I don’t really enjoy buying new clothes. Online shopping is troublesome, because I never know if I’m picking the right size. A physical store is better, but fitting room lines and actually finding the perfect shirt or pair of pants can be frustrating.
Give me a personal fashion consultant and a cold beer, however, and now we’re talking.
I just had my first experience at Bonobos, the 8-year-old company that will open its 19th retail location at Seattle’s University Village on Friday.
Bonobos launched in 2007 at Stanford as an e-commerce site with a goal of making and selling comfortable pants. The company quickly expanded, later offering several more products for men like shirts, shoes, and suits.
Then in 2011, Bonobos did something rather unique, opening up a small brick-and-mortar store with no inventory. The company called this a “Guideshop,” which acted as a physical representation of Bonobos’ website, featuring one of every item available on the site.
Customers could meet with a “Guide,” who would provide help and advice for the duration of a visit, but could not actually walk out of the store with anything. Instead, if they liked something, they would place an online order at the Guideshop and have their clothes show up at home a few days later. It was a similar to the retail approach of online eyewear retailer Warby Parker.
This turned out to be a good idea, and earlier this week, I found out why.
When I walked inside the small 1,000 square-foot store, Dylan, my “Guide,” greeted me and asked what I was looking for. After a few questions, he quickly snagged some Chino pants and a nice summer shirt to try on. I stepped out of the dressing room, he assessed the fit, and recommended we go with something a bit more snug.
In between this, he handed me a beer. This was nice.
Once we nailed down the right fit, Dylan showed me different color patterns and fabric material I could pick from. This is the key to these stores — Bonobos didn’t necessarily have the precise design or color that I wanted in Seattle, but since we figured out my size in the store, I could have exactly what I wanted shipped from Bonobos’ main inventory location for free and show up at my doorstep a few days later.
I finally decided on a few items and sat down with Dylan, who took my shipping and billing information. Five minutes later, I got an email confirmation for my order. A bit after that, I received a personal email from Dylan, who noted my sizes for future reference — this was a nice touch.
All in all, I enjoyed my Bonobos shopping experience. I liked having a personal consultant help me with the entire process and it was cool walking out of the store with no bags, knowing that my order would be shipped directly to my house.
The Bonobos experience reminds me of Hointer, the Seattle-based startup started by a former Amazon veteran that debuted a robot-powered apparel shop in late 2012. Hointer’s model lets shoppers scan items that are hanging in the air with a QR code, pick their size, and have the clothes automatically sent to a designated dressing room — this eliminates traditional piles and clutter while requiring less floorspace and fewer salespeople, which in turn allows Hointer to offer low prices and carry more stock.
Both Hointer and Bonobos are among a throng of new apparel companies blending technology with brick-and-mortar stores, hoping to redefine the shopping experience and compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon.
Bonobos, which has raised more than $120 million from Coppel Capital, Mousse Partners, Nordstrom, and others, plans to have 20 physical locations by the end of 2015. Its Seattle store is located next to Fran’s Chocolates and across from Sephora in University Village. You can make appointments with a “Guide,” and walk-ins are welcome.