Marketing

Stitching themselves up some custom

Updated on: Sep 15, 2016
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A clutch of online businesses is attempting to customise apparel and accessories

Gurugram-based homemaker Jyoti Raman doesn’t like shopping for apparel online. “I can’t feel the fabric. And if it doesn’t fit I’ll have to initiate the return process, and that’s all too cumbersome,” she adds.

Looking to draw in such customers, mass apparel e-commerce giant Myntra.com recently started its try-on delivery service, where customers can try their clothes upon delivery and return them immediately if they don’t fit. But even that doesn’t satisfy the likes of Raman.

“What if they don’t have my size to begin with?,” she argues. After all, sizing across brands, sometimes even within the same one, is inconsistent. Enter customised online apparel retail which hopes to get around this problem.

Made to order

Now, anything from a suit, shirt and saree blouse to a pair of shoes and a handbag can be custom-made online.

House Of Blouse is an online-only store where customers can not only design their own blouses but select the fabric, style and detailing and have it measured to size using a responsive form (available as a web application) but also choose from available and existing styles. Once it is ready, the product is shipped to the customer’s doorstep. Likewise, Talons d’ Or offers a similar service with shoes.

House of Blouse works on the principle of ‘mass customisation’, making customisaiton accessible and affordable to everyone, explains Rachana Reddy, founder/CEO, House of Blouse.

And customisation has found many takers, claims Reddy.

“We have seen an incredible growth of almost 900 per cent over the last 12 months so, yes, I can confidently say that we have quite a few takers which I believe will only greatly grow in the next few years,” she says.

Almost 40 per cent of House of Blouse’s customers are abroad, and its biggest market is the US. “In India, apart from tier 1 cities, we get orders from very remote villages and towns who do not have access to this ease of customisation or range of products, despite the tailor at the end of the road,” she says. That, to Reddy, says a lot about the potential this business holds.

Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director at brand consultancy Landor Associates, observes that this kind of service innovation has the potential to be a disruptor in the sector.

Having said this, building the back end to deliver a holistic and seamless experience across all the touch points, she believes, will determine the service’s success rate.

Many takers

Until now, only menswear was being customised online, says House of Blouse’s Reddy. “Especially in blouses, no one had ever heard of customising the design and size online,” says Reddy.

At present, House of Blouse deals only with blouses and tops, but plans to extend the service to dresses, sarees, skirts and kurtas.

Constraints

Despite being a large opportunity there are constraints from a business and service delivery angle, believes Nidhi Agarwal, Founder & CEO of Kaaryah, a premium brand of women’s Westernwear. To surmount the sizing problem, this business opted to innovate with the existing sizing chart, by providing not just six but 18 size options.

“Indian customers are finicky about custom fits because they are used to a local tailor to get the right fit,” Agarwal explains.

Owing to how many tries it would perhaps take to provide a custom fit, customisation is a challenge and would pose a threat to being unit economics-positive, because of increased logistics cost per customer (multiple rounds of back and forth), says Agarwal. “We experienced this for real in our early months. “ Moreover, given this to and fro, the customer’s brand experience would be less than satisfactory, explains Agarwal.

She adds: “Returns are a reality in a custom-fit business. You want to build a relationship with the customer so this “unconditional” return service is warranted. In that case, risk of losses from scrapped return, where even standard fit products return at 10-30 per cent (industry standard) is a large threat to sustainability.” The gap she saw came at a price point that could not prudently accommodate both of the above, she says.

Landor’s Raghavan says these services might actually require more work than the customer is willing to pay for. “I would rather spend the time, though time-starved, to go to a tailor who can take my measurements rather than take it myself and submit online.” At House of Blouse, a customer can actually send in a blouse that fits her well. “If brands pay attention to customer pain points and innovate to address them, their ability to attract more customers will increase,” she observes.

Raghavan lists trust as another limitation. “Do I trust these brands to actually deliver to me? Trust will be based on my first experience,” she adds.

A third barrier is scalability, according to her. “Can these brands deliver consistent service even if the volumes ramp up? After a big ad blitz, for example?”

House of Blouse’s Reddy has first-hand insight to share when it comes to listing the challenges of customisation and how the brand has tried to cope with them.

“Since 80 per cent of our products are custom-designed/made to order, we face challenges in keeping up with sizing, quality, delivery timelines and technology,” she says. “We have three great sizing methods which keep our returns very minimal. We have two kinds of deliveries - 7-day rush and 15-day default and we have to be on our toes to keep up with the timelines,” Reddy adds.

A leap of faith

Despite the challenges, Kaaryah’s portfolio has expanded to include personalisation.

“We figured personalisation was a good way to: Address a broader base of customers at a market-given price; lead to a net realised rate positive unit with every shipment; deliver a true brand experience given that the customer would get what she wished for and nothing was left to interpretation; the outfit would be “her best fit”, and uniquely so, she adds.

Perhaps, then, customisation is the next frontier when it comes to mass e-commerce retail in India. Only time will tell though if the likes of Amazon and Flipkart will consider jumping on to the custom wagon.

Published on March 10, 2018

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