How Kit and Ace brought its e-commerce up to speed

Kit and Ace luxury apparel startup
Kit and Ace, the apparel brand launched in 2014 by Shannon and J.J. Wilson, wife and son of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, grew quickly as an in-store retailer, adding 63 physical locations in two years. At the same time, the company’s digital growth stalled. Its e-commerce site did the bare minimum. “It simply got the job done,” according to Braden Hoeppner, head of e-commerce at Kit and Ace.

The brand relies heavily on high-touch customer service in stores — sparkling water on tap, on-site designers and tailors — to introduce customers to the brand as well as justify its steeper prices for basic items (pants sell for $168 to $188, tops for $78 to $128).

That experience doesn’t translate easily online.

“We launched with a brick-and-mortar and online store, because we knew we wanted to be a cross-channel company,” said Braden Hoeppner, Kit and Ace’s head of e-commerce. “But when people walk into our stores, as soon as they feel the product, they’re hooked. In digital, we always come back to the question of how to educate people on the product as best as we can.”

The apparel company, which is often pinned into the athleisure category, considers itself a “technical fashion” brand, having created 50 new types of fabric for pants, blouses, T-shirts and sweaters that are made for long-time wear. Kit and Ace stores put the fabrics, like the machine-washable cashmere “qemir,” on display. It plans to open 30 more stores in the next two years.

But the company recognized its e-commerce site was at odds with the brand’s physical push. At the end of 2015, the company began working with the digital agency Engine Digital to overhaul its online experience. Launched last week, the new Kit and Ace website uses tools like live-chat customer service, a smarter search bar, international currency checkouts, updated in-store inventory, and faster page load times to heighten its digital shopping experience. It also invested heavily in editorial content.

“It wasn’t just a web redesign,” said Dean Elissat, vp of client engagement at Engine Digital. “They’ve had an interim website that was only there to show preliminary product lineup, and they hadn’t thought about the digital side and how to connect it to the brick and mortar side. It was a missing piece.”

Content on product pages plays an important role in the new site. On the item page for a pair of pants, zoomed-in photos will point to three product details (a seam, a zipper, a hidden pocket) that normal e-commerce shots wouldn’t pick up on, as well as more detail about the fabric used. Below that, there’s a series of photos showing how a Kit and Ace team member wore the item to different places throughout the day. Hoeppner said the content on each product page differs depending on how much of a backstory the team feels a product calls for.

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For a new retailer with premium prices and unfamiliar fabrics, making a case for its products and brand that customers can rally around — as many other new retailers have realized — is critical.

“It’s always hard to engage consumers,” said Naseem Sayani, group vp of strategy at the branding agency Huge. “When a brand tries to [produce content], it can come off as uncomfortable. But we have these new brands coming up out of nowhere, and it’s because of the power of content and word of mouth.”

To drive purchases online, the redesign also removed friction when it came to adding products pictured in articles and on the homepage to the online cart. Each image has a “shop this look” tag that brings up a sidebar with size and color options and an add-to-bag button on the same page. The tool is also a way to tie in an element of social commerce: Hoeppner said that Instagram images receiving high engagement will be turned into images on the website that can be shopped.

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“The best way to showcase a unique item is through photos,” said Elissat. “For premium products, good imagery shows there’s something more you’re buying into rather than simply the product itself.”

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