Why is an online store the worst place to buy a tailor-made suit?
“Yeah, right!” you may think. I am sure you might feel I am just trashing successful online suit retailers, as they can deliver suits for too good to be true prices and seem to easily outperform any bricks-and-mortar tailor. And also that since we are not able to compete on price we “pooh-pooh” the online tailors to convince our customers not to try them out.
And yes, our company does not sell any bespoke suits online. Or should I say, we are not selling such suits online yet, despite the fact that about 60% of our business is in suiting. We only offer our RED LABEL category suits online, but they are not made to measure. Surprisingly, these suits cost less than most online suits. We also sell these suits in our store at the same price. But then again this is another topic worthy of a separate article.
Hear me out and then judge for yourself if you think this is just a piece about online tailor bashing or perhaps expresses actual issues regarding buying online tailor-made suits.
Let's start with the reasoning behind why you may choose an online tailored suit over a made-to-measure suit from a retail store. The obvious reasons could include:
Save time – you don’t have to drive, park, shop around at different malls etc
You can do it whenever you want - you are not confined to opening times
You get a better price
No one tries to sell you anything you don’t want
You can “design” your own suit - you can see an image of the suit on a mannequin to get a better picture (in some better online stores this is quite advanced)
On top of this, ideally you expect Free shipping worldwide and Free return policy from your online retailer.
At the very least, you would expect the online tailor to provide you with the minimum service expected of a bricks and mortar retailer, such as:
Good customer service
Good style and design options and consulting
Good fit (this includes look and feel)
Good fabric quality or at least the feeling of value for money
Let’s see, have I missed anything? Please leave a comment here if you feel something important has not been covered.
Ok now let’s break it down and examine realistically the issues you may face taking the online tailor route.
Style and Design Option
This is very tricky. I visited quite a few online tailors and must say that some of them do a great job in visualising the different styles and cloth designs. But how do I know which one is the best for me personally. Should my first suit be a single or double breasted? 1 button, 2 buttons or even better 3 buttons? Extra slim fit with suit pants more like yoga pants or maybe a bit less fashionable? These are all important questions for which I did not find suitable answers online. On the other hand, not every in-store tailor has a doozy sales person.
My biggest concern about a suit, be it off the rack or tailored, cheap or expensive fabric, would always be its fit. What is the point of spending, say EUR2, 000 on a beautifully tailored suit with great and very expensive fabric when it simply does not fit you? The advisable thing to do would be to dispose it and put it down to money wasted. So, how does an online tailor solve this issue?
Ask you to get measured by someone else and provide some online guidance
Make an “educated guess” with an algorithm from some key data such as height, weight, body form etc
Use some kind of online technology.
Whereas, the in-store tailor will personally take your measurements or do a block fitting.
So, as you can see the problem has started even before you have ordered your suit. How do you ensure accurate measurements? The counter argument for any online tailor will be that the in-store measurement can also be wrong. I can only agree and confirm this possibility. But the risk is way smaller. In any case, a good in-store tailor will guide you through a professional fitting process and would ensure your tailored suit fits you in the end (even if takes 3-5 rounds to achieve the perfect fit). Hard work, but worth the trouble and at no extra cost to you.
How does it work with an online tailor who ships the suit to your from a couple of thousand kilometres away? Most offer an alteration levy from around EUR50, which they reimburse when you present an invoice from a local tailor or seamstress for alteration services. But what is this worth when you have to alter your suit in a high-priced environment like Sydney, London, New York or Berlin? It will most likely not cover your cost or to make it worse it could drastically increase the overall cost of your cheaper online suit.
Cloth Quality/Stitching Quality
Another scenario may be, you receive your online suit with everything in good order; the suit fits you in an acceptable way or if needed can be altered by a local tailor. But what happens if you are disappointed by the quality of the fabric or the stitching? Of course, “cheating tailors” have probably been around for centuries. These bad apples can show you a good sample when you place the order but use a cheaper fabric for the actual suit. I always recommend taking a small sample of the cloth you have chosen if it is from a fabric bale, but this is not an option if it is from a swatch book.
The touch and feel of a cloth is a very important criteria for any purchase of apparel, as far as I am concerned. How do you overcome this when you can only see the fabric online? If you do not buy a well-known brand such as Loro Piana, Zegna or Guabello, you will just have to sit at home and hope for the best, at least for your first buy. And if you buy a designer label, then the cheap price will not be a criteria anymore.
As for the stitching quality, it will be harder to handle. While you can argue with your tailor face to face, try to do this via an email conversation with a sales consultant in India or China? I would probably give up very fast.
Let’s look at additional potentially hidden cost in the process. An in-store tailor should be clear on the cost of the suit and adjustments etc. No additional costs should be charged. If the tailor tries to impose further charges after everything has been discussed and agreed you better turn around and run out as fast as you can. The other potential hidden cost with an online tailor could be in the form of:
Goods and Service Tax (GST)
Return shipping costs
Credit Card Charges
Duties may be imposed if the online tailor sends the suit from China to your home in Europe. There may be a further GST slapped on top of the price. This can easily increase the price tag of the suit by 30% compared to the sum you have already paid. But this really depends on where you live and from where the suit is shipped to you. It is ceratinly better to check the facts before you order to avoid nasty surprises such as getting a call from customs to come over to pick up your suit, not to mention any related payments to do so.
Return shipping cost may apply when you want to return your suit either for a refund or exchange, Online tailors don’t usually cover this. And yes, if you use your Euro denominated credit card to buy an online suit in USD, you may find that the EUR200 suit may actually cost EUR205 or more after all charges.
Buying a suit online is a challenge and can be problematic. I truly do not believe that the issue of suit fit is solved online anywhere to an acceptable level to-date. Also, if a deal looks too good to be true it is most probably not true! So check your facts regarding import duties and GST first before you order. Also, a Super S Wool 150 under EUR200 may be possible but only if the label does not state the correct material.
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