Fashion brands must take note of the era of the mass stylist

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

The stylist has moved on from a service for the elite to a must-have for the masses. Which brands are taking this on board to develop the edge they need?

The explosion of the career of TV stylist Gok Wan has a lot to answer for in terms of the ripple effect this is having on fashion retail.

Not only has Wan built a multimedia (and multimillion-pound) portfolio out of showing shoppers how to be savvier with their fashion purchases, but the regular personal makeovers he features have also planted the idea in our heads that we should all have our own “fairy Gokmother” on hand to advise on any style dilemma.

Wan has produced several glossy style guides that have been snapped up by his legions of “Gokettes” around the country. And being enlisted by Sainsbury’s to produce an ongoing fashion collection means this brand has instantly upped its credentials from geeky grocery to truly trendy.

Sainsbury’s might not be offering personal style advice, but having Wan designing and fronting the collections speaks to people who feel he has their needs in mind.

Gok Wan

The stylist approach is now filtering through to fashion retailers who understand that continuing economic difficulty means that people who still choose to shop want to know their money is being spent wisely.

Online store Asos just last week offered a selection of customers a 15-minute Skype chat with a stylist. The initiative was aimed ultimately at boosting sales of Asos’s Christmas party range, but customers were invited to discuss a specific query with the stylist, who would then at the end suggest some appropriate items.

Asos has a strong handle on how to use social media to amplify activity like this; and coupled with the effect of the lucky shoppers’ reactions and feeling of being valued by the brand, it has a real opportunity to develop this into yet another compelling USP.

Meanwhile, StylistPick, a newcomer to the online shopping world, has enlisted a team of stylists including presenter Louise Roe to provide a monthly curated collection of handbags, jewellery and shoes to subscribers. The choices are prompted by the style influences you indicate in your initial sign-up survey. The personalisation makes you feel special and the fact that real stylists are involved gives StylistPick a level of expertise that customers value.

Most big high street fashion brands have already brought styling to the masses in some way. The likes of Debenhams, Banana Republic, Selfridges and Topshop offer a personal shopping and styling service. All revolve around providing a one-on-one service, with some involving a minimum spend and others involving a fee.

While having an in-house personal shopper is a trend that has spread across the high street, consultancy BDO last year said fashion brands would need to rethink this concept because people want a personalised experience without paying a premium for it.

Asos and StylistPick are doing just that – turning the concept of a fashion stylist on its head and applying it in a democratic, mass-market way. Topshop has also added Live Style Q&As to its web strategy.

Another interesting example I have come across is iStylista. You can register online as a member and fill in a preliminary style questionaire for free – but for a more detailed analysis you can pay £30 or £75 to receive a downloadable personal style guide. All members can arrange a complimentary 15-minute stylist consultancy by Skype or phone. Your characteristics are then saved and reflected in the search results presented to you.

In-store personal shoppers have their place but not everyone has the time or inclination to undergo such an experience. Some people may find it intimidating, and not all brands may find employing armies of such specialist staff cost-effective.

Mass personalisation takes engagement to the next level. When it becomes standard for all fashion brands, the kind of shift in customer experience we will see will encourage continued, confident spending.

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