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At ModCloth, Vintage Fashion Goes Mobile

ModCloth finds a way around an Amazon showdown—on the iPad
Most e-commerce companies “don’t really get the fashion.” —Susan Koger
Most e-commerce companies “don’t really get the fashion.” —Susan KogerPhotograph courtesy ModCloth

Going head to head with online retailers like can be a life-ending experience for e-tailing startups. Amazon can sew up markets at the expense of short-term profitability. To survive, smaller sites have focused on social online-shopping tools such as the pinboard-style comments section on Fancy’s retail site, or have pursued a niche such as moms-and-kids outfitter Zulily. Retro geek-chic site ModCloth, which sells new clothes in vintage styles, has done both, using customer feedback to decide what items and apparel lines to stock. It’s used that information to develop smartphone and tablet apps that are driving traffic and sales.

Mobile devices account for 42 percent of visits to ModCloth, up from 27 percent at the beginning of the year, say co-founders Eric and Susan Koger, the husband-and-wife duo who founded the company as high school sweethearts in 2002. IPhone and iPad customers buying ModCloth’s offerings, such as soda-fountain dresses and retro-print skirts, through apps released earlier this year visit six times as often—and spend more than twice as much per purchase—as those using traditional websites, says Eric, the chief executive officer. He says ModCloth’s sales hit “well over” $100 million in 2012 and will rise more than 40 percent this year, as the company adds about 100 employees to the 450 working in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.