“Five years from now, people will say, ‘Remember when we had to wander malls and find our own things? That’s crazy!’”
That’s the behavior change that Eric Colson, the Chief Algorithms Officer at Stitch Fix, is betting on.
It may sound like a drastic change, but in today’s digital world, drastic change is the new normal. Small, smart, and disruptive brands with fewer resources and nothing but a powerful and inspiring idea are, almost overnight, transforming our behaviors in ways like never before. We’ve seen it with the likes of Airbnb and Dollar Shave Club. We’ve seen it with Casper and Betterment.
And now we’re seeing it with Stitch Fix, the online personalized styling service that is reinventing the fashion shopping experience.
Let’s go back to Colson’s prediction. The timeline he provided was five years.
Five years ago, Stitch Fix was hardly more than just an idea in founder Katrina Lake’s head – combine innovative technology with the personal touch of seasoned style experts to change the way people find clothes.
During those five years, she received funding but not much. With less than $50 million raised in the company’s history, she was able to grow the company at an unprecedented rate, raking in nearly a billion dollars in revenue at the end of 2017 – creating what has been dubbed the most cash-efficient e-commerce company of the decade.
And in November 2017, Katrina took the company public, making her the youngest female ever to take a company public. Which brings us to today, where Stitch Fix is using its data-driven model to spearhead the future of personalized fashion.
Five years was all it took for Katrina to turn that inspiring idea into a billion-dollar company.
OK, OK … maybe it was six years (Stitch Fix was founded in February of 2011), but you get the point!
So, how did she do it? What is Stitch Fix’s secret sauce?
Like so many other disruptors, they thought differently. They did differently.
In an era where technology is all the rage, brands everywhere are competing in a race toward lower costs and convenience in nearly every industry. Stitch Fix took a different route.
Since its inception, Stitch Fix has always been focused on the consumer, understanding that the technology itself is less important than the customer experience of the consumer through the technology. That’s not to say Stitch Fix isn’t a tech-led company, because it most certainly is, but that technology is harnessed and focused toward a different goal: personalization.
Behavior-Changing Data Science
Here’s how it works: Consumers fill out a survey, or a “style profile,” indicating their style preferences. Questions range from size, price point, and preferred colors to how often a consumer dresses for certain occasions. On average, each client provides 85 meaningful data points. Clients are even encouraged to link their Pinterest boards to their profiles. Clients then schedule a date to receive their “fix,” which can either be a monthly subscription or a la carte, an important distinction that makes Stitch Fix different from competitors.
That information is then run through a list of algorithms, which you can tour on Stitch Fix’s website here. The data then matches the customer with a human stylist, who, with the information provided, creates his or her “fix” of five items and then sends the box directly to the customer.
Once received, the customer has three days to either keep the items or return them. If the customer keeps an item, an additional styling fee of $20 is given to the stylist. If the customer decides to keep all five items, he or she receives 25 percent off the total cost of the items.
This strategic use of data is what makes Stitch Fix so unique. Merging fashion with technology, Katrina can leverage that data to make the business much more efficient. She can forecast purchasing behavior and merchandize optimization. On the consumer side, the data is used to create complex algorithms that help match customers with styles and stylists they love, and Stitch Fix has even begun experimenting with designing new styles specifically for consumers.
Stitch Fix employs over 80 data scientists with doctorates from a variety of disciplines, including astrophysics and computational neuroscience. That team is led by, you guessed it, Eric Colson. If there’s anyone who knows how to change behaviors, it’s Colson. Prior to joining Stitch Fix, Colson was the VP of data science and engineering at Netflix, where he fueled the company’s recommendation and targeting engine, helping us discover our new favorite shows and forever altering the way entertainment companies operate.
In a digital landscape that has already forced traditional brick-and-mortar retailers out of business, Stitch Fix sits in an enviable position, with an unmatched wealth of data on the changing behaviors of consumers. Stitch Fix knows what consumers like and what they don’t like, and each sale or return makes the company smarter. It’s a business model that thrives off engagement. The more feedback a consumer provides, the better suited the “fix” will be.
Stitch Fix is capturing the future. It is changing the way people shop, offering a more personalized, curated, and delightful experience and making the try-on room a thing of the past.
What you wear is an extension of your own personal brand, and consumers more than ever are going to market for guidance and help in shaping that brand. Stitch Fix delivers the type of clothing you didn’t even know you needed. It stays up on the trends for you. It takes the hours of browsing or reading up on fashion tips out of the equation and delivers it all to you in a personalized way that no other e-commerce outfit can compete with.
But it’s not all algorithms and numbers. It’s the Stitch Fix stylists that build trust and loyalty with the consumers. They take time to get to know their consumers on a personal level, leaving handwritten notes and creating the type of emotional connection that makes an otherwise digital experience feel human.
In a letter to investors, Lake said, “I founded Stitch Fix to take on a very human problem: How do I find clothes that I love? Spending a day at the mall, or devoting hours of time sifting through millions of products online is time-consuming and overwhelming and neither effective nor enjoyable. I knew there had to be another way.”
Today, Stitch Fix is another way, but in five years from now, it may be the only way.
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, once said that “a great brand is a story that never stops unfolding.” And while Stitch Fix’s story is still very much being written, the first few chapters alone have already built a story worth telling. We can’t wait to see where it goes next.
That’s why Stitch Fix is our Inspiring Action Brand of the Month!