Alexis DeSalva
Alexis DeSalva is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

Senior Retail and eCommerce analyst, Alexis DeSalva sits down with Jessica Murphy, co-founder of True Fit to discuss how her business is navigating current retail obstacles and the challenges she faces as a female-founder and business leader. True Fit is a data-driven personalization platform for footwear and apparel retailers that decodes personal style, fit and size for every consumer, every shoe and every piece of clothing.

Alexis DeSalva:

We met briefly at the NRF Show in January, which feels like 100 years ago, and you gave me a preview of True Fit, and we talked about my merchandising background and how this would have been a great tool when I was a merchant. For those who may not be familiar with True Fit and what you do, can you give us some background on your business?

True Fit founder Jessica Murphy

Jessica Murphy:

Sure! True Fit is a technology that helps consumers know how clothes and shoes will fit them uniquely by matching them to the unique fit and style preferences of the catalogs of hundreds of their favorite retailers. It’s truly one to one matching between a consumer and a style, that’s all about them, all about people uniquely: what they like, what they don’t like. And we understand consumer preferences and products at almost a DNA level to help people buy with confidence and discover more of what they’ll love.

AD: It’s interesting that it’s the consumer-centric side of the business. It obviously has a benefit for the retailers and the brands but it really is a benefit for the consumer. And I’m just wondering, obviously we’re all consumers in some way, so what made you want to get started on this business? You are a co-founder and True Fit has been around for a bit, so what made you realize there was a need for this or a gap in the market as a consumer?

JM: I think we started the company really because they’re just ought to be a better way, and a more efficient way to find and buy the things that you love, and that you’ll ultimately keep. So the real kind of motivation behind starting the company was really simple; we should make this easier. There are millions of products produced every year. I’m a consumer that has a set of preferences and a set of likes and dislikes; we ought to make it easier to match up those things. And by doing that, we found that the real way to do that was to understand consumer preference at a deep granular level and also understand all the products that are being produced in the world at a really granular level. And we’ve built this huge cross-market understanding of people, and what they like and don’t like. So when you think about the benefit back to retailers, that really is where it stems from; a retailer typically only understands what happens within their four walls or four virtual walls, but we have an understanding of a consumer everywhere they shop, that we have visibility to. And even if we don’t work with a retailer directly, because there is an engagement from the consumer, we both see what they’re doing and what they’re saying.

The registration process is all about what they say, and then when we’re monitoring what they’re buying, what they’re returning, that’s when we observe what they’re doing. Putting these two things together gives us this incredible cross-market understanding of the fact that she bought a $650 pair of boots at Neiman Marcus, and then the next day went to Old Navy and bought a $5 t-shirt for her son. And so that is giving a view of a consumer that allows us to fulfill the mission of how do we get you – the consumer – to the things that you’re going to love and keep. But that understanding is also huge for retailers because maybe the customer comes to you, only for one thing or one category. This is our opportunity to really help the retailers just get a better understanding of who they’re serving so that they can do it more effectively.

AD: It’s connecting the dots of what a consumer says versus what they do. They really are two different things.

JM: It’s really human nature. So much of what we’re trying to solve for is the psychology around consumer behavior. And that’s really what we’re trying to get at is the marrying of the two things. Tell us what you think you love versus what you continue to buy over and over again. And then how can we get you out of that comfort zone to get you more things that you’re going to love.

AD: And the industry has changed a lot. It has taken on a new level of contactless shopping, and I read on the website that True Fit offers this frictionless, contactless shopping experience. And that really caught my eye because that’s something that we’ve been talking about for a while and then the pandemic happened, and it really is the biggest point of friction that I think probably any retailer has faced because it was so unexpected. I think it’s a really interesting position for a company like True Fit to be in. I’d love to know how you’ve helped navigate the pandemic and the challenges for the retailers you work with because of that knowledge and understanding of the consumer.

JM: What we’ve seen is the acceleration of really blurring the lines between offline and online. Retailers have been working towards that for over a decade now, but they were forced to do it kind of overnight. And that means look at your inventory holistically, look at your services holistically, run and manage your business as like one P&L. And then you think about the in-store experience. Associates can’t service customers the way that they always have; now they have to do it with masks on and six feet apart.

AD: You can’t even try on clothes in stores!

JM: For us, we knew we had to step up and help because we had the power to do so. Over the last few months, we have worked very hard with several of our partners to bring all the capabilities of our technology to life through in-store QR codes, and in-store app integrations where consumers can scan items and get their personal recommendations and fit guidance. And we’ve been doing a ton of training for store associates, again, because they can’t interact the same way that they did before. So much has gotten disrupted overnight, and many of our retailers are just focusing on the basics like buy online, pick up in-store, and some of these other services that further blur the lines. And for us, our role in all of this was to figure out where we can insert guidance to help make up for some of the deficiencies that exist in the in-store environment today.

We’ve been doing a ton of training for store associates, again, because they can’t interact the same way that they did before. So much has gotten disrupted overnight, and many of our retailers are just focusing on the basics like buy online, pick up in-store, and some of these other services that further blur the lines. And for us, our role in all of this was to figure out where we can insert guidance to help make up for some of the deficiencies that exist in the in-store environment today.

AD: This caused a lot of retailers, big and small, to realize gaps in their models that they weren’t aware of, or it really accelerated the problems that already existed before the pandemic. If I’m a business and I’m interested in collaborating with True Fit, could you give us some insight about how to get involved, and how that would further help optimize the business? Do you have a range of retailers and brands that you partner with and what are the criteria?

JM: We know customers in the way that retailers and brands can’t because they’re very limited in their view of any given consumer. One of the things that we have opened up recently is our ability for our network partners to leverage our collective of consumers to help drive more qualified traffic; we’re helping them find the people that are perfect matches for the inventory that they have. It’s all about creating those connections, so we leverage our knowledge of what people like, what they don’t like, how much they spend, what categories they’re buying, what they’re wearing, what they’re sending back. And the people that are leveraging us the best are leveraging all that consumer intelligence to service their customers in an elevated way. We are sitting on a wealth of information, and that interaction with the consumer is still at the center, but we knew that we needed to help retailers where they needed it the most. And right now it’s in acquiring really qualified traffic, not just traffic of any kind because the whole dynamic and landscape of who is shopping has changed overnight.

For us, we try to turn that into experiences, so they can do it without a lot of effort, but also to give them a great understanding, feedback and intelligence around everything from styles and how they’re fitting, all the way through that matchmaking of who to market this to, and how to assort their products, and product development. We’ve really expanded our offering, and because of our role and market as, not only servers of consumers, but also to be of service for retailers. It’s a hard job to try and take all that inventory and then match it to the people that you know it’s going to be a great match for.

AD: I think the quality aspect that you mentioned is really important because now you can’t rely on the customers that were always there before, because maybe they’re scaling back they’re spending on clothing and accessories. But also, I think the pandemic may have ushered in a chance for new customers to cross a retailer’s path or discover a new brand because that in-store opportunity was removed and maybe they had to shop somewhere online that they weren’t used to or they discovered something new. So I think focusing on the quality and the experience, as you mentioned, is really important for going forward because we don’t know what the shopping experience is going to be like, but we know that it’s going to be different than what it was before lockdown.

JM: Most of our heavily brick-and-mortar-focused retailers pre-pandemic, who were around 20% digital penetration, are now at 60% digital penetration, and what’s really interesting is that for every single one of those companies, they are adjusting their plans go forward to stay and remain at those levels. So I think there are two things happening; one is just the overall digital shift that retailers are not forecasting will change and I agree. And the other thing that’s happening is mobile penetration; how much more activity has shifted to mobile. It was already really high. Some of our bigger brands that are focused on a younger, under age 35 consumer are seeing 75% of traffic and about 65% of sales coming through mobile now. And so this is resulting in a complete 360 on what retailers are focusing on, and where they’re prioritizing. When you think about those mobile shifts, it has essentially blown up roadmaps around desktop and put all efforts on mobile and ensuring that it’s perfect. And the same thing for those store-heavy retailers that are now seeing this expected permanent rebalancing. Because what’s happened is that we essentially trained a whole group of people to get comfortable shopping online in four months.

AD: When you put it that way, it’s crazy!

JM: It really is. I think what’s actually been really awesome to see through all of this is, I think, retailers have also learned how to do things really quickly. They have been victims of analysis paralysis for years, and then overnight, they realized things like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) has to happen tomorrow; digital payments have to be integrated, and they figured out how to do it. I come from this industry, so one of the things that really kills me is the slowness of this industry. So it was kind of that kick in the butt that many retailers needed to just prioritize, focus, and figure out how to do things quickly and focus on service.

Read part 2 of Alexis’ interview with Jessica Murphy, as they discuss the social media component of retail as well as the future of the brick-and-mortar store.