by Casey Daline, Project Manager
What We Can Learn from One of the Most Innovative Companies in Retail
Everlane, an online clothing and accessories shop, has been getting a lot of buzz lately. Since their founding in late November 2011, their growth has been tremendous. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, Everlane has a social following of well over 50,000. Everlane has been written up in GQ, Style, The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, the Los Angeles Times, and was recently listed by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies in retail.
But why? When it comes down to it, Everlane makes tee shirts. They’re high quality, they sell at a fair price point, but in the end, they sell tee shirts. So does the Gap! What is Everlane doing differently?
Your friendly Pivoteer blogger–who, full disclosure, is currently wearing an Everlane French Terry sweatshirt (in Merlot)–first encountered Everlane via a popular Tumblr I follow. (And yes, I did wear this today for the purpose of writing that line.) This Tumblr-er (Tumblee? Tumblebee?) was posting excitedly about having made her first Everlane purchase. Since then, I have visited their website fairly frequently, although I only made a purchase recently, several months after first hearing their name. Something kept me not just coming back to this elegant, simple site, but following their social media presence as well. Their marketing strategy has a simplicity and brilliance to it that sticks.
Everlane operates on the idea of selling luxury goods at an affordable price by cutting out the middleman. They have no brick and mortar shops, which allows them to eliminate markups associated with traditional retail. Everlane began with a limited run of tee shirts in November 2011, and has since expanded to blouses, sweaters, belts, bags, and other accessories. They produce limited runs of colors and varieties of their products, which, along with required site membership, helps to create an exclusive “get it before it’s gone” feel. Everlane has, in the past, created short-lived “pop up shops” in some of their larger markets, and frequently ask for votes from customers asking which city they should visit next.
Everlane is doing a few things uniquely and precisely right.
Having spent some months now with Everlane, I’ve been able to nail down a few of their strategies into six fundamentals that we can learn from.
1. LET YOUR PHILOSOPHY GUIDE YOUR BUSINESS. It’s vital that as a company, you take time to define your core values, and make decisions about how those values will bleed into other areas of your company strategy. Everlane has focused on simple design, quality products, and agile service. These values come to life in their graphic design ascetic (which is consistent across all web and social platforms), their no-muss, no-fuss, no-mistakes clothing designs, their nimble customer service team, and even details like packaging. As a company, take time to infuse your personality and core values into the customer experience from first touch to final purchase.
2. CREATE VALUE. Above all else, concentrate on providing the best possible experience for your consumer. You can do everything else well, but if you don’t have a service or a product that people have a great experience with, whatever success you do find will be fleeting. Whether you are selling clothing, software, or guided tours of the Adirondacks, no social media or marketing strategy can make up for quality. Everlane makes a point of letting their customers know they care as much about the product as you do.
3. HAVE A PERSONAL, HUMAN-TO-HUMAN TOUCH. Everlane makes things personal – from their casual, talking-to-a-friend verbiage, to their lightning-fast responses to customer queries on Facebook and Twitter, you get the impression that Everlane wants to you to love the experience from start to finish. Customer service is a vital component of this. Everlane has capitalized on the immediacy of social media platforms to provide accessibility that is above and beyond same-day response: they answer Facebook complaints, they answered my Twitter questions, they deliver quickly, and even include a thank you note!
4. TELL A STORY, AND INVITE OTHERS TO JOIN IN. Everlane takes the opportunity on their website and across their social platforms to tell their story. They position themselves as being a revolutionary in the retail business, one that creates high value at a low cost by being independent. They make a point to be transparent about costs, so you can see how much you normally pay for markup. In encouraging membership and purchases, they are also inviting you into what they have framed as a new way of shopping, and in turn, a new way of consuming. You are made to feel that by shopping with Everlane, you are also identifying with their values.
Being transparent about your values and taking the opportunity to frame your company’s position in the market gives customers–and potential customers–the chance to feel good about the choice they are making. They are not just making a choice about a product, they are also choosing to take part in your way of doing business.
5. INCENTIVIZE BRAND AMBASSADORSHIP. Simply: reward your customers. Everlane does this in a number of ways. They offer rewards for spreading the word, they encourage and promote photo submissions from customers, they feature tweets about products on their website, and they give customers a say in what the company does next.
With these strategies, Everlane gets the kind of customer engagement other companies can only write in their dream diaries about, by giving people what they want: discounts, visibility, and direct interaction with a company they like.
6. LEAVE THEM ANXIOUS FOR MORE. Everlane’s long lead ups to new collections and products and creation of limited batches helps create anticipation for new products and urgency to buy once they arrive. Everlane gives you just enough information at a time to get you to check the site for more. Using a measured strategy of e-blasts and social posts, they roll out just enough new information at a time to pique interest, but never give you everything all at once.
BONUS TIP (you lucky Pivot Groupies, you): USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A VEHICLE, NOT A STRATEGY. (Thank you to Mackenzie Fogelson of SEOMoz for the eloquent phrasing.) You’ll notice that I didn’t include a specific tip about Everlane’s social media. Yes, they have mastered best practices across platforms. And yes, we could (and might) write a whole separate post about their social ways. But, it’s critical to note that Everlane uses social media as a vehicle for their business strategy, not as a strategy in and of itself. Everlane strives to have great customer service, and they use their social media as a tool to facilitate that service. They want to invite their customers in, and they do so with photo submissions and highlights. Everlane wants to tell a story about their brand and their beliefs, and they use Tumblr and Pinterest to both highlight their own brand and advertise relevant news stories, artwork, and more. Having a social following should always be part of a larger strategy, not an end-goal in itself.
Everlane has major staying power due in large part to a smart, consistent marketing effort. While replicating these strategies may not lead to 50,000 followers in the short term, following their example will lead to a great experience for customers. If you take time to rethink the way your business’s philosophy dictates your business’s practices, you will find ways to refine your strategy for the better.