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MeUndies, a year-and-a-half-old L.A. apparel startup that’s distinctly not old-fashioned, is asking customers to help it bring offline-style face-to-face, real-time customer service to people shopping online.
The startup’s strategy hits lots of the items small businesses use to compete with larger ones. It cuts out middlemen and sells exclusively online so it can dramatically reduce prices, despite selling a high-end product; employs a marketing campaign targeted at a young demographic; and uses the sort of subscription model that’s been so successful for companies like Birchbox and Dollar Shave Club.
Now its new crowdfunding effort aims to build a system that will connect users via video, if they choose, to an actual human being who will walk them through their products, which include “The World’s Most Comfortable Underwear” and other basics like t-shirts and socks for both men and women.
“We really wanted to take the retail model of shopping offline in a store and take it online. There are very few online stores that have that personal touch,” CEO Jonathan Shokrian told Business Insider.
The company hopes this model of customer service will really differentiate itself from its competition. “We were not happy with the status quo of customer support,” Shokrian said in a recent Bloomberg interview.
The company chose to crowdfund customer service to do market research at no cost, to figure out if it was something that people were actually interested in using.
Small businesses and new startups frequently don’t have the luxury of trying out a business and then folding if it doesn’t work out. They need to be as certain as they can before making a bet. This is a way to reduce both the market and financial uncertainty for a new venture that nobody’s really tried before.
Both the subscription model and this personal face-to-face online customer service are a bet that when people invest in higher quality basics like underwear, they’ll keep coming back. Especially if they figure out the size and cut that works for them with the help of someone who really knows the product.
The customer service reps will be able to walk people through the best sizes based on their build and what’s on offer, along with what styles might be better for working out versus everyday wear, Shokrian says.
The majority of the money customers contribute ─ the company’s hoping for $US30,000 and has raised more than $US10,000 ─ will go toward building out technology for the platform that will provide the video service.
Rewards for people who help with funding range from products to (for the largest contribution) a fully stocked vending machine with underwear, socks, and shirts.
The campaign’s part of an ethos where the company thinks of itself as a tech startup as much as an apparel company, and is as focused on the shopping experience as on the product.
The biggest challenge
“The biggest challenge is on the tech side, finding great talent,” Shokrian says. “It’s easy to find good people; it’s really hard to find great people. For us the biggest challenge is making sure we use the dollars we’ve raised already through angel investors well, and making sure we’re hiring people we feel will add the most value and help take us to the next level where we can raise our next round.”
They face a huge amount of competition from bigger companies that can offer much larger incentives and benefits.
Upstarts have to rely on their vision to sell people who could easily work for more elsewhere.
“We want to be the next great basic apparel company both off and online,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of innovative things to get us there. We try to get people behind our vision, and once they see where we want to take it, people get excited.”
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