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Trunk Club: 40 Percent of Our Traffic Comes From Mobile

For most guys, shopping for clothes can be a nightmare. Nothing dampers an afternoon faster than cluttered display racks, long lines and high prices. Online shopping isn’t much better. While the selection may be a bigger, the Web experience can actually be option overload.

Trunk Club is shaking up this problem with its unique take on shopping. The company has enlisted an army of personal stylists to select the best threads, and utilizes big data to pick the right items for each of its customers--saving them precious time and money.

And where Trunk Club is especially disrupting online retail is with its mobile app.* There’s no doubt that mobile retail is growing. According to Kleiner Perkins Partner Mary Meeker, 24 percent of all online Black Friday sales last year occurred on a mobile device. Here, Trunk Club is ahead of the curve.

We caught up with Neil Kamireddy, Trunk Club’s director of products, to find out how the company was able to beat industry standards and build a loyal, high-spending mobile following.

How was the shopping experience changed in the past few years with the proliferation of mobile?

I think the best retailers have started to understand that mobile is the most seismic shift in UX for their business since the Internet took off in the mid-1990s. I ride the train home every night and I see people buying stuff with one hand around a pole and the other on their iPhone. Going forward, I think that means detail and selection are going to be less and less important compared to focus and curation in retail. Friction points, such as payments and profile information, have to be eliminated or re-imagined.
At Trunk Club, we've always doubled down on those trends anyway, so a mobile experience that lets a guy say, "Send me awesome clothes based on everything you know about me," with one tap fits really well with our strengths as a business. The reason we exist is because we deliver a service experience that feels personalized and friction-free.

What percentage of your overall traffic is currently coming from mobile? Are you surprised?
We're seeing close to 40 percent of our traffic coming from mobile devices. That's a big number, but what's even more stunning is how fast it's rising. A year ago, the numbers wouldn't have implied a huge rush to build a native experience.
Fortunately, we saw the writing on the wall. We have a top-notch technology team here (even if that's not our loudest value proposition to customers), so we understood the trend ahead of time. I won't be surprised if mobile accounts for more than 70 percent of overall traffic by this time next year.

How has this changed the one-on-one relationship you have with customers?
I think there are going to be two models that can succeed going forward in e-commerce:
You can try to capitalize on scale and selection with a self-serve model, like Amazon has. But more likely than not, Amazon will crush you if the small margins don't strangle you first.

You focus on the service experience and curating products that your customers love so much they're willing to pay for them.
Very few companies have been able to do the second category well, but we're trying to carve out a new niche there. When a Trunk Club member opens up his iPhone app, he sees a photo of his stylist (a real person) right there in his face; he can press a single button to call them, email them or request a new trunk. That's really hard for him to replace by going elsewhere.

Many businesses are rushing to build an app, yet they don't know what they should be offering, optimizing, or even what the business case or ROI is.
That sort of thinking comes from the false belief that they have to replicate everything their business does on a mobile platform, right off the bat, or otherwise they shouldn't bother. That's an impossible task and it won't work.

All the desktop stuff isn't going away, so they should be thinking additively instead--what can a mobile experience do that the other stuff can't?
And which of those things is most important? Start there. And you don't need a full business case or ROI either (we're talking about a world where adoption rates are basically doubling every year--predictions are worthless). Just have a hypothesis and place lots of small bets.

You’ve put a lot of thought into mobile and established several use cases before jumping in. What were some of those use cases?
We talked to about 50 customers on the phone, over email or in person before we wrote much code. I usually started with the question: "If you had a Trunk Club iPhone app, what would it do?"

I found that I was hearing the same two or three things: They wanted anytime-anywhere access to their stylist and a new trunk; they wanted to see stylist-recommended wardrobes and outfits; they wanted to browse new products and features at Trunk Club and order them with a tap.

We had those three things in the app when we released to the App Store, but we started testing beta builds with real customers as soon as we had the first one.

Is a mobile-optimized website enough for retailers?

It depends. If you're a once-a-year purchase for that customer, they're going to have zero interest in downloading your native app; a great mobile-site experience may be fine for now. If you're Starbucks or Amazon and your customers are buying from you at least weekly, the advantages of native are huge. If you're in between, it's a spectrum.

Think of it from a customer's perspective: Would they want to download your app if you had one? Regardless, you need a mobile-optimized site as well. That's table stakes.

What can a native app offer that a mobile website can't?
There are the hardware features: location awareness, camera, device sensors, etc. Then there's a sizable speed and performance advantage in most cases. On top of all that, you can't underestimate the value of real estate on someone's home screen (if you can get it) and the psychological reminder that offers. Web developers are getting better and better at replicating some of these things in mobile browsers, but if your app is used often enough, I see a big advantage in going native.

How important is data-driven design in the app development process? How is it different from Web analytics, if at all?
We're a startup, so our resources are very limited. We might be a little cavalier and hypothesis-driven in running experiments, but we need to be incredibly disciplined in measuring those experiments and tracking everything about what's working and what isn't. That's also true of Web analytics, for the most part. But with our iPhone app, we're closely watching things, e.g., sessions, retention, crashes, etc., that aren't as commonly watched on the Web.

Since our app is focused on just three to four use cases right now, we need to know which (if any) aren't working so we can adapt on the fly and shift our approach without wasting weeks and months of time. We get reports in our inbox every day.

You guys have a 5-star rating in the Apple App Store. Is that just luck?
App-store reviews are a beast of their own. There's certainly some element of randomness to them--we've gotten a few one-star reviews from users who just didn't like the idea of Trunk Club in general, or maybe they just had a rough day. You can't control everything, but you can focus on delivering on your promises to your core user. Focus on a few experiences and make sure they're awesome before you release publicly.

Is there a customer story you'd love to share?
I heard a funny story from a few weeks ago about a customer who had traveled across the country for business but had forgotten to pack pants for his big meeting. Yikes.

He opened up the Trunk Club iOS app and requested a small trunk of dress slacks from his stylist to be shipped to his hotel, all with a couple taps. We already knew his sizes, his billing info, his preferences, and which slacks he'd kept or returned in the past. He got the trunk and I can only assume he nailed his meeting. Cool story.

Editor's Note:
About Neil:
Neil Kamireddy joined Trunk Club in 2010. In his current position as director of products, Neil helps build software that powers amazing experiences for each of Trunk Club's members. Prior to Trunk Club, Neil served as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago, where he focused on service design and innovation. Neil is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan. His interests include startups, emerging technology, product design and summer roof-deck parties at Trunk Club's headquarters.

About the Author
Catherine Mylinh leads Upsight, Inc.'s New Markets business unit, which is responsible for the company's development and growth in new verticals. Upsight's comprehensive analytics and marketing platform allows app developers to track user behavior, decide what it means and take immediate action.

Catherine has worked in both B2B and B2C tech spaces, where she has successfully led global product launches and spearheaded high-performing, metrics-driven brand and demand generation programs, building millions of dollars in pipeline and closed-won deals for several publicly traded companies.

Prior to her move back to tech (she started as a programmer!), Catherine was a news anchor for NBC and CBS stations throughout the country. In 2006, Catherine was the lead reporter for coverage in which she and her news team earned an Emmy Award for Best Daytime Newscast. She has also been the recipient of several Associated Press Awards for reporting. Catherine's broadcast career began in San Francisco, the country's fifth largest TV market, where she covered the Bay Area’s business and tech sectors. After years of traveling and working in various news markets, her broadcast career came full circle: Catherine returned to the Bay Area's NBC O&O station, where she anchored her last newscast.

Catherine studied journalism, math and computer science.

> Connect: linkedin.com/catherinemylinh
> Tweet: @cat_mylinh

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