Hey fellas, does the thought of hitting the mall give you hives? Then you might be glad to know that a handful of online companies are promising to do your clothing shopping for you. But are they worth the price?
It isn’t just the George Clooneys of the world who get to avoid the mall, thanks to the services of a personal shopper. More companies are entering the personal shopping space — some of them catering to men and some of them more affordable than you’d think. On Thursday, Nordstrom (JWN) said it was buying Trunk Club, an online personal shopping site that picks clothes for men and mails them the selections on a regular basis. It will compete with the likes of Urban Darling, which will launch a monthly personal shopping subscription service for men this month, as well as with Bombfell, Frank & Oak and Five Four Club — all of which hook you up with a stylist to pick your clothes (or have you create a style profile so you get custom selections) and then mail them right to your home so you never have to set foot in a store and don’t have to wade through thousands of clothing choices online.
The monthly costs for the sites range in price from $0 to $60 a month, which is significantly cheaper than a traditional personal shopper, who typically charges — in addition to the cost of the clothing — a rate that’s often well over $100 an hour (and it often takes her at least a few hours to pick clothing). But the sites vary widely on what they carry and how much they charge: Clothing brands range from those you’d find in high-end stores like Salvatore Ferragamo and Rag & Bone to more middle-tier items like Original Penguin or Dibi, and prices vary from an average of just $20 per item to $300 and up per item.
For a man who hates to shop in stores — and doesn’t love swimming through the thousands of online options — are these sites worth the cost? MarketWatch reviews some of the leading personal shopping sites.
Monthly fee: $0
Average cost per item: $150
Sample brands: Theory, Rag & Bone, AG, Salvatore Ferragamo and John Varvatos
Total cost: You pay only for the items you keep, shipping is free
With Trunk Club, you pay no membership fee (you only pay for the clothes) and get access to a personal stylist — who after you fill out a detailed online questionnaire on your style preferences, measurements, job, leisure preferences and more — will select eight to 10 items for you. The items are mailed to you (shipping is free both ways) and you pay only for the items you want; you can get shipments as often as you’d like, and with each shipment, you provide feedback so the stylist can get to know your preferences better.
The catch: The clothes are pricey, with the average cost per item about $150, though they range from around $100 to more than $300. However, you can state your budget preferences in the questionnaire, and the brands they send to you are like those you might find in a higher-end (re:pricier) store like Bloomingdales — Theory, Rag & Bone, AG, Salvatore Ferragamo and John Varvatos, to name a few. By press time, the company had not provided pricing on individual items that consumers get in their shipments, so MarketWatch could not determine whether they were similar to retail prices at other stores. You can cancel membership at any time.
Monthly fee: $0
Average cost per item: $59, prices similar to retail prices at other stores
Sample brands: French Connection, Original Penguin, Mavi and Ben Sherman
Total cost: You pay only for the items you keep, shipping is free
Bombfell works similarly to Trunk Club — for no membership fee, you get a box of clothing that a stylist (who, in this case, works with the help of an algorithm and uses your social media to further complete your profile) has selected for you, and you pay only for the clothes you want — though at a slightly lower price point and typically using brands that are a tad lower end than those offered by Trunk Club. You can cancel at any time by emailing the company.
The average price at Bombfell’s is about $59 per item and the brands include French Connection, Original Penguin, Mavi and Ben Sherman, and all in all, the asking prices on the items were fair. For example, most often the Bombfell prices were the same as the manufacturer’s retail prices (indeed, both Trunk Club and Bombfell say that they don’t need to do a markup over retail price because they make money by buying at wholesale prices and selling at retail, much the same way a store would.) For example, a Dibi tie clip and denim tie were the same price on Bombfell as they were on the Dibi site, as was a Made in Mayhem wallet. Sometimes items were a bit less (in the case of Flint & Tinder briefs, which were $8 less on Bombfell) and sometimes a little more (in the case of a Ben Sherman shirt, which was $5 more on Bombfell). Of course, you can often find some of the items (or at least very similar items) on sale on other sites.
Monthly fee: $49
Average cost per item: Depends on what stores you choose to buy from
Sample brands: Unlimited, your stylist works with you based on your store preferences and budget
Total cost: Monthly membership, plus the items you purchase, plus shipping
Urban Darling, which plans to launch its men’s clothing subscription service in the next few weeks, works slightly differently. For $49 a month, a stylist — using a questionnaire you fill out, as well as notes, calls or emails from you — will customize four outfits for you and put them together onto a Pinterest-like board; you can ask the stylist questions about the selections and give her notes online. You buy the items directly from the retailers she selects by clicking through your personal board (so if they charge shipping or have a high markup, you will eat that cost) and can let her know your budget on items ahead of time. Because you can choose from an unlimited number of retailers, this service is often the most customizable of the personal shopping services, but it can also be more work than the two above since you have to buy the items directly from the retailers, rather than getting them in one shipment. Consumers can cancel at any time by logging into their PayPal account (this is how Urban Darling accepts payments) and canceling the payments to Urban Darling.
Frank & Oak
Monthly fee: $0
Average cost per item: $55 - $60; the company sells its own brand of clothing, along with a few others brands of grooming and lifestyle products
Sample brands: Frank & Oak
Total cost: You pay only for the items you keep, shipping is free; you can only return items for store credit
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Each month, Frank & Oak releases a new line of clothing with about 65 styles (the clothing has a classic look, and reviews note that it is well-made as well), with accompanying content about styling the clothing and lifestyle tips. You fill out a quick, three-question survey about your size, age and style (relaxed, casual, creative, etc.), and the company sends personal selections to you. From those selections, you order only what you want (shipping is free, and you can send back the items you don’t want). The price point is pretty affordable, but because you can only choose from Frank & Oak’s own line of clothing (along with a few other brands), the selection is significantly more limited than with other services, and you can only return items for store credit and that has to be within 15 days of delivery. You can cancel at any time.
Five Four Club
Monthly fee: $60
Average cost per item: the $60 fee includes the cost of roughly two to three items a month; the company only sells its own brand of clothing
Sample brands: Five Four
Total cost: $60 a month (this includes the cost of clothes and shipping); no returns allowed
Five Four Club subscribers $60 a month in total, which covers shipping and the cost of clothes. Men sign up and select a style profile — business casual, dress to impress (for the more fashion-forward man), T-shirt and jeans, or a mix of the three; then, each month they receive a package that contains an outfit (typically two or three items like pants and a shirt) from the company’s own brand of clothing. The company says that the value of the package is between $120 and $140, though you pay $60 for it. While shipping is free, the company does not allow returns (only exchanges), so that’s a big downside for customers. You can cancel membership by calling the company, but you must cancel before the 10th of the month or you will be charged for that month’s membership.
To be sure, there are cheaper ways to get your clothing than through these sites, even without walking into a store. For one, you can shop discount retailers online (T-shirts at Walmart and Target, for example, are sometimes under $10, while on these sites T-shirts are often triple that or more), and even if you want higher-end items like those offered on these personal shopping sites, you’re often better off looking for those same (or similar) items on sale online. Furthermore, if you walk into a department store, you can usually get a salesperson to pull looks for you and give you free styling advice — all free of charge. Plus, many retailer catalogs, websites — even their in-store mannequins — have coordinated looks on their sites/in their stores so you can pick outfits that way.
Still, many busy men may find these personal shopping sites useful — if for no other reason than that they save time and hassle and the markups tend to be similar to the manufacturer’s markup. You may not be getting the best deal, but you also don’t have to spend time thinking about what to buy and where to buy — and to some, that luxury is invaluable.
Catey Hill covers personal finance and travel for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.
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