Ruth Chapman, co-founder of Matchesfashion.com, on customer-focused selling
How retailer went from a bricks-and-mortar concern to a digital powerhouse that includes e-commerce, retail and UK distribution for brands such as Max Mara and Diane von Furstenberg
“I had a very glamorous mother and stepmother, so I was always interested in beautiful clothes. I avidly read Vogue, so much so that I would ring up stores in London to make sure I could buy the dresses I had seen in each issue.
“I started my career working at Jaeger, then a brief stint in video until Tom [Chapman, her future husband] approached me to join his retail business. We were dating at the time so I was helping him at weekends and trying to direct the product. He mainly sold unisex, lower-priced clothing so it wasn’t exactly glamorous.
“Many people don’t realise that Matchesfashion.com was bricks and mortar first. We went online later, seven-and-a-half years ago. We already had four physical locations in London, and we had so many international customers travelling to us. When digital started to become big we saw an opportunity to connect with our existing customer base all the year round. We did it more as a customer service proposition.
“Matchesfashion.com offers a perspective on fashion that is extremely focused. We propose an edit of what we feel is relevant and current. It’s about giving them a reason to buy, but offering a strong proposition in every piece. Our customer is not dressing for anyone except herself, and that’s what we want to convey with our selection.
“Online is a more competitive space than ever before. Today it’s important to editorialise and talk to your customer about brands. In the beginning online was about a brand proposition, and people were looking for the big brands. It’s still relevant but now customers are increasingly looking for artisinal, design-led pieces. They want to be the first to pick something up – they need to be informed and understand it. It’s vital we empower the customer with knowledge.
“Online may make up 90 per cent of our business, but bricks and mortar interests me the most. Our stores are transactional but they also are a huge marketing opportunity because the customer can engage with the product. They really serve as showrooms and allow us to experiment with different categories and lifestyles.
“Omni-channel was a real buzzword for a while, but we’ve been doing it from the beginning. It’s really about addressing how the customer wants to shop today and having that choice. It’s not a case of online versus offline. We need to deliver fashion to the customer in a way that suits them most without necessarily slotting into typical fashion models. It’s all about being disruptive.
“Part of this is of course sourcing the best brands out there. We keep our eyes open all the time and visit the less obvious fashion weeks such as Australia and Berlin. Looking on social media and talking to journalists is key because it’s where we find lots of our brands. Online retailers like us are in a strong position to help build brands, as we have done with British label Marques Almeida, which immediately had an impact.
“This season we are excited about Palmer Harding – we watched them for a while, and Spring is amazing. Self-portrait has been a great brand, with a fantastic price point. Vita Kin has also been a real success and we have had a great response with Brother Vellies. More and more customers want to support heritage and craft. It’s a response to the digital craze and will become a big trend.
“Looking ahead we want to do digital trunk shows where designers talk through their ideas on video. We are also looking to potentially organise pop-ups in new markets that we are not present in. Long term it’s about bricks and mortar as strategic strongholds in long-term markets.”