Disruption. Mobile. Both have become quite the buzz words in the last few years, but for good reason. Legacy business models in every sector are being turned on their heads. Driving these massive shifts is the consumer, their mobile behaviors, and brands inventing next-generation technologies and strategies to better serve that connect customer.

At the SXStyle session during SXSW, “Disruptive Mobile Technologies in Fashion Commerce,” attendees had an opportunity to learn how fashion and beauty brands - Madison Reed, Threadflip and ThirdLove - are moving their mobile strategies forward from a commerce perspective while offering enhanced personalization, unique benefits and experiences via the customer’s mobile device.

The first disruptor up was Amy Errett, CEO and founder of Madison Reed, a startup that’s reinventing the hair coloring business, “to help women feel beautiful, inside and out.” Errett is no stranger to invention and entrepreneurship, having previous experience in the startup world as a venture capitalist for True Ventures, where she stays on as an advisor. Speaking on her fourth startup’s market potential, “89 million women color their hair in 6-week intervals,” and of the competition that is being disrupted, “Proctor and Gamble. It’s not in their market to know who the consumer is.”

To get into the head (no pun intended) of their customer, Errett and her team spent a lot of time watching women color their hair, going through each step to learn how the Madison Reed product, package and process can make it all easier and better. The ‘inside’ aspect is the ingredients used in their color kit, which provides a healthier alternative to the harsh chemicals found in traditional hair coloring products.

The Madison Reed mobile app then ties in customer learning through hair coloring tutorials and their color assistant tool that enables women to correctly identify the right color for them. It also anticipates user’s needs, including voice activation to control the app while gloved and applying hair dye.

Co-founder of ThirdLove, Heidi Zak, launched her company to provide every woman with a perfect fitting bra. She explained how their combination of mobile technology and fashion designs are unique in the lingerie market, "We have patented sizing technologies on our [mobile] app that lets a woman fit herself with a bra from home."

Looking out over the audience she asked, "How many of you have gone for a traditional bra fitting in a store? And how many of you loved that experience?" Many were laughing, but no one raised their hand for the second question. “What we've done is taken something that women dread doing, made it easily accessible, fun and free.”

When ThirdLove began their mobile strategy, they avoided what Zak called the 'appified' version of a retailer's website, which doesn't always equal a better value proposition or experience for the consumer. Their app offers something unique: the ability for a woman to measure her body for the right bra size that includes half sizing, currently unheard of in lingerie.

The sizing app works this way: the user takes two photos of her reflection in the mirror in a tight-fitting tank top, holding her phone at belly button level. "What we're doing in the background is sizing your body in relationship to the phone," the latter of which is the standard unit of measure. "We can understand how far away you are from the mirror," and after a few minutes the woman receives her exact information and size.


As vice president of marketing at Threadflip, Meghan Cast’s focus is to drive the growth of their company’s brand and ecommerce platform, which helps women with designer items gathering dust in their closet with a time-saving, easy and effective way to sell them. For buyers, it’s a way to be on-trend without spending a ton of money.

The way Threadflip differentiates themselves with other resale platforms is through their fashion and designer brand focus and that ability for resellers to “send us your items for free and our consignment experts will take care of the rest.” No photos in the right lighting and resolution. No postings to a website needed. Cast explained how women love it, because "not only do they get rid of that stuff piling up in the closet, they like making the money. It's pretty fun to get our 'cha-ching' email when something is sold.”

Their technology and mobile play comes into action through Threadflip’s one-to-one marketing process. Looking at indicators of interest within the purchasing funnel, if a buyer has “liked” an item for example, when that item drops in price or a similar item comes up for sale, they send a relevant push notification through the Threadflip mobile app. This works the same way for any similar products they may have purchased in the past. Threadflip’s data has shown these mobile actions lead to higher conversions.

Madison Reed believes it’s critical to also differentiate between a retailer’s native mobile app, the mobile web and online, since each serves a different purpose, providing different values and services to the consumer. Where the Madison Reed mobile app is utility based and not an acquisition tool, their company’s mobile web sales conversions continue to double on a monthly basis. Errett stated, "We design everything with mobile first, with a mobile lens to it," meaning, a lot of white space and vibrant content that will fit in that smaller screen. "One of the challenges for our company is, we're digital assets. You want to see color and you want to see hair." For them resolution had to be high and download times need to be low.

All three retailers have had to contend with a common barrier to sales: the difficulty of the mobile payment process. "Whether it's scanning in your card, whether it's PayPal, Amazon, Apple Pay, to just get out and make the purchase,” Erret said. “If I was giving advice, design is awesome. But that payment part is really critical. When you get that right, you'll see it right away in your conversions."

ThirdLove is also experiencing mobile sales success, with a slightly higher conversion rate on mobile versus web, "Which is pretty unheard of," Zak said. "We've been able to do that because we offer a unique value on mobile that she can't get on our website," and that's the sizing technology. "To Amy [Erretts]'s point, checkout is extremely important. We've done a lot of A/B testing to figure out what works. Obviously, less clicks is better."

To help make the mobile buying experience easier, ThirdLove stores customer credit card data, although that can be a security risk, as we all saw after last year’s hacking of Target and Home Depot. Zak said when it comes to content to support sales conversions, ThirdLove showcases a mix of real photographs from users on Instagram in addition to their professional photo shoots and product shots. "That really helps us to engage and sell more product."

"The whole notion of using your phone to scan, to take pictures of product, or in our case, using it to have a great outcome and engagement is really important to think about,” said Errett. “These things seem mundane, but it's about knowing who your customer is and meeting them where they need to be for convenience." Having invested in a company that was bought by Facebook, Errett learned from them that by mid 2016, Facebook will have no more browser advertising inventory to sell. The only ads available will be mobile ads.

Distributing even more sage advice to the audience Errett stated frankly, “So the thing I want to urge is, if any of you are thinking, 'Well, this mobile thing, it will pass.' No," she said half laughing, "It's here to stay. I think that preparing for that and realizing that is really the channel that most people will use ALL the time, and in fact, your advertising inventory is going to be pushing everyone there. That's absolutely critical."


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About the Author

Kim Owens is a veteran digital marketer and copywriter for Brightpearl, creating engaging, customer-centric content that provides value and an opportunity to learn about the quickly evolving retail industry.