Even Bras , An Algorithm for Everything

Description: THE two and a half miserable hours that Michelle Lam spent in a fitting room, trying on bras, one fine summer day in 2011 would turn out to be, in her words, a “life-changing experience.” After trying on 20 bras to find one that fit, and not particularly well at that, she left the store feeling naked and intruded upon

Source: NYTimes.com

Date: Feb 23, 2013


Professional bra fitters have also moved online. Linda Becker, whose family owns two bra stores in New York, says she sells twice as many bras online today at LindaTheBraLady.com as she does in her stores. Some of her online customers have previously visited one of her shops and been fitted in person. But new customers take their own measurements and work with customer service representatives on the phone. She says only 10 percent of online orders are returned.  But some customers turn out to be extremely hard to fit and it’s hard to tell why, Ms. Becker says. “That kind of customer will be impossible to fit online because the problem is unseen. There’s no way of figuring it out over the phone.”  Read Rest of Story 

Definition of algorithm: a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computer.

 Questions for discussion:

1. What applications of this particular kind of algorithm do you think would be valuable in the marketplace?

2.  Will this e-commerce application replace brick and mortar stores for this application?  Why or why not?


9 thoughts on “Even Bras , An Algorithm for Everything

  1. Ashley S

    This e-commerce application, while innovative, will not replace all brick and mortar stores. The idea behind True&Co is to create convenience for shoppers in a market that was previously deemed “unsuitable for sale online”. However, there are still many people who would prefer to physically see the product they are buying. In the case of bras, this would include physically trying them on to ensure a perfect fit before purchase. Linda Becker stated in the article that some of her online customers had previously visited the store to be measured in-person. This begs the question: would these online customers have tried to measure themselves or phone for help if a physical salesperson had not been available to help in the sizing process? While some customers may have attempted this on their own, I believe there are still many customers who would rather go the process in a store and be guaranteed a good-fitting bra when they leave the store, regardless of how uncomfortable and intruded upon they may feel during their shopping experience.
    Additionally, because there are some customers who are extremely hard to fit, regardless of the amount of over-the-phone help provided. Because of this, 10% of online orders made are returned. For this 10%, the e-commerce route of shopping becomes very inconvenient, far more inconvenient than it would have been to get fitted properly by a real sales associate in a store. While e-commerce can be wonderfully efficient for those who are savvy with online shopping and fit a “normal” body type, those who don’t will still enjoy being able to go to a physical store and ensure their purchase is right for them.

  2. Jeff

    The best application for this algorithm that matches over 2000 body types, is in sales and marketing. The company itself speaks to the fact that it is not a truly accurate godsend. The fact that customers buy bras that were picked by the algorithm and not the buyer most likely stems from the fact that customers are getting these bras in their hand, the same way a car salesman sells the leather interior on a test drive. The “algorithm” message there is more a less a message of customer service, and to convey the fact that this company is doing all that they can to be as helpful as possible through an unpleasant shopping experience.

    This day in age, if everyone who had the ability to shop online only shopped online, brick and mortar would not exist. However, as with the algorithm, people enjoy customer service. The online world has provided a great atmosphere for the new wave of mass customization in sales, there is no doubt about that. However, people still go to the mall on their on free will, knowing full well the sunglasses or jeans they are about to buy would cost about 30% less online; and they do this because they get a better connection with their goods, and brick and mortar will always allow the customer to feel the excitement of shopping. Online shopping is a value based method of finding endless options, where as brick and mortar shopping is a service based experience with limited options. People always have, and always will pay more to feel important. Brick and mortar stores have suffered from e-commerce and will continue to do so, but eventually this will likely level off, and the big box retails will continue to push full force, and the independent shops of the future will offer truly differentiated goods with unbeatable service to stay alive. Those who don’t, will fall to both major retailers based on both brick or click that do.

  3. Tom

    The use of algorithms in this bra shop is a very wise idea because it not only ease the shopping experience for a consumer but it expands its market to anyone with internet. It creates a very strong competitive edge when it comes to other bra shops because now consumer has a choice or either coming in to fit or not. In today’s society we are very lazy and if there is a program over there that will shorten the time of buying something like a bra then no doubt people will take advantage of it. However, computer algorithms is never a hundred percent correct so if a consumer wants to take that risk then it is entirely up to them.

    No it will not replace brick and mortar because not one hundred of the population uses the internet. So we have the people that do not use the internet and other people that just like the shopping experience so she would most likely go into a shop for fitting. However, using the internet for bra fitting does save time but like i said before you will run into the risk of it not fitting.

  4. Michelle

    I think the whole idea of e-commerce and algorithms will eventually grow and attract more customers over time. I do not think it will completely take over the brick and mortar shopping experiences but I do think a lot of women will be attracted to the idea and curious to try it at least once.

    Many women today struggle with finding the perfect bra that fits especially for women who are all shapes and sizes. Having the opportunity to speak to a representative over the phone on your measurements and details on your favorite bra will give the customer a feel for customization. Also by having five bras sent to you before any purchasing is like a bonus in itself. It is also very convenient for a woman to not have to drive to the location to try them on because they can do it in the comfort of their own home, so it is also like a trial pair to see if and which one is the right fit.

    Shopping online always poses a threat for credit card theft which also keeps people from experiencing online shopping. The more positive experiences that the customers have the more positive feedbacks the online shopping will be for LindaTheBraLady.com. I am also assuming the women who purchase bras online will have a record of their perfect measures and likings which also makes it even more convenient to order more bras online without the hassle of re-measuring and/or trying on selections of bras for the future.

  5. Denaye Corbeil

    I think that e-commerce is very valuable in the marketplace because it provides an easier and faster method to purchase items. The company’s True&CO and Linda the Brady Lady has shown to be very effective online websites where women can purchase bras. These websites are valuable because they contain a variety of bras with different styles, sizes, types, and colors, so the customers have various options to choose from. This is also an important market because customers do not have to take the time to drive to the store and search the store; the shopping can be done right from home.

    Although, I think that online- shopping has increased drastically, I don’t think that it will ever fully replace the brick and mortar stores. There will always be customers who prefer to shop in actual stores and have the extra leisure time to do so. There are also many security issues with the e-commerce marketplace. Some online-sites may not be trustworthy and could be a scam to steal your credit card information. Also, certain products might look appealing online, but once you receive the item, it looks nothing like the picture on the screen. At least with brick and mortar stores, you can actually see the product before you make the decision to purchase it.

  6. Meghan

    Algorithms will never be able to fully replace the personalized service that some individuals require. Although, the application of this particular kind of algorithm, which provides the customer with more options based on personal questionnaires would be useful for the majority of shoppers; especially in a retail marketplace. This algorithm allows customers to view and purchase items that have been personalized to them based on previous purchases. This allows the consumer to have a quicker and easier time online shopping as well as allows the retailer to prioritize and focus on the most popular items instead of having many different options that may not be bought. Specifically, this algorithm would be able to identify the immediate needs or wants of an individual person. It can significantly reduce the amount of time a person would spend in the store browsing through racks and replaces it with the scroll of a mouse that is tailored to personalized requests.

    Nonetheless, algorithms will not entirely replace the retail market, as there are flaws within the system. Some people require a human interaction when they are shopping for clothes to help get opinions or truly discover their proper size or simply decide to change the style they have had for so many years. The algorithm would not necessarily provide consumers with new styles or ideas as it would be based on past purchase history. Also, there are times when people are in immediate need of an item and at times the 24-48 hour shipping services may not be suitable.

    Algorithms can be beneficial or non-beneficial depending on the situation of the customer. Therefore, there will always need to be a mix of online marketplaces and local marketplaces.

    1. Ashley E.

      The idea of purchasing a bra successfully online is appealing to me and seem like a cool idea, something I definitely will try out. I find it painful to go into a lingerie store and try on dozens of bras until the right one fits. I find it awkward having the customer service lady, poke around and measure me. It’s convenient and would save a lot of time, it can be a chore to leave home and go to the store for a purchase. Some women feel uncomfortable purchasing in the store and this would solve that problem.

      I’m from a small isolated community where the only store to purchase a bra is the joint retail grocery store called NorthMart, where the selection of bras is limited. Having a sophisticated online resource that is proven to be effective would be a quick solution for this problem.

      I don’t think that this method of shopping will replace the retail stores entirely, there are always flaws with the system. On the flip side of what I said, it can be a lot of fun spending the day at the mall shopping. Having the one on one connection with the customer service staff is helpful when learning about new products and a lot of people need the additional help when choosing styles. There are also experienced staff that fit and measure properly. Also, there are a lot of times where you need to purchase quickly; the online service does not provide this service.

  7. Stephanie

    I feel that this type of algorithm is very useful. It can help tell you what styles people are looking for and you can then customize you website to either make the most loved products easily accessible or showcase new styles that people will like. I think we are getting to a point in time where there is an algorithm for everything. Business is all about identifying needs and wants and algorithms are a very significant tool in this process.

    I think that there will always be brick and mortar stores but I find I do most of my shopping online. It has gotten easier and easier to find the styles, sizes and prices I like online rather then in a physical store. Most places offer free shipping and more and more are even offering free prepaid return shipping. You just send the items back in the bag it came in and attach a new sticker to the front. This type of processes is really paving the way for e-commerce. Making it easier for the consumer to try on the clothing or other item at home and facilitating easy returns is essential in ensuring the growth of online shopping. There have been many times where I try an item on in the store and purchase it only to find I don’t love it when I get home and returning to a store is always more of a hassle then throwing it back in the mail. Online shopping is something that I think every business will need to embrace in the future in order to remain competitive.

  8. Kat

    Algorithms will never truly replace a brick and mortar shopping experience.

    While the algorithm may work for 8/10 women, it is still missing that 20% who are best cared for in-house. Especially given the articles being dealt with, most women will feel more comfortable seeing, feeling and most importantly trying on the product rather than staring at a photo online.

    Speed is also another factor. While most companies do 48hr shipping, does that replace a 20min drive down to the nearest shopping centre to pick up whatever you need?

    Security is also a worrying concern. Credit card information online is hard to keep secure. Online breaches happen and can wreak havoc on the credit histories of online shoppers.

    While online shopping has brought about a decrease in “real-world” shopping, it has also forced retailers to up their game and create full shopping experiences to draw crowds in. Who hasn’t wanted to go try out the golf simulators at various golf shops in town?

    While they do take the guessing game out of online shopping, algorithms never truly take the place of a brick and mortar shopping experience.


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