E-Commerce Behemoth Moves Offline To Provide More Personal Service

PSFK spoke to the CEO and Founder of Bonobos, an Internet-launched clothing company that has opened an offline store providing customized fittings.

In preparation for the release of our upcoming Future of Retail report, PSFK reached out to Bonobos, an Internet-launched clothing company focused on delivering proper fitting clothes based on a consumer’s personal style. Recently, Bonobos extended offline, launching stores called Guideshops, to bring personalized, one-to-one service to those interested in experiencing the brand in-person.  Through personalized 45 minute one-on-one appointments, Bonobos intends to provide a better and more differentiated experience in-person. We spoke to Andy Dunn, CEO & Founder of Bonobos, to get his thoughts.

Introduce us to Bonobos, specifically the Guideshop program. Can you tell us about the concept? What kind of experience (multi-channel or otherwise) can customers expect in-store?

We are focusing on what got our business going: great clothes and great service. Our Guideshops are all about personalized service: 45-minute one-on-one appointments. They are about having someone who isn’t pushy helping you, figuring out what fits, and enabling you get to your own best sense of style. You figure out what fits, what looks good, and what you like, and then we ship it to you after your visit with us.

Our whole brand was built around men’s pants with great fit and great energy. As we moved into other categories like shirts and suits, we became the largest clothing company launched on the web because of a maniacal focus on not only the clothes but also customer service. Our service experience is powered by our Ninjas — our phenomenal e-commerce service team who do our email, social media, and phone service. We knew in-person service was its own challenge, and did a lot of work and experimentation before launching the Guides.

Are there any notable figures or statistics around customer engagement and usage?

The engagement has been incredible. We see north of a 90% “conversion” rate from people who come to an appointment. Can you think of any other store where nine out of ten people who come in walk out with products they are excited about? The stores are also financially promising, generating a sales productivity more on par with an Apple store (thousands of dollars per square foot) vs. a typical clothing store (hundreds of dollars per square foot). A lot of this, granted, is because our store takes up a lot less space — think of the Guideshops more like an e-commerce showroom than a traditional retail store. By focusing on service, we’ve removed a lot of the inventory, the clutter, the folding, and the browsing required in a traditional clothing store, and reduced the paradox of choice which we think slows down a lot of shopping. Meanwhile, we are driving appointments on the web, which increases the utilization of the store, keeping our Guides busy — they are such talented folks, they would be bored with a lull. All of that said, we are in the early days, and there is a lot to do to prove this model can continue to work, and scale.

bonobos-guides-nyc

We have noticed that stores are competing with online retailers by creating unique experiences and training staff members to be experts in their respective fields so that people feel welcomed and comforted by a tailored experience that can’t yet be replicated outside of the store? Do you see this trend manifesting on a larger scale? How so?

In a world where everyone’s website is becoming their flagship store, where wholesale business is becoming more and more about marketing and brand positioning, the meaning of your company-owned retail changes. My belief is that in-store becomes more about customer experience. Forward thinking retailers like Williams-Sonoma are now classified as e-commerce companies because of how quickly they have shifted their mix toward e-commerce. By seeing online and offline as complementary, customers will get better and more differentiated experiences in-person. I think this is exciting for consumers, and for the brands and retailers who embrace the change.

As an e-tailer, what prompted you to consider going offline? What did you see as the main opportunity there? How have customers responded or will they respond to this level of personalization?

The main realization is that we were kidding ourselves. We were telling our customers it was a better experience to shop with us if we were only available online. This proved not to be true. For some people, touching and feeling the clothing in person, seeing how it fits, is prerequisite to buying it in any channel. When we made this realization, when we heard the customer feedback, we knew we had to adapt. First we had to get to a level of scale where we could launch offline without changing our prices. We arrived there in 2011. Then we wanted to make sure we moved offline in a way that preserved our reputation for delivering great service in addition to great clothes. That’s when we embarked on our wholesale partnership with Nordstrom and the launch of our own physical retail with the Guideshops. What we’re realizing is that these changes might actually enhance our reputation for great service. We know there is a lot of work in our future to keep and expand upon the momentum, and we look forward to the challenge.

Thanks Andy!

Bonobos

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