When I was a child, I would watch my grandmother try on dresses and coats she had brought home on “appro” (or approbation) from Mrs. Downey’s boutique in Dungarvan, Ireland: deciding, at her leisure, what to buy and what to return. Who knew that, decades later, “appro,” a.k.a. “try on,” would become the way to shop?
And not just at Amazon, which recently announced such a service for its Prime members, who are not charged while they mull up to 15 items for a week.
In December, Debora LaBudde started Memo, which lets online shoppers try fine jewelry by established and emerging designers for a three-day period. “The practice of allowing a client to take merchandise home prior to making a purchase has long been a tradition in the jewelry industry, but it’s most often reserved for V.I.P. clientele,” Ms. LaBudde said. But she said she believed “every client should enjoy the same luxury experience.” Prices range from $350 to $15,000, and insured return shipping is included with delivery.
Colleen McKinnie helped found Lyon & Post (tagline: “Say farewell to fitting rooms”), which sells casual clothing, including active wear and swimwear. “There’s no checkout process,” Ms. McKinnie said. Members add items to Netflix-style queues by clicking “Try It On.” Within a day, the top four items are shipped. After a week, members can return whatever they don’t want in a prepaid return bag, at which point they are charged only for what they keep. “Our average retail price is $140, with the overall range sitting between $50 and $500,” said Ms. McKinnie, who plans to add accessories, shoes and handbags to the stock.
After filling out a style profile at Bungalow Clothing, which Rob Wright founded in 2013, customers are paired with stylists. “From there, they interact via text, phone or email,” said Mr. Wright, whose partners include the musician John Legend. After previewing items in a “Dressing Room” and making any desired adjustments, shoppers get six to 15 items shipped to them for a five-day try-on period.
“Our core demographic is a 35- to 45-year-old mom, of which 80 percent work,” said Mr. Wright, adding that his average customer spends about $400 in one go. “They’ve got money; they just don’t have time.”
For men who are short on time, there’s Bombfell, a men’s casual wear subscription service that began shipping to subscribers in 2011. “When I look at retail, before the internet, I see two buckets,” said Bernie Yoo, a founder. “One was a self-service customer: They’re confident, they know what looks good on and they can do it all on their own. The second is the full-service customer: They’re the ones who would go to personal shoppers or actively seek out help from sales associates.”
In an online age, Bombfell is targeted at the latter. “We’re focused on using technology to make the personal styling process much more efficient so we can deliver it at scale,” Mr. Yoo said. Private-label stock was added to the site last year. Clients choose how often they receive shipments and how many things they receive (the average price is $85), and they have seven days to decide on which items to keep.
Nina Lowe and Andrea Campbell, who met while training for a marathon, decided to take the personal styling service one step further when they started Front Door Fashion in 2013. “For them, the problem was that they had closets filled with clothes, but nothing to wear,” said Britt Ecker, the site’s director of marketing. Their solution: a personal stylist who can send complete looks — clothing, jewelry and accessories — for occasions like date night, events or work. “A stylist pulls up to 20 items from our warehouse,” Ms. Ecker said, “and meticulously styles them in four to six complete outfits, mixing and matching pieces to get the most out of each.” Detailed notes explain how to wear each look. The average amount is $500 a box, she said. The trial period is five days; a $100 deposit is applied to orders or refunded in full if everything is returned.
The idea for the year-old Rockets of Awesome was born when Rachel Blumenthal became a mother. “I was excited to shop for my son but quickly found it a chore to find stylish clothes that didn’t cost a fortune,” said Ms. Blumenthal, whose husband, Neil Blumenthal, is a founder of Warby Parker, a pioneer of “trying before buying.” Her goal was to simplify the lives of parents by delivering a box of stylish, high-quality, moderately priced children’s clothes produced by an in-house design team each season. The company analyzes both behavioral patterns (what shoppers are buying) and children’s preferences (based on the profile parents create) to create a personalized box of 12 items, each ranging from $10 to $36; customers have 10 days to decide; and for those who care about such things, Gwyneth Paltrow is an investor.
Vanessa Stofenmacher, a founder of Vrai & Oro, a direct-to-consumer jewelry start-up, is counting on the try-on business model to revolutionize engagement-ring shopping. “If an engagement ring is a symbol of two lives joining together, we think the ring should be a joint decision,” Ms. Stofenmacher said. “The try-on feature allows her — or him — to select three designs and see the rings in person before committing, while still giving her partner the opportunity to choose the perfect diamond on his or her own.” Clients can test three sample rings for seven days in exchange for a fully refundable deposit of $50.
What if you want to shop across websites? Ankush Sehgal is a founder and the chief executive of Try, which for $2.99 a month enables customers to try on items for seven days from over 30 online retailers, including Yoox and Mr Porter. “In 10 years, we’ll look back and laugh about how in the old days you had to pay upfront for online purchases,” Mr. Sehgal said. “The real reason why you have to pay upfront is because merchants can’t trust consumers not to run away with the product. In today’s world, we can solve this problem with technology.”