In his first column, our technology guru told us all about building an online business.
This month, he’s back to explain how a wholly online business came back to the physical world to incorporate a truly multi-channel approach
The very purpose of our online platform, our raison d’être, if you like, was to enable the customer to design each garment to their exacting requirements. They build their suit from scratch – choosing everything from the cloth to the shape of the lapel and the number of buttons on the cuffs. It’s safe to say that our foundations of strong technology and an even stronger web presence fundamentally deliver the individual and customised essence of our brand.
Our platform has also been vital in building confidence among new customers: when there is no human interface, it is challenging to communicate our expertise in tailoring. This means we’ve had to work a little harder in conveying our knowledge and skills in the suit-building domain. For example, we have little information boxes on every aspect of the suit to explain the tailoring options and styling advice. This means if you hover over the three-button jacket option, the information box will educate you that it is suitable for most body types, but athletic builds should probably avoid that particular style. All of this informs our prospective customers that although we are not physically there to guide their choices, we are always on-hand to lend our expertise.
Despite all this, there were clearly obstacles in the minds of our prospective customers when ordering something as complex as a suit online. Simple questions could be addressed with web design and we could put them on an FAQ page. This would include queries such as: “How long will my suit take to be delivered?” (In case you were wondering, it takes between three to eight weeks for your garment to arrive for your first fitting, depending on the priority that you choose.)
However, we were encountering more complicated and specific questions than we were able to address online. In my mind, the future opportunities for successful retail ventures will change the way people think and challenge the status quo – so that is what we did.
Some of the more complex questions included:
- The cloth I want to select looks great, but does it look like that in real life?
- What happens if I order the suit and it doesn’t fit the way that I wanted?
- There are certain aspects of my suit design that I would really want to go through with someone. Can I come to see you?
- I’m not particularly confident in my measurements being done from home – is there any way I can be measured by one of your in-house experts?
All of these questions can be addressed online to an extent. For example, question one, regarding the cloth, was solved when we decided to send free cloth swatches through the post to anyone who requested one – something we still do today. In answer to the second query, we developed our Fit Guarantee policy that offers a guarantee of fit to our customers, which protects them and should ensure they go away delighted. However, when someone has asked to see you directly, as in questions three and four, then you know that unless you accommodate them, there is a chance that you will lose that prospect.
This is when we had to do a bit of soul-searching. As a business, we really had to ask ourselves why we existed: did we want to be a company that catered to a smaller portion of tailoring customers in an online-only approach or did we want to be a company that made tailoring accessible to anyone?
The first option meant that we would get our growth from a small proportion of prospects spread across multiple countries. The second option meant that we would be catering for a bigger target market.
As the principle of making tailoring accessible to all was deeply ingrained in our ethos, we naturally opted for the more inclusive approach of catering to all types of customers and opening up our offering to include appointments in studios – and so developed our style advisors to be personalised tailoring experts.
We opened our first office in the City of London – a fantastic location to serve a large number of our target market. Here, we simply started holding hour-long appointments. The appointments would follow a similar process to the online ordering forms, but, instead, we’d simply guide the customer, while answering any questions that they had. In addition, these appointments allowed us to showcase all of our cloth samples and completed suits, as well as offer a premium measurements service to get measured by one of our experts.
We found this local option, whether taken advantage of or not, gave our customers confidence to order with us, both online and offline. We have now extended this model throughout the UK to 34 different locations, and our team of almost 20 knowledgeable style advisors is now at the centre of our offering – which is quite clear when you look at our website.
This way of thinking and operating as a truly multi-channel business is integral to our company and, we feel, tailoring in general. We pride ourselves on being Britain’s ‘local tailor’ and a big part of that is the personal relationship that the customer builds up with their local style advisor. Even in this internet age, sometimes it’s about people, as well as machines.