Since September 2015, Fabletics has opened 24 retail stores, while the lion’s share of its self-reported $250 million in annual revenue is still coming from the brand’s online shop.
For president Gregg Throgmartin, it doesn’t matter where customers are actually making purchases, be it in store, online or on their phones. He plans to keep opening stores, thanks to the consistent flow of customer interaction and insight that comes with them; they’ve changed how the company designs its monthly collections, improves upon existing designs and drives education about the brand’s membership model.
“Our first question when someone walks into a store is, ‘Are you a member?’ If they are, we want to get them checked in so we can connect their in-store behavior to their online profile,” said Throgmartin. “If someone isn’t, they can sign in as a guest or just shop.”
Fabletics’ parent TechStyle also owns similarly-modeled brands JustFab, ShoeDazzle and FabKids. It has established a somewhat controversial business model for e-commerce. “VIP Members,” what it calls its monthly subscribers, don’t pay a membership fee, but see lower prices for products than non-members. The catch: Each month, members must waive a purchase if they don’t want to shop, otherwise they’ll be charged $50 that is then credited to their account. According to the company, 1.2 million people in eight countries are active members.
The model has come under fire as a scam to get people to unknowingly pay money. But Fabletics, the first of the TechStyle brands to venture into stores, is hoping to help normalize the model by building brand awareness through its physical locations. (It also helps that actress Kate Hudson is a recognizable co-founder.) In stores, members receive added benefits like free workout classes, plus the ability to opt out of purchases and make returns and exchanges at any location. New customers, on the other hand, can touch and see product in person and learn more about the membership model from store employees — or they can just make a single, no-membership purchase and move on.
Basically, every physical location is a vouch of validation that goes a step further than Hudson’s presence in the brand’s TV ads.
“Everything in the store is another touchpoint of access, credibility and education. An in-store presence alone builds credibility,” said Throgmartin.
That education is taking place internally, too. TechStyle’s headquarters are set up so that 70 percent of its teams are considered shared resources, meaning they work across the company’s four brands. As a result, business analytics and data teams are able to process a vast amount of customer insight, no matter the channel. When Fabletics stores opened, the in-house analytics teams had to figure out a way to respond to customer behavior in real time. That data was coming primarily from the fitting rooms, since every item a customer tries on is scanned in and added to a virtual cart.
Based on fitting room data, Fabletics has been able to track conversion down to individual SKUs and react accordingly. Throgmartin offered the example of the leggings category, the brand’s largest. While overall, leggings saw an 85 percent conversion rate, that rate dropped to 74 percent and 51 percent in extra-small and extra-extra-small sizes respectively, due to an inconsistency in size-grading. Throgmartin said that the design team was able to respond to that insight and fix the problem in one day.
Fitting room data also helped determine the performance of products based on where they’re positioned in the store and how much inventory investment Fabletics should be making on particular items. In some cases, Throgmartin said, the brand will roll out new products in stores only, to test sizing and fit, before rolling them out online. Other brands, from Rebecca Minkoff to Reformation, are similarly mining fitting room behavior to make product decisions.
Newness is a big factor for Fabletics. The way the brand releases monthly collections results in 70 percent of overall business taking place in the first five days of each month. A lot is riding on a short window of time, during which members are presented with a curated “boutique” of new items that the brand thinks they’ll like, based on data. In-store data, which flows from the stores to online member profiles, helps shape those selections. Whatever is tried on and not purchased is flagged by a store employee, along with the reason it wasn’t selected. If an item is tried on and not purchased, but not disliked, it will stay in the member’s online cart, basically serving as a way to enact item retargeting in the offline world.
“We didn’t want to get into retail just to do it like everyone else,” said Throgmartin, who added that the brand’s real estate leases are all low-commitment, so it can easily cut stores that aren’t working. “You have to have a point of differentiation, and ours is this new customer experience. If you’re at checkout and you overhear that someone next to you is paying less, you’ll be intrigued.”