In 2012, Michelle Lam founded True&Co., an e-commerce startup focused on collecting and analyzing customer data to improve the bra-buying process. Lam researched what it would take to reinvent women’s intimate apparel, but quickly realized that “the more data you have, the smarter decisions you can make.” Unfortunately, Lam had no data, but she knew where to get it (from potential customers) – and, importantly, what she could do with it (engineer better bras). True&Co. was born.
True&Co was the “first company to develop… a unique algorithm to find your fit.” Over the last several years, more than five million women have taken True&Co.’s Fit Quiz, which has also served as an organic traffic acquirer. Lam and her team create value by leveraging customer datasets to identify 6,000 body types. Using that data, True&Co.’s algorithm will recommend the most comfortable and well-fitting bra for a customer, without her ever having to walk into a dressing room or take measurements at home. The company has dubbed this literal treasure chest of information TrueSpectrum.
The True&Co. online quiz takes two minutes to complete and asks a range of questions, from favorite colors to current dress size. The questionnaire also captures a wealth of information about the fit of a customer’s current bra: whether the straps fall down or are too tight, or if the bra becomes uncomfortable as the day goes on. True&Co.’s online quiz enables the retailer to monitor trends in colors, fabrics, or other kinds of apparel (e.g., bodysuits).
With its data-centric design, True&Co. differentiates itself on perceived personalization and overall better fit. The latter can be challenging for industry incumbents to rival or replicate, since larger companies typically produce garments from fit models or “spec” sizes, optimizing to fit a wide range of customers adequately rather than fitting a handful of customers well.
Bra purchases account for about 50 percent of the total market for lingerie globally, estimated at about $28.6 billion . True&Co. captures value from the sale of products on their site, but the more significant opportunity lies in the rich, proprietary data collected throughout the transaction process.
True&Co. segmented bras into 20 different components which translate into 50 different data points. Fit Quiz asks a customer not just about the bra size she thinks she wears today, but also about the other brands she wears and how those brands fit her. The algorithm then “translates” fit based on self-reported information and the typical fit found among other brands. Every product decision, from color to cut, comes from insights generated by Fit Quiz, as well as post-purchase feedback. Data showed that women preferred dark colors 3x more than lighter ones, which informed True&Co. designer Nikki Dekker’s decision to create “elevated neutrals” but in darker, more contemporary shades, like charcoal. Importantly, True&Co. also uses its data to inform supply chain decisions to make better products at scale.
Today, True&Co. has gathered over 130M data points about women through its data collection infrastructure. These data create significant competitive advantage for True&Co. as the company continually develops ever-deeper understanding of a woman’s “emotional fit” (e.g., what style does she think fits her body best?) and her individual value/quality tradeoff.
True&Co.’s virtuous cycle of data begins with its proprietary Fit Quiz, extends to “individual merchandising”, and loops back with constant iteration and algorithm improvement based on customer feedback. Customers pick and receive five bras to try, keeping (and paying for) only the ones they want – but they are asked to provide feedback on all the bras as part of the process. This feedback data is so valuable to True&Co. that the company once charged customers $20 if they failed to provide feedback on their purchases. Lam says that some customers “write essays on why a bra didn’t work.” Ultimate goal? Build an “Amazon.com-like recommendation engine so that future recommendations can be better.”
Larger lingerie companies like Victoria’s Secret and Maidenform have begun to use data more thoughtfully around customer fit and preferences, but True&Co. was one of the first online retailers to use an individual’s self-assessment to inform highly tailored design and decisions on product mix. On March 16th, True&Co. was acquired by PVH (the owner of Calvin Klein brand), largely for its analytics tools and customer fit database, which PVH hopes can be replicated across other brands in its global portfolio.