Fair Indigo, the brainchild of former Lands' End / Sears executive and eCommerce guru Bill Bass, launched it's online business on September 16. The company’s motto is "Style With A Conscience." Fair Indigo's aim is to "pioneer a change in the apparel industry" by putting the people who make the clothes first.
Bill shared some information about his new companies and his thoughts on why reviews is important for Fair Indigo and its customers…
1. Tell us about your new company, Fair Indigo. How did you come up with the idea? What's your story?
One of the people I had worked with at Lands’ End started drinking fair trade coffee and wanted to buy some fair trade apparel – that is clothing made by people are paid fair wages and treated well. Turns out there weren’t any fair trade clothing companies out there so we decided to start one. It wasn’t easy finding factories that paid workers fair wages, but over the course of the past 18 months we found some of the best factories and co-ops in the industry and worked with them to meet our quality and wage standards.
2. How is Fair Indigo different than competitors or alternatives?
We pay the workers who make our clothes fair wages rather than minimum ones. For the first time, customers can now buy fashionable, high-quality clothes that were made by people who were paid and treated fairly.
3. Given your experience at Land's End and Sears, what are the top two or three lessons you've learned about online merchandising?
Customers don’t have the ability to try on clothes when they are buying online, so we have focused on helping customers make sure that they get the clothes they want and aren’t surprised when the package arrives on their doorstep. We developed new tools to help customers zoom in and see the detail of the clothing. We made sure that every item is pictured in every color. We are adding customer reviews so shoppers can see what other like-minded (and like-bodied) people have thought about our clothes. And finally, we back everything with an unconditional guarantee: customers can return anything, at any time, for any reason for an exchange or refund. You might notice that none of these have anything to do with what products are featured on the home page, what products are pushed through email, or anything having to do with upselling – all areas that most companies tend to focus on.
4. Based on what you've learned, and since you call all the shots now, how will you do things differently? Where will you focus? What will you NOT do?
I actually don’t get to "call all the shots". We are an employee-owned company, we all sit together and don’t have offices, and there are frank, open and honest discussions about most of the things we do. Luckily we worked together for many years before starting this company and have a shared belief system that traces its heritage to Gary Comer’s founding principal for Lands’ End: take care of the customer, take care of the employees, and the rest will take care of itself. We merely extended this a little by adding "take care of the people making the clothes". A shared belief system leads to quick decisions and blessedly short meetings.
During a visit to Seattle several years ago I spent the morning visiting a company that relentlessly focused on its competition. In the afternoon I stopped by Amazon and was struck that I constantly heard them talk about their customer but never a single word (nor thought, as far as I could tell) about their competition. When I mentioned this to Jeff Bezos he stated that a company can either be competitor-focused or customer-focused but it can’t be both. I think he is right. We choose to be customer-focused. That is why we like customer reviews.
5. You are one of the first apparel manufacturers to offer ratings and reviews…why is it so important to Fair Indigo?
Vanderbilt University completed a study a few years ago that showed that customers trust reviews by other customers more than expert reviews. This rings true because I find I also trust customer reviews and they are always the first place I turn when I am shopping for something new. At Fair Indigo we want customers to find the clothes that will be just right for them. Customer reviews along with great visualization technology is the best way we know to make it easy for customers to find the best clothes.
6. Why do you believe Ratings and Reviews will increase sales?
It really isn’t about increasing sales, it is about making sure customers find the right clothes and aren’t surprised when the package arrives. That better customer experience might translate into increased sales but that would be a by-product, not a goal.
7. What impact do you anticipate reviews will have on your product design process?
We have a customer focus group that currently gives us feedback on our styles and designs, but logistics limit it to people who live near our headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin. Reviews on fairindigo.com will open up that process to all our customers.
8. Are you concerned about negative reviews?
I don’t think anyone gets too enthused about their bad grades getting posted for the whole world to see, but we would much rather have someone find out that a size isn’t running true by reading it on fairindigo.com while they can still adjust their order rather than having the item arrive in their home and then put them through the hassle of returning and exchanging it.
9. How do you anticipate using reviews in your customer communications?
I don’t see us using reviews as a marketing tool. They are really more of a customer service tool. We do plan on integrating customer reviews into our retail stores (our first opens here in Madison on November 1, 2006). We will have a kiosk in every store where customers can scan the barcodes on our clothes and up will pop customer reviews as well as information about the factory where the garment was made.
10. Anything else you'd like to add?
If I say no, do you change the title to "Nine Questions With Bill Bass"? Just kidding.
We founded Fair Indigo to provide style with a conscience, to give customers an option of well-made, stylish clothes that were crafted by people around the world who were paid fairly and treated well. We also want to make it easy for customers to shop with us so we launched as a multi-channel company with catalogs and stores (ok, a store but more to come) as well as fairindigo.com. We think making customer reviews available through every channel possible will make it easier for customers to shop with us and ultimately be a better customer experience.