It’s hard to overthink a phone charging cable. The last time you needed a new one, odds are you hopped on Amazon, looked at a couple of options, bought one with decent reviews, and checked out within minutes. It’s what we call a low-consideration purchase.
Now contrast that with the last time you bought a car. Or an couch. Or a TV. Think of the research that went into it, how you compared and contrasted the different options, and your last-second hesitation before you finally bought it. That’s what happens with high-consideration purchases.
High-consideration purchases usually cost quite a bit and play a significant role in your life for a long time. They’re not items you’d easily cast aside and buy another if you’re not happy. They’re often things you want to shop for in person to get the full, immersive experience. It’s why pulling off an eCommerce business centered on high-consideration purchases is a difficult and, potentially, even an insurmountable struggle.
The Black Tux, an online suit and tuxedo rental company, is a high-consideration purchase business. Suit and tux rentals aren’t as expensive as, say, a car—but they aren’t cheap. And beyond that, the tuxes you pick for you wedding really matter. It’s the most photographed day of most people’s lives, and those pictures are passed down for generations. You need to get your clothes right.
But, in spite of the inherent difficulties of being an eCommerce retailer operating in the high-consideration purchase zone, The Black Tux has managed to continually grow and thrive since it launched in 2013. How? By addressing all their customer’s considerations at every step of the process.
Andrew Blackmon got married in 2011 in Santa Barbara, California. He and his groomsmen, one of whom was his good friend Patrick Coyne, rented their tuxes at Men’s Wearhouse. The rentals cost a decent amount, at $200 each, but according to Blackmon, the money wasn’t worth it: “We look[ed] like we were wearing our dads’ boxy, polyester suits.”
That disappointment inspired Blackmon and Coyne to begin looking into whether there was an opportunity to reboot the tuxedo rental business. They found it was a market that was relatively uncrowded, dominated by Men’s Wearhouse and other, smaller brick-and-mortar chains. It was also one that was ripe for a new player because, as Blackmon told TechCrunch, “This is a multibillion-dollar industry that’s completely overlooked because it’s unsexy… most people in the garment or fashion industry don’t look at rentals as something they want to disrupt.”
The two launched The Black Tux in June 2013. They used higher quality fabrics than most existing rental options, worked with trendy designers to create more modern styles, and aimed to deliver a product that was about half the cost of what people were used to paying.
And… they were an instant hit. After several periods of significant growth (an early mention in GQ led to The Black Tux selling out its inventory overnight), it was clear they’d found a way to succeed in selling a high-consideration product. Let’s dig in to how they did that.
1. A significant and ongoing investment into customer service
The Black Tux figured out early on that because they sold a high-consideration product, their customers needed a wide variety of support channels available at an even wider variety of times. Customer service is available seven days a week, as suit renting isn’t just a Monday through Friday, nine to five endeavor—in fact, they quickly found Saturdays were one of their biggest customer service days.
The company also created a customer service training program to make sure their reps could handle the specific needs of their customers—a program that continues to evolve as the company grows and learns more and more about its customers. All customer service hires run through an intensive two-week training course before they ever help a single customer. From there, each rep works their way up through the various levels of service, from answering customer emails before moving to live chat, then co-browsing, returning voicemails, and finally, answering live phone calls.
That commitment to instant, multi-faceted customer service is crucial for a high-consideration product. Customers often want to talk to a real person, both to get answers to their questions and for the subconscious reassurance that they’re dealing with a company that’s legitimate and will deliver what it promises.
2. An experiential and communal website
Renting a tuxedo online means you don’t have the option to touch the fabric. To feel what the suit feels like on your person. To see with your own eyes if the “black” is truly black, or more of a faded dark gray.
Product descriptions are important for every eCommerce business—one study found customers cite them as a major factor in the decision-making process on 87 percent of purchases. With a high-consideration purchase, they’re crucial to help a customer get a complete understanding of the product without literally touching it in person.
Those descriptions need to be paired with high-quality product photography. This might seem like eCommerce 101—of course you need to tell people what they’re buying and show pictures of your product—but it’s even more important for high consideration purchases, which naturally come with more trepidation from potential customers.
The Black Tux makes sure every item in its inventory has a wide variety of high-quality photos, ranging from models wearing the suits to extreme close-ups of the fabric.
Each item also has detailed, conversationally-written “style notes,” filling the role of what a salesperson might tell a customer, covering everything from advice on fit to the proper occasion to wear that specific suit. (For example, the midnight blue tuxedo is especially good for “spring and summer formal affairs when you have to wear a tux, but black feels too stark.”) The notes aren’t overwhelming or unnecessarily long—just enough to either reassure you that your fashion instincts were right, or gently tell you why they weren’t.
The Black Tux also displays a large number of product reviews on each listing. Customers rank rentals on “quality,” “fit,” and “size,” and often offer a written review and user photos. Since 95 percent of customers rely on reviews to help them make a purchase, a well-designed, thorough reviews section is a crucial part of any eCommerce website, especially one dealing with high consideration products.
The Black Tux’s reviews are helpful for selecting the right suit and minimizing surprises when it arrives—but they also serve as social proof, indicating that hundreds of other people have worn The Black Tux’s suits at weddings and loved them. Being able to see what those suits look like on real people, rather than models being shot in studios by professional photographers, is a nice touch.
Every part of the product page design is geared toward helping a customer get a full, three-dimensional picture in his mind of what his suit will look like when he puts it on. If the website didn’t look good, if there were fewer pictures or they were lower quality, and if there were fewer or less helpful reviews, it wouldn’t do as good of a job eliminating some of the mysteries and variables for the customer.
3. Go overboard on try-out options
The suit renting and purchasing process normally involves going to a store, getting measured, and trying on a few suits. In an eCommerce shopping experience, none of that is possible. So The Black Tux needs to take other steps to make sure your suit fits perfectly when it arrives at your door.
The first step to that is offering a every imaginable at-home measuring option. They’ll send you a tape measure and a guide if you want to handle measurements yourself. Or, you can go to a tailor and submit the measurement results on their website. More hands on? They have a home try-on option, where they’ll ship you a suit to try on. (But the try-on suits are delivered on Tuesday and you have to send it back within 48 hours, so it’d be tough to use the try-on option to get a free rental for an event.)
And in the past few years, they’ve taken it to the next level: Showrooms. Yes, there’s some irony that the thriving eCommerce tux rental site has now leveraged its success into a brick-and-mortar presence—but there’s no doubt it’s good for business as they grow and evolve. For a customer who just needs to try on a tux and speak with someone in-person about this purchase, The Black Tux now has stand-alone showrooms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Dallas, and Portland, Oregon. They also have a deal for showrooms inside of Nordstrom stores; currently they have 24 of those Nordstrom showrooms in major metropolitan areas.
The next step The Black Tux takes to ensure a proper fit is the use of machine learning. The company hired a data scientist from Netflix to help them develop a proprietary algorithm to use men’s measurements to predict the correct suit size; an algorithm that continues to learn and become more refined with each subsequent customer.
Thanks to the combo of all of the available measurement options and the algorithm, Blackmon told Fast Company that more than 92 percent of the suits, shirts, and other garments they ship fit correctly on the first try.
Every step taken by The Black Tux when it comes to pre-order fitting is centered on making sure a customer feels supremely confident that the suit they order will fit them just as well as if they’d gone to a tailor. And that’s essential for selling high-consideration products online; the customer has to feel as if the more convenient online option will work just as well as the standard in-person option.
4. Long rental periods with free shipping
Sometimes fit isn’t perfect. What about that eight percent of customers whose tuxes don’t fit right on the first try? In the traditional suit rental world, people pick up their suits just before the event, and if there’s a fit problem, the store can quickly correct it in-house.
To make sure customers have time to exchange, the Black Tux sends out suits a full 14 days before the event. While that practice certainly affects their inventory—after all, that’s a long time to take a suit out of circulation—it’s another key step in making sure the customers get exactly what they need.
With the two-week lead time, customers can make sure their suit fits—and if it doesn’t, they can get that taken care of with plenty of time to spare. The Black Tux offers to send replacement items if anything doesn’t fit—or even cover part of the bill if a customer needs to go to a tailor. (Yes, they’ll pay for you to cover small alterations to a rental suit.)
The shipping is also free in both directions, which is win-win. It’s a nice perk for the customers—but also a good way for The Black Tux to make sure their products are promptly returned.
The Black Tux has managed to grow and succeed by figuring out how to sell a high-consideration product online. And the lessons from their experience are applicable to any eCommerce businesses dealing in the high-consideration realm.
► A deep focus on customer service
Round-the-clock support, a staff of highly-trained specialists, and multiple options ranging from chat to phone calls are important for a business whose customers will most likely want to speak with someone before making a purchase.
► Replicating the in-person experience with a high-quality website
Since your customers can’t touch or feel, the website needs to take steps to help them feel like they’re still “experiencing” the product. That includes high-quality photography, well-crafted and thorough copy, and social proof through reviews and customer feedback.
► Take every step to instill confidence that the customer will get what they want
The Black Tux uses a variety of pre-purchase measuring options, sophisticated technology, and now, some physical locations, to make sure the customer doesn’t get any unpleasant surprises when they receive the product. That approach can be translated to any high-consideration eCommerce site. If you sell high-end perfume, offer to send a sample. If you sell expensive software, offer walkthroughs, videos, and free trials.
► Make the necessary trade-offs to guarantee customer satisfaction
Traditional rental companies offer tight rental windows to keep as much inventory on hand as possible. The Black Tux’s decision to send suits out with 14 days of lead time costs them short-term money by lowering the amount of times they can rent each suit. But in terms of the long-term value to the brand, it’s clearly worthwhile. The Black Tux also pays for last-minute alterations—again a case of losing a little money upfront for the sake of having a thoroughly satisfied customer.