Putting the ‘Mod’ in ‘Modern’

ModCloth.com is an online clothing, accessories, and decor retailer specializing in vintage, indie, and retro-inspired style.  Mod Cloth was started by high school sweethearts Susan Gregg and Eric Koger who were only seventeen and eighteen at the time and are now married.  Much like Facebook, ModCloth started in a college dorm.  Susan began selling her unique vintage and thrift finds through an online store she started with Eric during their stay at Carnegie Mellon University. They now have over 370 employees and 28 dogs on their roster.  ModCloth still sells one-of-a-kind vintage items alongside vintage inspired frocks from indie designers.

There are countless online retailers, but there are a few things that make ModCloth stand out as something truly unique and act as a game changer in the fashion industry.  Although ModCloth’s style is vintage, their approach to consumer engagement is cutting edge.  Susan is challenging the top-down process of trend setting  and giving the power to her customers to be the decision makers when it comes to fashion through their ‘Be the Buyer’ program.  They treat their inventory like content.  Their social media team, referred to as the Social Butterflies, has a strong presence on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.  They provide a stylist to for their users to consult with freely.  They listen to the voices of their customers one tweet at a time.  They have a blog and connect with other bloggers.  One third of their audience comes back to the retail site at least once a day.  Here is a look at some of the unique little things ModCloth does to engage it’s customers:

Know Your Crowd

Susan Gregg-Koger is a lover of vintage finds and thrifting herself.  Sometimes the best business you can start is the one that solves your problems or the place you wish you could shop at.  ModCloth knows it’s crowd.  They understand the culture that surrounds the love of retro and vintage fashion and they understand that this target market forms the core of their online identity.  The women who love vintage often love it because there is a story behind it, its unique, and that they can  identify with it.  There is a process of discovery about finding vintage items, and ModCloth has effectively carried that over to their retail site and community.  The women who shop at ModCloth are typically 18-30 and social media savvy, so a presence on social media is a must.

Clothing as Content

Mod Cloth treats it’s clothing like content in a blog throughout the retail website.  They’re pros at keeping this content fresh and interesting.

  • Item Names:  ModCloth names the clothing it sells.  For example, instead of simply calling a skirt “Grey Pencil Skirt” they call it “Secretary of Slate” or a navy striped sweater is dubbed “Need I Sail More”.  These puns act as a clever and entertaining approach to naming inventory.
  • Stories:  Part of the appeal of indie, vintage, and retro is that it feels like the clothing has more of a story to it- whether it be a pop culture reference, a movie, or an era.  ModCloth understands this and publishes a little story, no more than a paragraph long, to accompany each item.
  • Microblogging:  The way ModCloth releases new arrivals is similar to tweeting on Twitter.  They add an average of forty new items a day and they don’t add them all at once.  They add them in small lots, so there is always fresh content to come back and check for on ModCloth.com.

Mod Cloth also treats it’s consumers like users that are part of an online fashion community.

Democratic Fashion

Mod Cloth

The ‘Be the Buyer’ program on modcloth.com is an amazing engagement tool that allows users to be a part of the process of choosing what comes next to ModCloth and allowing them to be notified when it does.  This has many advantages:

  • ModCloth gets to know whether or not to buy and stock an item directly from their target market rather than guessing.
  • ModCloth will have a list of people to notify as soon as the product is ready for sale.
  • ModCloth has a good indication of how much supply they will need of an upcoming product.
  • ModCloth can read the comments and potentially come up with product improvements.
  • ModCloth is engaging their consumers on yet another level.

This ‘Be the Buyer’ program is the democratization fashion at ModCloth.

Participation and Games

ModCloth constantly has fun, creative contests such as ‘Name it and Win it’ where they ask people to come up with names for a product, and if theirs is chosen do then they get the product for free.  These contests encourage participation, include people in their creative process, and motivate people to stay up-to-date with what is going on at ModCloth.  They’ve even had contests where customers submit designs to be featured and sold on the site.   ModCloth also loves to do giveaways in the name of engagement. For example, giving away a ‘Book of the Month’ at random to someone just for participating in a blog discussion.  In addition to engaging previous customers/followers the games have the benefit of attracting new ones.  ModCloth doesn’t host their contests on the same platform each day, so their followers have to follow them on all their different platforms in order to fully participate.  This is a great technique for building cross-platform user connectivity.

Customer Service is Key

Whether it is responding to a tweet or a ModStylist giving fashion advice, ModCloth does it’s best to deliver stellar customer service.

The Social Butterflies

ModCloth has a team of ladies dedicated to tweeting, asking the right questions on Facebook, and sharing their favorite finds.  ModCloth has dubbed these four women ‘The Social Butterflies’ and they take care of the site’s front on social media.  ModCloth has a presence on so many social media platforms and they know what to post on which platform.  They tailor what they share to the type of platform and it’s audience rather than treating them as the same and bombarding all of the different avenues with identical content.  If you follow ModCloth on Twitter there is different content to be seen on Pinterest etc.  There is a reason to engage with them on each platform, not just one.  Here are some examples of how ModCloth gains and uses it’s presence:

  • Blog

ModCloth blogs about all kinds of things like decor, cool jobs, travel, fashion, and street style. They feature cool behind the scenes videos of their buyers, staff, and office dogs.  They get a lot of independent bloggers to feature ModCloth in their outfit posts. They also feature other bloggers.

  • @ModCloth

On the ModCloth.com landing page you don’t actually see a bunch of links to their Twitter and other social media platforms unless you scroll all the way down to the bottom.  They have over 103,000 followers on their @modcloth account so you’d think they would want to, but ModCloth is targeted more at quality over quantity.  The ModCloth tweeters read and respond to every conversation about their brand, including their direct messages.  Now that is true commitment to engagement.

  • Facebook

The ModCloth Facebook page currently sits at 807,000 ‘likes’.  ModCloth uses this page for posting new products, contests, and posing questions, but more notably for it’s unique way of engaging with it’s fans.  For example, a few months ago the ModCloth page started an album titled ‘Cats in boxes’ that featured cats inside of ModCloth boxes and they encouraged their fans to take pictures of their cats in ModCloth boxes.  The response they invoked was massive and adorable.

Mod Kitty

  • Pinterest

An example of a ModCloth Pinterest campaign.


ModCloth doesn’t use their Pinterest board as another place to post their inventory, instead they use it to put together visuals of beautiful decor, recipes, arts and crafts that resonate with their target market.  They also use it for campaigns and contests.

The Take Away

ModCloth is a truly online business and a truly social business.  They are a great example of brand engagement and here are a few key points that you can learn from them:

  1. Be yourself.  Be your brand.  Be real.  ModCloth founder Susan Gregg-Koger is still a die-hard thifter and vintage hunter.  She lives and breathes her passion for fashion.  If your end goal is simply popularity or money, you risk not enjoying your work.  Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of raw passion that can thrive independently before, during, and after the profit comes.
  2. Know your audience inside out.
  3. Immaculate customer service.
  4. Use the platforms that suit your brand (ModCloth may seem to be everywhere but they aren’t on google plus because their audience isn’t there).
  5. Tailor your efforts to each platform- they are not created equal.
  6. Presence is one thing, engagement is another.  You need both.
  7. The element of surprise.  ModCloth doesn’t always post their contests on the same platform and they don’t add their new arrivals in one fell swoop.  There is always something to look for and to come back for.
  8. Listen.  ModCloth does a fantastic job of listening to it’s community and including them.
  9. Collaborate.  ModCloth has partnerships with other brands and involves other bloggers.
  10. Don’t forget to have fun.  From allowing staff to bring their dogs to work to hosting Twitter scavenger hunts, ModCloth knows how to keep it fun.

ModCloth shipped 1.2 million orders in 2012 and experienced 50 percent company growth.  We look forward to seeing them carry out a strong 2013