Melissa Austria, founder of clothing retailer Gotstyle, is doubling down on the company’s digital efforts to embrace the reality of the current retail landscape.

Gotstyle, which began in 2005, has a 7,000-square-foot-store in the historic Distillery District in Toronto with plans to launch several digital initiatives with no additional physical locations in its future.

Melissa Austria

“I don’t think I will ever sign another lease again. I’m putting all my eggs into digital growth,” said Austria. “So definitely, if anything, what COVID has taught us is you don’t necessarily need a physical store but it’s great having the store as your showroom. Essentially 70 per cent of our business still comes from our brick and mortar store but I think with the new things that are coming, we can definitely try to be global without having to expand our footprint. So obviously online being one of them. 

“Adding to your online so it gives a more curated experience and you’re not sort of shopping by yourself alone. So we’ve definitely been experimenting with virtual shopping. So that means you book an appointment with a stylist and we can virtually walk through the store with you. We’re expanding on that hopefully. We’re going to be test piloting a robot coming soon to walk around the store. Just to give it a try.

gotstyle.com Virtual Consultations (Image: Gotstyle)
Gotstyle (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

“We also do something called the Trust Us kit which is something that we’re doing within Canada right now. You do a virtual call. We have this only with our existing clients so it has that trust factor. We find out what you’re looking for and then we send clothes to your house. We pick it up the next day and we just charge you for whatever you keep. That’s what we’re doing to augment the online shopping.”

Austria said Gotstyle will also be doing more live shopping events. 

“When I was at (the) Shoptalk (conference in March in Las Vegas), they were definitely talking a lot about it. We did a test doing live shopping during COVID . . . We’re live on our site and customers can buy directly with one click. It’s reducing the steps that they need to take to buy. Trying to make it as easy as possible for them,” she said.

Gotstyle (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Gotstyle (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

At Shoptalk, Austria said the idea of hosted live shopping was discussed as a trend.

“It’s interesting because they were saying it’s not necessarily somebody who is Instagram famous. You need a strong host who is good at selling but you don’t need to have someone with a million social media followers. They just have to be good at selling,” she added.

“They were talking about how live shopping is so big in China. It’s going to be like a trillion-dollar industry. They were even saying, which I don’t know I agree with, that live shopping can or will overtake online shopping eventually. I thought that was a pretty big statement for them to make. 

“I think the thing that was appealing to me is that it doesn’t have to be somebody famous. It doesn’t have to be an Instagram influencer. It’s just somebody who can engage really well with the audience and sell.”

Austria said many of the shopping behaviours and patterns created during COVID will be solidified with many consumers.

“With our core customer who is 40 (years old) and up, they still want that tactile experience, coming to the store. They still want that help, but at the end of the day that consumer isn’t going to start eventually shopping less and less. So it’s more just trying to be aware of that new consumer that’s coming up who is completely digitally native,” she said.

Austria said people don’t give enough kudos to independent retailers because now they’re no longer dealing with just a brick and mortar store. They’re dealing with a whole other business which is the online digital business. 

“You’re not only going to be an expert at buying a product, doing the marketing, and customer service on the front end. It’s also what is in your tech stack that you need to have on the back end. Now you have to know about digital marketing. Online is overwhelming sometimes,” she said, adding for independent retailers it can be a big learning curve. 

“One other initiative that we’re launching that we’re super excited about which some people might think is kind of weird in a retail store like us is we’re launching a consignment program. We do know, especially for the younger generation, this is something that’s really important to them. It’s really with only, I would say, the past year where people are asking what do you have as sustainable in the store and they really want to know and they want brands to be transparent.

“We’re just going to be doing it with products that you bought from our store. So it’s not bringing in outside products. It’s kind of a way of being full circle . . . Bring it back to the store, we’ll sell it for you, you get paid back in a gift card.”