Nine bras. That’s the average number of bras women own. Bras for exercising. T-shirt bras. Bras for nursing. The list goes on. And yet, for many women, the best part about wearing a bra is how good it feels to take it off.
This is what Michelle Cordeiro Grant wanted to change when she founded LIVELY in 2015. She has her sights set on creating an entirely new category and point of view about lingerie—a movement the brand now refers to as “leisurée”. LIVELY’s mission is simple: bras should be empowering, comfortable, supportive, and sexy. Simultaneously.
“Bra care is self-care. Most women have worn the wrong thing for decades and endured a pretty awful feeling throughout the day. We want to inspire women to be passionate, purposeful, and confident in the way that they live,” Michelle explains, while showing us around her store in SoHo, New York City.
Finding the perfect fit (with Shopify)
Before launching LIVELY, Michelle worked for several major retail brands, including Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Victoria’s Secret. But for all her retail experience, she had little firsthand experience in setting up an online store. This made choosing the right ecommerce platform critical to the company's launch.
“I had zero experience in how to build a website,” Michelle said. “I also had zero experience in how to maintain a website, and, frankly, I wasn't a digital marketer, either. All of that was white space for me, so, of course, the first thing I did was meet with other entrepreneurs to understand what they had been using.”
Their advice was to avoid solutions that her brand would quickly outgrow, which is what led her to Shopify.
“I wanted something that could grow with me. It was really important as we were building on Shopify to create something that was customizable so we could have our own voice and tone that could evolve with wherever our business told us we needed to go.”
“I could understand Shopify,” she continued. “As we were building [LIVELY’s online store], I could see how I could change my homepage on my mobile phone, and I could merchandise my products, and everything about my business could come with me, which is what I needed. Because I'm constantly moving in my life—my desk, it just never sees me. Neither does my laptop. Everything is happening on my phone.”
But, as Michelle can attest to, there are some things that are better done in-person.
Harnessing the power of community
Community has been at the heart of LIVELY’s brand since its inception, establishing a brand ambassador program before the company had even launched their store.
Michelle and her team would hold in-person focus groups and conduct surveys online to identify what women wanted from a lingerie brand. This feedback strongly informed the brand’s initial product development and gave the team vital insights into which products should be prioritized.
When LIVELY was finally ready to launch, the team ran a “Refer a Friend” campaign that was wildly successful. In less than 48 hours, the brand received 133,000 emails and 300,000 online sessions globally. LIVELY’s ambassador program now has more than 100,000 members and continues to grow.
“We wanted people that loved our brand to promote us online through their own networks,” Michelle said.
In the early days, that meant co-hosting events in their ambassadors’ home cities across the country. “We wanted LIVELY to be involved in what our ambassadors were passionate about, too. Where were they? We wanted to be there,” Michelle explains.
“In 2016, we had about 35 events within a six-month period. Finally, by the end of the year, when I was 7 months pregnant, we opened our first pop-up at Mercer street in SoHo in December,” Michelle laughs.
Initially, the pop-up shop was more of a space where Lively’s burgeoning online community could meet in real life, as opposed to a fully-fledged retail store. Michelle said that she and her team learned a lot on the road but felt the time was right to establish a permanent physical presence.
“We opened a permanent location because we were just tired of running around doing event after event. We just wanted a place where we could stand still and bring our community together. We didn't actually have a lot of inventory in the store. We were just like, 'Oh, try it on and then you can buy it online.'"
They quickly realized that asking their avid fan base to try something on and leave empty-handed didn’t work. Customers wanted to try a bra on, love it, and walk out of the store with it, right then and there. So, they evolved into a more traditional retail set up, but not at the expense of the shared experience.
Challenging the store concept
To Michelle, LIVELY’s retail stores aren’t just places where women can purchase LIVELY products. Looking around LIVELY’s SoHo store, you’ll find customers chatting, having coffee, and taking pictures in front of the tropical muraled walls. “We’ve even had women that come in and nurse their babies. They're walking around the city in need of a place to stop, and they know they can rely on our store for that,” Michelle says.
“It’s like a clubhouse. We want women to come in and feel comfortable. They can rely on us to come in here and not feel any pressure to shop.”
Of course, ladies can’t help but shop when they’re in the store. “We literally see women throwing their oldie-but-goldies out in the trash on their way out, and just smiling with seven new LIVELY pieces,” Michelle says.
LIVELY’s low-pressure, consultative approach to in-store sales is clearly working for the brand—it has three additional retail locations in Austin, Boston, and Chicago, with plans to open more locations in the near future.
Experiential retail is one of the biggest trends in the industry today, but not everyone gets it right. LIVELY’s successful in-store experience comes down to authenticity and a superior customer experience.
“We’re talking about a product that is very intimate, so the experience needs to match that. It starts with us just offering them a beverage, because usually people are hustling in here; it's New York City. You want them to get to a place where it's like you're just hanging out with your girlfriend because now, all of a sudden, you're more honest, you're more open, and you're going to have fun. The end result is that you walk out of here and you're like, 'Man, that was really fun.'”
The best kind of experiential retail are the experiences that are repeatable—not one-off gimmicks, where you take an Instagram selfie and call it a day. Meaningful experiences are where you want to go back time after time after time because the service is great, or you have a relationship with the person who works there. Repeatable value that’s different from your online experience.
Redefining brick-and-mortar success
LIVELY may have begun as a digitally native brand, but brick-and-mortar retail is now a crucial part of the company’s growth strategy. Practically speaking, the move into physical retail was motivated by a need to lower the cost of digital customer acquisition.
With channels such as paid search and social media becoming increasingly competitive, many brands are moving into physical retail as a way to diversify their marketing to include foot traffic alongside web traffic.
Customer acquisition cost in the near future will surpass the cost of the actual products being sold. It’s a very common path for Shopify brands to start online, begin experimenting, start selling, and when they get to a certain level of sales, they start to think about how to expand their brand offline.
“Our stores operate like billboards,” Michelle says. When asked about in-store customer acquisition, Michelle shares that 50% of LIVELY customers now discover the brand just by walking past a store.
But what’s most interesting is how the brand nurtures the customer relationship after the initial discovery. LIVELY has rapidly grown its community, and the brand’s customer lifetime value, by capturing names and emails at their Shopify Point-of-Sale (POS), and putting customers into the same highly-effective sales funnel that they use for their online store.
“[Today], most of our in-store customers become repeat customers online,” Michelle says. “It’s much easier to repeat a purchase online once you’ve come in, done a fitting, and know your bra size.”
This funnel works both ways. Customers who discover the brand online and book a fitting appointment on LIVELY's website are also much more likely to convert, become return customers, and refer friends and family to the brand.
Michelle explains that it was Shopify’s customizable platform that allowed them to do this. They created a proprietary online booking experience, called a “fit sesh”, where women can fill out their personal details and schedule a time to come in for a bra fitting.
Unlike the clinical nature of traditional bra fittings, LIVELY's staff tailors the recommendations and the experience to the customers’ unique needs—an experience only made possible by having a synced online and in-store system to track customer information.
In December 2019 alone, approximately 30% of LIVELY's in-store revenue came from customers who booked a fitting session online.
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Diving deeper into the data
Michelle lives and breathes data. She keeps a close eye on both in-store sales and online orders to gain greater insight into how customers are engaging with the brand.
“I am addicted to data,” Michelle admits. “When it comes to the store KPIs, what's important to us is conversion. It's not just how many people are coming to the store but how they're converting, because that actually shows the health of the experience and average order value.”
Alongside conversions, Michelle pays close attention to the number of fit sessions that customers book. According to Michelle, average order values are between 60-80% higher among customers who book fitting sessions online than among walk-in customers.
Beyond KPIs, Michelle said it’s important for retailers to understand what’s happening across the entirety of their business as a single, cohesive entity rather than examine individual channels in isolation. This is only possible if retailers have tight control over their brand’s data ecosystem. Having a single, unified solution such as Shopify makes this much easier, especially for growing businesses with multiple locations.
“You need to understand what's happening across your total ecosystem,“ Michelle said.
“If you have split platforms, think about the time you're spending just to marry those two things. You're almost talking in two different languages. It’s exhausting. If you're on two different systems—well, your teams are also thinking like two separate teams, and you want those teams to feel like one.”
Taking “leisurée” mainstream
“For us, our stores are about bringing together the elements of our brand, which are community, product, and experience,” Michelle says. “They’re places for our community to gather and really experience life. Places for us to learn what should come next, why our customers love us, and any gaps we can fill in their lives.”
To Michelle, that's what retail is all about. And the company’s strategy hasn't just helped women find the perfect bra—it’s also helped LIVELY capture significant share in the direct-to-consumer lingerie market.
In July of 2019, the company was acquired by Wacoal. The acquisition is bringing a team with decades of expertise in the intimates industry, alongside a new level of scale to LIVELY's already-booming operation.