Sarah Neill of Mys Tyler On How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More
An Interview With Tyler Gallagher
Make us feel valued — this is the big one. Even if we’re returning an item, or swapping something out, make us feel valued, so we feel good and want to come back!
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Neill.
Sarah Neill is the CEO & Founder at Mys Tyler, the first social-commerce platform serving up body-relevant fashion content to help women find and buy clothing that fits. She is a serial entrepreneur, who has built and scaled businesses in Sydney and New York. Previously, Chief of Staff at Ultra Mobile & Mint Mobile, Founder & CEO of DOODAD, and VP, Marketing at Boost Mobile.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m Sarah, the founder and CEO of the body-positive fashion app Mys Tyler, which matches women with fashion creators with a similar body (height, shape, size) so they can enjoy fashion inspiration they know will fit. Prior to Mys Tyler, my career had been focused on marketing and startups. I love people and problem-solving. I’m Aussie, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in the US, so I feel like I belong between the two countries.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
When I first moved to New York, I was running sales and marketing for a privately owned company. I had an idea for a new product which I pitched to the owner Michael and thought if I was lucky, he might give me a small budget to pilot it. Instead, he gave me $1M of funding and told me to set it up as a new company and be the CEO. 5 months later I launched Doodad. I had never thought about being an entrepreneur, even though I’d always loved innovating within the businesses where I worked. Michael gave me the confidence (and the financial backing) to give this a shot, and he taught me that a good idea plus a person who can execute their vision is already valuable. It wasn’t all rosy, and I learned a lot about things I should have done differently, but we did many things exceptionally well, and ultimately, it allowed me to demonstrate that I could create a business from scratch, and I learned that I loved doing that.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There’s a documentary called Embrace, created by an Australian woman Taryn Bromfit who went through a journey to love her body as it changed over the years and after motherhood. She realised that all across the world, women are extremely judgmental of their own bodies and have unrealistic views of what they “should” look like.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Fashion as an industry has been designed to be aspirational and exclusive — models and mannequins are typically tall and slim and present a very narrow view of what women look like. This has been amplified with social media and things like filters, lighting, poses, and multiple takes, allowing influencers to curate the perfect shots. But as a result, the vast majority of women don’t see themselves represented in the world of fashion, which can make them feel like they don’t fit. It also makes it really hard to buy clothes that fit, as you have to physically try them on to see how they fit your body. For online shopping, this leads to high returns and a lot of disappointment.
Our platform lets women discover creators with a similar body who share their favourite outfits — showing how the clothes fit, how they style them, and where individual pieces can be purchased. Our creators do the job of trying things on for you! Not only does this make the shopping experience more efficient, but it also allows women to see creators with similar bodies who are body confident and stylish, which is a really empowering experience for women.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a founder, it’s really easy to be “always on,” so it’s important to build downtime in your schedule. I do this through separation and structure. I know that many people love the ability to work remotely, but I love being in a separate work environment. For me, when I’m in the office, my focus is on work, and personal is an exception. When I’m at home or out, personal is my priority, and work is an exception. I always need to be accessible, and I need to be ready to jump on in case of an emergency, so I’m rarely without my laptop, but that structure allows me to binge Netflix without feeling guilty, which honestly is important. :)
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
It’s expensive to find new customers, so when you do, you want to make sure you keep them. Otherwise, it’s like filling up a leaky bucket that loses as much water as you add, and progress becomes very challenging. By retaining customers, you’re closing that hole, and the bucket starts filling up.
As a result, keeping your brand top of mind is more important than ever through community, rewards programs, habits, or strategic triggers, i.e. getting to know them and serving up new products or offers when you know they will be most engaged. Lululemon has done a great job of branding and community; it’s easy to spot their logo around when you know it, so their customers constantly see new products modelled IRL on other people running or in their yoga class, keeping that brand top of mind.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When you start a business, you need to think about the unit economics — what is the cost of fabric, production, packaging, and shipping, but you also have to think about the fixed costs, i.e. the cost of design, a retail store, staffing, building your brand, etc. In the beginning, when you need to build a brand, start by building a customer base and a reputation, as putting too much focus on unit economics can be detrimental. Focusing on the price that makes sense NOW could mean you won’t make it to the future. You could either be setting the price too high to attract enough customers, or you could focus on lowering costs so much that your result is poor quality and you lose the customers you found.
When you create a new retail business, allocate a sufficient marketing budget, which can be used to offset the unit economics so that you can deliver high quality at an affordable price and compete with incumbent brands. Then, as you grow, you’ll achieve high volume and economies of scale, which will decrease your unit costs, while your cost of acquiring users will also drop as you have more brand awareness, and your customers start referring others.
In the beginning, you’re going to get things wrong, so you need to allow time and budget to test things out and avoid painting yourself in a corner — i.e. Don’t commit all your budget to a single product unless you KNOW it’s going to sell. Rather, you’d be better producing small batches and testing to see what gets bought before increasing your order size.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
We’ve become expert consumers, we have more choice than ever before, and we know what good customer support and experience looks and feels like, so when we don’t get it, we know it. In the case of retail, online shopping has become so convenient, and easy free returns have alleviated many of the concerns shoppers have previously had. The big difference with retail is the experience — being able to try things on and having assistance from people in the store. If that experience is good, it will keep people coming back, but if it’s bad, you’ll lose them to other retailers or online shopping!
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I truly believe all companies want to deliver the best customer experience they can, but it’s a balancing act. You can’t triple your staff for an unexpected peak 30 minutes at the cost of being over-staffed the rest of the day and not being profitable, but that means you’re accepting that some customers will have a poor experience. Additionally, I think it’s easy for management to become disconnected from the front-line and miss opportunities to improve processes and systems that could benefit the business.
I have spent a lot of time in the past managing call centres, and I remember one time I was listening in on calls and hearing customers get increasingly frustrated and angry at our agents. I realised that we had not empowered our agents to solve a particular issue, so they were forced to escalate it to our technical team, meaning resolution took hours to solve, not minutes. This was a terrible experience all around; customers were angry and upset, and agents were worn out and demoralised. You don’t go into customer service if you don’t want to help people. We were able to make a change to allow agents additional access to solve this problem, which meant they could resolve it on the spot — resulting in happy customers and much happier agents! Often these things are happening below the surface, and the people who can make improvements aren’t aware of them because the people in the day-to-day roles assume “this is how it’s done,” and the information doesn’t get pushed up.
It’s extremely important for people who know what’s possible and who have control to spend time in-store and on the phones with the people on the front line directly experiencing what’s happening so they can make changes to processes and systems to reduce friction.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
In our body quiz, we collect several data points so that our FIT Algorithm can work its magic matching women to like-bodied creators. For example, one question is about bra cup size, i.e. A-K+. We had a woman contact us, she’d recently had a double mastectomy and wasn’t sure how to answer this question, and it made her feel bad. We asked her what she thought a solution would be, and she suggested adding “post-op” as an option. So, we did. She was grateful that we’d responded in this way, not just for her but because she’d helped create a better experience for other women like her joining Mys Tyler in the future.
Did that “Wow! Experience” have any long-term ripple effects?
This was a great reminder that there will always be use-cases we haven’t thought of. We’ve been very intentional about communicating to our community that we are young, still figuring things out, and not perfect, but always working to improve. We work hard to make our users feel comfortable providing us with ideas and feedback, and we get so much value from this. The more we can understand our users, the better the Mys Tyler experience becomes!
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
Ultimately people are buying a product, so at the core is having a product that meets your customer’s needs. Marketing comes into play because you want to communicate effectively what your product does so you attract the customer it’s designed for. You can think of this as product-market fit, and if you get this right, it will mean users are happy with the product, and you will see a higher conversion of foot traffic to purchases.
Now that you have a good product and are reaching the right audience, the focus shifts to the experience, which can be broken down into the environment and service.
The environment can be the store layout, furnishings, colour choices, music, and event scent (made famous by Abercrombie & Fitch). Service can be high touch “consultation” or transactional. Understanding what your customers want to do in-store and then helping them achieve that as quickly as possible. You can only have so many staff in a store, so think about things that can be “self-service,” freeing up staff to help on higher touch consultation.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more?
- Representation is SO important — customers want to feel like they’re welcome and in the right space.
- A comfortable environment — think about your customer and make it accessible for them to move around your location, access your products, and try things on (if relevant).
- Assistance from staff — from consultation to transaction, helping customers move from consideration to decision is critical!
- Product availability of sizes and skews — once a customer has zeroed in on a product, not being able to try or buy it at that moment is really disappointing.
- Make us feel valued — this is the big one. Even if we’re returning an item, or swapping something out, make us feel valued, so we feel good and want to come back!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love it if all brands were required to include at least one model of the “average” size, i.e. in the US a size 14–18 in every advertising campaign. Representation is so important. This is still not where we need to be, but this would be a HUGE step forward!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Join our community by downloading Mys Tyler and creating an account to access your personalised fashion experience. Within the app, we have been documenting our startup journey called “Startup Series,” and we share what’s happening behind the scenes, things that have gone well, mistakes we’ve made, and all the things that go into getting a business off the ground.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!