Most online retailers keep a safe distance from their customers (unless they're asking for credit card information). ModCloth, an e-retailer of vintage women's fashion founded in 2002, is deviating from this model by creating a community of fashionistas included in almost every part of the company.
Without the customer-company separation, ModCloth is more like a best friend who gives you fashion advice, shares her favorite recipes, and joins your book club. Wait, we're still talking about a clothing store, right?
Right. In October 2009, Modcloth launched its "Be the Buyer" program, an initiative that lets visitors vote on clothing samples. If an item gets enough votes, ModCloth will sell it. Sound familiar? Threadless was founded on a similarly democratic principle, but Modcloth is the first to add crowdsourcing as a supplement to a traditional storefront.
ModCloth takes its customers' fashion advice to improve its buying decisions, but it's also about building community. Customers leave comments on clothing samples and vote, but can also share their views with friends via Facebook or Twitter. It results in a group of people who may not know each other, but share in common an interest in fashion and a desire to talk about it.
These fashionistas are a part of a community more complex than garments, though. ModCloth's blog, ModLife, covers everything from fashion to recipes, and provides "cool links" on the Web. There's even a link to a Flickr account where customers upload photos of their favorite ModCloth outfits.
On March 8, ModCloth announced its reading contest, in which users who share the title of the book they're reading on the social-networking site GoodReads enter for a chance to a win a copy of ModCloth's book of the month. It's unclear whether ModCloth has officially partnered with GoodRead, but the partnership represents a significant shift in online retailing.
Online shops generally have a narrow frame of thought, assuming their customers came to them for only their products. But Web 2.0 is about community, and ModCloth was right in assuming that its shoppers have more in common than clothing.
I caught up with ModCloth founders Eric and Susan Koger via e-mail to find out more about the community they've built. … Read more