Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Latest Online Shopping Thing

I had a different post in mind for tonight, but this one is based on some recent events, and is fluffy and borderline trivial, and that just feels right tonight.

So lets talk about online shopping. I've written before that I buy as much as I can online, but that I struggle with online clothes shopping. It takes me ages to find anything to buy, and then more than half of the time, the item arrives and I don't like the fit or something. I do still buy things, but only because the alternative of spending time at the mall annoys me more.

A couple of days ago, Laura Vanderkam posted about a new service she tried, called Stitch Fix. The service is an online shopping service. You fill out a questionnaire and they send you a box of five items to try. You keep what you like and send back what you don't like in a prepaid envelope that- and this is super important, because I hate having to go to the post office to send things back- you can just drop in any blue USPS mailbox.

At first I thought it was an interesting idea, but not for me. But I kept thinking about it and eventually I decided I should give it a try. I'm always saying I need more ways to turn my money into time, and if this service works out it will be brilliant. If it doesn't, I'll be out at most $20 (the fee for the item selection, which can be applied to my purchase). If it does work out, I'll probably spend more dollars per item than I usually do, but I won't have spent anywhere near as much time, and that is a good trade for me right now.

So I'm signed up on their waiting list. I'll let you know how it goes. Based on their questionnaire, I guess my preferred style is called "casual chic," whatever that means.

Then today, I followed a tweet from @codinghorror to an article about stupid things venture capitalists will fund, and the example in the article was True and Co, which has a model very similar to Stitch Fix's, but for bras. And I found that I agreed with the author that this was a bad business model.

How can I like Stitch Fix enough to actually sign up and think the True and Co idea is terrible? I think it comes down to the difference between clothes and bras. I like my clothes wardrobe to be full of various styles. I want my outfits to be relatively unique to me, maybe even interesting (not that you could tell by what I currently own, but it is true- this is one of the reasons I love buying clothes when I travel internationally). I tend to see my clothes as an expression of my personality, and I found myself drawn to the aspect of Stitch Fix that Laura aptly called "informed serendipity." My bras, on the other hand are private. I am what used to be called "well-endowed," so by necessity my first concern in a bra is structural. It is a nice plus if the bra is also attractive, but I've been burned too many times by cute bras that turned out to be so uncomfortable or unsupportive that they rarely left my drawer. I don't want surprises in my bras- I want reliable performance.

Although I will buy multiple colors of the same shirt or pants if I find something I like and would sing Hallelujah if I found a brand of pants that reliably fit and flattered me, I mostly shop for variety in clothes. In contrast, I try to find a few reliable styles of bras and then I just keep buying the same ones. There are exceptions for special occasions- but that hardly seems like a high enough volume thing to build a business around. The other problem is that while I can usually tell on the initial try on whether or not a piece of clothing will work for me, I don't really know if a bra will work until I've worn it a couple of times. So while I can easily envision figuring out which Stitch Fix selections work and sending back the ones that don't, I would worry that the True and Co selections would seem OK, I'd keep them (and pay for them), and then discover they didn't work at all. Of course, this happens with bras I buy in a store, too- but for some reason it bothers me more with the "we send you a box of stuff" method.

It seems to me that True and Co is trying to solve a problem for which there is already a fairly workable solution- I go to a store like Nordstroms and find bras that work for me. Then I go online every 3-6 months and order the same styles again. Stitch Fix, on the other hand, is solving a problem for which I have yet to find a good solution- it just takes too damn long to find clothes that I might like.

It could just be that I'm not the target market for True and Co. Maybe they are aiming at younger, single (or recently married) women, who want more variety in their undergarments. Maybe they are aiming at women who are even more adverse to going to the mall than I am. They are certainly correct that bra shopping is not something most women look forward to, so perhaps their idea will catch on. But not with me.

What about you? Do you prefer to shop online or in a physical store? Are you tempted by either Stitch Fix or True and Co?

32 comments:

  1. Oh man, Cloud, one of my shopping buddies spends her summers and winter breaks in San Diego. I could have hooked you up last week. She's amazing. Not only is she the best personal shopper ever, she also plays the couponing game and saved me something over a hundred dollars after I got up to the cash register.

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    1. Maybe next time! Even if Stitch Fix turns out to be awesome, I will almost certainly still need to do some "regular" shopping for the basics.

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  2. Engineering Elf5:39 AM

    I agree that bras are not something I want change in. I tend to go and get fitted every now and then, say after baby number 2 stopped nursing, and then re-order online when they wear out.

    Now for clothes, it is pretty niffty to be able to try things on in your home in front of your own mirror and have a pre-paid envelope to send things back, that bit is especially important because the USPS is not open when I am off work. Usually when I need to shop for clothes I shop at consignment stores so that I can get many brands at once. The mall is awful.

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    1. Yeah, after Petunia stopped nursing I went and got fitted, at two different stores. I bought something like 8 new bras. They all seemed comfortable and good in the store. In practice, I found one everyday favorite (I've already bought it again), a couple so-so ones that I wear occasionally, a couple slightly less comfortable ones that look great so get work on special occasions, and one true dud that I almost never wear because its texture shows through almost every shirt I own.

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  3. It's like an online personal shopper! My spouse's grad advisor (female) had a personal shopper at somewhere uber-fancy - Bloomingdale's, maybe? - who would send up boxes of clothes and she would send back what she didn't want. Of course, she also took an actual limousine to the airport.

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    1. I have considered using a personal shopper- it is within reach financially. But there is an initial time investment that has stopped me. The alluring thing about Stitch Fix was that the initial time investment was roughly 5 minutes. But if it doesn't work out, I may still look for a personal shopper!

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    2. If you're like me, and you are not one consistent size across your chest-waist-hips and require tailoring on most garments, then a personal shopper is probably a better investment of your time/money -- unless the online retailer takes your actual measurements into account and would also handle the tailoring.

      A "personal shopper" could be a store employee, or a stylish friend (like @nicoleandmaggie's) who will take you to Nordstrom or Banana Republic. Highly recommended.

      This all depends, of course, on how sharp you need to look for work. I wish we had a Men's Wearhouse for women - they handle it all, soup to nuts (no pun intended).

      I think most professional women tend to make the fashion mistake of clothes not being form fitting enough, i.e. making them appear "frumpy."

      Agree with you totally on why the online bra retailer model would not work for me. At. All.

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    3. Tailoring is awesome. Unfortunately, I have a three year old suit that I still need to get the pants hemmed on before I can wear it. Maybe I *should* make a few New Year's resolutions (1. haircut, 2. flu shot, 3. get those darn pants hemmed).

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    4. @Hush- I'm a fairly standard hourglass who has regrettably expanded in all dimensions lately.... :)

      I have often lamented the lack of a "Women's Wearhouse," particularly for suits. Shopping for suits is particularly painful, because they almost always need tailoring. I hate the hassle of finding a tailor, getting fitted, etc., etc. I generally end up at Nordstrom's and use their tailor, but I've had mixed luck.

      My biggest problem in traditional business attire is that I cannot find button up shirts that actually fit. They almost always gap and/or pull at the chest. So I mostly avoid them.

      My current workplace does not require business dress. Most of my colleagues wear jeans. My boss wears jeans with holes in them. I could, too, but I prefer to wear something a little nicer.

      From a wider career standpoint, I think there is some advantage to being able to dress sharply in my field- but the only time I wear a suit is for an interview. I have a bunch leftover from when I was a consultant and would get the occasional contract at a formal attire place. I've given most of them away, but hung onto a few for interviews and the like.

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    5. The sad thing about my unhemmed suit is that it's Brooks Brothers, which means they do the hemming for free, but with a delay... and I wasn't going to be able to pick it up after they hemmed it. :( If only I lived in a city!

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  4. Wow, I love the idea of Stitch Fix, and if I lived in the US I would be really tempted to try it out. Bras, not so much, I'm in exactly the same boat you are, they are structural support only and I'm not really interested in having a huge variety - but I suspect that if I dressed differently, and were in the situation that some bras didn't work with some outfits I might feel differently.

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  5. For some reason Stich Fix didn't seem like something I would use but I signed up for PV Body http://www.pvbody.com/ right before Christmas because I wanted to get back into to doing yoga and I owned all of 1 piece of exercise clothing. I really liked my first shipment and I've even bought a set of yoga classes at the studio around the corner. Now to put all the pieces together and actually go...

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  6. To answer the question... I don't really need any more clothes now. I tend to buy a huge amount once every few years with the help of a friend, rather than drips and drabs. For my first pregnancy, I bought lots of maternity clothing, which is basically an entire wardrobe that someone else put together for themselves.

    So I don't think a shopping service like the one described would help much. I do like the ebay people who put entire wardrobes together like a personal shopper would, but never wanted to spend the money to pull the trigger, and I see my shopping buddies often enough that I haven't had to.

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  7. Cloud, I hope you'll blog about your "fix" when it comes. I've gone the personal shopper route, and the Stitch Fix route, and I don't see them as mutually exclusive. I'll probably do both again (I've scheduled my next Fix for February, and asked them to do pants and skirts, which will probably have a higher miss rate, but is desperately needed). I view shopping and putting together a wardrobe as somewhat like building a website. It's how I look to the world. I could, with enough time and practice, probably do an OK job myself on finding visuals that work and pulling them together but I have 3 kids, too many projects on my plate and an interest in using my free time for other things. If I can pay other people to do things that aren't my core competencies, and I have the money to do so, why wouldn't I?

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    1. I agree, I think using a personal shopper and using something like Stitch Fix could coexist. I really should get over whatever my hang up is and find a good personal shopper! Also someone to tell me how I should do my hair. From recent pictures, I think that needs to change- but I'm not sure how.

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    2. My hair hasn't been cut since well before the baby was born which is why I look awful now. BUT...

      When I do get my hair cut, even though I have straight hair, I go with someone recommended on naturally curly http://www.naturallycurly.com/topics/view/stylist-salon-finder . So far that has always resulted in a true hair-cutting artist who can look at my face and come up with something to my specifications (that is: makes me look like a grown-up, minimizes my round face, just needs a little brushing in the morning and grows out without looking bizarre-- no other instructions). I guess if they can help naturally curly folks, they can do anything. I've had some pretty amazing haircuts.

      I really wanted to get my hair cut at some place in the Italian district in San Diego last week but never had time.

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  8. SF sounds brilliant for those with little time or desire to shop. I love to shop so even when I am super busy will always find time to do it, although to be honest, I don't need anything really. I teach ESL in a small relaxed English school where little is placed on appearance. Teachers can get away with almost anything, so I tend to go the neat casual route, which means I am often the most dressed up in a pair of jeans and a nice top. In summer I have even seen Crocs and flip flops! And this is London for goodness sake.

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  9. scantee12:48 PM

    I'm very intrigued by the idea of Stitch Fix and will try it out (any idea how long it takes to get off the waiting list?). Bras, not so much, for the reasons you describe.

    I love the convenience of shopping online but I have a difficult time finding clothes that fit me so I end up sending a lot back. I know a few women of different sizes who have the shape of a fit model and they almost always are able to buy something based on size and have it fit. That certainly would be nice.

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    1. Their website says a few weeks for the waiting list. Laura Vanderkam's post said it took her closer to two months. I'll let you guys know when I get off the list!

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  10. Anonymous2:02 PM

    For me, the appeal of the True & Co. model is that they will sift through the vast array of unreliably sized bras for me and find the ones that have the best chance of actually fitting me. I'm pretty small, and my main issue with bras is fit - in particular, I don't want a huge gap in the upper part of the cup. Small cup size bras are extremely irregular in my experience, and I have little to no sense for what will fit me based on how it looks on a hanger. If True & Co. could use my measurements to identify bras that fit me, it would be a miracle. And it would be a refreshing change to be able to choose based on other factors, like style, instead of being stuck with the 1-2 that fit.

    Stitch Fix, on the other hand, doesn't sound as appealing to me. I guess I don't have as much trouble finding clothes I like!

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  11. i have pretty much my own version of that. Just bought ton of stuff online at old navy, gap, piperlime, target etc same items, multiple sizes. All these sites offer free returns. YAY

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    1. Yes, but the returns require I go to the post office. Major pain. More often than not, I just end up keeping the thing I ordered and don't really like- or I give it away. Not the best system!

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    2. hmmmm I just leave mine for the postal carrier :)

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  12. I think Stitch Fix sounds like a good idea if you hate shopping and everyone could probably use some help in putting outfits together. However, I would really need to know what brands they sell, as I'm picky about that. I don't like shopping but I guess I don't hate it enough to outsource all the fun of picking / choosing. Many stores have free returns so that's what I do if I'm short on time.

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    1. See, I don't find the picking/choosing to be fun anymore- not at all! I find the need to shop for clothes to be a gigantic PITA and would happily avoid it altogether.

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  13. If anyone wants to try it out, they sent me a referral link:
    http://stitchfix.com/sign_up?referrer_id=3042032.

    I get $25 credit for each person who uses it and signs up. But I can certainly afford my own clothes, so don't feel obliged to use it!

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  14. I love the idea of StitchFix. One question: do you get to specify your pricerange, such as what you are willing to spend for a shirt, for pants, etc? I went to the website but I didn't see that information.

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    1. They let you specify price ranges for different types of clothes, but the lowest price range is $50-$100. So this is probably not a service for the super price conscious. I tend to prefer fewer pieces of higher quality over more pieces that are cheaper, so this isn't a problem for me.

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    2. Ouch!

      My shopping sprees since getting a real job have been at Ann Taylor Loft (which fits my shape better than Ann Taylor, though I have a bunch of Ann Taylor tops), Premium outlet malls, and Brooks Brothers but only during their 50-80% off sales (which happen 2x a year). The most expensive things I can get are then in the $50-100 range. Everything I own for work is high quality, just bought on sale when the seasons change, in Jan or the spring/summer sale times. I'll get a completely new wardrobe for $300-$600 dollars. (And then a week later find out I'm pregnant... that's happened 2x.)

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    3. Ann Taylor Loft used to work really well for me, but hasn't lately. I don't have the patience required for shopping at outlet malls, but I used to. These days, I'm most likely to go to Nordstroms and buy things, and unless I happen to hit a sale, $50-100 is about what I spend. Except on t-shirts, which are usually closer to $20.

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    4. That's where the shopping buddy comes in... navigating. One day at the outlet mall during one of their big sales and several hundred dollars later, you're set... at least until you get the positive pregnancy test. I'm looking forward to some of the tops that never got worn from the last shopping trip. (And IIRC, we did Ann Taylor, Loft, Banana Republic, and a shoe store at the outlet this last time, with the bulk of purchases at Loft. Previously there was also a GAP stop and maybe American Apparel or something.)

      If you only shop 1x/year or 1x every 3-5 years, it's probably best to do it when everybody is having a big sale.

      Man, I hate clothes shopping, but when stuff gets ragged, something has to be done and I'd rather do it in one fell swoop. I have some really nice Ann Taylor things that were on close-out at under $10/shirt. If you don't live on the East coast, nobody knows that you're wearing last season's color.

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  15. So I'm signed up on their waiting list. I'll let you know how it goes. Based on their questionnaire, I guess my preferred style is called "casual chic," whatever that means.Old Navy survey

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