From the source: Will Rogers, Kent & Lime

Kent&LimeBIO: Will Rogers first launched customised online menswear store Kent and Lime four years ago. He has more than 10 years’ experience in the online menswear space and and has worked with global retailers such as ASOS, TJ Maxx, Costco

COMPANY PROFILE: Kent and Lime is an online menswear store that provides customers with personalised boxes of clothing that have been curated by a styling team, based on a customer’s preferences. Since the business launched four years ago, customer growth has grown by 300 per cent each year.

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What the experience is like for the Kent and Lime customer?

We ask the guy a few easy questions online: What size are you? What’s your general style? Do you have any special feature, like big thighs or long arms? What’s your budget?

And then that data suggests products he might like to our styling team, who put the products together and create a look based on what he needs the clothes for – that could be for a smart/casual event or work – and we send the pieces to him. It’s pretty simple.

We’ve got a try-before-you-buy service, so he tries it on at home where he might do fashion shows for someone important, rather than jumping around on one leg in a changeroom. He tries the clothes on, gives back the clothes he doesn’t want and just pays for what it likes. We get feedback on what he likes and doesn’t like and that goes into our system so the next time, we can help him a little bit better.

Since launching Kent and Lime four years ago, what have you learnt about men and shopping?

Men want the process to be simple, they want someone to have their back. They’re pretty bad at explaining what they want but they’re good at identifying what they don’t want. Saying they’re not astute is the wrong way of describing them, but they need visual help and a better understanding of why the right item is important to them. We don’t make the decisions for him, we just guide him.

Most of the guys we talk to shop for a need. It’s the wear/rip/buy cycle – they buy stuff when it rips or when they need something for an event and they don’t know what to wear.

We’re trying to eliminate the ‘wardrobe confusion’ moment – when you open up your wardrobe and you go, ‘Ah, nothing here will work!’ because it’s not in order and there’s no context to it. We try and make sure that when customers buy items from us, those items are recorded in a wardrobe function so that we can say to him, ‘OK, you bought that t-shirt two months ago, here are some jeans to match.’ We’re constantly reminding customers that they’ve already got something in their wardrobe and that they do get good value out of what they buy, regardless of what it is.

Kent&LimeWhere do you think retailers get it wrong when it comes to serving male customers?

“Nobody gets to know their customer. Generally, retailers do a good job of telling people what to buy, but not understanding who’s buying their products and why.

I use this example regularly – at your last purchase interaction, nobody asked you why you bought that item, did they? Retailers don’t understand why you bought it and if they don’t understand, they won’t understand why the customer has shopped with them in the first place. And if retailers don’t even know the name of the customer, how can they make them a relevant offer? They can’t, it’s impossible.

So the way we’ve approached it is to invest some time in completing a customer profile and once it’s done, everything from then on becomes more relevant.

I think the traditional retail environment to browse isn’t the best for a guy, either. I think the paralysis of choice is a well-documented psychological [journey] that people go through. Offering the customer relevance and decreasing their options is something that physical retailers find difficult because they have to appeal to as many people as possible. I call it ‘display and parade’ – that kind of mindset that retailers go through both physical and online. All we’re trying to do is cut through the noise and give them a personalised selection.”

IRW: Customisation is becoming increasingly popular, but people have been talking about it since the 60s. Why is the industry only catching up to it now?

WR: “I think technology has enabled a smoother transition to allow retailers to start tapping into customers and I think people are demanding customisation – there are more channels to shop, there’s more noise, less time and we’re busier, so naturally, people want a more tailored solution through lots of different aspects in their lives. Retail’s been one of the slowest industries to convert them on that.”

IRW: What would you say are some of the trickiest aspects for customisation retailers?

WR: “Ensuring the data that you get from customers actually gives you the results the person was expecting and not to make it too clever for them to use. That’s not to say that customers are incapable of adopting new technology or new systems, it’s just that they have to brought on a journey.

We have a styling algorithm that understands product, customer personas and their environment in more detail, such as what they need their clothes for and how it interacts with their daily lives. As a business and for our brand partners, we use that data to give ourselves a better chance of selling more relevant items to our customers.

If we’re looking at this from a data perspective, we can understand sales performance obviously, customer type, where they live and what sorts of brands work well with each other. The days of adjacencies in brands are probably gone because people mix and match their wardrobes, whereas department stores need to range brands together because they complement each other. People will wear a variety of brands altogether.

What you want to understand as a retailer is why pieces are being combined in the way they are and once you aggregate those reasons, you can start predicting some interesting behaviours and selling product in the right way and influencing your customer properly, rather than the traditional way, which is ‘This is why you what to buy it’ and shoving it down customers’ throats.”

IRW: Given customers only need to pay $20-$30 for shipping both ways, how do you handle the amount of returns in the business?

WR: “There’s an operational framework around how we do that. Ultimately, we know what’s coming back from a customer before it’s landed back here. What we don’t want to do is buy more stock than we need, so we’re smart about how stock travels through the business. We know why a product’s not coming back and when it is, if we know when and why, we can use the stock for another customer in a smarter way.

You can imagine that a lot of retailers don’t know why things are coming back, so it’s hard for them to see pure sales. We don’t get any change-of-mind returns. The guy gets three days to change his mind – that’s plenty of time. If you can’t make a decision in that time, that’s cool.

For us, the biggest reasons for a return are when the customer has something similar or it’s not his style. Out of the top four reasons why the returns happen, style is probably the hardest to identify and takes more time for us to get right. The first package customers receive is like a ‘getting-to-know-you’ box. It’s for us to test a couple of ideas with him and if we get it right, great. If not, let’s have another go. We frame it in a way – this is about us learning about you, rather than getting it right the first time.”

Kent&lime1IRW: What plans do you have for 2017?

WR: “We’ve had some really exciting insights into what our customers want. Our customers really care about personalisation, they want someone to save them time so they don’t go running around stores or trawling online. They want it, but they want an element of control as well, so what we’re doing is giving them the opportunity to pre-vet what’s being sent out and we’re going to do that by giving him access to inspiration looks every week.

We’ll send him five looks that match his budget, style and fit and then he’ll be able to make a decision on some of those products. He can buy one or 10 pieces, but in any point in that process, he can speak to an advisor via live chat and refine the selection if it isn’t quite right.

And what they’re looking for is ‘I want you to do the work, but I want a hand in making the final decision.’

That’s all done online. He’ll get looks every week – for a beach holiday or the office – to match his profile – and because we know him, we don’t have to send him a whole box of clothes. We can get him to make that decision.

We’ll start to shift from doing everything for the customer to ‘we’ll do a lot of the work but now you’re going to make the decision. You trust us though, because the product that you’re seeing is relevant’.”

IRW: How do your style labs work and what role do they play in the customer journey?

WR: “We have two style labs – a pop-up in the city and we have one in our head office in Marrickville. It’s you meet your stylist one-on-one and get shown a lot more pieces. What we’re trying to do with the customer is find out why certain things aren’t working and give him that extra service. It costs them nothing more to do that.

The idea is for the customer to come in and relax with a whiskey or beer – it’s all about being in a setting that’s not like a store. We have the items ready for you when you walk in, you can bring your partner, then try the clothes on.

The technology in the style lab is interesting, too. You can see the items on a big TV, you can interact with it, you can see videos as to why certain pieces work and there’s a lot more extra information about the items

We don’t hold inventory. The customer sees the items in different sizes and interacts with the product, but he won’t walk away with the box that day. We’ll send him the product afterwards, so he doesn’t have to walk around with five bags. He can just say, ‘That’s what I want, I’m out’ and he’ll get the products the next day.

We’re definitely looking at having this concept grow. We’re about to start fundraising and this will be a key element of how we use the funds. We’re interested in expanding to southeast Asia – men have the same problems all over the world, it’s not going to change. We want to go to a market where we’re in a low competitive landscape.”

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