Fashion Briefing: How brands are gaming the crowdsourcing process

This week, a spotlight on how fashion companies are gaming crowdsourcing and making use of customer feedback.

People are both spending more time on their mobile screens and engaging in online gaming. For fashion brands and retailers, it’s a much-needed opportunity to crowdsource.

The past year has left many fashion companies with an abundance of unsold inventory, spotlighting the need for them to make smarter production decisions — for sustainability, yes, but even more so for survival. Now, they’re aiming to be smarter about production, including eliminating the risk of investing in any one style. Accurate data on what will fly among their customers is in demand, and tech companies attuned to digital trends are sprouting up to provide it. 

In this space, “the Tinder of” is the new “the Warby Parker of,” with competing tech companies stressing the intuitive nature of their feedback tools, thanks to a swipe-to-see-the-next-one functionality. The founders of a standout company called Swytchback, which launched in 2016 and calls Gap, Levi’s and Nordstrom customers, describes itself as “Tinder meets Survey Monkey.” Its client Claire Powelll, an executive at German jewelry manufacturer Beeline, said Swytchback is “the Tinder of product development.” And then there’s marketplace Fashwire, which hosts a voting system centered on shoppers choosing a heart or “X,” based on whether or not they like a style. Founder Kimberly Carney refers to the company as “the Tinder of fashion.”  

Brands have increasingly used emailed surveys and Instagram polls to gauge their customers’ appetite for pending styles or to select product details, like color. Not only does that provide a good indicator of what will sell, but it also fosters community. But at the same time, the surveyed pool is limited to consumers already within the brand’s periphery. And increasingly, the timetables of traditional crowdsourcing vendors don’t gel with a brand’s own. 

“Product development cycles and processes are really quite tight as they are, and every brand is looking to get quicker; no one’s looking to add six weeks to the product development lead time to accommodate [a focus group],” said Powell. 

She said that, using Swytchback, Beeline can show product CADs to customers and get their reaction within two days before turning them into samples. She works on Swytchback’s self-serve platform, allowing her to clone surveys, tweak questions, load imagery and move. Swytchback charged Beeline an undisclosed fee at the start of the partnership, and Beeline now pays a fee per survey respondent, Powell said.

“We have really talented designers and lots of tools to influence design, like trend [forecasting] through WGSN. But there’s nothing quite like putting a product in front of consumers and saying, ‘Hey, would you buy it?’” she said.

Swytchback’s approach to surveying consumers typically takes one of three forms, each focused on images and offering their own incentive for panelists: It contacts the brand’s email list or targets fitting consumer profiles on social networks, offering a chance to win a gift card to the hosting brand or Amazon. Or it gets in front of relevant consumers by integrating a survey into a game like Sudoku, for example, that serves as a way to advance or earn credits. Respondents weigh in on about 30 images via a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and are asked to provide a reason for their vote for the last five images. Completion rate is 93-94%, said Bruce Bower, Swytchback founder and CEO. 

In October 2019, Swytchback started working with Gap to bring data into the concept stage of its seasonal design process, which is driven by designers’ instincts. To do so, Gap provided Swytchback with 264 of its designers’ fall 2020 inspiration images, plucked from Instagram and fashion magazines. Swytchback targeted consumers fitting Gap’s defined specifications, securing 6,000 respondents. Each image was voted on at least 300 times. It teamed with Gap again in summer 2020 and showed that sentiment around final products closely aligned with product sales: Top-selling styles were liked by over 75% of respondents, while the lowest-performing styles were liked by less than 30%.

Bower said companies often have concerns about providing peeks at products that are still in development. That was the case when it worked with gaming platform EA to test new imagery and with Pringles on a Super Bowl ad. Swytchback’s solve to date has been to “flood the zone” with options, preventing a panelist from determining what the brand is testing. In the future, it may add “holographic techniques” to images, to prevent a clear look, or incorporate NDA agreements and watermarks to prevent redistribution. “The more specifics you can provide on a design, the better the data — but also the more risk there is,” he said.

While Swytchback started working with brands during their product design or development phase, it’s since been pulled into tests around both product positioning and bargain positioning. An example of the latter: Beeline used the Swytchback platform to determine target customers’ purchase intent of products at various prices, thereby maximizing revenue potential. Swytchback is also starting to work with brands to pinpoint fitting celebrities for partnerships, based on audience perception that the person would, indeed, endorse its products. 

“Increasingly, people are making purchase decisions by looking at imagery on their phone,” said Bower. He added that his co-founder, Cole Patterson, worked on Snapchat’s predecessor Picaboo, while at Stanford. “The format we support is very familiar to younger audiences.”

Survey images can be tagged for product attributes including color, cut and fit — as well as featured model ethnicity and location, to eliminate biases. Bower said the location of panelists is factored in, which can help brands to customize distribution. 

And the data provided works to give merchants confidence and to push ideas forward within companies, said Powell. But, she was quick to note that data can’t drive everything. 

It’s never the be-all, end-all deciding factor of whether we’ll launch a product or into a category,” she said. “Instead, we learn from it — where we should do more, invest more. It’s an extra voice in the mix.” 

Gaming features are fueling the success of fashion apps

Fashion marketplaces that feature emoji-based voting on styles, both to personalize shoppers’ assortment and to provide designers with valuable data, have seen heightened engagement since March 2020. 

Luxury fashion app The Yes, launched in May 2020, has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. On average, each user has submitted 122 “yes” or “no” votes, bringing the total to 7.2 million votes. In addition, they spend 10-13 minutes per session and 50-70 minutes per week engaging on the platform.

“The more actions the shopper takes on the app, the more [personalized] her shopping experience becomes,” said Julie Bornstein, founder and CEO of The Yes. “With this in mind, we built the [customer] quiz and the yes-or-no feature to be fun and engaging, and feel very game-like.”

According to Bornstein, The Yes provides brands with information on the shoppers who vote on their styles, along with how they vote, using details submitted by the customer when they first access The Yes. That includes their color preferences and sizing information. 

For its part, Fashwire, which launched in 2018 and has seen more than 200,000 downloads, now averages 300,000 swipes, or votes, per month. That’s up 100,000 per month since the start of the pandemic, said founder Kimberly Carney.

“The [customer] is all about the gamification first,” she said. “They’re spending a lot of time swiping left and right, and then they’re finally going back and clicking into a product page to actually shop.”

Carney calls Fashwire a “two-sided marketplace,” in that it serves both customers and partner brands like AG — the latter, via the data it provides them. 

“We’re navigating customer demand and [helping] brands to improve their margins and profitability,” she said. 

How The Label leveraged Stitch Fix’s client feedback

Earlier this week, Stitch Fix launched a five-piece capsule collection with NYC-based The Label, making the brand’s signature athleisure styles available in extended sizes for the first time. 

The partnership allowed The Label to leverage Stitch Fix’s expertise and data around product fit, sizing, fabrication, color and trends. It also allowed for detailed client feedback, based on a trial run of selling the styles via Stitch Fix’s fall 2020 season. In addition, Stitch Fix shared its Plus Body Growth Chart, allowing The Label to build out its plus-sizing from the ground up, rather than “grade up” from its existing sizes.

Based on Stitch Fix’s data showing that people outside of New York like to wear color, The Label expanded the color offerings of its styles beyond neutrals. Stitch Fix also defined a white space in the market for popular fleece styles in plus sizes, like quarter-zip sweatshirts and shorts, which The Label’s capsule eventually filled. As for the results of the trial, customers communicated that they’d prefer styles with softer fleece, as well as a looser fit: Fifty-seven percent said the joggers were too tight, and 30% of said the sweatshirts were too small, said Loretta Choy, gm of women’s at Stitch Fix. The collection that launched this week was updated accordingly.

“Stitch Fix’s customer feedback is more honest and detailed than our own customer data,” said Valeria Veras, co-founder of The Label. “We have never received this level of detailed feedback on our pieces. The data [will help us] to better serve our current and future customers’ needs.” 

According to Choy, “Over 85% of clients voluntarily share detailed feedback on the items in their Fix, whether they keep or return pieces, in areas including fit, style, size — down to exactly where it was too big or small.” 

Veras said The Label will incorporate learnings from the Stitch Fix collab in its core collection. And she hopes to incorporate the Stitch Fix-exclusive styles into the core The Label brand in the future. 

That’s common, said Choy: “We have a plus-specific design team that introduced our unique plus fit for our exclusive brands, and also works closely with partner brands to both launch extended sizing and refine the fit of existing plus styles. We’re always learning from our clients, in terms of new styles they want to wear and their preferred fit, and we update our fit grading accordingly.”

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