Bonobos: Men buying pants online – who knew?

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    Guys, would you buy $118 pants online? Bonobos.com customers in 40 countries already have.
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Clothing isn't one of the topics we frequently cover here on Horizons, but a Manhattan company is changing the way many folks – men in particular – think about shopping online, and we'll jump on board.

The idea behind Bonobos, a two-year-old operation specializing in men's trousers, started with finding the perfect fit. CEO Andy Dunn and partner Brian Spaly were tired of ill-fitting pants. Designer pants were too tight – and expensive – and more reasonably priced slacks from mall stores produced a baggy phenomenon affectionately called "khaki diaper butt." The answer, Dunn says in a recent interview with Vator News, lies not only in a more tailored fit (and at a price somewhere between J. Crew and Marc Jacobs) but with an online experience that makes shopping a breeze.

Hop over to their website, and in addition to a pretty standard catalog and ordering section, you'll find a return policy that's as generous as any ever offered ("any pant, any time, any reason"). Also a plus is the included free shipping – both ways, if necessary – that serves as insurance that even though customers are buying clothes without touching and trying them on, they won't be penalized for the imprecision that often accompanies online shopping.

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That seamless shopping experience is another hallmark of the Bonobos business. In an NBC Today Show piece with correspondent (and former NFL star) Tiki Barber, Dunn and Spaly talk about how customer service is a key element of developing loyal customers. "We hire intelligent, driven, motivated, bright, college-educated folks to come in and talk to our customers," Spaly says. Indeed, the site's help page urges visitors to call and "ask a ninja."

Also unique about Bonobos is the company's use of social networking and web tools. This includes not just marketing, something many brands use sites like facebook and Twitter for, but research and development, as well. "We're including our customers in the conversation about what products we make, how they fit and how we sell them," Dunn told online marketing site Clickz.com earlier this month. For example, this summer's "WillTweet4Trunks" campaign gave Twitter followers a chance to win free swimsuits in exchange for answering market research questions. And the company frequently offers perks for new customer referrals.

Bonobos, of course, isn't the first to figure out that online clothing retailing requires a more nuanced approach than brick-and-mortar shopkeeping. Shoe-seller Zappos.com, recently acquired by e-commerce authority Amazon, built its name on the same kind of solid customer service. But Bonobos is unique in that it's going after a tough-to-reach demographic – the guy who wants to look good, but doesn't want to spend a lot of time shopping. So far, things appear to be going well: the company did $1.6 million in net sales its first year, and is on track to almost triple that this year.

And if you were wondering, no, none of three fashionable fellas at Horizons has purchased from Bonobos... yet.

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For more of our take on fashion and the web, check out our look at bike commuter-specific Cordarounds pants, and this look at how to be a smart online shopper.

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Have you bought from Bonobos? Would you? Leave a comment or find us on Twitter. We're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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