Ankush Sehgal, CEO of the financial service Try, wants to create an online shopping experience that emulates brick-and-mortar, including the ability to try on clothing without a fee.

“If you walk into a store, and you pick five or six items from the shelf, and you walk into a fitting room, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, can I afford these six items right now?’” he said. “It would be crazy if you had to pay before trying clothes on.”

However, this is how online shopping often works: Shoppers select a few styles and sizes, keep what they like and return the rest — occasionally waiting weeks for a refund to hit their bank account. In an attempt to solve this issue, Sehgal created Try, a service that shoulders the upfront cost, giving shoppers the ability to order clothes online from any retailer and try it on at home first before making a purchase. Though Try first launched as a desktop extension in 2015, the company released its first mobile app this week.

While Sehgal concedes that the model itself isn’t particularly new, he said it has an edge over companies like StitchFix in that it bypasses the use of pre-set boxes and stylist recommendations. Also, unlike Prime Wardrobe, it offers styles beyond the limited number of brands available on Amazon.

“Amazon Prime Wardrobe works for Amazon Fashion, and — as you know — not everyone wants to work with Amazon Fashion,” he said. “Plenty of brands will sell on Amazon, but there are plenty of brands that don’t.”

The company operates using a subscription model, where an annual fee of $49 allows users to test up to five items at a time, free of charge. (Or, users can opt to pay $99 for ten items.) They are given seven days from the time a garment is delivered to make a final decision on a purchase, and are required to follow the respective return policies, involving handling any fees. The company makes additional revenue through affiliate programs with retail partners, though Sehgal did not disclose which brands. (He also declined to comment on the number of subscribers using Try.)

Try — which is currently built into American Express, Mastercard and Visa payment networks — benefits retailers by increasing the propensity to shop through reducing the upfront barrier costs to entry. So far, the average user is trying on $500-$600 worth of clothing a month through Try, while avoiding having to pay all of that outright and spending only on the products they want. Now, with Try’s mobile app, Sehgal said the goal is to also to help drive mobile conversions. Depending on the retailer, he said, the company has seen conversion rates as high as four times the average for the brand.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 4.01.15 PM

The Try mobile app

While Sehgal said Try is now poised to scale, gaining access to the entire digital retail realm was a significant challenge. In the beginning, Try functioned as a Google Chrome extension that users could access while shopping on one of 20 participating sites. If a shopper saw a coat they liked on Asos, for example, they could open the extension and hit a button that read, “Try for free.” Then Sehgal and his brother Arush, co-founder of Try, would charge their own personal credit cards to purchase items for clients, essentially serving as a temporary loan of financial hold. They quickly found the model to be deeply unsustainable with limited lines of credit.

“We didn’t have enough money to buy these products. We had five different credit cards each,” he said. “But we knew this is something people really want, and we were finding they ended up buying more [with our services]. Enabling “try for free” had a really positive impact on personal [shopping] behavior.”

The pair took the idea to Silicon Valley and worked with the tech industry’s best and brightest, determining the key would be to essentially transform the company into a financial technology business. Sehgal described Try as a service akin to Paypal, but said “there’s no actual payment.”

“It’s like shoppers use [Try’s] credit card,” until they make a final decision on a garment, he said.

The company is reminiscent of emerging payment models like Affirm, a high-interest financial service that essentially provides loans to shoppers so they can buy products. By employing a soft credit check, it grants varying lines of credit and allows shoppers to make payments in installments, as a means of alleviating the financial burden of making an expensive purchase.

“Our goal is to be the app on your home screen for all of your financial needs,” Affirm co-founder Max Levchin told Racked. “We are starting by reinventing credit because we believe it is fundamentally broken.”

Ultimately, Sehgal’s goal is to transform the current e-commerce model and set a new precedent for how people shop online.

“When Zappos launched in 1999, they came and said, ‘All our customers can get free shipping and free returns.’ It set the bar for e-commerce,” he said. “We want to reset the bar of the customer experience.”

Image courtesy of Try