J.Hilburn's Customer Experience Is Made to Order

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Photography by: Erica Berger
Photography by: Erica Berger

Direct selling—it's become something of a “nasty” term in the minds of some, but for custom men's luxury clothier J.Hilburn, direct selling is the perfect fit. In fact, only 2% of its customers transact on the company website. J.Hilburn stylists, who provide a truly direct-to-customer experience—they meet clients in-person to take their measurements and consult on fashion needs—generate a whopping 98% of the business.

Actually, J.Hilburn has little interest in becoming an e-commerce-based company; the personal touch is its differentiator—but the Web is still a massive opportunity, and Veeral Rathod, CEO and cofounder of J.Hilburn, is looking to capitalize on it. J.Hilburn wants its online experience to be just as slick and personalized as what it provides offline. The question is, how?

Rathod turned to the audience at the 2014 Marketing&Tech Partnership Summit to hash out some ideas:

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Marketing problem: Brand storytelling can be a bit of an issue for J. Hilburn when it comes to online. If a potential customer visits the J.Hilburn site after seeing an ad in, say, The Wall Street Journal, he might be confused by the notion that he has to make an in-person appointment with a stylist before being able to make an online purchase. “They might think, ‘What's the deal with the stylist?'” Rathod noted. “We do a bad job with storytelling; we have 10 or 15 seconds to tell our story and when someone goes to our site for the first time and can't do anything there they might just bounce.”

Audience suggestion: Why not replicate a version of the experience previously provided by gotryiton (the company was acquired by Rent the Runway back in June 2013)? The Go Try It On app gave users the ability to share photos of themselves, interact with style gurus, and get fashion advice online. Visitors to the J.Hilburn site could communicate with stylists online before meeting them in person.

Rathod: “Our stylists are independent consultants and they like that; they work flex time, so if we did something like that we'd need stylists manning the contact center.”

Audience suggestion: Have a call center take the initial call at the corporate office and jot down the customer's information. Then give that customer's info—or sell it—as a qualified lead to a local stylist located in that ZIP Code for follow-up.

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Marketing problem: “We don't want our website to just be an online catalog,” Rathod said. “We want visitors to literally be able to walk into their closet online and reorder based on their preferences and past purchases—that sort of simple selling.”

Audience suggestion: Use a variety of body types, rather than just the slim-cut, good-looking model so that visitors can see how the clothes will really fit and look in different sizes.

Rathod: “Before and after shots can feel a little infomercial-like, but it's true—what we're noticing in general is that women want to see aspirational looks and men will simply say, ‘Will it look like that on me or not?' We recently A/B tested the same email message with two photos; one with a young, edgy guy and a second with a guy, also great looking, who was a silver fox wearing conservative clothing—the open rate for the older guy was two times as high.”

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Marketing problem: How can J. Hilburn use the Web for new customer acquisition other than by purchasing generic keywords like “custom shirts” that lumps it in with other unrelated companies? (The first hit on Google for “custom shirts” is T-shirt and gift site Zazzle.com.)

Audience suggestion: Try and address the potential customer's significant other with creative search terms. SEM for something like “my husband's clothes don't fit” might do the trick.

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Founded in 2007, J.Hilburn is still in the process of developing and evolving its online strategy, but the young company clearly already has a core base of truly loyal customers.

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