Could Lord & Taylor’s “Claim Your Prom Dress” Effort Be Improved With ZIP Codes And Some Pull-Downs?

Written by Evan Schuman
November 16th, 2011

There’s been some recent discussion about a clothing experiment that Lord & Taylor recently tried, where high-school girls were able to purchase a prom dress and then claim it for that event at that school, to theoretically make it less likely some other girl would show up at the prom wearing the same dress. (This seems to be a gender issue, because few guys would care if 500 other guys showed up wearing the same black-and-white tuxedo. But I digress.)

The idea is interesting but limited, in the sense that the same dress is being sold at other retailers. Avoiding the duplicate dress problem is not easy to solve. It also suffers from the problem of only working when the customer bothers to go through the tagging process. But why not use technology to make it a little easier and a little more universal? Why not use ZIP codes (IP address locations are typically too inaccurate and/or cover too wide an area to be practical for a prom no-duplicates strategy) and a high school pull-down menu (with a behind-the-scenes list of each school’s primary ZIP codes) to flag likely repeats?

The suggestion is to create a two-stage test. The higher level is where every customer cooperates fully, indicating where they intend to use the product. The second level is where there is no customer involvement or cooperation. The retailer always has the right to track Zip Code—if the item is being shipped—and to tell a future customer, “We’ve already sold that exact dress eight times in your Zip Code. You’ve been warned.”

For a little more customer effort, the site could offer a line (again, a pull-down to make the answers comparable) to indicate if the customer plans on wearing the dress at a particular event. This approach pushes this idea beyond high-school proms and could be used to flag apparel conflicts at any type of event or formal function. Weddings? Theater?

This could even be helpful beyond events. What about giving an option to indicate the name of an employer? Depending on the size of the employer, it might be nice to know if that business suit you’ve been wanting has already been purchased by anyone else within that company.

The nirvana would be using a centralized database accessible by multiple retailers (one-way access: all of the chains could pour data in but none could get data out), so a specific dress could be flagged consistently. This would require the joyous comparison of SKUs to identify the various names of the identical dress. Given the incredibly small chance that competitors would cooperate for such an effort, though, it might not be worth the effort.

The advantages of almost any of these variations—along with the original Lord & Taylor effort—are many. It provides additional CRM data, which is always nice. It generates retail loyalty, because it gives people a reason to encourage their friends and family to also shop at that same chain. And it sharply increases participation, with customers interacting with the site much more, which itself creates loyalty and a certain amount of reliance.

It also fuels more customer interest in merged channel. Why? If the purchase is happening in-store, it gives a strong, logical and natural reason for that customer to access the chain’s Web site right then and there, while in the store, either through a kiosk, an associate’s iPad or even the customer’s Android or iPhone. All good things.

But there is the obvious downside, too. Why give customers a reason to not buy a product they like?

Then there is the potential to brush up against privacy concerns, although those are quite minimal. Using a ZIP code or a school isn’t going to be especially revealing, and the customer clearly has to opt in to participate. Then again, the ZIP code search (especially when it’s done by region, such as the primary area covering one high school or one company) might not require opt-in, where the system simply reports a warning to the customer.

I applaud the Lord & Taylor experiment and think it has great potential. But a creative E-Commerce approach could push this beyond high-school proms and make it more accurate and easier to deploy. Either that or consumers could just get over it and conclude that if a dress looks good on, that’s all that matters. If someone else likes the same outfit, it’s a compliment on your taste. (Yeah, I know. As the father of a high-school girl, that argument doesn’t even work a little bit. But I feel a need to try anyway.)


2 Comments | Read Could Lord & Taylor’s “Claim Your Prom Dress” Effort Be Improved With ZIP Codes And Some Pull-Downs?

  1. ed Says:

    Using Zip Codes will not be effective where students are going to school on the other side of town that is very common in large US cities.

    One suggestion is the implementation of an interactive touchpoint displaying which dresses were sold and suggest fashion accessories to make the dress unique just in case.

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    That’s why we had suggested the pulldown. The customer could select a high school and it would automatically be associated with whatever Zip Codes that school primarily draws from.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.