Online shopping can certainly have its drawbacks, especially when it comes to finding the right outfit. With the multiplicity of brands, styles and sites available to women shoppers often seen as overwhelming, Mauria Finley decided to start her own company and fill a need in the fashion marketplace.
Finley launched Allume in October 2017 as an on-demand personal shopping service — a personalized, one-on-one experience that uses data to match women with expert stylists who have similar tastes in apparel and fashion. Allume launched with the aid of a $3 million seed funding round from early stage investment firm True Ventures.
When shoppers first visit the site, they take a “style quiz” to match up with a specific personal shopper, providing insights into their goals, style, body shape and budget. Upon matching, the selected stylist will reach out via a text message to schedule a one-on-one consultation that goes into heavy detail about what kind of merchandise the shopper is seeking.
“Think of it almost like the first time you go to a new hairdresser,” Finley said. “She wants to talk through your goals and your hair and how you feel about it. You have this consult, and she really tries to get a sense of you. It’s very much personal shopping.”
This personal stylist will browse the Internet, seek out the best prices and source sale items, and then send the shopper a virtual Lookbook with apparel and accessories that fit her goals. From there, the shopper can purchase what she wants directly from the Lookbook. Although Allume has approximately 50 retailers and brands it officially partners with for special deals, the personal shopper can look anywhere online for merchandise that best fits the Lookbook.
Once ordered, the items ship directly from brands and retailers in accordance with their shipping policies, and shoppers can make returns directly to the brand.
“We’ve done a lot of testing before we launched, and there’s two moments that are important to customers,” Finley said. “One moment is this feeling of ‘She got me,’ and you hear that phrase in a lot of ways: ‘I’m so surprised Megan figured me out so quickly.’ The sense of being understood is a very important part of this. The second moment is: ‘Wow, she found me clothes I love’ or ‘She introduced me to a brand I wouldn’t have thought of.’ Those two moments drive shopper happiness: feeling understood and then receiving clothes they never would have found on their own.”
Clothing prices are never marked up, and the service is essentially free — customers pay a $20 fee that is refunded with purchase as long as the shopper spends more than $20 on a purchase.
Cutting Through The Difficulties Of Product Discovery
Finley, who also serves on the Board of Directors at Fossil Group, comes from a background that includes online marketplaces and subscription retail. During her tenure as Senior Director of Buyer Product and E-Commerce Categories at eBay, Finley spent time researching how women shop within fashion and had one major takeaway — one that even affects Amazon: product discovery is hard.
In March 2011, Finley founded Citrus Lane, a subscription service for young families, but upon leaving in 2014, she realized many consumers are missing out on the human element that drives in-store fashion shopping. She noted that while current subscription services automatically send customers boxes of clothing or other assorted items based on algorithms, many items turn out to be a poor match for the customer and are returned.
“All of these business experiences have taught me that consumers are pretty unsatisfied with shopping online for fashion,” Finley said. “At the same time, they’re walking away from malls, and brands would like a new way to reach, talk to and find consumers.”