Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What if there was just one chain of stores selling all clothes?

When I was writing about the problem of sales commission, I realized that even with salespeople whose sole motivation was to help me find the best clothes for me, clothes shopping would still be a challenge because there are so many different clothing stores all operating in silos. The optimal pants for me could be in some indy store two neighbourhoods over, and I'd never know because it's simply unworkable to visit every single store or chain of stores and try on a reasonable share of their clothes to get an idea of how they fit.

But what if there was just one giant chain, staffed by expert salespeople incentivized on customer service rather than on sales numbers? 

This one chain will sell every single brand of clothes. They don't pick and choose which brands to carry, instead they carry every brand, at every price point.  If a brand wants to be sold in [Ontario/Canada/the world/whatever the jurisdiction covered is] it simply signs up with the store.  The brand sets its own price point, of which the store deducts a fee to cover the cost of running a store.  The store is not permitted to turn away a brand.

Store employees are trained on all the products, and can help you find things that meet your needs.  They could do clothes fitting like the people from Secrets from your Sister do bra fitting - for example, I could tell them "Reitman's Comfort Fit jeans fit me perfectly, but they've discontinued the boot cut dark wash. Can you find me a boot cut (or, barring that, true straight leg) dark wash that also fits me comfortably without gapping in the back?"  And the employee uses their expertise to find something that meets my needs without my having to try on everything in the store.

The store would also have a robust website with free shipping and a generous return policy (they can afford this because of economies of scale), so if the particular item you want isn't available in the actual store, you can order it and have it shipped straight to you.  Maybe economies of scale would also make it possible to have an in-store alterations service!

Now, at this point, you're probably thinking "But I don't want to have to go all the way out to the big-box stores to shop for clothing in some giant warehouse!"

You wouldn't have to. As the price of getting a monopoly on the clothing market, the chain of stores would have to maintain a location in every existing retail space currently used to sell clothing.  They could set up a small specialization in each space - one for office clothes targeting women in their 30s, another for men's running gear, another for toddler party dresses, etc.  Key strategic spaces could be dedicated to whatever is new, so people who have shopped recently don't have to go through everything, and smaller brands don't immediately sink into obscurity.

The data collected by having all clothing sales centralized would help improve everyone's shopping experience by matching in-store stock with what people in the neighbourhood wear most frequently.  In other words, even if my neighbour buys her awesome dress from Yorkville or Queen West or Pacific Mall, the computer will know that someone at Yonge & Eglinton bought and loves this dress.  If many people in the neighbourhod wear and love similar things, local stores will eventually start stocking similar things

Fit information could also be centralized, so maybe eventually a computer could tell me "If Shirt A drapes well on you and Shirt B drapes poorly on you, then Shirt C will drape well on you." Like Amazon's "People who bought this item also bought", they could have a "People who looked good in this item also looked good in."

I know greater competition is theoretically supposed to increase consumer choice, but, despite the fact that I'm wholly materialistic, have disposable income, and adore having nice clothes that make me feel beautiful, I find it tediously difficult to shop for clothes. More often than not, I go out with the intention of spending money on clothes and come home without having bought anything. I think if we could somehow have just one chain of stores that sells everything, with well-trained staff who are incentivized to provide excellent customer service rather than to increase sales numbers, it would be a lot easier to actually buy things when I want to buy things. Which would probably be good for the economy and the industry.

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