Were Sleeve Garters Actually a 19th Century Retail Strategy?

Long ago a clothing retailer had a plan. First, find some customers who are not really sensitive to retail customer experience issues e.g., frontier and turn-of-the-century men such as saloon keepers, shop keepers, gamblers, barbers, and the like who, believe it or not, back then spent most of their waking hours intoxicated.  Second, only produce shirts with Extra Long sleeve lengths. This ingenious move had two profitable outcomes: one on the cost side and the other on the revenue side. By producing one color and one sleeve size, the retailer was able to realize significant cost savings. Then, as planned, the 80% of the customers who had shorter arms didn’t think to complain to the retailer but instead simply found their own solution and began to tie ribbons around their biceps to adjust their sleeves to the exact length they required.

Problem solved right? Not so fast. You see, the retailer knew that back in those days, ribbons were not considered very manly. And to go along with the much-too-long sleeved shirts they introduced the shirt accessory called the “sleeve garter” which their stubbier-armed customers happily purchased at regular high-margin accessory prices. Brilliant! The first cost-saving cross-sell in recorded history?!

Retail Customer Experience Today

Ok, so I think not. Fast forward 130 years or so to 2019. Today, the retail customer experience matters. Greatly. Customers no longer spend their days intoxicated.  They have amazing tools in the palms of their hands that quickly let them discover which retailers really have it together and understand the stakes of not delivering a 21st-century customer experience.

I have been buying men’s clothing for decades but, for some reason, I have never been able to align my busy life schedule with the retail fashion cycle of buying Fall/Winter items in August. Instead, I usually find myself in the stores mid or late season looking for a shirt or sweater only to find racks occupied only by XS, S, XL, XXL sizes.  I have always wondered why so many clothing retailers after all these years cannot seem to improve this experience.

Retail Analytics

Business analytics problems like this are never that simple once you apply a critical lens to them. Maybe the retailer just stocks what inventory is shipped to them. Different brands have different sizing standards. Maybe the overseas factories drive the size allocations. Maybe the manufacturer does not have visibility to channel sales data. Some retailers are very sophisticated so maybe they are just maximizing revenue and profit with this approach and do not want their M and L size customers to shift their buying patterns to wait for clearance pricing. Whatever the financial or operational justification, it does not address the more important customer experience issue that has persisted for years. And since the retailer owns the customer experience, it is their problem to solve.

A solution to this problem surely exists and the value of that solution lies in the planning, operational, and sales channel data. Though customer dimensions may change over the decades, they do not change from year to year. Along with the financial analysis, performing a frequency analysis that compares what was planned, manufactured, shipped, and moved to clearance by size, type, and promotion could really improve the customer service issue. A formal solution would involve a data strategy, data development, and an analytics/visualization solution.  And, like our fictitious 19th century retail strategy, this 21st-century solution would also have a double-barreled benefit. Not only optimizing the financial return but also improving the customer experience.


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