Though it didn’t know it at the time, direct-to-consumer women’s swimwear brand Andie timed its trial of virtual appointments just right.
“We’re constantly thinking about how to meet the evolving needs of our customers, so we decided to start offering virtual one-on-one swim fittings as a trial just before COVID hit,” says Melanie Travis, Andie’s founder and CEO. “Then COVID hit, and our phone lines blew up. We were at capacity with a waitlist for our virtual fittings almost immediately.”
In an effort to make online shopping more personal for the droves of consumers now buying online as a result of the pandemic, many retailers are offering virtual appointments. These merchants aim to replicate as much as possible the in-person connection of a store associate handpicking or directing shoppers to items they may like. And they are proving to be a successful tool to help Andie to boost sales and form closer relationships with shoppers.
Andie’s virtual fittings are designed to be 15-minute consultations, though some last much longer. When they first launched in February 2020, they were call-based, but Andie in February 2021 added a video appointment option. During the fittings, shoppers work with Andie fit experts who have experience in fashion and retail. They provide personalized fit, sizing and style recommendations to help customers find the right swimsuit. “We have internal sizing and product guides to help us match customers with the right suits for their body type, size and occasion,” she says. Fit experts also handle customer support inquiries such as shipping, delivery and pricing questions.
Shoppers book appointments through Andie’s website. After the appointment is confirmed, a fit expert connects with the shopper via phone call or with a link to start a video call. “We talk through everything, including what they’re looking for, make product suggestions, and also handle placing the order at the end. These virtual appointments are helpful for those customers who might need a little more guidance on purchasing their swimwear.”
A wave of requests
The appointments proved so popular that Andie had to hire more staff to handle the flood of appointment requests.
“When we initially launched the virtual fit appointments right before COVID, we had to cap the sessions at 20 per week due to the limited size of our internal team,” she says. “[The appointments] filled up almost as soon as we made them available. We’ve expanded our team to accommodate more sessions. During the summer peak season, we scaled up our fit expert team by 40% to support a higher volume of customer questions and fit consultations.” During the summer Andie was able to take on 30 appointments per week, Travis says.
Last month, Travis and her team added the option for shoppers to book video calls. Travis says video appointments are often more effective than phone calls. “It can be much easier to recommend pieces for someone when you can see them, plus it helps to humanize our brand and build connections with customers,” Travis says.
She says many customers try on the current swim suits they own during on video calls and also ask questions about Andie Swim’s current swimwear collections. Currently, about 38% of shoppers who sign up for appointments are opting for video-based appointments, Travis says.
Many consumers scheduling appointments needed a little extra hand-holding because they were buying a swimsuit online for the first time due to the pandemic shuttering stores, she says. “They wanted the opportunity to speak with a human about their swimwear needs and get fit and sizing help, just as they would shopping in-store with a store associate,” she says.
A human connection
Soon after launching the appointments, Andie noticed some shoppers wanted more than help selecting a swimsuit—they craved human connection, whether related to swimwear or not.
“Sometimes people would call with a small question and then stay on the phone with one of our fit experts for hours,” Travis says. At the beginning of the pandemic, one consumer chatted with a fit expert for an hour, discussing the pandemic and how it was affecting their lives. “The customer expressed that she often spent time outside and loved swimming in lakes near her home in Oregon. She was looking for a suit for active swimming, but also a human connection.”
After the call, the shopper sent an email with photos of her daughter, grandchildren, dogs and herself, along with a note: “I feel the world is sweet when people such as yourself take the time to be kind. Thanks for shining your light.”
“She even went so far as to find our Fit Expert’s photo on the website and included a compliment about her hairstyle,” Travis says.
While video calls are too new to share reliable metrics, Travis says the average order value for purchases stemming from phone call-based appointments is $162.
The appointments are an extension of Andie’s fit quiz, which Andie has had since its launch in 2017. That quiz features a series of questions including general body-related (bra size, height, long or short torso), swimsuit preferences (one- and/or two-piece, level of support and coverage), and general swim-related (pain points, where you plan to wear it). At the end of the quiz, Andie recommends a style and color of suit based on her answers. Travis says Andie has gathered more than 1.5 million data points from customers taking the quiz and continues to improve its quiz algorithm to more accurately show consumers the suits they may like.