Following success in the US, the online personal styling service Stitch Fix has launched in the UK. However, convincing consumers to change their shopping habits will be tricky – limiting its ability to make a real impact in the UK clothing market.
Stitch Fix’s new UK operation currently employs 50 personal stylists who use their expertise to offer a tailored service based on the consumer’s style profile, providing a new level of convenience for those who do not want to spend their spare time shopping. This type of service has already been highly successful within other sectors such as wine and beauty for retailers such as Birchbox, so it is unsurprising that Stitch Fix is now trying to replicate this within fashion. However, as shoppers’ personal taste is such a key factor when making clothing purchases, putting product selection into the hands of someone else will be off-putting for many.
Personalisation is a growing trend within retail and Stitch Fix is attempting to capitalise on this. It offers its service for free (as long as shoppers purchase at least GBP10 worth of products) and is flexible by allowing consumers to choose delivery frequency with no commitments. Online pureplays such as Asos, which offers some of the same brands as Stitch Fix including Whistles and Free People, could start to see shoppers wanting a similar level of tailored product suggestions. Although Asos already uses technology to present shoppers with a selection of products based on previous purchases and searches, it would be worthwhile for it to invest further to make the suggestions more curated. Stitch Fix must also adapt to ensure that other aspects of its service are on par with these online pureplays, such as its delivery and returns options, to ensure it provides convenience at all stages of the shopping journey.
Stitch Fix will struggle to be successful in the UK, unless it manages to increase its visibility to shoppers and find a way to convince them to try the service. Whereas it is already an established business in the US, most consumers in the UK will not have heard of it, which is a key hurdle it will need to address. It should invest in marketing campaigns to target shoppers and work with bloggers and influencers to promote its service. Additionally, Stitch Fix should also offer introductory discounts to encourage shoppers to try the service and build up its customer base. Stitch Fix already uses algorithms to help its personal stylists select the best products for its customers, but it must continue to invest in technology to make this process seamless and improve service times, as it currently takes up to eight days from request to delivery.
Lack of consumer interest has seen many of these types of business fail in the past, particularly in the US, such as Wardrobe Wake Up and Swag of the Month. However, Stitch Fix has been successful in the US, and is profitable, so there is hope that its model could also succeed in the UK. Established competitors such as Thread, which offers menswear, and Endource, which has an annual personal shopping subscription service called E, will be big threats for Stitch Fix as they have already developed a loyal customer base.
And, as with so many retailers, all eyes are on what Amazon does. Last month it was reported that the e-commerce giant was trialling a new service called Prime Stylist in the US, using a combination of personal stylists and artificial intelligence to provide personalised outfit selections to shoppers. If successful, it’s only a matter of time before it launches in the UK. While Stitch Fix has a head start on Amazon in the US, it needs to establish its brand in the UK quickly before Amazon has the chance to develop its offer.