There won’t be any mannequins in Reformation’s new San Francisco store.
“Mannequins freak me out,” said Yael Aflalo, Reformation’s founder. “In stores, everyone does posters and prints signs and has mannequins. That’s just the way stores are, but they don’t have to be that way anymore. It’s antiquated.”
Reformation, which sells eco-friendly, on-trend clothing, launched in 2009 with an online store and a Los Angeles boutique. Since then, the brand has opened two New York stores, one in 2010 and the other in 2012. For its first new store in five years, Reformation is rethinking what the in-store experience looks and feels like by using e-commerce-enabled touch screens and fitting-room technology, and ditching old retail staples like physical signage, mannequins and cash registers.
“When you’re in a store now, it’s hard to get information quickly, and we wanted to solve that,” she said. “The entire experience is provided by technology — everything is tracked, all of the interactions are online.”
Outside Reformation’s first San Francisco store.
Customer data is the driving force for Reformation’s business model, both in store and online. Rather than investing in a set amount of inventory that will appear in the store a year and a half later, Reformation releases clothing in small batches every two to five weeks. What performs well is invested in, with more inventory in more sizes and colors. This strategy and a commitment to a transparent business model — 70 percent of products are manufactured in L.A. — has made Reformation a cult favorite, with $12 million in investment. The company doesn’t report revenue figures.
“We spend a lot of time on our digital presence, so instead of translating that into a physical experience, we have screens. We just incorporate digital into stores,” Aflalo said. “Everyone talks about being omnichannel, we’re just digital.”
Inside the Reformation store.
Aflalo said that 80 percent of Reformation’s sales come from 30 percent of its items, so those products are the ones that will be on the sales floor. The full site, including more colors and sizes, can be bought through touchscreens.In-store behavior ties into Remormation’s site analytics, giving it a web-like view of what’s being considered and then ultimately purchased.
For bigger brands, overhauling an existing network of physical stores to be tech-enabled is a massive undertaking. Rebecca Minkoff, which has four stores in the U.S., is able to outfit each one with smart fitting-room mirrors and offer self-checkout. Ralph Lauren, on the other hand, tested the same smart fitting-room technology in just two of its 490 global storefronts. Other retailers, like Bloomingdale’s and Zara, installed digital fitting-room screens in some locations to assist customers trying on items, but they’re mostly still experiments.
“In-store technology can be hugely expensive while not really increasing sales,” said Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content at Razorfish. “And a lot of them — fitting-room tech, big format touchscreens — are not likely to roll out in scale. It’s cool when you come in the first time and haven’t seen it, but by the third time, you don’t even noticed it anymore. That’s a lot of upkeep for something people don’t notice.”
Reformation doesn’t consider its in-store tech a backdrop, but rather something that shapes the experience. Customers can decide how much interaction they want to have with the store’s salespeople. If it’s none at all, they can use screens to send items to fitting rooms and order different sizes online. Checkout is the final barrier: Aflalo considered a self-checkout similar to the kind Rebecca Minkoff is testing, but decided that she wanted the store to feel high-end, not like a grocery store. Instead, she got rid of registers; Reformation shoppers can’t pay in cash, only through credit card and Apple Pay, which is orchestrated on clerks’ iPhones. It’s not dissimilar to an Apple Store experience.
“Shopping in the store happens at the same speed as shopping online, with the choice to try on. It’s important that things aren’t confusing — this is the Reformation e-commerce site in real life. There’s no confusion about what’s going on,” said Aflalo. “People get weirded out by it because it’s too simple.”