Fear Of Shopping: One Man’s Journey

Don Gordon

One great advantage of working at home—which I did for several years—is that you don’t need to think much about your appearance. Of course, you may suffer minor embarrassments like realizing, while walking the dog, that you’re still wearing yesterday’s pajamas. But the only time I really worried about whether I looked presentable was when I heard my wife’s car pulling up the driveway.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the home office is you are freed from the crippling anxiety of shopping for clothes – an activity I might find more enjoyable if I were 20 years younger, 15 pounds lighter, and tall enough to be even a little bit dangerous in a half-court basketball game. Instead, the experience of pawing through racks of slim-cut slacks while a sales clerk stands skeptically by can verge on the humiliating.

Of course, when you return to an office environment, as I did recently, you suddenly realize you haven’t got a damn thing to wear. The suit you wore in 1997 has lapels so wide they actually reside in different zip codes. The shoes that looked so snappy when you got married are now described by your son as “kinda dorky.”

So where does a geezer turn? Desperate for help, I consulted my most trusted advisor. No, not my wife – the Internet! One of the first sites I consulted was Trunk Club, a service started by Brian Spaly (also a co-founder of Bonobos) and purchased a couple of years ago by Nordstrom. As I drifted around the site, hoping anxiously not to be noticed, a chat window popped up and an actual person starting asking questions like, “How’s it going?” and “Can I interest you in a $10,000 sportcoat?”

Okay, that’s not entirely true. But over the course of the chat, I explained my dilemma, and the “stylist” with whom I was chatting offered to call me directly so she could explain how Trunk Club works. Essentially, what happens is this: You spend some time on the phone with the stylist, describing yourself, your wardrobe, and your current sartorial requirements. A couple days later, a large box appears at the door. At this point your family may appear, thinking you’ve bought them a present.

There’s all sorts of cool stuff in the box – shoes, jackets, jeans, belts – and all you have to do is try everything on. There’s no obligation to buy anything. I ended up keeping a shirt and a pair of socks. For items you don’t like, just return them in the original box (Trunk Club provides a pre-paid mailing label). The main thing is to let your stylist know why you didn’t like certain items – i.e., the fit, the style, or the color. That helps the stylist increase the number of items you like in each successive trunk. Then the issue shifts from “I don’t have anything to wear” to “I need a second job to pay for all this selvedge denim.”

Another site I discovered, with an entirely different business model, is Gustin. What’s immediately appealing about its clothes is that they are beautifully crafted and surprisingly affordable. (Many of the items are produced in the U.S., which is also unusual.)

How does Gustin do it? Low volume! Basically, Gustin will post the specs for an item but only produce it only if a certain number of people agree to buy it. Suppose, for example, you commit to buy a shirt you like. Not unlike Kickstarter, the site might indicate that the item is 60% committed, with 5 days left in the campaign. You’ll then get an email letting you know when the item is fully funded and when to expect its arrival.

I’ve bought three or four items from Gustin, and whether it’s a pair of shoes or a plain white t-shirt, the quality is impeccable. Also, I have yet to commit to an item that didn’t end up getting funded and produced.

For Gustin, there are obvious advantages to this business model – the company isn’t assuming the risk of producing and warehousing clothes that no one ends up buying. I’m not sure how easy it would be to scale the model, but it’s the kind of experiment that larger CPG companies should keep an eye on.

The final clothier I will mention is Proper Cloth, a shirtmaker based in New York. In this case, you actually go in for a measurement (or provide one online), and one of its factories in Malaysia will make a shirt to your exact specifications and send it directly to you. There are hundreds of fabrics and patterns to choose from, and you can even specify details such as thicker buttons, a longer shirttail, or a cuff big enough to accommodate a watch. If the shirt fits – as they say – you are good to go; if not, send it back and Proper Cloth will adjust it based on digital photos you provide. Next time you want another item made, the company has your details on file.

Each of these brands is based on a distinct insight about customer buying habits, and each employs an innovative digital model. Take our digital readiness survey to find out how your organization can pursue its own customer-first innovations.

About Don Gordon

Don Gordon leads global Consumer Products industry marketing for SAP. Previously he led global Retail industry marketing for IBM. He lives in Philadelphia, considered by many to be the finest city on earth.