The way we shop for fashion and accessories has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days of browsing in-store – or even browsing online.
The retail and fashion landscape of the eCommerce world is quickly evolving into one where the subscription model reigns. Subscribers pay a monthly fee to receive individualized clothing deliveries based on outfits and collections put together by personal stylists.
But stylists are just part of the offering. A big part of the service falls to technologists, who are in charge of building a frictionless, personalized online service that accommodates a subscriber’s personal style – and provides a custom experience from onboarding all the way through to delivery.
Some of the bigger players getting it right in the subscription fashion space are Thread (UK), StitchFix, Trunk Club, AdoreMe, BirchBox, FiveFour Club, Splendies, Shoe Dazzle and LeTote. In addition to these there are plenty of other startups who are exploring subscription models as a way to gain a foothold in their particular fashion niches.
Fashion by subscription – the experience
I’ve been through the onboarding process of several of the above sites, and just recently joined StitchFix. Getting started was simple – and similar to the other sites I’d tried. You begin by connecting your social media accounts to the site, then move on to defining your style. This is done by selecting images of outfits that you like, choosing some style icons and providing sizing details. With that done, you simply pick a date for delivery and wait to see what arrives.
I was pleasantly surprised when my first outfit landed on my doorstep. It fit my style and my preferences – and overall neatly matched what I was looking for. But even if it hadn’t, that wouldn’t have been a problem. The site is all about ease of use and customer service, so it’s simple to return an item that you don’t want in exchange for one that’s a better fit.
Behind the scenes of subscription fashion
So how does StitchFix do it? Like the other subscription styling companies in this space it uses AI to learn what individual subscribers want based on their image and styling preferences and their responses to the featured outfits or items that stylists upload to the site.
According to Eric Colson, the Chief Algorithm Office at StitchFix, the site’s styling algorithm combines machine learning and human judgement. The machines do the initial number crunching and whittling, with the results then turned over to a stylist who applies an expert eye to content curation and 1-on-1 customer connection.
“The goal is to combine the contributions of machines and humans by focusing each on their unique capabilities,” says Colson. “We don’t ask machines to empathize and we don’t ask humans to do rote calculations. Together, the contributions…perform better than either one on their own. It’s what we call “Art & Science”.”
The future of fashion
It’s always hard to predict the future in the quickly moving world of technology. So it’s hard to say whether these platforms will have longevity. But as someone who avoids in-store shopping but benefits from the eye of an expert stylist, this kind of personalized approach to retail solves a very real problem for me.
And we’re helping solve it for others. Elementz has recently done design and strategy work on an Adore Me-type site that allows women to design their own lingerie online. It’s an approach that follows the customization and personalization trends we’re increasingly seeing in online fashion, and we’re looking forward to taking it to its next stage of development.
If fashion is your vertical and you’re looking to build or develop an idea, get in touch!