The tech-centric approach to men’s retail

Conventional wisdom has it that men are “hunters” who shop with the desired item in mind and want to get in and out of the store quickly. For fashion, they respond to merchandising by outfit so they can see what to put with what.

According to a January report from merchandising platform First Insight titled ‘The Rise of New Male Power Shopper’, in the US, men are shopping at traditional department stores more often than are women, including for luxury brands such as Gucci and Prada.

Twenty-five per cent of men versus only 15 per cent of women reported shopping six or more times a month at mainstream department stores like Kohl’s or JC Penney.

For luxury department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci and Prada it was 19 per cent of men versus five per cent of women. Interestingly, 41 per cent of men surveyed also reported shopping at Walmart six-plus times monthly, versus 35 per cent of women. So men are doing a lot of physical store shopping – in the US at least.

In the same report – and perhaps unsurprisingly – men were embracing technology to shop at a faster rate than women, with 53 per cent of men frequent Amazon shoppers (versus 45 per cent of women), and 70 per cent of those who owned smart speakers using them to research products and pricing, versus 46 per cent of women. The percentage of men in the same study saying they never make purchases on mobile devices plunged from 48 per cent in 2017 to 18 per cent in 2018. Men were also researching pricing more than women using their devices and were constantly looking for the best deal.

Even Savile Row lives online

So men are shopping with certain retailers often, both online and in-store. When it comes to suits, they aren’t just for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Millennials are more appearance-conscious and tech-enabled. But this doesn’t mean they’re only shopping online – in fact, the opposite is the case for a number of made-to-measure menswear retailers.

In the UK, world famous Savile Row bespoke tailors are getting in on the online act. Savile Row tailor Richard James has introduced e-commerce for its ready-to-wear collection and a click-and-collect service used by younger clients, who often order multiple sizes and styles and return what they don’t want.

Matchesfashion.com – which started as Matches in Wimbledon, and subsequently expanded into upscale neighbourhoods – has gone from being totally physical stores to a 95 per cent online business in the past 10 years. However, the company has recently opened a six-floor store in ritzy Mayfair because a physical space is more personable and inviting to big spenders, a dynamic resulting in retailers such as Indochino and Institchu moving from online-only to offline.

Moving back to the real world

Moving back to the physical world takes a number of forms, such as showrooms or department store concessions, with most kitted out as a livingroom to create a sense of relaxation, with little to no inventory.

In the UK, at the Browns East showroom in Shoreditch, London, there are pieces of art and furniture (for sale) and an Instagrammable installation at the entry. Ceiling-fixtured movable railings provide flexibility for in-store events and talks, and there’s no cashier. There’s a small curated collection because any product from the website can be delivered to the store in less than 60 minutes.

Farfetch, which owns Browns, is now the world’s top luxury e-tail destination measured by traffic. It is developing tech tools for physical stores to create a seamlessly digital experience to connect shoppers with a network of independent boutiques and brands. These include a universal login that recognises a customer as he checks into the store, an RFID-enabled clothing rack that detects which products he is browsing and auto-populates his wish list, a digital mirror that allows him to view his wish list and call up items in different sizes and colours, and mobile payment.

Vancouver-based, affordable, made-to-measure menswear brand Indochino – originally an e-commerce startup in 2007 – launched its first physical showroom in 2015. It now has more than 30 showrooms in the US and is expanding globally. (It began supplying Australia directly in April this year.)

The centrally located showrooms operate by appointment and carry no inventory but present 100-plus suiting fabrics and shirt samples, resulting in thousands of available combinations. Tablet-wielding “style guides” take on the role of designer for tailor-made suits, including fabric and shirt selection and measurement. The finished product is shipped to the customer’s door three weeks later. The customer’s measurements are stored online, making for easy additional new suit or tailored shirt purchases.

Location analytics mean that store routers can identify a customer’s mobile device when it uses in-store or nearby wi-fi. It matches the device ID with databases managed by other vendors to identify and serve ads to potential customers.

Four years ago, e-commerce accounted for 75 per cent of Indochino’s sales; now 70 per cent of sales come from the showrooms. Showrooms pay back in less than a year and each new storefront builds brand awareness. After an initial sales shift from online to offline, online sales recuperate and Indochino sees an overall lift. Around 60 per cent of the retailer’s customers in 2018 were new to the brand, and mostly attributed to its physical stores and social media.

Australian made-to-measure brand Institchu recently launched a new showroom in David Jones in Sydney to complement its growing ranks of showrooms.

More categories, more choices

In 2019 Indochino is expanding into new categories, such as chinos, outerwear and more casual Untuckit-like shirts.

New York-founded Untuckit sells men’s shirts designed to be worn untucked. That is, they’re a couple of inches shorter than a regular collared shirt. Launched as an online-only business in 2010, it first ventured into physical stores in 2015 and as at late 2018 had 40 stores in the US with 15 more on the slate, and had just opened its first international physical store in Toronto. However 75 per cent of its sales are still online.

Other digital men’s apparel sellers moving into the physical space include the Walmart-owned Bonobos, with 50 “guideshops” for appointment-based fittings. The guides place the orders and the clothes are shipped to the customer’s home. In London, digital streetwear brands Supreme, Palace and Champion have set up physical stores in the Soho district.  In 2018 Louis Vuitton collaborated with Supreme for a physical-store-only, limited-edition collection.

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