How e-tail start-up Enclothed embraced online returns

E-tail start-up Enclothed is using feedback from customer returns to improve its men’s fashion delivery service.

Online returns are a costly problem for retailers. Take Asos for example  ̶  the pureplay e-tailer offers free delivery and returns, which is a great customer service proposition, but encourages shoppers to buy multiple sizes knowing they can easily return unwanted items. This is expensive and the e-tailer has been looking high and low for a technology solution to solve this dilemma to no avail. CEO Nick Robertson told Essential Retail last week that there is currently no solution on the market “robust enough to make a dent.”

But there is one start-up which has turned the idea of online returns on its head. Enclothed is a website aimed at men who do not like shopping, set up by co-founders Levi Young (daughter of ‘80s pop star Paul Young) and Dana Zingher nearly two years ago. Customers create a profile with their size, fashion likes and dislikes as well as brand affiliations. Enclothed then sends a box of clothes out to the customer to try on. They have ten days to decide what they like and a courier picks up any clothes that they don’t. But most importantly, Enclothed receives customer feedback to constantly improve its fashion database to ensure the customer’s next box is more suitable and less likely to be returned.

“When someone returns something to Asos, there is very little measurable for that return and it won’t do anything for the consumer,” explains Zingher. “For us a return is a lesson learnt and that actually improves the next box.”

Young continues to say that ultimately Enclothed has the same goal as larger retailers: “In an ideal world we don’t want the returns, but we understand it’s a longer journey to get that perfect fit with the perfect brand and we’re willing to go through that journey with the customer.”

The Enclothed boxes are around £1,000 for ten items and feature fashion from the premium end of the market, including brands such as Hackett, Gant and Tommy Hilfiger. The company buys the clothes wholesale and sells them to its customers, which allows it to offer free delivery and returns. Zingher says first-time customers keep around 30% of the box and the next delivery is improved using the customer feedback.

The pair say it takes on average four to five boxes to get to the point where the customer knows, for example, that his size in a Ted Baker shirt is slightly smaller than a Ben Sherman. “But it depends on how the customer communicates with us  ̶  we’ve had great feedback from some people that is so in depth it makes the second box really easy, other people it takes a bit more time and work,” says Young.

At the moment, inputting the customer feedback is a fairly manual process, but with a database of 18,000 and 7,000 active customers which buy around four times a year, Enclothed is looking at ways to speed this up.

“We’re constantly working towards getting it as automatic as possibly,” explains Zingher who said the company will soon launch an added value mobile app which will encourage customers to input feedback directly, rather than calling or emailing their personal stylists at Enclothed HQ.

“But we’re careful to keep that level of conversation going as we’re building a relationship with the person, so it’s a mixture of tech and personal service,” adds Zingher.

“And without overheads [of a bricks and mortar store] this allows us to give back to our customers,” chips in Young. “We go above and beyond to make sure our deliveries and collections are on time, and sometimes we put little gifts in the boxes  ̶  if we know they’re going on holiday we might pop something in for the kids on the plane.”

“We’ve got a loyal customer base and they return again and again,” she says.

The Enclothed website sits on a Salesforce CRM system which has been custom built through one in-house developer and an outsourced IT team.

All customer feedback goes into the system to perfect what Zingher fondly calls the ‘Salesforce Brand Bible.’ This powerful database gives the team of eight stylists the power to understand how different brands fit different body shapes.

“And that originally came from running around with tape measures measuring every man we could get our hands on,” says Young. “Once you get the feedback you write them all into a programme and it starts to get pretty clever.”

Young even muses that maybe one day the two might white label the database to department stores. “But not right now,” she says.

But it wouldn’t be a sensible business decision because in five years’ time Zingher and Young want to get to the stage where no one is going to department stores and using Enclothed instead.

Zingher says a few retailers have already started to pay attention to what they are doing and the pair have spoken to a few about how they are using customer feedback from returns to better their business. 

And who knows, maybe Asos was one of those few. 

This article has been amended slightly (2 March) from the original published in July to reflect Enclothed's involvement in the RBTE conference. The co-founders will be speaking on 9 March at 10:50 in the eCommerce Theatre, talking about the use of personalisation technology in retail.

To attend RBTE 9-10 March for free, click here.