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The Challenges All Online Retail Stores Face

By Heidi Zak, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of ThirdLove. Originally published on Quora.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I would go to the mall almost every weekend.

It was a place we could go to hang out, socialize, and stay warm during the frigid Buffalo winters.

Now, going to the mall for entertainment is outdated. We live in an age of personalization where most products are targeted toward individual consumers.

Yet the in-store experience is the same for every single person who walks in. The store doesn’t change. The associates don’t change. The product doesn’t change.

The fitting room doesn’t change.

This room is the most antiquated part of shopping. Customers are forced to get undressed under harsh lights, try on too many clothes, and potentially come away from it all empty-handed.

The solution is to bring the fitting room to the customer. Allow them to do everything they can do in the fitting room — and more — in the privacy and comfort of their own home.

The biggest challenge is: How do we make the online fitting room a unique experience that each customer can feel great about?

Keep It Simple

Part of the problem with brick and mortar stores is the complex, effort-filled experience of trying on clothes.

With bras, for instance, you find yourself standing in a tiny room, sorting through a pile of 20 bras, trying them all on to find the one you think fits. It’s time-consuming and frustrating.

The stereotype linked to this experience is that women love shopping — and some do. But there are plenty of women who don’t like it. They don’t enjoy taking the time and effort to wander through a physical store, hoping to find something that fits. They prefer to have a few items selected for them that fit their style and shape.

That’s why an online fitting experience should be simpler and much less frustrating. It has to create a sense of convenience and ease that’s missing from the physical shopping and fitting system.

Overcome The Feel Hurdle

The biggest challenge in online shopping is that the customer can’t physically touch the product.

You can promise them it will be incredibly soft and comfortable. You can take amazing close-up photos and video of the product. But it’s always going to be difficult to give a true sense of how the product feels until your customer opens the box.

That’s one of the reasons we instituted our “Try before you buy” program at ThirdLove. It was our way of saying, “We promise this is going to be really comfortable and lightweight. But if you don’t believe us, we’ll ship it to you so you can actually wear it before you buy it so you can have that physical experience with the product.”

All it takes is one great product or experience to convince a customer. But they have to be willing to take a chance on you, and you have to be willing to do something to help them take it.

Gather Accurate Data

Another challenging aspect of the online fitting room is data collection.

It’s incredibly important to get the most accurate data possible from your customers.

That sounds simple, but when you ask someone about the way their clothes fit, or the shape of their body, you’re asking them to do some serious self-assessment. They have to think about what they wear and how it fits, or they have to look in the mirror and give the best estimate they can.

Your goal is to help customers give the most accurate answers possible. At ThirdLove, we spend a lot of time determining the right fitting questions to ask and phrasing those questions in the best way. We’re always optimizing this process because we’re only as good as the information we get from the customer.

Don’t Push Product

Many people leave brick and mortar stores feeling dissatisfied because of inventory issues.

When stores don’t have the exact size or style available, they’ll often push people into something they have in inventory.

For example, we were selling ThirdLove bras in Bloomingdales about two years ago. It was really interesting because Bloomingdales had our full selection online, but they didn’t offer the full selection in the stores. There were too many sizes to keep in stock. So if you were, say, a 30 band or anything over a DD cup, they didn’t carry it in the store. And those sorts of inventory issues are exactly why a lot of women are wearing the wrong bra size.

In an online fitting room, you can be as flexible as you want with your sizes. You have more options and can offer customers exactly what they need.

If a woman uses our Fit Finder and it turns out we don’t have her size, we don’t suggest a different size. We just tell her that we don’t have her size right now, and that we’re working on making it. That’s it.

To push customers into buying something that doesn’t fit just right would be the antithesis of what we’re trying to achieve.

The goal is to create a better fitting room experience, not mirror what’s already out there.

By Heidi Zak, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of ThirdLove. Originally published on Quora.
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