Success Through Experimentation


I’ve spent a lot of time recently learning how to take all the knowledge I know about crafting User Experiences and turning that into articulated knowledge and practical applications. Every once in a while there’s something that excites me about UX and design that manifests itself into everyday life, and one of those is when I bought a new pair of jeans from Hollister. If you haven’t seen the “athletic skinny” cut before as pictured above, don’t fret, I’ll explain that to you and show how experimentation leads to business success.

First, the backstory

When I saw these jeans I wasn’t too sure, they had rips in the knees and weren’t the typical type of clothing I would purchase. What drew me to them and peaked my curiosity was the label – “athletic skinny”. If you know anything about me and my fitness routines, is that my body has morphed into quite the athletic shape. By this I don’t mean that I’m ridiculously fit, but that the shape of my legs, glutes, chest and shoulders make clothes shopping a little more difficult than it used to be. This new cut suggested they might fit me better than the plain old “skinny” cut I had bought before.

In the dressing room I brought in both these athletic skinny jeans in my last known comfortable size, and one size up of the skinny cut since they were starting to tug at my thighs again. I tried the skinnys at 34W/32L and all I found was it had a larger waist and no more room in the thigh area. Upon trying the athletic skinny I was surprised how comfy they were, and how well they fit my body. This is the point where I spoke to a lady on the shop floor just outside and we eventually figured out these were an experimental cut to inform the next season of clothing, only available in a few stores. That’s the point where I got all giddy.

Experimentation in practice

What I had just stumbled upon is one of the processes a large clothing brand undertakes in order to inform their product line-up and strategy. For something like clothing where manufacturing costs are relatively cheap it makes perfect sense; you can do all the market research, focus groups and interviews that you like but nothing beats putting a product in front of people and seeing what happens. Here was an opportunity for customers like me to try something before it goes “in season”, and an opportunity for the retailer to test and learn about the appetite for their new product.

In a hypothetical future where Hollister didn’t release an experimental line of jeans beforehand, would they know whether it would be a success? It’s hard to tell – after all, no one can predict the future. However in this reality they will have real world data that proves whether their existing customers are interested in this new cut and can act on that data. It’ll help decide whether to give them a huge push, quietly add it to the catalogue or scrap the project altogether. If it didn’t work, why not? Using a variety of customer and UX research techniques, this is where they can understand why it didn’t prove popular either through lack of customers who need an athletic skinny cut or whether something was fundamentally wrong with the cut in the first place.

The takeaway

I’m not sure if other people will feel the same way about these jeans, I’m just one person who likes a lot of the materials and comfort that Hollister brings. If it doesn’t catch on then I’ll be a bit disappointed, but at least I got to see with my own eyes true experimentation in the field as a subject instead of an experimenter. I’ll leave you with this to chew on:

The beauty of experimentation is that it’s a win-win situation – either you were right and you can continue to scale up or build this product for real, or you learn you were wrong and can stop before investing further time, effort and money.

-: Chuck.


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