Often when people speak of social media they are referring to a web based software that facilitate socializing-sort-of-behavior of people like Facebook, Twitter, or the more obvious MySpace. While these services continue to scale up to accommodate more users and more features without generating a profit, Threadless an online clothing company, has been profiting off their cult following. Enough profit that the company recently transformed from a 'click-and-order' to a 'click-and-mortar' operation. I paid a visit to their first physical store in Chicago, IL..
The On-Screen Experience
If you're not familiar with Threadless and how it works pay a visit to their site. At first glance you'll see it's clearly an e-commerce website. But it's so much more than that. Every shirt for sale there is created by the users, selected by the users, and purchased by the users. Here's basically what happens:
- The more artistically inclined users submit their concepts to the site.
- Users all participate in a voting process.
- The winning designs are printed and sold in limited runs. The artist is paid $2,500 for their winning design as a reward plus $500 for every reprint if enough users who weren't able to buy the shirt vote to have out of stock designs reprinted.
- Members buy and subsequently sport their favorite shirts in person.
That's why Threadless describes itself as a 't-shirt design community' as opposed to a mere retailer. But what's impressive is how apparent they made this in the user experience. Users who only come to shop are exposed to the community as every T-Shirt display page showcases user submitted photos of happy members who purchased that T-shirt and sported it in a photo. The emphasis on participation is prevalent throughout the entire site. But how well does this bode in a physical store?
The Threadless Store: On the Outside
Located on Broadway just a few miles away from Chicago's Magnificent Mile is the first Threadless retail store-front. Just analyzing the outside shows the store itself was designed for Threadless's fans. To ensure pedestrians they have reached the Mecca of all things Threadless - the entire entrance is plastered with Threadless stickers. Included with every purchase made from Threadless, these stickers are not at all different from Apple's technique of packing in an Apple sticker with most of their products.
In the store display, onlookers on the street see shirts available from the current run. But this is a t-shirt community not a t-shirt store right? Absolutely, that's why the shirts in the display are being worn by LCD screens cycling through the faces of members! Later on while waiting in line to make my purchase I was confronted by an iMac kiosk ready to snap my photo if I wanted to join those faces of fellow participants. What's so brilliant is that the store is both showcasing its community and allowing store visitors to participate in it at the same time! The evidence of community participation is prevalent in the store's user experience just like the online originator. That's as cool as it is genius!
On the inside the experience continues. I was thoroughly impressed by how the shopping experience resembled the website. Instead of signs, LCDs are used to communicate which shirt is which. The LCDs are the bridge that brings the online experience to the store experience. Just as the website lets you examine the artwork printed on the shirt along with members modeling it, Skinnycorp built what I believe is a flash applet to showcase the same imagery in the form of a slideshow on the LCDs at each shirt station.
Staying true to their community ideals, half of the store is devoted to the local art community. The second story is a cycling art gallery that periodically features the works of a different local artist. The humor, the art, and the shirts are all here. This store really holds true to the experience the company has provided online.
It really is all in the details. The evidence of the community, the identical copy on the signs. Consistent branding, consistent use of fonts and style. The guys at Skinnycorp really nailed it. Someone who never has heard of the website will be pleased to discover a cool store with even cooler T-Shirts. An avid Threadless visitor will be pleasantly surprised to find the awesome Threadless website manifested for them in the form of a physical store. Did I mention if you buy from the store you get a cool reusable fabric Threadless bag to encourage you to bring it back and help the environment? It's worth it, you'll get a $1 discount if you do.