At the bustling corner of 2nd and Colorado in downtown Austin is the one-and-only brick and mortar location for online retailer ModCloth. Sold last March to Walmart, ModCloth is testing what a physical store could mean for an ecommerce pure play retailer. And the results are mixed.
The store front and environment is inviting and well merchandised. Dresses (even wedding dresses) skirts, tops, pants, PJ’s and accessories are beautifully arranged in the windows and on mannequins. The corner location is cheerful and fun – in keeping with the brand. But the thing is: you can’t buy any clothes there. Yep: no clothing sales. (You can purchase the closeout/clearance jewelry, notepads, candles or handbags and walk out the store with them. But not the clothes.)
ModCloth has been a fashion darling with retro looks, fair trade practices for seamstresses and non-PhotoShopped, plus-sized models on their website. They excel at fast fashion. The “gone when gone” strategy keeps their offerings fresh and ever-changing. Of course, a portion of their shopping base went ballistic when they were sold to Walmart last March. Walmart has a history of lawsuit filings due to its predatory trade practices. On a binge, the Bentonville Behemoth gobbled up Benobos and Moosejaw as well. Walmart has featured the ModCloth brand on their Jet.com platform. Walmart hopes the acquisitions attract a younger, more urban and affluent market than the typical Walmart shopper.
The store was confusing for every single shopper. I heard the associates (called “Stylists”) explain over and over:
“No, we’re not a store. We’re a showroom for our online shop. No, you cannot make purchases here. Yes, you can try on clothes, but then you have to order them online. You have to set up an online account to make a purchase. No we cannot take the order for you. You have to do it online yourself.”
From my perspective, the main benefit is that customers can confirm their size requirements in various styles. But most styles only had a Medium and an XL on the sales floor. The stylist told me they would bring out other sizes from the back room to confirm fit – but it required a rather uncomfortable interaction with the stylist. Apparently, customers are expected to create a list of the styles and sizes they want the stylist to deliver to their fitting room. They cannot select them on the sales floor. Awkward!
I overheard a very disappointed shopper who had made a trip into the city to return a product they had bought online only to be told ModCloth could not accept returns in the location. Honestly. They said that the purchaser had to go online, fill out a return form, get a USPS label and return authorization and then take it to the post office. The fact that the store could not accomplish that on the shopper’s behalf was bewildering. (And a terrible experience for the customer returning the garment.)
Many baffled shoppers wandered through the showroom without stylist engagement. Stylists sat at oversized desks and surfed what appeared to be personal mac books until summoned by another confused customer. No wonder if they do not have a financial goal in selling products to the shoppers (sales goals, commissions, close rates, etc),
There seems to be a happy medium between a pure play ecommerce showroom and a traditional retail location. First of all, ModCloth needs online kiosks where customers could place their online order in the store. Second, there should be some way to take orders for the customers (an associate who helps step a customer through the online account set up and ordering process.) The stylists need an incentive to engage with their shoppers and create an experience that extends the kooky fun of the ModCloth brand. Finally, the store should serve as a distribution hub allowing customers to pick up orders and facilitate returns. I realize that crosses boundaries in some states that require sales taxes and other legal regulation. But the beautiful store in Austin is just a mystifying rabbit hole that is not connecting with its customers.