Is this the most beloved brand in fashion?

posted on: Thursday, 2 October 2014

Boden

When I say the brand name, “Boden,” what do you think of? Most likely you’ll draw images of brightly coloured catalogues, genuine model smiles, bold prints and happy days. Boden is a brand that loves to be loved. But they are anything but a brand that sits back and waits for the love to flood in. I can quite genuinely declare that I have never met a fashion house that works harder to satisfy their clientele. But let me back up a step here.

Two months ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across an image that Boden had shared. The image focused on a wall of framed pictures, of "fan mail". Naturally, it was a group of letters showcasing undeniable affection for the brand. Boden shared this in a charming way, drawing attention to how much they love hearing from their customers and how they try to feature as many of these letters as they can in their "hall of fame," in their one and only store near Hanger Lane. My interest was peaked. I have worked with Boden before and it’s always been the experience you would expect – like being present in a self help book. It truly is sunshine and puppy dog tails, I kid you not. The mind boggles at how this company continues to run as they do, as such a success, in an industry that is known for being bleak more times than not.

Boden

So, after seeing the picture I wanted to know more, especially about this client appreciation wall. I took to email and contacted the PR to ask if I could pay a visit to the store and check out the wall in all its glory.

Fast forward two months later and I’m standing in front of the wall with Boden’s Head of PR and Head of Customer Insight and Strategy.  While the wall itself was truly glorious and worth featuring, my story quickly shifted as I learned of the lengths that Boden goes to, 12 months a year, in discovering how they can bring better clothing and the best customer service to every single solitary customer.

Boden

What you are about to read will give you a new appreciation for your Boden catalogue, I can promise you that. I am still in shock.

Let’s start with the fact that Boden have a panel of 15,000 customers around the world, called the Boden Insiders, who are more or less the shapers of Boden today. This group participates in online surveys, discussion and focus groups and more. While I was sitting with the Boden folks, the team shared with me some of the correspondence, including pictures, from their most active members of the "Insiders". These were not your standard customer service letters- these were like reading letters between family. Women were sharing pictures of their daughters on their first day of school. Actually, there was one women who had written in and shared a picture of her daughter wearing the same sweater for three years of "first days at school" and wrote to share her love for the brand that could gave her daughter that extra something special on her big days. Then there were letters from groups of women, all Boden enthusiasts, that had met in focus groups and who had become friends, now holiday together, and send regular updates to the team with pictures of them all wearing Boden. And I’m just getting started.

Boden doesn’t start and stop with conducting “research” in a traditional way – through focus groups and the like. Every time the Boden team travel around the world, they write to their customers in the area and they inquire about stopping into their homes to say hello. They ask if they can come and talk to them about their closets, and even take a peek into them. They want to see the Boden women’s life in real time and see how they can help to build clothing that will support it. Boden listen to the women as they talk through their closets and share their concern at missing this item or that, then Boden designers go back to the office and work at filling that hole for the next season. They are truly a brand that asks, listens and delivers. Honestly, have you ever heard of anything so fantastic in retail? I simply couldn’t get over it. 

My jaw was left on the floor of the Boden shop and I did warn the good folks there that I would have to share their secrets with the world after I left. As expected, the entire team smiled and said they were proud of their clientele but also respected their privacy. Like I said, this is like family correspondence, so it’s not really for public consumption (minus the ones given permission to be placed on the wall). Just know that some of these letters and emails were more heartfelt, warm and thankful than any I had ever written to most members of my own family. The Boden team actually have a customer wall near their desks where they can see all of the letters and pictures coming in. They act as a daily reminder of who and what they are working for. Brilliant, just brilliant. But, when I asked if they thought any wall in their building would be big enough to hold all their correspondence from customers, they smiled genuinely and proudly and responded by saying they didn't think it was possible.

So does all this make Boden the most beloved brand in fashion? It certainly proves they are devoted to their clientele. The letters do in fact show love, but it’s their daily service to EVERY Boden customer that is the most impressive thing here, and, in my opinion, has made them the most beloved brand in fashion. Their product is superior quality, their research methods blow every other brand out of the water and their return policy is quite frankly ridiculous. If, for some reason, all this research and design work still lands you with a product you aren’t happy with, the return policy is 365 days. There are no questions asked, you are refunded. Not surprisingly, this return policy is infrequently used by customers. Although, Boden did mention one individual who routinely returns one item every year on the 364th day after purchase. Love it.  They have turned this into a tradition. Other companies would be annoyed, Boden shares this as a badge of honour.

I hope Boden won’t mind if I share one last anecdote, that I found to truly define them as a brand with a heart. I was told that the Boden customer service team are always looking for new ways to over serve and surprise their clientele.  The average call time for an order, return or enquiry is longer than any other in the industry. People don’t just call Boden to talk clothes, apparently they talk about life and Boden are in no hurry, ever, to rush their customer service calls. The anecdote in question features a women, who will remain unnamed, who called in one day to enquire about purchasing a product that had she adored and had sadly been destroyed in a move. Her beloved Boden ski jackets had met an untimely end. The customer wanted to see if the Boden team possibly had any old stock that they would be willing to sell. Sadly, the items had long gone. The call may have ended there, but Boden wasn’t done with the enquiry. After hearing of the love for her Boden purchase of old, the brand decided to follow up with the customer by sending her the closest match in the new collection, with a new jacket for every member of her family. This is not a publicized story, and not one that I felt they shared with many. But, again, it was told to convey a passion for their customers, not in any way a smug sort of "holier than thou" story for me to run away with and report upon. 

In all honesty, I came away from this whole experience wondering how I could possibly write about a company that seems to have more concern for their customers than the bottom line. That just doesn't happen these days. I wrote and rewrote this several times, each time feeling cheesier than the last. There just is no way to truly get across how impressed I was. I've said it out loud to everyone that will listen since I left Boden weeks ago. And here I am finally sharing it all with you. I occasionally bought from Boden in the past. Today, I flip through their catalogue with a new appreciation for an outstanding brand that should be held up on a pedestal in this industry.