How Indochino’s new CTO is tailoring its tech needs

Alex Buhler on what the clicks-to-mortar menswear brand is doing to fit changing consumer behaviour amid rapid expansion.
Alex Buhler CTO

Alex Buhler joined clicks-and-mortar, made-to-measure menswear company Indochino as its new chief technology officer last month.

Buhler came from eyewear brand Clearly, which he joined in 2017. Clearly has some obvious similarities to Indochino, in that what started as an online-only Canadian brand expanded into international markets, bricks-and-mortar retail and more product categories.

Amid Indochino’s plans to open 19 more showrooms this year (and expanding into new international markets and product categories) Buhler has been tasked with developing its technology strategy, with the goal of enhancing the omni-channel experience and customer loyalty. He also has an eye towards making sure Indochino’s technology can scale effectively, while expanding its technology team so it can “fast track” new functions, both internally and customer-facing. It is also facing competition from other upstart menswear brands like Woodies and Black Lapel, as well as offerings from legacy retailers looking to capitalize on the popularity of the affordable, made-to-measure category.

Buhler spoke with strategy about what he is developing at Indochino, how its ambitions for expansion are impacting its technology development and how its online, direct-to-consumer roots are giving the company the data its needs to meet today’s consumer demands.

Other than planning out Indochino’s technology strategy and building your team, what are your big priorities coming into the role?

We are growing rapidly and need to equip our showrooms with the best tools to manage customer relationships, fulfill appointments and ensure a seamless overall journey. We also need to provide better visualization tools for our made to-measure experience. We will also be streamlining the way we design and implement technology in our showrooms so it’s easier to deploy and manage, and is ready to support future capabilities.

How do the technology needs of a company like Indochino change when it is looking towards international expansion and building its physical retail presence?

Technology needs to be scalable and available 24/7, with the ability to support multi-currency, localized taxing laws and personalization based on geography. It’s also worth mentioning that your online site needs to be fast in the region where you are expanding, which for us is Australia. When you have a centralized support team and are expanding your physical retail presence, it mandates having an in-store solution that can be easily deployed, managed and supported remotely.

Are there any particular technology opportunities you feel Indochino is in a position to be a leader in?

The first two would be better mobile experience and virtual try on (VTO). I led the implementation of VTO before for glasses and VTO for made-to-measure garments would be a great visualization aid, enabling customers to see how the 1.3 million combinations of suit customizations will look in real time, while also helping visualize the garment’s fit and style.

How has consumer behaviour changed over the last two years when it comes to the way they want to interact with and shop from retail brands?

Today’s consumers have access to an abundance of information at their fingertips. Their journey can start with either physical or digital touchpoints and progress through the awareness, consideration, purchase, service, loyalty and advocacy stages in both, often interweaving. Until recently, many retailers had an online platform that was completely disjointed from the in-store experience, which created friction for the consumer. Now, as brands catch up and align their channels, consumers rightfully expect a seamless user experience, whether they’re shopping online or in store.

Another demand is fast delivery. Consumers expect day-to-day products to be in stock and delivered to their door in one or two days — same day in some cases. We have improved delivery from four weeks to two weeks, which is impressive for a custom garment, and we’re looking to reduce this even further.

Is there a difference in that behaviour between brands that are primarily bricks-and-mortar, compared to those that were born online, like Indochino and Clearly?

Ecommerce offers the convenience of being able to buy anywhere and always being in stock. If you are purchasing a consumable like contact lenses, you know what you want, and it’s much easier and often less expensive to purchase online. When you need to try on or feel the product, bricks-and-mortar offers the advantage. Indochino’s model is the best of both those worlds.

Do those digital roots give you any advantage when it comes to meeting consumer needs?

Brands born online tend to have more data about their customers – which products they browsed, if they added them to their cart without purchasing, their location, when they visited their stores and so on. Brick-and-mortar stores may have some data if a customer enrolls in a loyalty program or after a purchase, but in general you can walk into a store, browse and decide not to purchase, leaving no footprint. Online brands also have more information about their products readily available for customers to browse and compare, whereas stores offer basic information of their products on the shelf.

The best brands offer a true omni-channel experience, with consumers able to access full product information online while they browse in-store. Plus, that data offers a level of personalization and one-on-one guidance – even when translated to an in-person experience.