s transactions are now in store — and, since launch, the brand has averaged a 60 percent boost in sales month over month.
Next up: physical retail. Jin and Kang recently decided to make the Tribeca space a permanent showroom; available appointments are booked out for weeks. In two weeks, they’ll open another permanent showroom in Seattle. Two weeks after that, they’ll launch one in Boston.
What other brands are saying about the try-before-you-buy model
Brian Ree, founder and CEO of Daily Look:
“The biggest challenge is getting the styling right from the very first box. Our stylists do not know their clients intimately yet, and new clients may not yet feel comfortable sharing everything. The more clients share honestly about themselves with their stylist, the better styling experience we can deliver.
There’s no higher brand and product engagement than the try-before-you-buy personal styling experience. In today’s busy and competitive retail landscape, having the undivided attention of your brand inside the quiet space of a consumer is invaluable.”
James Reinhart, CEO of ThredUp:
“The profitability of the try-before-you-buy model relies on the percentage of clothing customers keep, if they keep anything at all. As a result, the greatest challenge is trying to predict what each customer might like. This is especially true for ThredUp Goody Boxes.
Unlike traditional retailers with a set number of SKUs, ThredUp has 1 million unique items at any given time, and our inventory is constantly changing. That said, as a digitally-native company with a robust e-commerce business, our advantage lies in knowing a lot about how our customers shop. The more data we gather about a shopper’s unique preferences, the better our algorithms can curate custom Goody Boxes that our customers love.”
Jen Braunschweiger, vp of brand strategy at MM.LaFleur:
“The benefit of the try-before-you-buy model is that we believe in our clothes, and we stand by our products. We want the customer to try us and love us, and have the space to explore our collection. In order to send her the right selection of clothes, we need to get to know her well enough — and quickly enough — to pick out products we believe she’ll like. Internally, that can create a challenge around inventory: having the right pieces and sizes on hand to send. When we get it right, we earn her loyalty. But if we miss the mark, it’s hard to inspire her to try us again.”
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