Behold, an outfit-driven shopping app that learns what customers like, will launch today, combining women’s contemporary brands, stylists and artificial intelligence.
The platform is cofounded by Terry Boyle, previously president of Nordstromrack.com, Trunk Club and HauteLook. Behold’s merchandising strategy is spearheaded by Julie Gilhart and Tomoko Ogura, president and consulting partner, respectively, of Tomorrow Consulting. Between them, they have 18 and 12 years, respectively, leading fashion and merchandising at Barneys New York.
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The site will combine professional stylists including Micaela Erlanger, Becca Gross, Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson, and Tara Swennen with Behold’s patented “Smart Collab” AI platform, which uses machine learning to understand an individual shopper’s preference.
“After so many years in the e-commerce business, I know firsthand that the model is officially broken, and that’s because it was built to serve retailers. As a result, it’s not rewarding or fun for shoppers and it’s increasingly not economic for brands,” said Boyle.
“We built Behold for women to easily discover outfits they’ll love, in a way that’s personalized to each customer, mixing and matching brands they’ve bought for years but also introducing new brands that are a perfect fit for their individual type. We want to help brands find a new universe of potential buyers,” he said.
The way it works is when the user comes to the app, mobile device or web site (shopbehold.com), she answers a survey containing questions about her style; ranking her preferences of certain looks on a scale from never to often (showing looks that are sexy, classic, feminine, preppie, bohemian, edgy, sporty, etc.); how she like things, such as her jeans, to fit; what sizes she wears in tops, pants, jeans and bra; what type of shoe she prefers, and her height, weight and age. It asks how much they like to spend on certain categories, which fabrics, patterns and colors they prefer to avoid and body parts they like to flaunt, as well as at which stores they normally shop.
Once the user completes the survey, they are shown the Edit, selected for them. It can feature tops, sweaters, bags, sneakers, leggings, jeans, dresses, jackets and shoes as outfits, reflecting their personal style.
Each week, stylists create and send new outfits virtually to each customer (whether or not they’ve purchased anything), and they can make their own outfits guided by the Smart Collab technology and explore outfits created by themes. At any time, a customer can swap items in and out from the outfits. Shoppers also have access to a closet feature where they can build outfits around items they already own.
Behold doesn’t buy inventory, it’s a total drop-ship model. Each of the brands handle their own fulfillment, so items in the outfit arrive in separate boxes at hopefully around the same time. Shipping and returns are free for the customer.
Some 50 brands are currently featured on the site, including Lemlem, Nili Lotan, A.L.C., Alexander Wang, Tanya Taylor, Simon Miller, Studio 189, Colleen Estrada, and Rachel Comey, along with emerging brands like Cesta Collective and Emme Parsons. There is also an emphasis on values-driven businesses like Triarchy that focuses on sustainability, local manufacturing, good labor practices and diverse leadership, as well as Black-owned brands.
“I’ve been in e-commerce for over 12 years, and running a lot of different models, the flash model, the in-person stylist model, the stylist in a box model, and traditional e-commerce,” said Boyle. “I feel all of them had strengths, but they also had weaknesses in the format that the customer wanted. We think it’s important that it’s real-time, interactive, and it’s outfit-driven, that’s how customers want to shop, and it’s fun. Because online shopping has lost the fun aspect.”
Boyle said Behold takes 25 percent of each item’s sale, and brands don’t need to pay anything to be on the site. There are no subscription fees or costs for the customer to participate, and they don’t have to commit to buy anything. “It’s a free service, and once a week, professional stylists will make outfits for them,” he said. Each week they will be offered seven to 10 new outfits.
“To be outfit-driven, you have to be multibrand, it’s not something a single brand can do effectively. We give brands room to grow their direct brands, without competing with them,” he said. He noted the site’s goal is to give the user the ability to see how a piece works with other items to create an outfit. As the customer interacts with the platform, the more it learns about her.
Asked how he will handle markdowns on the site, Boyle said essentially they’re taking their price cues from the brands’ own web sites.
Boyle started the site with Herman Radtke, cofounder and chief technology officer.
According to Gilhart, “Behold comes at a time when brands are in need of new selling pathways. They need innovative digital doors to open for their brand while so many of the brick-and-mortar stores are challenged. It also comes at a time when the customer is expecting a more exciting shopping experience. Behold’s marketplace platform is a win-win; it creates a personalized, outfit-driven and easy way to shop for the customer while allowing brands to reach women in ways they weren’t able to before. Everyone engaged in the process has the adventure of discovery.”
Discussing how she got involved in the project, Gilhart said she was introduced to Boyle through Ogura. “Terry contacted us after COVID-19 set in, and we were all realizing the impact it would have on things,” said Gilhart. “We had a lot of designers contacting me, they said their orders are down, their inventories are up, stores are closing, they’re very much in a distressed way. The platform as a whole in my mind became a great place for designers to land. It’s a place where they can own their own inventory, and they could solve some of their problems. It was an online platform which could enhance their own direct-to-consumer business.”
Boyle said a lot of the stylists selected worked with him previously at Trunk Club, and continue to work as independent stylists. He said the stylists will be creating outfits and creating content for the platform. He said the customer doesn’t know who their stylist is personally because that creates a scheduling challenge. “What we’re doing is having professional stylists who focus on certain categories,” he said.
Behold isn’t launching with eveningwear, but will focus on that eventually. In addition, it will soon add a blog and editorial content from the stylists, Boyle said.
“There are so many great stories popping up about contemporary brands. Every week we are highlighting two or three brands that we think our customer should know. Every brand sets up their own shop-in-shop on the site,” he said.
Can the stylist gently nudge the customer in a new direction that perhaps she’d be willing to try, but isn’t her primary aesthetic?
“Our data machine is designed to be as open as possible. We don’t ask people [in the survey] yes or no, we ask them on a scale. Let’s say edgy is not their primary style, but they show some interest in it, let’s show them an outfit or two with an edgy component to it. We want to allow the customer to explore, to give them ideas. Sometimes they’re very targeted or they may push them in a different direction,” said Boyle.
On the site, there are about 10 different categories, ranging from edgy and retro to androgynous, ath-leisure, bohemian, business casual, and glamorous. “Some of these categories will be more important for launching than they will be in another year. You can address what you think the marketplace is going to want. We also paid attention to brands that had a lot of integrity. Most of the brands have authenticity and are female-led. They have sustainability in their DNA. We curated a nice group of Black-owned business. We tried to hit on all the touchpoints that were important.”
“Each individual has a customized experience. It’s not overwhelming. It’s really curated,” added Ogura.