In today's turbulent and crowded retail landscape, it's difficult to think of a retail strategy that a brand hasn't tried in the hopes of cutting through the noise and reeling in loyal customers. One that's gained popularity in fashion recently, despite not being new per se, is bundling.
As recently modeled by a slew of influencers in Kim Kardashian drag, Kanye West's Yeezy Season 6 collection became available for pre-order in bundles last December: To some sneakerheads' frustration, the collection could only be purchased in kits including, say, a sweatshirt, a pair of sweatpants and a pair of sneakers. That same month, stylist Christine Centenera (who coincidentally has consulted for West) and designer Josh Goot teamed up to launch Wardrobe.NYC: a direct-to-consumer line of chic, considered-luxury essentials sold together in four- or eight-piece "wardrobes" rather than individually.
These aren't the only recent examples of fashion brands selling items in kits. About a year ago, Daniel Vosovic scrapped his namesake clothing line and launched The Kit, a vertically integrated, direct-to-consumer line that offers product in pre-assembled, mix-and-matchable outfits as well as individually. Outdoor Voices, also direct to consumer, dedicates significant portions of its website and brick-and-mortar stores to a "kits" section, encouraging (but not forcing) shoppers to buy the top and bottom that fits their workout needs as a set, and making it extremely easy to do so. Reformation (yep, also direct-to-consumer) just launched and heavily promoted a new section of its website dubbed, "You look good together," featuring matching denim sets.
Matching or not, it seems like more brands than ever want us to dedicate larger portions of our wardrobes to their product, and to make those bulk purchases all at once. But why? And will it work?
Bundling, as a retail concept, is far from new. It's obviously profitable for a brand to sell as many items as it can; usually, consumers are incentivized to buy items grouped together because it's cheaper than buying them individually, like with a McDonald's Happy Meal. Currently, that's the case with Outdoor Voices, as well as, in a way, Wardrobe.NYC, but it's slightly less obvious than the Happy Meal since there's no option to buy the items individually.
"By offering a bundle of goods, we limit our inventory risk and we improve our economies of scale, and we are able to pass on these savings to the customer," explains Goot. "That’s partly afforded by offering a bundle of goods." In other words, limiting the variables of what shoppers can order lowers the costs of production for them, and shoppers benefit from those savings.
Vosovic, whose production model allows him to easily replenish popular items as demand dictates, says he plans to introduce a new pricing structure that "allows customers to receive incentives as they select more items."
But what about when there isn't an obvious financial incentive to buy multiple items at once? These brands' hope, it seems, is that shoppers will be drawn in by the idea that a kit will make their lives easier. "We wanted to provide a solution for people, something that was considered and evolved and complete, so that it took a lot of the thought out of the process [of getting dressed]," says Goot. At Wardrobe.NYC, a four-piece wardrobe consists of a blazer, a menswear-inspired shirt, a T-shirt and a skirt, which must be purchased as a bundle for $1,500.
This can be attractive for a lot of consumers, according to Brand Strategist and Professor of Luxury Business Marketing at NYU Thomai Serdari. "They take away the pain of uncertainty about one’s choices and the insecurity that even if each item is fashionable, the final outfit may not make sense, fashion-wise," she says. "The ultimate goal is to save time, especially on routine activities, and focus on experiences that matter more. Additionally, since social media has made everyone’s life more public, people want to be certain that their posts reinforce public perception about their personal style. They will happily invest in kits/bundles that ensure they appear stylish."
For Wardobe.NYC and, perhaps, Yeezy, bundling was also part of a strategy to react against the traditional fashion business model and outsmart competition. "It's partly a response to the challenges in making the conventional model work in today's world — the notion of designing full collections and the overhead requirements and the cyclical challenge and the challenges with wholesale and the amount of competition over more established designers," says Goot. West hasn't publicly explained his decision to sell Season 6 in bundles, but it's likely that, as some have speculated, he did it to curb reselling of his sneakers — bundled with clothing, a pair costs nearly quadruple what it would alone, and his clothing is less desired/profitable on the resale market — while also encouraging shoppers to buy into a full Yeezy uniform, an idea reinforced by the paparazzi-esque Kim and Kim Klone campaigns.
Serdari and Vosovic both point out that encouraging shoppers to buy full looks is nothing new in the luxury market; though it's traditionally done in a store by a well-trained sales associate working on commission. "Several luxury fashion brands have in-house experts who help consumers with choices that allow them to stretch their wardrobe," notes Serdari. "What premium brands offer as a kit, luxury brands offer in the form of expert advice." In that sense, kits are a new way for direct-to-consumer brands to replicate the in-store customer-service experience online for the next generation of shoppers, many of whom would rather spend time on experiences than shopping for clothes. But does it work?
While Goot says that Wardrobe.NYC is "virtually sold out" of its initial offering, he has received several inquiries from customers about buying individual pieces, which is not an option — at least not yet. "We had to decline all of that interest, so it's something that we're continually thinking about on the one hand, but on the other hand, I think a lot of the strength of our proposition comes from the resolved wardrobe," he says.
When reached for comment for this story, Outdoor Voices said it plans to evolve the way its kits are priced, though it will still promote them. "OV Kits have been an amazing way for us to educate people around product — which materials and styles work best together — and take the guesswork out of where customers should start," the brand wrote in a statement. "Our community looks to us as a resource on recreation, and looking forward, it's super exciting to think about being able to recommend the absolute best product for any activity, whether it's hiking, or dancing, or road biking."
"What was a product line has turned into a product cluster, allowing brands to make better decisions while expanding their offerings with items that serve in the periphery of the original core idea," says Serdari. "This can be very profitable for a brand." Still, she argues, it's important that the products on offer actually solve a problem: "If kits are not thought through and designed around a main core issue, they can easily become superfluous and lose power in attracting consumers."
Homepage photo: @kimkardashian/Instagram