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Risk and reward

Written by David Hathiramani on Monday, 07 October 2013. Posted in Technology

Keeping online customers happy is important but sometimes a bit of perspective is required, says David Hathiramani

Risk and reward

The whole point of starting A Suit That Fits was that we loved the idea of creating the perfect suit for ourselves. I saw Warren wearing a three-button suit – because he is taller – but I wanted a two-button suit. On the other hand, he had this olive green fabric but I would have wanted something more plain because I’m a little bit more conservative than him. So the idea of creating something where you could customise and create an individually tailored suit online came about.

At the moment, there stands to be about 40 billion different combinations on our website, so we have gradually changed the curation process. When we started, we only allowed customers to choose the number of buttons, the trouser leg style and a few other different options. But now we have about 20 different steps and we have 300 different fabrics to choose from. Therefore, we have had to constantly adapt our website to be able to accommodate the huge range we have, but still give the customers a very quick way of getting to the result they wanted.

Rather than having to start from scratch, customers can now use shortcuts to create their perfect two or three-piece. For example, we have pack shots of our suits so that when you click on one of the products, it takes you to the final stage of the customisation. It is almost democratic in the sense that other customers have made these suits and we allow the user to see what other customers have done and customise the bits that they want to change.

From a technology point of view, the biggest challenge to us was that the tools which customised things in the way that we needed them to didn’t exist at the time. So we had to build it all ourselves. We didn’t have the option that lots of companies do, which is to have an off-the-shelf offering. We could only have a bespoke system. However, that has given us the flexibility to be able to change things as we see fit so we are not tied into a business model just because a third-party has supplied something to us.

That said, there are so many things in the technology world that you have to keep up with. You have to keep up with the way Google changes its algorithms and you have to keep up with different customer expectations of your website. And as there is nobody to do all of that for you, you have to do it all yourself. That means we have had to have a full-time technology department from the outset, whereas other tailors in our space wouldn’t have had to do that.

Of course, there are always things that customers would love to have and that we would love to present them. But I think equally, we weigh things up in terms of what effect we think they are going to have on our business and how useful they really are going to be. For example, there are niche little ideas that other online tailors have done, such as building a 3D model of a suit as the customer is designing it. We haven’t gone to that level of detail because we offer such a huge array of options and it would be very difficult for us to do that. There would be too much rendering involved.

Ultimately, when we consider any of these opportunities, we know that we are still a small business that needs a return on what we spend. If something is nice to have but you can’t actually see it showing a return, then our customers aren’t going to want us to sacrifice that in exchange for us increasing the prices. We offer a great product at great value and we don’t want to take any risks to sacrifice the value that we can pass to our customers.

However, we have made some big leaps forward in the last six years in terms of how we present suits. Our strength lies in the fact that we deliver a lot of tailored suits now, and that gives us options that other tailors just don’t have. As mentioned, we can actually take lots of photographs of our suits and present them as pack shots on our website. That still gives a visual representation and is actually even better than a 3D model because it is a real thing. Granted, we can’t have every permutation, but we can have two or three different representations that can really help the customer visualise what a suit will be like. 

Meanwhile, lots of the innovations that we have done actually mean that they are not even necessarily visible to our customers on our website. Our phone system is a good example of this. When you call in and you have an appointment booked up, it will recognise that you have an appointment booked in and it will give you options on what you want to do with that appointment. Similarly, if you have an order outstanding, it will give you the deadline of that order so you understand when the due date is without having to speak to an operator.

So we have tried to do all of those things to make it really convenient for customers and make every touch point in tailoring more efficient. However, the speculative stuff that we are not sure is going to add to the top line is the stuff that we are much more guarded on, and we are very careful not to jeopardise the value that we can give our customers. 

About the Author

David Hathiramani

David Hathiramani

He may be co-founder of trendy suit retailer A Suit That Fits, but Hathiramani is also something of a closet geek. And the Imperial College Computing graduate is here to impart some of his wisdom about setting up an internet business.

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