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Online apparel retailer stitching up a data-driven customer experience

While online clothing retailer Stitch Fix aims to 'fix' the shortcomings inherent in traditional retail environments, it is just as focused on using art, science and data to drive its unique business proposition.

Online apparel retailer stitching up a data-driven customer experiencePhoto courtesy of Stitch Fix


| by Judy Mottl — Editor, RetailCustomerExperience.com & FoodTruckOperator.com

While online clothing retailer Stitch Fix aims to 'fix' the shortcomings inherent in traditional retail environments, it is just as focused on using art, science and data to drive its unique business proposition to the female consumer seeking a personalized, nearly hand-held stylist buying experience.

"Cheapest, fastest is the value proposition in traditional retail and we're focused on fixing the weak spots of buying apparel online. A lot of our inspiration is about being what a brick and mortar needs to be — providing service, the help that should be in traditional retail," said CEO Katrina Lake, during a panel discussion held at the Shoptalk evcent in Las Vegas in late May.

In a nutshell, Stitch Fix offers consumers stylist service. Subscribers receive a chosen number of garments each month, selected via personal data and human stylist participation. Lake founded the online personal shopping service in 2011. Its mission is to tailor to the consumer's unique taste, budget and lifestyle.

 "We need to be really good at that [the recommendations] and its our favorite part. It's art and science. Human involvement," Lake said.

The reason to be very good is that shoppers can opt to keep and pay for the garment or return the garment.

That's the reason why data — insight provided by the consumer through a series of questions while signing up, as well as feedback on monthly selections, is key. That data is also key for the stylists ultimately choosing the outfits to send.

"We hold ourselves accountable in asking what is need to give the best experience. It's all about the data you collect," said Lake.

Some in the tech industry would be quick to call such information 'Big Data,' but Lake has a different view.

"It's small data, high-signal data," she said and it represents Stitch Fix's connection with users. The data becomes the 'onversation' between a shopper and a stylist.

"We are not guessing [what clothing] they want based on Twitter feed. This is much more actionable and accurate data," she added.

That's a big reason the company has 80 data scientists at work, and is pretty geeky on algorithms (check out a current company blog post for a good example.)

Yet collecting and storing data and insight can trip up some retailers as they can find themselves in a 'creepy' position. It is a challenge, admitted Lake, as customer trust is essential. She said Stitch Fix customers know however that the data will only enhance and help their experience.

"We need not to lose trust of the customer," she said.



Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.

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