Styling services are a blossoming sector of the ecommerce world. Drapers puts five to the test – and finds many of them lacking.
Digital personal styling services are often feted as the next frontier for ecommerce. Several big names are making strides in the sector, and innovation and investment are particularly focused on the menswear market.
In October, menswear styling service Thread announced $22m (£16.7m) in additional funding from a series B funding round, taking its total investment to more than $40m (£30.4m).
Meanwhile, styling service Stitch Fix, which boasts more than 3 million customers in the US, and in February 2018 was valued at $2bn (£1.52bn), is set to expand into the UK this year. For the year to 28 July 2018, it reported a 26% year-on-year increase in net sales to $1.2bn (£910m).
“We’re going to continue to see the curation and styling services becoming a lot more mainstream,” says Samantha Dover, senior retail analyst at research agency Mintel. “Men tend to feel less confident in making those purchasing decisions. They have always been more willing to uptake personal stylists. They want that guidance and they are more likely to say they want that service.”
“A typical male stereotype might be around convenience and ease,” agrees Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement at research firm Capgemini. “Therefore, if someone can proactively make recommendations and make it easy and convenient and affordable, there is already a massive play there. In retail generally, there is a constant drive for new business models, new ways to do things and ways to grab the share of wallet.”
As certain names grow, more and more small players are popping up across the market – offering their own take on digital personal styling and seeking to take a bite out of the market.
However, the sector is far from an easy win, as proved by the recent demise of The Chapar, which fell into administration earlier this month. As recently as 2017 the business raised £1.3m in a crowdfunding round, seeking further investment of £500,000 after buying rival Enclothed in July 2018.
As Drapers set about testing the various styling services offered across menswear and womenswear, several things became clear. Styling retailers must be able to match the services and efficiencies that come as standard elsewhere in the ecommerce space – such as easy and efficient delivery and returns, and ease of communication – otherwise their unique selling point is rendered obsolete. Too many of the styling retailers we tested fail to do this.
Out of five retailers tested, only one – Thread – was able to offer an acceptable level of overall customer experience and speed. In fact, at the time of writing, Thread was the only retailer that had successfully completed my order and return process. The basic foundations of good internet retailing were lacking elsewhere: slow delivery times, lack of delivery and returns options and lack of communication, as well as hidden deposits and fees were just some of the areas in which the other retailers crumbled.
Additionally, many of the styling services catered to a very specific look or style, which would not necessarily appeal to all. It defeats the purpose a little if customers have to shop around to find a styling service that suits their style.
Many of the sites seemed to be founded on good ideas, but the execution was, at times, shockingly bad. For services claiming to take some of the hassle out of shopping, many were more hassle than help.
Drapers tested five services to discover the helpful tools and hindrances that appear most often in the emerging segment.
Menswear styling site Thread is by far the most smooth and efficient styling service tested.
The design of the site is crisp, clear and easy to navigate, and I click through to a simple styling questionnaire with ease. The questions are very straightforward and easy to understand as they is image led.
For those less confident in their own style, this is very helpful. It is easy to pick outfits I like rather than try to describe a personal style, which is the method used by some other services, including Style Lyrical.
I am matched with a personal stylist in seconds, shown her name and picture, and receive a welcome email within minutes. This feels very personal and is impressively quick.
Thread offers a series of outfit ideas on the website and I can pick and choose which products to buy. The suggestions themselves are good, if a little safe, but chime well in relation to the preferences I outlined in the styling quiz.
Thread works with payment provided Klarna to offer a “buy now, pay later” option. Once it is set up, it is easy and quick to use, and is clearly visible at checkout. I get free delivery on orders worth more than £50, as well as next-day delivery if ordered are placed before 3pm – by far the fastest delivery of all services trialled. Returns are also free, and were quick to be processed.
Thread is the only friction-free shopping experience I have. An impressive product range and strong styling is matched with good service and a practical, functional website. It is the only website tested that holds its own against the ecommerce functionality of other big-name fashion retailers.
(This review was undertaken before Thread’s rebranding and expansion of its offer, which launched on 5 March)
Womenswear site Endource sells a curated selection of brands that gain a buzz on social media and in the press. The site operates as an etailer, but offers the option to have a stylist add to your order available at checkout.
Pleasantly designed with a modern and minimalist aesthetic, Endource’s selection is smartly arranged and offers well-curated style edits. These include a “Most Endourced” pick of items featured in magazines and on Instagram, as well as more specific stylised edits, such as an “Urban Explorer” collection.
The range is good, and presents large numbers of products from brands such as Arket, & Other Stories, The Fold and Warehouse, bringing these retailers offers together – being able to browse and order in one place is a bonus.
To access the styling service, I order three products and tick a box when proceeding through checkout. I am told that a stylist will add some additional products to my box before delivery to complement the pieces I have chosen.
I do not pay up front for my box, and a £6.99 shipping fee is reasonable, considering I am ordering from numerous separate retailers. The website clearly states that I only pay for what I keep, and I will only pay once I have completed any returns from the order.
Unfortunately, the experience goes downhill when I place my order. I receive no confirmation email and no updates – so I begin to question whether or not my order was processed correctly - and the box takes 15 days to arrive. The delay is very frustrating, and it would have been far easier, and quicker, for me to order directly from the retailers.
Following the publication of this review, Endource confirm that an order confirmation was sent. However, the email was removed by my system’s spam filter - explaining why I never received the communication.
Following this point however, communication improves rapidly. When my box is dispatched I receive an email telling me what will be arriving, including a personal note from the stylist that explains her picks and offers tips as to how to style my new items. The styled items are very good, and co-ordinate very well both with my personal sense of style and the items I ordered. When they arrive, they are beautifully presented, and the only reason I do not keep more of the pieces is because I already own similar items.
I have five days to return my parcel – a quick turnaround – but the returns label is attached, and the process is very easy and quick.
I later receive an email offering to ship separately an item that I ordered but went out of stock, and am able to converse directly on email with customer services, who are swift to respond to my queries and update me on delivery details.
Given the sophistication of the site and ease of my initial interactions, I had high hopes for Endource. However, despite a generally positive experience, the slow delivery times and difficulties around initial communication would deter me from ordering again.
The concept behind Dappad is very appealing. Describing itself as a menswear “Scandinavian capsule wardrobe service”, theoretically it could tap into the booming popularity of Scandi style. Unfortunately, the practicalities of the service make it difficult and confusing to use.
I begin with a picture-led style quiz that asks a comprehensive number of questions on day and work style, and colour and fit preferences. However, the images are very low quality, and the design of the site feels in general dated and amateurish.
There is the option to be contacted by a stylist, which is a nice touch for those who want a more curated approach.
I can choose a maximum value of either £500 or £1,000 for the box. Initially, I am told I will need to pay a £20 deposit before I receive my first box – and then I will only pay for the items that I keep.
Once I sign up for my box, I discover that I do not pay the deposit on the site. Instead I pay via bank transfer, the details of which are emailed to me. I am reluctant to share my details with the site after an indirect and complex route to payment.
I am also now informed, for the first time, that I will automatically be charged half the value of my first box as an additional fee. Although this will be refunded if I return items, I will be charged before receiving my box, which is annoying. The wording on this feels deliberately obscure – “we reserve 50% of the value”. I feel deceived by the fact that I was not informed of this substantial charge sooner.
I email customer services for more information on this charge and it is explained that the fee is a result of some customers not paying in the past. Given the restrictive nature of the payment methods and the general lack of sophistication on the site, I do not feel comfortable parting with my money and do not proceed with my order.
Premium womenswear service Style Lyrical provides a comprehensive and impressively personal styling offer.
It offers a personal phone consultation, free shipping and collection, style guides and follow-up consultations, as well as a bespoke membership offer – customers are able to get boxes delivered as frequently as they want.
I have to apply for membership: I provide details on my style, the brands that I wear and what I want from a “Style Box”, and select my budget.
The application is easy to complete and is clearly geared to a more sartorially engaged customer than some of the style tools targeting men – it asks why I wear certain label and what how I would describe my aesthetic.
The range of brands on offer is impressive. The quirky selection of feminine and desirable labels including Stine Goya, Wyse London and Becksöndergaard – the kind of hidden gems that the sophisticated shopper would want in their wardrobe.
The website is sophisticated and very easy to navigate – it has a pleasingly minimalist and chic design, and offers up a reassuring number of reviews and testimonials.
On top of the cost of items, there is also a £29.99 “Stylist Fee” for each box, which seems like a high charge considering most of the services tested do not charge for styling. Although this is disappointing, the comparatively advanced role of the stylist here goes some way to explain it.
Despite great promise from the service, at the time of writing – more than a week after filling in my details and style preferences – I have had no further contact from Style Lyrical and assume that I have been turned down for membership. Once again, a lack of communication is hugely frustrating. This should be a basic for businesses claiming to offer a high level of personal service.
When setting up my style profile at womenswear styling service Lookiero, the questions are simple and image led, which makes the process easy to navigate.
The styles offered as part of the styling quiz are quite limited and are unlikely to appeal to a wide variety of shoppers. The overall feel is quite mumsy, but I am able to leave comments for my stylist to help them pick items based on my needs.
It is not immediately obvious what brands Lookiero could send me, so it is difficult to gauge whether or not the products will fit my style. Brands are listed in the FAQs, but it takes some hunting to find them, which is frustrating.
A deposit of £10 is charged on each order. This is deducted from the cost of any items I keep, but if I return everything, I am not refunded the fee. This seems reasonable, and I would be happy to pay. For my first box I am offered a free trial, which is a nice touch. Lookiero also gives 25% off the cost of the order if you keep all items.
I am able to pick the exact day I want my items to arrive, but, disappointingly, the soonest I can book is in 12 days. Nevertheless, when I order I am immediately emailed a confirmation, and receive updates as I wait for my items.
Before the order is dispatched I am told I will have five days to select and return my items, which seems like a short turnaround, but returns are pre-paid, and I will be able to use a drop-off returns point, which makes the process much easier.
The clarity of Lookiero is impressive, and I am aware of exactly what to expect in terms of service. Despite slow delivery, the rest of the ecommerce offer matches the high expectations for online retailers and I feel confident in its offer.