Editor’s Note: This article is contributed by Angel Fu, an analyst at Fenox Venture Capital, an early stage venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley. Raised in China, Angel came to the United States to attend the University of Pittsburgh and major in Accounting. Before joining Fenox, she worked in financial services industry in China and the United States, and her experiences include working in PwC, KPMG and GE. She is very excited to work in the venture capital industry and to meet, help, and write about entrepreneurs that are making their dreams come true.
Over the past decade, web and mobile apps have permeated our lives. A pervasive technology that has been working unobtrusively in the background is predictive analytics, which encompasses a variety of methods to predict consumer behavior. Pandora Radio is an example of predictive analytics helping listeners discover new music based on the songs we like or dislike. Another example is Google’s profiling of individuals by monitoring our clicks on search results while presenting us with advertisement that are more likely to turn into sales. To my surprise, predictive analytics have crossed over to the non-digital world and invaded the intimates’ section of women’s wardrobe.
Unbeknownst to some men, women find lingerie shopping a hassle. Searching for the perfect brassiere is a time-consuming and frequently futile exercise. While retail shop assistants are at hand to offer help, many find it embarrassing to stand half-naked in a fitting room with them. In the summer of 2011, after trying on 20 bras, Michelle Lam found herself leaving a department store embarrassed, frustrated, and empty-handed. She realized that there needs to be a better way for women to shop for bras, and that frustrating experience inspired her to found True & Co., an online store for bra shopping.
So how does True & Co. improve the bra shopping experience? When a customer comes to the site, she takes a bra-fitting quiz comprising ten questions to help the company understand her needs better.
Sample questions from the quiz
The questions are fairly basic: What is the shape of the customer’s breasts? How do her breasts rest in her bras? Which hook does she use the most often? Then applying its propriety predictive analytics, True & Co. creates a personalized virtual store for the customer where every bra fits the customer. She can choose up to three bras from the personalized store, then True & Co. adds two more bras to her shopping cart based on their prediction of customer’s preference before all the bras are delivered to the customer with free two-day shipping. The customer gets to try on up to 5 bras on at the comfort of her own home, and pays only on the ones she wants to keep. The unwanted items are sent back to the company for the refund of a $45 deposit with no return shipping charges. The customer pays nothing even if all bras are returned to True & Co.
According to Michelle Lam, their predictive engine can identify more than 2,000 body types. Using customers’ answers to the quiz, they have been tracking the differences in fitting among sizes, brands and lines. For example, a customer who normally wear a 32C Victoria’s Secret bra may find that a 34B Calvin Klein bra fits her better. By collecting such information, True & Co. is creating a database that will further improve their predictive fitting analytics.
While the service is revolutionary and the initial results promising, True & Co. faces significant challenges of their own. Many doubt how well do bras fit with just a quiz, while others are comfortable trying on the bras in the stores. First time customers may never return if the predictive analytics fails to recommend appropriate bras for first time customers. And let’s not forget that shipping items back and forth is a hassle for customers, even if shipping is complimentary. Even though True & Co. is new to many people, it is not the first online store for bra shopping. Competitors such as Brayola.com and AdoreMe have been around for about two years and still unheard of by most. Additionally, its largest competitor Victoria’s Secret owning 49% of the market share also runs a fully functional store online. But if True & Co. starts delivering perfectly fitting bras, it will solve a huge problem for women who can now spend the time in the mall shopping for what they love.