The Genteel
October 21, 2014
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eLUXE showroom. Photograph by J R Bernstein at jrbernstein.com.

In a fashion-tech economy that some say is a bubble about to burst, customer loyalty is crucial to success. Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, co-founder and CEO of Moda Operandi, expounds her approach to maintaining customer loyalty in a recent series published by The Business of Fashion.

"We assign our top customers a dedicated personal stylist who gets to know them well, learning their style, fit and brand preferences in great detail," writes Magnúsdóttir, "In fact, many of our top customers have developed close relationships with their stylists and talk frequently about shopping recommendations, upcoming company events, even gossip."

Frank & Oak's 'crates'.

Source: frankandoak.com

A similar style of e-commerce is happening in Canada, as two companies, Frank & Oak and eLUXE, are stepping outside the confines of dot-com, hiring personal shoppers and stylists to work with customers in the real world. What gives these companies added value isn't measurable in dollar signs - it's creating customer loyalty by providing offline connections to their brand and products through personal styling, or as Frank & Oak coins it, curation.

Montreal-based Frank & Oak is a watershed for gentlemen's e-commerce by marketing themselves as a one-stop shop. The word "curation" appears in several places on the Frank & Oak homepage - a leitmotif in the brand's philosophy. Curators are enlisted to develop monthly collections based on several aesthetics: preppy, functional, creative, etc. Now, this isn't rocket science unless you consider its target customer: guys who want a no-brainer approach to fashion.

"Not all guys read fashion magazines or follow the latest trends so curation allows us to make suggestions that are relevant to each individual," co-founder and CEO, Ethan Song, tells The Genteel, "I think that [curation] is an essential part of our brand because it's the service and value-added aspect of the product." Through vertical integration, monthly fashion collections are designed, manufactured and curated in its "creative warehouse." Driving down the prices by cutting out the middleman has afforded them a competitive edge.

Frank & Oak has taken its philosophy offline with its latest installation, The Hunt Club. Customers can request a style crate - based on their individual needs - which is delivered right to their door. They can try on pieces, place tees alongside cardigans and skinny jeans, run the new oxford-cut shirt by their mothers - then keep what they like and send back the items they don't want. A fresh crate arrives every month.

I believe that the ultimate shopping experience for consumers is one where they can interact where they want, when they want, and how they want.

"We've actually noticed it pushes guys to make more interesting choices month after month, and it helps to evolve their style," adds Song, "I think it's changing the way men shop because it allows them to get the products at home, get recommendations but ultimately make the decisions themselves."

Being part of The Hunt Club has its perks. Members are the first to receive items from new collections in the comfort of their homes and get exclusive invites to events happening offline. "Offline is a unique opportunity to really understand who [our customers] are and for them to meet with us. It creates a certain transparency where, ultimately, we're all part of the same community and that's powerful," Song concludes.

Online boutiques are a dime a dozen, but Frank & Oak, and similarly eLUXE for women, are mobilising a new e-commerce strategy where the online permeates a real-world shopping experience. "I believe that the ultimate shopping experience for consumers is one where they can interact where they want, when they want, and how they want," eLUXE founder, Joanna Track, tells The Genteel, "each medium should complement the other."

Track conceived of eLUXE a few years ago after her successful lifestyle website, Sweetspot.ca, was bought out - then shut down - by Rogers Publishing. With all the token facets of an e-commerce shop equipped with a strong brand image - a magazine component, exclusive collaborations with brands and Susie Sheffman as fashion director - eLUXE has garnered popularity in Canada. According to Track, "up until now, there has been a lack of local (i.e. Canadian) shopping alternatives and the hurdles of cross-border shopping have deterred many consumers from using e-commerce on a regular basis." 

eLUXE's Virtual Stylist.
Source: eluxe.ca.

But as Track quickly found out, Canadian women are still hesitant to shop online. The eLUXE virtual stylist is one way her company allays initial fears. "Having a trusted advisor to connect with (either by phone, email or even Skype!) provides the inspiration and guidance [women] need to do their shopping," says Track.

What's most interesting, however, is eLUXE's recent venture into the offline realm. Its Toronto headquarters looks and feels everything like the backstage of a thriving e-commerce store, save for one area, which looks more like a brick-and-mortar fashion boutique, transplanted from somewhere along West Queen West. The eLUXE showroom is a place where customers can book private appointments with personal stylists who "edit" collections to individual customer's tastes and sizes. 

"The eLUXE showroom allows us to interact in person with our customers," Track explains, "enabling us to know more about them and see how they interact with our products. It's like our very own focus group!" Knowing more about the customer in person affords eLUXE an unparalleled opportunity to maintain customer loyalty. The service harks back to traditional forms of luxury shopping - the salon, the fitting room, and a stylist who knows all your dirty little secrets - a welcome anachronism in today's online shopping world.

E-commerce companies are increasingly looking to offline strategies to build more traditional relationship with their customers. Two Canadian companies at the helm, Frank & Oak and eLUXE, emphasise personal styling offline, providing an invaluable service to their customers and perhaps, ushering in a new, less impersonal era of fashion e-commerce. 

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