Bras in a Digital World
"How do you convince a woman, halfway across the country, to be measured for a bra over the internet?"
Disrupting the Women’s Lingerie Business with Technology:
peach is a venture backed start up changing the way women shop for intimates and basics. The US lingerie market is $13B and has been dominated by unimaginative players such as Victoria’s Secret for years.[i] peach takes cutting edge technology, innovative product design and the skills of creative and caring bra experts to offer its consumers a shopping experience that builds them up, literally.
A personal commerce company, peach uses firsthand relationships for selling. Rather than selling via brick and mortar stores, peach utilizes a network of over 300 highly trained bra experts who visit potential customers in their homes and fit women for new bras, harnessing, “the power of women selling to other women”.[ii]
These bra experts have two ways to earn money, they can sell bras that actually fit people, or they can recruit women to become bra salespeople themselves. The challenge, however, is that both of these activities are more difficult when limited by geography. One’s client base is fixed to the number of people that live within driving distance of one’s house. How do you change your business model and operating model to account for this? Enter the biggest innovation in bra technology since the push up bra: virtual fittings.[iii]
Technology changes the game for a bra experts’ business opportunity – peach’s business is the experts’ business. If the experts aren’t limited by geography, the value they can offer their customers is much higher. An expert can measure a customer for a bra from half way across the world. Even women in her own town can take advantage of the convenience of showing their expert the fit of her new bras the second they arrive in the post via peach’s technology.
Virtual fittings also allow peach, as the home office, to start doing national advertising. Now that they have technology and can access people across the country, all of a sudden, anyone can travel to peach’s homepage and “meet” an expert. Technology can become a customer acquisition channel.
Remember though, the bottleneck for peach has not disappeared, it has just shifted from being the experts to building and maintaining the technology.
Additional Steps peach should Consider:
Customers are responding well to virtual fittings. Janet, peach’s CEO, had the idea of some sort of virtual experience for over a year but nothing had come of it. Then one day an expert confessed that she had been fitting people by Skype, and ‘Virtual peach’ was born. The experts who are good will figure out ways to do this on their own – clear demand from clients and experts. For peach, it is imperative to control the narrative and the experience around the brand, especially as it is developing and growing, and Virtual peach sacrifices a significant amount of head office’s control for future growth.[iv]
However, consumers in general are hesitant about technology, whether because of privacy concerns or general discomfort.[v] So how do you convince a woman, not in the same room as you, to be measured for a bra over the internet?
I did a fitting with a peach expert to better understand the selling process and the potential problems with it. peach does a good job. The expert is warm, comforting and knowledgeable and you are not required to take your shirt off – just to have a tight white tank top on which the expert is also wearing – but it is a strange experience.[vi] This friction, surrounding comfort with technology, has the potential to be a big bottleneck as the company continues to grow. One option would be to expand the target consumer for peach. There is huge potential to shake up the kind of person that you can attract if you use technology. Trying to attract a, “millennial boss babe”[vii] to broaden the company’s appeal and to breach the technology gap could help to significantly increase sales.
Another issue peach is facing is the selling of basics, (cardigans, leggings, etc.). It is difficult to sell basics remotely. peach has found that if the experts put the clothes on so the client can see it helps, but one of peach’s best selling points it a proprietary material that they use. Over technology a customer can’t feel the texture of the material, which is a problem. How to combat this? Include a few basics in each shipment of lingerie to a customer so that the customer can feel and try the product. Give people 21 days to return the products or keep them and pay.
peach has expertly identified an inefficiency within the women’s lingerie market and is adapting its business and operating models to include technology to combat it. I can’t wait to watch them continue to succeed.
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[iii] Personal interview conducted with Rebecca Wyman, ‘Head of Fit Experience’ at peach
[vi] Personal fitting with peach stylist
Student comments on Bras in a Digital World
Hi Avatar, I was very interested to learn about peach — I hadn’t heard of them before! While I agree with you that it would be difficult to help consumers overcome how uncomfortable a virtual bra fitting would be, I also think that this shift in behavior is possible.
My bigger concern is about the business model of the company as a whole. You describe two ways of making money: “ they can sell bras that actually fit people, or  they can recruit women to become bra salespeople themselves.” To me, this sounds like a classic multi-level marketing pyramid scheme. Of course there are inherent PR and regulatory risks in MLM business models, but I’m also curious to know if peach has digitally transformed this pyramid to change the way they operate given the digital nature of their bra fittings.
Hi Nasty Woman, your concerns are very astute and valid! peach would refer to itself as being a ‘direct selling model’ but the differences between direct selling and multi-level marketing are somewhat murky at best. peach’s belief is that they are empowering women who often do not have another good option in terms of a career – women who have to move often such as military wives, or women in remote locations – and as such are being part of the solution, not creating a problem. I asked the Director of Fit Experience whom I have been in touch with your question to see what her thoughts were and she said the following, “It’s way bigger than bras; we use a social commerce model to empower women to build and run their own businesses, changing the world they live in.”
Avator, I loved learning about peach. I’ve always thought bra industry, like many female centered markets, is ripe for disruption. Two of my favorite bra startup are trying to solve a similar problem of revolutionizing the fitting room experience.
1. ThirdLove https://www.thirdlove.com/
ThirdLove developed their own bras. But what really sets them apart is that they can size you via their app. A NASA scientist built the app so that you can be sized based on a couple pictures you take on the app. Like you mentioned with peach, security and privacy are important deterrents they’re trying to overcome. But I think those issues will gradually matter less. As ThirdLove gets traction from word of mouth and earned media, growing number of people are getting sized by ThirdLove’s app and ordering their proprietary bras. I got sized as well by their app and got exactly my size.
2. True&Co https://trueandco.com/
Another one of my favorite companies is True & Co. They do not get involved in sizing but try to resolve bra discovery. Through fairly detailed user surveys, they cater a database of bras based on user reviews to what people with your issues like the most. They also market their internally developed bras. Customers can get a few styles delivered to them for free, try them on, and pick which ones to keep. While I like peach’s personal touch provided by the network of experts, I think scaling “bra advice” is a major roadblock and so I am more optimistic about scalable methods like ThirdLove and True & Co.
Hi Brittany, I’m so glad that you brought up ThirdLove and True&Co because they are great examples of what others in the industry are doing and of the fact that the industry is going through a digital revolution. I tried to do some research on both of these guys as competitors when I was writing my post and whilst they both have good websites, etc. my main takeaway was actually that they were relying too much on technology – at least for now – and therefore not helping the consumer correctly.
Both the ThirdLove sizing app and the True&Co surveys don’t actually really work yet. There is huge potential for them as they improve – think the IBM Watson case that we read – but at the moment they are mostly used as a marketing ploy and as a way to collect as much data as the companies can so they can fine tune the back-end of their algorythms and in time have powerful digitisation running their companies.
As an example, ThirdLove runs on the idea of, “you know your body best, answer these questions”. peach believes that actually you don’t know your body or what you are doing otherwise you would be wearing the correct bra size – it is hard and confusing to know how to measure oneself – come to peach and an expert will help you. peach would argue that without an expert you are no better off than being in a shop in person so they are changing the consumer experience by educating their customers.
Hi Avatar, thanks for this very interesting post. I must confess that I’m a bit confused by peach’s value proposition. Is the value just that a woman does not need to leave her house in order to get a bra? How does one become a bra expert / why would I trust a peach bra expert? I’m trying to determine how the video consultation would be more useful than me simply looking online at any lingerie brand’s sizing photos. Additionally, I would love to know about the quality of these bras – is that part of the value prop? Because if not, I don’t think many women would leave Victoria’s Secret behind for peach (especially since after getting sized for a bra once in the store, you can keep buying subsequent bras online without necessarily needing to be sized again).
Hi Nelly-Ange, great questions!! Very insightful! One of peach’s main value propositions is that they have created a proprietary 10-point fit algorythm that they use on every woman to measure her to ensure that she is wearing not on the right type of bra, but also a bra where she will be the most comfortable, i.e. should she use underwiring, should she use cross-back straps for extra support, etc.?
For years, the industry’s biggest brands, (Victoria’s Secret, etc.) have based the molds of their cups on a single pair of breasts. Dorothy Galligan was a 1970s cabaret singer-turned-bra model who had the most in-demand bust for decades. Dorothy was what the industry deemed a perfect 34B in terms of circumference, shape, and the way she filled out a bra so brands used that as a base and would size up or down from there. The issue with this is that almost no other woman in the world is Dorothy’s ‘standard 34B’ and therefore the majority of woman are wearing the incorrect bra size.
Couple this with peach’s target demographic – middle age, middle income women in small town America. Currently, Victoria’s Secret (VS) is pretty much the only option for these women in terms of somewhere to purchase bras. VS is expensive, covered in life-sized photos of suggestive 18 year olds whom the mothers shopping there will not look like, and has almost nothing that is not a plasticy-push up bra. Conversely, peach offers these women a chance to be fitted in the comfort of their own homes, with their own mirrors, lighting and sense of security by a friend who understands her potential insecurities and the base way to increase her comfort as they work together to find a bra that fits. The selling over the internet would still be from one friend to another, it would just allow the women who are in more remote locations to have this same opportunity thanks to the removal of the obstacle of geography.
Hi Avatar – thanks for your post. I agree that the bra industry definitely could improve in terms of helping women find the bra that’s right for them, but I am worried that using a human consultant is too expensive. It seems like a series of videos/blog posts could walk a woman through taking and inputting her measurements with the same ease and effectiveness as a human and potentially without the awkwardness. This could be a really interesting opportunity for them to develop an interactive system to address cost and scale concerns.
Hi Nicole, excellent point! I worry too that as peach expands the high cost of human capital that they are currently paying for will be too much to make sense. One good side to the current model is that all of the experts are contractors, they are not salaried, meaning that they are paid on commission and only when a sale is closed, so, as with Uber, peach is not paying for any idle or downtime with them.
The company has not told me this, but I also wonder if down the road they might make more of a push to automate moe of the selling process and to remove human interaction as much as possible as their systems become more intelligent and refined.
Thanks for the post. It’s interesting to think about peach as a company in transition. It sounds like they started off as a company focused on making bras that actually fit people and then training direct sellers to measure potential customers in the comfort of their own home. The new model, digital peach, sounds like a digital service for measuring many more women, albeit in a less personal way. The first model sounds more intimate, the second model sounds more scalable.
I wonder how they have handled the transition from being a person-to-person company to being, arguably, a tech platform. Do they require a different staff at the home office? Do they require the same number of bra experts, or can they scale down so that only the best experts get to do all of the fittings and make all of the sales (with the new found efficiency of the virtual fittings)?
Finally, if they get really good at these digital fittings, I wonder if they would ever be incentivised to ditch their own line of clothing and instead just become the ‘online fit experts’. I would be that a lot of high end brands would pay peach to be their white labeled ‘fit experts’. Ie, if a women wanted to know if a Burberry dress or a Victoria’s Secret bra was going to fit her she could be directed to a peach fit expert who will do a digital fit consultation. It seems like there is a lot of opportunity if they are able to get these digital fitting sessions to work well.
Hi Jordan, these are some really good ideas, especially the one about becoming the “fit experts” and some of them I think that peach might not have thought of, thanks for sharing them! peach has a social mission, as well as a profit based one, to help women become their own small business owners and so with that in mind I think that an important part of its business model is always going to be the direct selling aspect. As well, they believe that it is important to have the personal touch that peach gives in order to create an experience that is contrary to one that a woman experiences at Victoria’s Secret. That being said, I agree with you that the scalability of the company is called into question when so much of the operating model relies on interactions between people.
Perhaps a way to supplement the main business model of peach’s would be for the company to license out the fit algorythms and best in class training programmes that they have established to train their bra experts to other apparel companies and create a recurring revenue model on the subscription of the software at the same time as still operating the initial, core business model of peach.
Hi Avatar – such an interesting post! My partner went to a retail location and had a bra fitting done in the last few months. She had another one done a little over a year ago and discovered for the last year she was wearing the wrong size by a fairly considerable margin. My fear with this system is if it seems easy to have errors occur when a consult is done in person, accuracy over the internet could be questionable. Additionally, from what I understand different brands and different styles can also yield a difference in bra size. Is the company truly providing a valuable service that isn’t best served through trial and error by the end consumer or multiple consultations?
Hi NT, really thoughtful questions, thanks! I am glad that your partner knew enough to actually go to get fitted – that is one of the biggest hurdles that peach is experiencing, many women don’t even know that they aren’t wearing the right bra size and so baseline education is the first step. peach has created a 10 step algroythm that they believe is the answer to finding the right bra size. Currently, when a woman goes in person she is measured on the distance around her ribs and the size of her bust, and that is it. peach has built out a model that takes into account all sorts of different things, including the fact that many women do not have completely symmetrical breasts. The 10 point measurement system allows peach to suggest not only the right size of bra but also the right type of bra, should a women be not even wearing a bra but wearing a bralette, for example? I agree with you that the concept of online fittings takes some getting used to, as I mentioned in the post, I did it and it was strange, but I think if the algorythm truly works then being in person should not be relevant and women who have been being measured in person and trying to wear the right size through a trial and error method can save themselves all of that time and discomfort.
Hi Avatar- thank you for this great post. I can’t say I’ve ever had the experience of having a bra fitted, but I feel like it might be a bit awkward doing it over the internet. You made great mention that the feedback thus far has been positive, but do you see this changing as different types and styles of lingerie are introduced? For example, when they begin to fit leggings, underwear, or even pantyhose, would there be a “tight white tank top” – like option for women to wear?
I think the model is genius, as it significantly cuts down on travel time, fuel costs, etc. But I am still not convinced that it won’t push away more woman than it pulls in.
Hi GVS, you are the only person who asked about what they do as they expand the product line and that is a critical question that peach has, great lateral thinking! As you correctly noted, a large percentage of peach’s revenue comes from the ‘basics’ that they sell which is everything that are not bras, i.e. leggings, underwear, cardigans, etc. One of the biggest issues that peach is facing with this is that their number one selling point for these items is the fabric that they use for them. peach uses a special microweave technology that create wonderfully soft clothing that fall in beautiful lines, but over the internet, a customer cannot feel the fabric and so the beauty of it is lost. As I mentioned in the post, one of the bra experts can try the products on which has been seen to help with sales but it is still an issue the company is trying to solve for as the customer does not have the products with her during the initial trial. Another option would be to send samples in the correct size to the customer in the same box that her bras are sent in so that she can feel them and decide whether she would like to keep them or to send them back but that is expensive and requires a lot of upfront inventory to ship out, as well as difficulty with inventory turnover as the company will not know what products have sold and what has not for a few weeks. Your concerns around how to sell basics and privacy are spot on with what the company is thinking though, very astutely noticed.
Hi Avatar – I loved learning about peach! I think this is a really interesting business model. My concern is how salespeople can recruit other women to be salespeople as well. I understand that peach’s main value proposition is its salespeople’s knowledge of the perfectly fit bra. How does the quality of sales advice remain consistent from salesperson to salesperson? I wonder if the costs of attaining and training these salespeople outweighs peach’s need to have a great salesforce. For companies like uber, they can ensure a person has an up-to-date driver’s license and has a decent driving record before they decide to add them to the team.
Also, what happens when the customer cannot be “perfectly” fit by any bra that peach offers? Is the salesperson incentivized to sell the bra that fits best out of the ones that peach has? What if that salesperson knows of another bra vendor that sells bras that would fit the customer even better?
Hi CB, training of new sales experts is something that is absolutely critical for peach’s mission to survive and you hit the nail on the head there to wonder how the company can ensure consistent quality as the sales team grows and how they can ensure consistent experience which is critical for the company to succeed. At this point, peach is small enough that the head office is largely able to control the selling experience and the onboarding and training of all of the bra experts but if the company grows at the rate that it is hoping to, then the current training model will not work. The answer might lie in regional offices or regional managers who host weekend seminars to train up new bra experts and to be certain that the messages are being learnt. Conversely, peach could double down on the ‘online’ strategy which would mean that they would need to increase the training in terms of the technology but could rely on fewer bra experts who could cover and unlimited geographic range and hope that in doing this peach was able to continue to control the selling process.
Your question of the perfect fit is also a great one! I would guess, though the company has not confirmed this, that the bra expert would try to sell the bra that was the closest to a good fit with the hopes that it was more comfortable and more supportive than what the woman was currently wearing – most women are wearing bras that are totally wrong so if you can minimise the amount of ‘wrong’ that there is that is a great first step. Also, peach is collecting huge amounts of data so as they accumulate this data and are able to work through it the style, sizes and types of bras that they will be able to offer will expand and will become better fits for women of all shapes and sizes. The use of data doesn’t just end there though! Ask a woman about trying to buy a bikini top! Bikini tops suffer from all of the same issues that bras do and there are even fewer choices and focuses on sizing there. There is also a growing market for mastectomy bras, women who have suffered from breast cancer, as well as other health-related issues and so with data there are so many exciting and valuable things that peach can do!
Thanks for a really interesting post! I would echo some of the concerns that you and other commentators pointed out above with the shift from in person to virtual fittings, in particular given that you noted the target market for peach currently are middle-aged, middle income women, who are not as comfortable using technology as millennials might be. Is peach trying to target a different segment of the population with this move into Virtual peach, or do they think that they can change their current target customer behavior to move into online fitting? I would be curious to know if they think of it as a way to serve a new target population and will offer both in person and online fittings going forward, or if the move into online fittings eventually takes over and they no longer use the local network of experts for in person fittings. If so, how will they be able to keep the local and personal feel of the brand that women previously associated with the in-home expert fittings? These are some additional issues they might want to consider (or perhaps already have) when thinking about how to promote Virtual peach.
Hi Avtar! Thanks for this fascinating post about Peach. This seems like an interesting company and the notion of fundamentally changing the shopping experience by adding personalization via online fittings is quite innovative, but I question how practical it is. Beyond the obvious issues of women being uncomfortable having a filmed conversation about their bra size, I question how scalable this idea is. It seems like if this company ever grew you would need a very large force of qualified fitters who could fit a woman by simply looking at them in a vide wearing a t-shirt which seems quite challenging. How does Peach plan to scale these virtual fittings and how do they train these fitters?
Thanks for the great blog post, Avatar! You read all these articles nowadays about how most women wear the wrong bra size, so the industry is definitely spending money on some serious customer education around “the problem.” However, this hasn’t incentivized me personally to go to a store and actually get measured, and (me-search time) I can’t really see myself working with one of Peach’s “stylists” in-person to find a good fit but would certainly be interested in trying out the online option (still feels a little creepy though…). Bra-shopping is not a good experience for many women, so there is definitely an opportunity to provide value to customers by reducing friction. I checked out peach’s website, and I think another great feature is the replenishment option — I HATE having to buy new bras, but most experts say you should replace your bras annually, so it would be super convenient to get my size and style delivered to me when it’s time for a change (without me having to remember to re-order). I also agree with others’ concerns around how scalable the concept is, when the personal stylist consulting requires some heavy-lifting. Also, the model requires a constant flow of new customers who need to be fitted, or your stylists are out of work — which I guess is why your stylists need to go out and find new customers to sell to. It’s an interesting model and will be interested to see how the company grows.