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Knowing Your Customer Looks Like This

If Dolls Kill wants you to know about them, you soon will.  A misfit or Miss Legit will introduce you to the brand the next time you hit the club, a rave, or a festival.  You will see the brand thru Femail Fashion Finder, find the Dolls Kill site, and purchase the next outfit a rebellious non-conformist needs to “aggressively fight the higher power” and unapologetically “raise hell.”  When you get it, you might unbox your package on Youtube and post on Tumblr. And as you get ready to go out, you might share your selfie with the brand’s 1.3 million Instagram followers, 582,000 Facebook followers, and an untold number of Snapchatters.

For a brand launched in 2011 and sold only through its own site, those numbers are pretty good. By comparison, Dolls Kill competitor Hot Topic – with its 30 years in business, 600+ stores and an ecommerce platform – has 1.8M Instagram followers.

The beautiful execution of Dolls Kill’s word of mouth and social media strategy is that… if you aren’t supposed to know about Dolls Kill, then you don’t.  It seems that not a single dollar has been wasted telling the conformists and mainstream that Dolls Kill exists.  The fashion and retail industry press is just catching on – potentially due to a recent $2M investment in the company.  But a google search for Dolls Kill news led to only four legitimate news articles on the first two pages of results.  This is even more remarkable given that Maveron Capital –a venture firm co-founded by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz – invested in the company in 2014.

The company’s results are private– a 2014 article written by Jason Del Ray for ReCode – at the time of the Maveron investment – states that the company had been profitable since it was founded in 2011 and would surpass $15M in revenue in its third year.

Why the success?  Why have few ever heard of the retailer, yet so many misfits follow it?  Why would a firm that also invested in Zulily,, Ebay, Shutterfly & Groupon see potential here?

Because Dolls Kill knows who its dolls are.  There are five dolls, each a personas their customer wants to be There is a succinct description of each on the site.  And while you can shop by category, the easiest way to shop is to click on a doll and see what you need.  The first four frames for Darby were a t-shirt, jeans, vest and bandana.  The next four were a choker, lipstick, a raglan, and another pair of jeans.  In the third set you could find the sunglasses you needed to complete the look.  In all, Dolls Kill had selected 129 items to suit a Darby.  By comparison, Hot Topic had 18 trend subcategories (the closest equivalent to the dolls categories on the site).  In the first trend – cosplay (costume play for the uninitiated) there were 218 items.  Merchandising by category replicates the focus of the curated assortment; Dolls Kill lists 373 dresses, and competitor Urban Outfitters lists 627 dresses.

Piecing together the bits of information available, Dolls Kill is so focused on its customer that its marketing spend and assortment is –in turn – efficient and effective.  The proof will be in the numbers, which we may not see for a while. But other retailers should take note on what knowing your customer looks like.

David Weiss, Partner, McMillan Doolittle 


McMillanDoolittle is a premier international retail consultancy bringing deep experience with world class clients. Our partners have extensive experience interpreting the retail marketplace and converting insights into successful strategies. We help clients develop innovative solutions in strategy development, the customer experience, new concepts, brand performance, retail performance improvement and retail intelligence services.

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