In some ways the digital era has done a very efficient job of disrupting traditional apparel shopping patterns by making it much easier to spot items online and get them delivered to one’s door. In fact, any number of permutations and innovations have been thrown into that basic formula over the last decade or so to make the digital clothing journey not only equal, but surpassing the physical shopping experience.
Nervous about getting the right size? No problem in the era of generous returns and try-before-you-buy programs that let customers slip on their new orders before deciding to make a final purchase and keep them. Unsure about the possibility for discovering new ideas and fashion inspirations? Enter the world of personal style questionnaires during onboarding, professional stylists working in-house and learning artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms designed to understand and then extrapolate from an individual consumer’s style.
While these advances are a boon when it comes to digital apparel shopping, they still leave friction for the consumer, according to The Lobby Co-Founder and CEO Abigail Holtz, particularly when it comes to items customers don’t want to keep. Repackaging and shipping back the items that didn’t quite work out isn’t a massive friction to overcome, she noted in an interview, but it is enough of one to keep some shoppers away from the channel.
The Lobby is a self-described platform dedicated to connecting fashion-forward female customers with emerging and cutting-edge direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands they may be unlikely to encounter elsewhere.
“We focus on those direct-to-consumer brands,” Holtz told Glossy. “They’re the ones consumers are most excited about, but they’re also the hardest for those consumers to access. A lot of these brands don’t have stores.”
The bigger shift in the business, however, is in rethinking the digital distribution channel, specifically in terms of where it delivers goods. Because while most delivery retailers are shipping to a customer’s front door at home, The Lobby is instead sending the items to customers at their desks, in their offices, during the workday.
Holtz said she got the idea for the delivery model when she saw how often women in her office were having items delivered to them at work so they could try them on in the bathroom and solicit coworker feedback. So The Lobby does exactly that — and that alone; it will not deliver to a consumer’s home.
Instead, customers of The Lobby, after creating an account with the service, see new releases on Wednesdays that they have until Sunday night to consider. Once they’ve made their selections, The Lobby’s in-house courier crew delivers the items to an office’s lobby or mailroom (depending on local custom) on Thursdays for try-on. The couriers return the following week to make new drop-offs, and pick up unwanted items. The customer is then charged for the items they keep. The clothing is also offered at the same price it is on the DTC brand’s website — no upcharges for delivery.
The model, according to Holtz, has two main upsides. The first is that it matches shopping patterns that already exist among a certain demographic of consumers, and offers them a much more frictionless way to leverage multichannel apparel shopping.
It also has the side benefit for creating buzz for the service — as one curated box of clothes going to an office of stylish millennials tends to net more boxes being delivered in subsequent weeks.
And while one might assume that employers would be less than overjoyed by a service like The Lobby, and the time lost to impromptu fashion shows every Thursday, most large employers are also realists, according to Holtz. They know their workers are sometimes shopping at work and using their time to talk about fashion. More cutting-edge employers, she said, are realizing that when offering their workers perks, among the thing to take into account are that sometimes things that make a worker’s life easier are the biggest inducements to be loyal to that employer. And having clothes both dropped off and picked up once a week by couriers, she said, is certainly a time-saver for many workers that does make their lives much, much easier.
“Smart employers recognize that, saying: ‘We know it’s happening, let’s make it easier for our employees,”‘ said Holtz.