How Cue took fashion styling online

With the right combination of AI technology, fast store-to-door fulfilment and an expert team of virtual stylists, Cue has elevated expectations of the online fashion shopping experience. Cue’s CIO Shane Lenton shares how COVID-19 gave them a sense of purpose and urgency to respond.

Key points

  • Direct-from-store automated fulfilment enabled seamless shift to online fashion shopping.
  • Virtual stylist platform keeps Cue’s retail staff connected with customers.
  • With significantly higher average transaction values and conversion rates, these sessions indicate a solid return on tech investment.

Iconic Australian fashion retailer Cue has stood the test of time with its quality fabrics and cuts. And with over 200 stores around Australia, its retail staff are known for their product knowledge and styling advice. Loyal shoppers depend on their guidance on how to wear a certain style, or what to wear to a special event.

But when retail foot traffic fell as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and some stores had to close their doors, Cue was ready to meet the surge for online shopping. Making sure customers could also get the right colour, size and fit – fast – was an important first step.

“Over the past few years we’ve been working very hard to ensure customers could shop the entire range from an online experience, by automating fulfilment from any store as well as our warehouse,” explains Shane Lenton, CIO at Cue.

He calls it the ‘Endless Aisle’, removing out of stock frustrations for online or in store shoppers by fulfilling a purchase from any location, regardless of the order touchpoint.

“At any time, we might have around 10,000 units of stock in our warehouse but close to 80,000 units across our network of stores,” he explains. “And on any given week, we'll release about 30 new styles. Our customers love that newness and freshness, but what it means is sizes sell out quickly in certain locations.”

Cue had been working closely with Australia Post to enable direct to consumer delivery from stores nationwide. Cue’s warehouse management system can accurately pinpoint the stock that is closest to the customer for every order.

The store then generates a consignment which triggers a StarTrack Premium collection. Every store has its own StarTrack account, and can generate labelling through its POS system.

As a result, when Cue had to close some of its stores during lockdown, it could quickly turn them into ‘dark stores’ for online order fulfilment – ensuring retail staff and local manufacturers could continue working.

The virtual stylist platform is another way to keep retail staff connected with customers – and the fulfilment systems were already in place to ensure outfits could be delivered on time.

Breaking down online shopping barriers

Unable to engage customers face-to-face, retailers around the world are bringing elements of the in-store experience online. For Cue, a virtual stylist experience is the culmination of years of tech investment.

“Whenever we look at developing new ideas, the ultimate goal is to create the best customer experience,” Shane says. “All the underlying technology – Artificial Intelligence (AI) recommendations, the booking platform – is what enables our stylists to provide such a personal experience during a virtual session.”

Customers book an appointment online with their preferred stylist and are asked a series of questions about their needs and preferences. “If they have purchased with us before, our team will have their history along with AI-generated recommendations,” says Shane.

The stylist has a dedicated area in the store, and armed with a video tripod, earbuds and a rack of outfit ideas will guide the customer through their selection online.

There’s no pressure to buy: favourite items can be added to the customer’s wish list for later, and the styling session is currently free of charge.

However, this personal touch is clearly working. Conversion rates for virtual styling sessions are consistently over 60%, and average transaction values are over five times higher than normal.

The power of a personal touch

Providing customers with an in-store level of experience along with the opportunity to shop when and how they want has been powerful for Cue.

“We have had sessions while people are on holidays or at work. Or, the customer will be grabbing some of their favourite Cue or other pieces out of their wardrobe to show their stylist,” Shane says.

He was surprised by the quick uptake from day one of launching the service.

“We were just blown away by the response on social media around the initiative – the excitement was fantastic,” Shane says. The brand strategically gave loyal Cue Club Black members priority access to the service, which now averages around 40 booking per week.

Amid COVID-19 restrictions, it was clear just how much customers valued – and missed – personal connections.

“Customers have been really excited to have the opportunity to meet with some of their favourite stylists. That sense of connection has been a huge catalyst for the success of the platform,” says Shane. It has also given some of their customers who only shop online a chance to have what was traditionally an ‘in-store only’ experience.

Keeping it local

As the largest local manufacturer of fashion in Australia, Cue has perfected its fast fashion turnaround time – and is able to go from design floor to shop floor in as little as four weeks.

“It's a real differentiator, we can adjust and be quite agile as a business – whether that's design, fabric, or even with the technology that we introduce,” says Shane.

Cue put that agility to positive work during the initial response to COVID-19, working with local hospitals to provide essential scrubs, and also source masks for staff and customers.

“We had two goals really: one is to help from a community perspective, but the other was to make sure we kept our Australian manufacturers in business,” says Shane. “It's not a revenue-making exercise for us, it's more about doing a run to support our staff and our customers.”

Having spent time adding a strong technology and fulfilment foundation to its quality fashion philosophy, Cue is in a solid position to keep meeting the needs of its loyal shoppers – in store and online.

“More than ever through this period, we’ve been guided by our customers. When the pandemic hit, we adjusted our styles – a little less event-led – but realised they still want to wear something great while they’re on a Zoom call. We deepened our connection with our customers, and we’ve been amazed by the support they gave us in return,” Shane says.

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