Montreal-based Frank & Oak is not your average men’s clothier. Launched as an online-only company in 2012, the Canadian brand considers itself a data-driven startup.
New customers fill out an online profile listing their sizes, preferred styles and colors. Then computer algorithms, coupled with human advisers, suggest purchases.
But last year, Frank & Oak began opening physical stores and now has nine in Canada and three in the US. Each location is based on actual user data, a hybrid of geo-locating a retail environment by personal profiles.
“The more a person buys, the more bespoke their future recommendations,” notes the Globe and Mail. “It’s similar to how Netflix suggestions improve the more you watch.”
Customers can make store appointments by phone and sales associates will be ready with recommendations in the proper sizes when they arrive. “You literally have someone helping you out for half an hour,” said Ethan Song, CEO and co-founder of the e-tailer, in the Globe and Mail. “It’s highly personal. You can’t just sell a product anymore. Experience is one way that retail can innovate.”
With all things old new again, it’s reminiscent of pre-internet days when Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman all had sales associates at the ready…the big difference being the exact right goods are at the ready when the customer arrives at Frank & Oak.
Competitor Ali Asaria, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Tulip Retail, said the store experience should verge on the theatrical. “You may buy your coat online, but you might want to go into a store to try it on and feel different fabrics,” he told the Globe and Mail. “You can’t just have a store with a bunch of shelves with associates behind a counter.”
Tulip gives store associates iPads and other mobile devices to manage customer profiles, product catalogs, enable mobile POS and in-store communications. “We’re taking e-commerce-like technology and bringing it into the store,” Asaria said.
Beyond devices, retailers thinking outside the box, online and in-store are mining the troves of data consumers willingly divulge in return for personal attention.
“You do see these traditional bricks-and-mortar companies not being able to keep up with that pace of change and not being able to rewire their culture,” said Sue McGill, head of consumer and commerce at MaRS Discovery District startup incubator in Toronto. “Inevitably, they fail”
“Retail is facing a monumental problem that no one seems to want to talk about,” reports Business of Fashion. “The entire economic model of revenue and profitability for retailers and the suppliers they do business with is collapsing under its own weight and soon will no longer function.”
Business of Fashion suggests an antidote: The store becomes the media and the experience the product. “The physical store has the potential to be the most powerful and effective form of media available to a brand because it offers an experience, which if crafted properly, cannot be replicated online.”
The depth of data and technology available to craft a 360-degree view of the shopping experience, end-to-end, online and in-store, is unprecedented. Frank & Oak last year raised $15 million and is betting its combo of tech and data will produce a smooth and pleasing, personal shopping experience for each consumer.