Try first, buy later

Online shoppers can test items before paying for what they want to keep and returning those they do not want

NEW YORK • Try, then buy?

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, Ms Debora LaBudde started Memo, which lets online shoppers try fine jewellery 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 jewellery industry, but it's most often reserved for VIP clientele," Ms LaBudde said.

She believes "every client should enjoy the same luxury experience".

Prices range from US$350 (S$480) to US$15,000 and insured return shipping is included with delivery.

Ms Colleen McKinnie helped found Lyon & Post, which sells casual clothing. 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 do not want in a prepaid return bag, paying only for what they keep.

"Our average retail price is US$140, with the overall range sitting between US$50 and US$500," said Ms McKinnie, who plans to add accessories, shoes and handbags.

After filling out a style profile at Bungalow Clothing, which Mr Rob Wright founded in 2013, customers are paired with stylists.

"From there, they interact via text, phone or e-mail," said Mr Wright, whose partners include musician John Legend.

After previewing items in a "Dressing Room" and making any 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 mum, of whom 80 per cent work," said Mr Wright, adding that his average customer spends about US$400 in one go.

"They've got money, they just don't have time."

For men who are short on time, there is Bombfell, a men's casualwear subscription service that began shipping in 2011.

"When I look at retail, before the Internet, I see two buckets," said Mr Bernie Yoo, a founder.

"One was a self-service customer. 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 want (the average price is US$85) and they have seven days to decide on which items to keep.

Ms Nina Lowe and Ms 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.

Their solution: a personal stylist who can send complete looks - clothing, jewellery and accessories - for occasions such as date night, events or work.

Detailed notes explain how to wear each look. The average amount is US$500 a box. The trial period is five days; a US$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 Mrs 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 Mrs Blumenthal, whose husband, Mr 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 analyses both behavioural patterns (what shoppers are buying) and children's preferences (based on the profile parents draw up) to create a personalised box of 12 items, each ranging from US$10 to US$36.

Customers have 10 days to decide; and for those who care about such things, Gwyneth Paltrow is an investor.

Ms Vanessa Stofenmacher, a founder of Vrai & Oro, a direct- to-consumer jewellery start-up, is counting on the try-on business model to revolutionise engagement-ring shopping.

Clients can test three sample rings for seven days in exchange for a fully refundable deposit of US$50.

"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."

What if you want to shop across websites? Mr Ankush Sehgal is a founder and the chief executive of Try, which for US$2.99 a month enables customers to try on items for seven days from more than 30 online retailers, including Yoox and Mr Porter.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Try first, buy later'. Print Edition | Subscribe