Flexibility is another factor that helps with offering a great service: Even though retailers have T&C for returns and purchases, there can be certain situations where a retailer has to take a loss in return for a higher LTV and referrals from their customer. Example for this situation would be a package was never received by the customer but the tracking says it’s delivered. In such a scenario, offering a refund or replacement for the client would keep bringing them back.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitali Saxena, Founder and CEO of Fashom. She holds a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering and an M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering Fed up with the disparity between fashion industry beauty standards and the needs of real women, she left her engineering career to found Fashom, a style-centered online community. Within a year, Fashom expanded into the body-positive focused personal styling service. Core to Fashom’s mission is offering vegan fashion shipped in recyclable packaging. In line with Fashom’s ethos, one dollar from every Fashom box goes directly to rescue stray animals in NYC. Growing a data-driven team, Mitali has created a shopping experience that allows the members of the Fashom community to feel good inside and out. In her previous role as North American sales manager for a telecom software company, Mitali led both large general and special project-focused teams on a regular basis. It is from this experience that she has grown into the leader that she is today as the CEO of Fashom where she has helmed a smaller but hyper-driven team to the success the company has achieved in such a short period of time.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was working with the telecommunications company I had been since completing my Master’s degree and at that point was very much rooted within a corporate structure but after a little while of this routine, I started to find myself looking at bigger picture issues my day-to-day in corporate life didn’t usually allow me to focus on. One that had spoken to me for quite a while was that of the way people have been depicted commercially in the fashion industry versus how they were in actuality, especially when one of my close friends admitted to me that this was an issue that had affected her deeply since she was a young girl. This seriously impacted me, so I started to do some of my own research on the subject to see how I could possibly help because I knew she couldn’t have been the only one who felt this way. This sparked an idea in my mind to try to create a platform that helps people like my friend and so many others out there who felt like they weren’t good enough for so long simply because they didn’t look the same way as magazines said they should.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I think there are always a lot of funny moments when you’re first starting a business that you can’t fully appreciate until you look back on them and are on a steadier path, and I am certainly no exception. One of my favorites though is possibly when our usual USPS carrier was out sick the same week as one of our first big holiday specials, so my husband and I had to figure out a way to bring about 150 boxes from our home office to the post office itself on a Saturday morning at 7:30am. Neither of us has ever drank so much coffee in our lives. Now, we thankfully are much more coordinated from that point largely in thanks to a great team and the amazing help of our USPS carrier (love you, Alex!).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without my family and my husband, I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today. They have been there for me and given so much support to me since I started Fashom, regardless of all the ups and downs along the way. When we first launched, my husband was helping me pack the boxes in our living whilst my father was helping me hand-write thank you notes in the kitchen. Plus our fur-baby, Chewy, is even the unofficial mascot of Fashom whether coming with me to our warehouse space or curling up at my feet in our home office.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My favorite book would definitely be “The Power of Now”. It is my go-to guide for living a mindful life. I believe in that principle in general but this book opened my eyes to both smaller and larger ways that I can practice this on more levels than I had even thought of before.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our goal and company mission is to make a woman feel the best in her own body. We believe thatconnecting with our client on a personal level is key. We offer free video calls with our stylist that helps us understand the client and for them to feel more humanly connected with our services. We support cruelty-free worlds with our strict vegan-product policy and moving towards 100% eco-friendly materials. Besides that we donate 1 dollar from every single box to an animal rescue in NYC.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? (Focus on health/wellness of you as the individual in order to do the best job possible for the health/wellness of the company)
Prepare yourself for the worst but always go in with the mentality that you can strive for and achieve the best. Your team feels and feeds off of the energy that you emit as a leader, so you always have to be conscious of how you present yourself. However, this should not be done at the expense of your own health and sanity. You need to keep yourself on pace but give yourself breaks in-between. Hiring a solid core team is part of that formula, otherwise you will just drive yourself mad with the smallest details every single moment of the day. If you’re not in a good space for your own health, your company won’t be in a good space for its own health either.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Both Kroger and Costco have been phenomenal examples of brick and mortar retailers that have learned to adapt into a more online-focused environment during an explosive boom caused by the unfortunate pandemic we are still working our way through. From both of these exemplary entities, I think other retailers can learn just how quickly you need to adapt with your consumer to fit their new normal even if it might be a bigger shift for your company as a whole, and that a sense of safety is paramount in times of strife. Keeping an environment that caters to so many people all over the country when there is a global pandemic still very much active is possibly the most important cornerstone of your communications with your consumer because it establishes a bond in which they are being looked out for and can have that sense of security when shopping with you.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
My advice would be to focus on better quality products and customer service in order to create an experience that they cannot get anywhere else. Amazon, being the leader in the online shopping industry, has set a perfect example for having possibly some of the most excellent customer service in the world that has helped them retain such a large amount of their audience. Atop that, their fast delivery time, which international companies fail to offer generally, through their amazon prime feature is another major consideration that feeds into their consumers’ needs and embodies their appreciation for that extra level of convenience.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A few of the largest mistakes that I see so many CEOs and founders making when they start off is believing they need to start big right off the bat instead of starting off smaller. I do believe in dreaming big however, one needs to test the waters first in order to grow when that fixed notion of how things are going to go exactly fails you.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
Having great customer service and the ability to give a customer a great experience is going to absolutely affect their feelings about us as a company because it shows how we prioritize their feelings and needs. Good customer service, even when used to remedy a poor experience, can change how a customer feels about you. So often, our customer service reps are their first and last point contact with us, which makes it all the more important that it is overall as positive as it can be, regardless of the situation.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
There are so many occasions where we as companies can become so focused on the bottom line or our ROI that our consumers as people can get lost in the shuffle. There’s an individual person behind every single transaction, and we are nothing without our customers who make those transactions! Once we remember that and use both empathy and understanding when speaking with them regarding their experience, only then they will actually see and feel how important they truly are to us.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One specific occasion I remember very well was when I saw a first time customer review pop up in my email inbox saying how they were so happily surprised by their entire experience with us. She said she knew that even by the initial preview that she was probably going to keep everything but once she actually received it all, she was beyond thrilled and even ended up returning everything from another styling service box she had received in the same time frame. The reason this one is especially poignant to me is because this same person actually turned out to be a YouTuber that we did not know of prior that review, and she ended up posting a review of her box that introduced us to so many of her amazing followers on YT!
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
It really did have an amazing ripple effect with that YouTuber’s audience, other Youtubers who watched her channel and wanted to try us too, and even down to giving her stylist’s confidence a huge boost! This YouTuber’s stylist was one of our newer hires and was barely on the third day of working with us when she styled her, so seeing such a massive success so early really helped her feel like she was in just the right place.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
If I had to create the perfect cocktail (or mocktail, in my case) recipe for the “fantastic retail experience”, I would say the ingredient list would consist of:
- Complete customer satisfaction with product and excellent customer service.
- Adaptability to customers’ needs.
- Personalized experience.
- Long lasting relationships with the customer based on an experience that doesn’t die at a transaction level.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Customer service is key: Customers always remember a good experience and one of our company values is Customers First!
- Making a personal connection and understanding their needs: . We offer free video calls with our stylist which gives us the opportunity to understand their requirements and for them to make a personal connection with us. With the rise of AI in this industry, we often lose the personal touch that we humans love.
- Knowing your customers’ needs in advance: We often send out surveys and talk to our clients about what’s coming next. It’s again a part of having a complete understanding of your clients needs even before they do.
- Flexibility is another factor that helps with offering a great service: Even though retailers have T&C for returns and purchases, there can be certain situations where a retailer has to take a loss in return for a higher LTV and referrals from their customer. Example for this situation would be a package was never received by the customer but the tracking says it’s delivered. In such a scenario, offering a refund or replacement for the client would keep bringing them back.
- Continuity of great experience: We often love a product but we forget our experience of buying it. Perfect retail experience should last days or even weeks after a purchase is made. This could be done with follow up emails or phone calls.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement, it would be the one I am currently trying to push for now (#BetterAsIAm Movement); the true appreciation of one’s body which is often shattered by social and digital media. I do think things have started to improve in the last few years and there are both more natural and diverse people represented but there is still a long way to go. Self-love starts from within yet you can so clearly see it exteriorly, and that is a feeling I want so many people who have been told their whole lives they aren’t good because they don’t fit a specific predetermined mold, to feel.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can connect with me on my Instagram @mitali_saxena or @myfashom! 🙂
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!