If you're an aspiring e-commerce entrepreneur, you may want to model your approach on up-and-coming menswear brand J.Hilburn. The six-year-old custom retailer says it doubled its yearly revenue to $27.75 million in 2012 and expects to surpass $55 million this year. At the heart of its success is old-fashioned attention to detail combined with cutting-edge technology.
The Dallas-based company first launched in 2007 as a men's custom shirt maker, but has since expanded to slacks, suits and more casual wear, such as polo t-shirts and sweaters. By shrinking the supply chain, or cutting out the retail storefront, prices are significantly lower than at other custom clothiers. A shirt that runs for $119 on JHilburn.com would typically cost $325 at a traditional retailer, for example, and an $800 custom J.Hilburn jacket would be as much as $2,800 at a department store. And with direct-sale representatives that come to your house to take your measurements, Avon-style, men don’t have to leave the living room to shop.
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“Most guys are more than willing to actually take the time to get measured if they know it is going to be custom fit for them, because they can’t get that anywhere else,” says Hil Davis, the company’s founder and chief executive. Men like that they can be fitted once and then have their measurements be used to create any number of combinations and permutations of outfits, says Davis.
As more consumers move to online shopping, more entrepreneurs are racing to capitalize with online stores. The key to success? It’s all about personalization, says Davis. If your e-commerce site is going to be competitive, your customers have to feel like one in a million.
Here are his five best strategies for giving customers exactly what they want:
1. The ultimate personalization trend: fit. Clothes have to fit. Small, medium and large don’t cut it anymore. J.Hilburn stylists, who work on commission, go to the homes of new customers and take their measurements. The customers' measurements are then used for all custom-made clothes they order on J.Hilburn.com. Currently, one quarter of J.Hilburn’s revenue comes from ready-to-wear clothes, like polo shirts and sweaters in pre-existing sizes. In the next three years, J.Hilburn will have 50 specialized sizes, says Davis. Depending on the item and how you want it to fit, the website will direct you to the best subsize.
2. Curate the welcome page for each customer. In the next year, J.Hilburn expects to launch a new homepage that gives each customer his own digital closet. The curated homepage will display purchases the customer has previously made. It will also recommend items based on both his preferences and what would match the clothes already in his closet. Ideally, customers will not even have to login to get to their custom welcome pages, says Davis. If you go to J.Hilburn.com from a computer you have already used to shop the site, then the computer will remember you, he says.
3. Offer your customers limited-edition products, based on what you already know about them. To help consumers feel that they are getting something truly unique, J.Hilburn will begin offering limited-edition products targeted to customers' individual preferences. The company plans to begin making shirts in batches of 250 at a time. Men will get an exclusive offer and a notice that they are receiving a limited-edition purchase. What's more, J.Hilburn plans to limit the number of shirts offered in each major city. Our goal is to let them know that we are making products that stand out, says Davis. "When you walk through the streets of New York, if you see one shirt like [yours], it is going to be because they came in from San Francisco and happened to buy that same shirt."
4. E-commerce websites should seek out a physical presence. Even if you aren’t using the direct-sales model like Avon or J.Hilburn, it's important to get close to your customer. Some larger retail operations are opening temporary pop-up stores, like Kate Spade did in New York City in July. “Everyone realizes that the big box is not going to be there anymore, the urban box has limitations, and so they are going to have to come out and try to get into all of these smaller cities,” says Davis. Going forward, retailers are going to have to both reach the consumer online, through an e-commerce site, and on the ground, with local retail shops, says Davis.
5. Don’t waste your customers' time. “There is so much overload of e-commerce that now people want to get there, get in and get out,” says Davis. If you can make shopping faster for your customers, and make it individually tailored to each particular customer, “that is who is going to win the battle in e-commerce, because that is going to be where the customer always goes,” he says. One challenge for smaller entrepreneurs, says Davis, is competing with e-commerce giants like Amazon that are increasingly gunning for same-day delivery. As a custom clothier, JHilburn.com customers do not expect overnight shipping, but they do save men time by sending stylists to the customer for fittings, storing customer’s measurements for them and suggesting matching outfits.