Exclusive: Destination XL repositions around customer experience

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture
Harvey Kanter
Harvey Kanter, CEO, DXL

The nation’s largest men’s big and tall specialty retailer is focusing on meeting omnichannel demand and personalizing the customer experience.

Harvey Kanter, CEO of Destination XL Group (DXL), recently sat down with Chain Store Age for a wide-ranging interview. Kanter discussed topics including DXL’s ongoing brand repositioning and digital transformation, as well as predictions for the 2021 holiday season.

How and why are you repositioning your brand?
Everything really starts with our mission statement, which is to empower the big and tall man to look and feel good. We want him to know that we get him, we respect him, and that we root for him; in all that he does. We deliver XL clothing that fits his size, his style and his life. We get ‘big and tall.’ It’s literally all we do.

It’s tough being a big and tall man, let alone shopping for apparel. Most general merchandise or specialty stores don’t have a great selection. Also, they don’t scale their fits proportionately for the big and tall customer and they have a poor omnichannel shopping experience.

Therein lie the three elements of our repositioning, and the very real consumer problems we’re solving every day. We have an obsessive focus on our proprietary fit, the largest assortment of big and tall sizes and styles including exclusive private labels and national brands, and an experience built around the respect and value for big and tall customers who trust us.

We’re ready to tell the world about this, and we believe we can be a ‘category of one’ and continue to take market share in the big and tall apparel space, with the total addressable market size that’s greater than $10 billion.

We’re leading with this positioning and messaging in everything we do today, and believe that it is this position and competitive stance that makes us the leading big and tall men’s apparel retailer, with the greatest possible potential for growth in the consumer’s mindshare.

When we solve a problem and customers leave our stores full of confidence and empowered, it also allows us to shift away from being promotional- and discount-driven to a proposition that is grounded in comfort, fit and experience.

What factors have driven your two-year stack same-store sale growth?
It’s really is very difficult to define a single element driving success. It really starts with the team, and leading at all levels. Our team has an extreme focus on serving the customer, and we have created a decentralized and agile (and lean) structure to help manage through the uncertainties we are living in today.

In addition, our unique value proposition, the digital prowess we have built to drive not just web but store traffic as well. Lastly, we’ve also seen an inspiring uptick related to current events.

Consumer demand is returning at a high rate and it is encouraging to see our customers respond to our ongoing digital transformation, which began in 2019 and has helped us respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We know that some level of performance has been driven from pent-up demand for the pandemic stimulus checks and some revenge spending. But we also know that we have reactivated some of our best customers while attracting many customers who are shopping DXL for the first time, including women.

We also believe that lifestyle changes many of us have experienced during the COVID lockdowns have contributed to shifting weight slides and increased sales, but our comp sale improvements are also due to the improvements we’ve been making over the past two years on how we segment, communicate and engage with our customers in a more personalized way.

How does DXL use innovative technology to improve the omnichannel customer experience?While we pride ourselves on our amazing, knowledgeable in-store fit and style experts to provide guests with unmatched service, we’ve invested in outfitting software designed to help customers complete their look digitally that help our customers see entire outfit options.

Just yesterday, we had a customer story from Ohio, where a customer who was making a career move logged on to our website and started chatting with a store associate from their home. The chat ended up in an in-store styling appointment, and after an hour-long consultation, and the customer left happy with a new work wardrobe and almost $2,000spent. We not only did this, but we have now through technology made possible for the associate to connect with the customer and stay in touch with them.

We are investing further in clienteling technology to help us build relationships digitally, similar to what retail teams did with their contact books that held customer contacts 30 years ago.

"This holiday season, we will definitely be communicating the importance of shopping earlier than ever, due to supply chain challenges, global inventory levels, ocean freight capacities and shipping and delivery issues spurred by the pandemic."

We are soon launching a new mobile app that will enable us to extend the user experience, providing a more stable environment and be a more flexible platform allowing us to build more functionality and product offerings going forward, leading to an overall better digital experience.

Our technological pursuits are grounded in elements of our brand repositioning – we invest in platforms and technology that help improve our fit, enhance our merchandising strategy and remove friction from and enable the shopping experience.

[Read more: CSA Q&A: How DXL tackled unauthorized web ads with machine learning]

How does DXL use innovative technology to enhance distribution and fulfillment?
We understand speed is critical for the customer, and we know customers want to shop on their terms. They might browse our app, engage with us in store, buy online and pick up curbside, be in store and have apparel shipped home or be online and have apparel shipped from our distribution center to the store.

However, customers don’t need to worry about the layers of complexity behind the scenes. Being able to fulfil the customer need efficiently starts with the pursuit of real-time inventory, across our stores, our distribution center and our drop ship partners. A customer might order a few items to build an outfit, and they could all be coming from different locations across the country in some cases, to optimize for convenience and speed for fulfilling the need.

This flexible, dynamic algorithm for filling a customer’s order was key to keeping the inventory flow during the height of the pandemic when our stores were closed to walk-in customers. Our dedicated store managers have also helped us create mini-warehouses of our stores all across the country, picking and shipping digital orders from the inventory they have on the sales floor, playing a key role in helping us deliver a truly omnichannel experience.

Can you discuss any plans for the 2021 holiday season into early 2022?
We are hopeful this holiday season is about getting together with your loved ones after not being able to celebrate in 2020. This holiday season, we will definitely be communicating the importance of shopping earlier than ever, due to supply chain challenges, global inventory levels, ocean freight capacities, and shipping and delivery issues spurred by the pandemic.

Going forward, we plan to continue investing heavily in digital marketing, technology to empower the customer experience, and our focus on creating personalized experiences for our customer to engage them through their journey. Personalization is evolving from showing a customer specifically what he might want, to storytelling with them in a way and showcasing relevant product to create the want.

Throughout our marketing we will continue to build on our values of inclusivity and diversity by featuring more customers in our marketing, and represent a broader range of body types. We’re doing this by leveraging much more user-generated content from customers who have engaged with us via social media, allowing us to focus on individualized and authentic content. With this, we are able to connect even more with the big and tall community in relevant and meaningful ways which we theorize will translate into building a loyal community for years to come.