Stitch Fix, Personal Stylists, and Board Games

24 August 2020 | 4 Comments

Years ago, I briefly tried a service called Trunk Club. I was fascinated by the concept: You mention a few pieces of clothing you’re looking for, and you send a few photos and your size. Trunk Club assigns a stylist to you, and they select what they think will look good on you. You keep and pay for what you like, and you send back the rest.

I was reminded of Trunk Club while recently listening to a podcast (Investor Field Guide) about a similar service called Stitch Fix. To us Stitch Fix, you share your price range, style, and size, and you pay a $20 styling fee (which ends up credited towards the clothing you keep). The site uses a combination of data analysis and personal stylists to determine what you’ll like, and they send you a package of clothing catered to you.

The part of both of these services that fascinates me is the human element. Yes, the data is invaluable, especially when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of different options (and perhaps even more customers). But the fact that each customer is impacted by an actual human being is incredible.

Of course I started thinking if this could apply to board games. The immediate comparison is to the best friendly local game stores, where the staff can connect you with the game that best fits you even if you have no idea what that game is.

Game publishers can bear some of this responsibility too. Granted, I think when most people go to a publisher’s webstore (or end up there due to a search), they’re looking for a specific product. But they may not know which expansions and accessories they want, if any. And even after they find the product, they may be tempted to price check elsewhere instead of buying it on the spot.

Plus, there’s a who other sector of people who don’t know what they want or are buying a gift for someone.

So here are a few ideas for how a board game publisher can use their webstore to better serve any customer who arrives with some level of uncertainty, from easiest to hardest to implement:

  1. Webstore collections: Most e-commerce platforms let you assign products to “collections,” grouping similar products to make it easier for customers to look for one product and discover related products in the process. I was going to use the Stonemaier Games website as an example of this, as that’s how we have it set up…but that’s not how it’s actually displaying right now, so we’ll work on that! Human level: 1 (a human sets up the collections).
  2. Survey with automated recommendation: I think this might exist in general for board games, but perhaps not for specific publishers. The idea is that if you arrive at a publisher’s webstore, you have the option of answering a few questions about the types of games you enjoy, what you’re looking for, and what you already own. Depending on your answers, the survey would guide you towards a few products. Human level: 2 (a human sets up and maintains the survey).
  3. Survey with human recommendation: This uses the same survey as the previous option, except instead of auto-generating a result, it sends the information to an actual person who replies by email with a few recommendations (and perhaps a special discount code). Human level: 8 (a human replies when possible).
  4. Live customer support: You’ve seen this on plenty of webstores, but probably not small game publishers. Usually there’s a little popup where you ask a question, and when someone is available, they reply. Human level: 10 (a human is ready to reply at any time during certain hours).

Looking at this list, I think my favorite option is a hybrid between 2 and 3. You can take a survey that results in a recommendation, but if you have time to spare, you can click an extra button to send the results to a human, who will reply within a certain timeframe. I might look into trying that at Stonemaier–what do you think?

Think of the last time you visited the webstore of a board game publisher with the intent of purchasing something. Is there any way an added level of human interaction could have improved your experience there (or did)? Also, have you tried Stitch Fix? Did it feel like you had a personal stylist?

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4 Comments on “Stitch Fix, Personal Stylists, and Board Games

  1. There have been some board game monthly boxes that do similar things but I haven’t seen any that offer much customization or that human touch. They usually just send you a box of random games that may or may not fit your preferences. I think there’s an opportunity for someone to come in and tailor the box to the customer.

  2. This sounds like a great strategy for a distributor or store (bricks ‘n mortar or online). As a consumer, when I reach the game maker’s website I’m looking for specific information. If you’re talking about the equivalent of a custom box every month, I commend you to my friend Monte Cook, who tried that with Numenera RPG. Pretty sure it was a creative success with a lot of effort expended for minimal results? Clothes are abundant. Board games not so much?

    Where could this work? “…send you a package of GAMES [word change deliberate] catered to you…” Do I get a monthly promo card? Or a supplement? Do I get to choose art somehow? Or specify custom artwork? Those are interesting questions.

  3. Hi, Jamey. Your perspective on this is interesting and makes a lot of sense. I think what you’re talking about is a “recommendation engine” that is either automated or enhanced with some human analysis, warmth, and (in the case of an abandoned cart or unconverted recommendation) selling. In the analogy, a publisher is more like Levi’s (or whatever clothing brand) than StitchFix. We’ve zoomed in to the brand level of granularity. And part of the value of StitchFix is the vast product assortment and indeed discovery of previously unknown brands or styles.

    For a publisher with a score of titles, it seems a humanistic recommendation might be achieved pretty easily, maybe even with a grid visual rather than an email, or some metadata about project affinity with the human touch built in via flavor text. But overall I’m filing this under the ever-expanding rubric “BGG competitors needed”. My dream scenario for this functionality is one where the attribute metadata of All The Games is used in a recommendation engine, and Publisher is one of the attributes. To have that further enhanced by an affable expert (versus, say, only community reviews) would be tremendous.

    Another trick with the StitchFixes is that the personalization is simulated and savvy consumers catch on fast. The interaction may be (partly) human, but I feel sure curation at the individual level is automated, not bespoke. I have never used StitchFix, but I would be shocked if my “personalized” recommendations were not identical to hundreds of others with similar data points – and motivated more by margin and supplier incentives than by customer experience. The language is canny: Personalized, not individualized, not unique. Which is not to say the algorithm or the human is wrong in recommending the same product to many people.

    Looking forward to seeing how this goes! Meanwhile, I hope someone at the “industry” scale deploys something along these lines too, preferably without the payola-type biases.

    1. Thanks Ash! That’s a great point about the distinction between a publisher and a consolidator. I use BGG every day, but I also love how agile Board Game Atlas is–I wonder if they might be able to implement something similar to what you describe here.

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