Apparel chain Avenue digs deep to engage online shoppers

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Successful retailers have sophisticated marketing relationships with their customers. And the more information the retailers have, the better — the shopping habits of the invisible people who click on their website, when they shop, how often they shop, where else they shop, what they buy, what they might be inclined to buy next based on their previous purchasing histories — key data that helps capture new customers, generate incremental sales and inspire frequent repeat visits.

“Given the scale of a company like ours and the scale of some of our bigger competitors, we’re going to win by understanding our consumers,” says Joseph Kassa, senior vice president of marketing for plus-size apparel chain Avenue Stores, as well as “understanding the way marketplace trends are evolving and being able to get conversions by giving consumers what they want when they want it. Without a partner like 4Cite, we couldn’t do it as well.”

Avenue began working with insights and interactive customer management company 4Cite Marketing in 2014; the company’s tools integrate with all of Avenue’s technology vendors, its email platform provider and its postcard/print vendor, Kassa says, “so all the data we need to send to and receive from customers is attached to our database.”

As retailers send emails to current or potential customers, 4Cite can determine how shoppers respond, helping retailers understand the most effective emails to send to individual customers.

Avenue built a new database in 2013 that provided more sophisticated customer information, and needed to be able to “segment off that database and to have it run alongside our financials, to track and report accurately about consumers and their behavior,” he says.

With4Cite, Avenue has expanded its marketing programs “not only to people who are registered on our site, but to everyone who comes onto the site, including people who abandon carts or views. It lets us do some personalization to incent sales, prospect and capture new customers as well as build assimilation programs and support real-time messaging.”

Real-time identification

4cite engages Avenue’s customers in real time, identifies their shopping habits and shopping performance, sends the consumer information to its database and then sends back offers based on requirements set by prior shopping habits.

“Depending on the 4Cite program that a retailer is using, this identification can typically be done in real time,” says Bob Gaito, 4Cite’s CEO, “which means retailers can respond to a shopper’s presence on their site by sending them immediate purchasing incentives.”

Prior to hiring 4Cite, Kassa says Avenue had to “run data, analyze, build segments and then finally put a plan into action. Today, all this is done in real time.”

Avenue chose 4Cite after researching several customer insight vendors partly because of how quickly the technology could be integrated into Avenue’s email, bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce databases.

The two-month integration consisted of copying and putting 4Cite tags (six lines of JavaScript) onto each of Avenue’s webpages, which allows 4Cite’s technology to fire when a page is visited. During that time, Avenue’s marketing department put together the creative marketing messages and emails the company wanted shoppers to see. 4Cite tested the messages, identifying the most effective promotions; after that, the programs went live.

“Shopping mode”

Avenue started with 4Cite’s customer acquisition program using triggered lightboxes. Sometimes called overlays, lightboxes appear in front of regular content on the website; since the technology is different from pop-ups, lightboxes aren’t subject to pop-up blockers. Customers who haven’t yet signed up are asked to enter their email address (often with an incentive).

Avenue then expanded to 4Cite’s real-time messaging and triggered email programs. Real-time messaging automates personalized lightbox messages to keep visitors engaged and incented to make a purchase while on the website, while triggered email takes over when customers leave the site without a sale, offering incentives to drive them back to make a purchase.

For both programs, Avenue built model-based triggers using key performance indicators. Both programs also incorporate 4Cite’s LiveContent, which recommends items that customers are likely to purchase based on shopping histories. LiveContent continuously integrates data about email interactions with website shopping activity to update the status of a customer’s current interests.

In Avenue’s case, the information is integrated with bricks-and-mortar purchase history. Updates often include incentives that Avenue, through 4Cite, sends to either capture a new customer or generate a sale.

Kassa says the variety of programs that 4Cite offers is one of the company’s key benefits, letting Avenue “explode our messages out to consumers.” 4Cite also manages the cadence of onsite and email marketing messages to ensure just the right amount is delivered.

Moreover, while 4Cite does not share any customer information among its retail clients, it can share when customers are in what Gaito calls “shopping mode.” With its tags firing on more than 800 million retail shopping pages and 1.3 billion emails each month, this data lets a retailer know when one of their registered customers is shopping online. Called Shopping Elsewhere, this enables sending email right when a customer is most receptive to opening and engaging with it.

“When a retailer’s customer is online shopping with their wallet open,” Gaito says, “that’s the best time to send that customer an email. It’s particularly powerful for reactivating inactive customers.”

In addition, as retailers send emails to current or potential customers, 4Cite can determine how shoppers respond — whether they make purchases or not — helping retailers understand the most effective emails to send to individual customers.

Customer reactivation

Because 4Cite programs are integrated with database information from Avenue’s 300 bricks-and-mortar stores as well as its ecommerce site, it can “deliver performance by building the size and scale of our stores into our ecommerce platform,” Kassa says, “which is something we are still studying today.”

The retailer checks incremental gains weekly to measure 4Cite’s effectiveness in capturing customers, increasing frequencies of visits and generating incremental sales.

“We charter how many hits we’ve had, how many people we’ve talked to, how many conversions we’ve had into sales, the impact on margins, how many new people have come on the site, how many lapsed people have come on, how many have previewed products on our site and then bought them in our stores,” Kassa says.

“I can’t share numbers but I can say that the incremental program performs well. The opt-in rates on emails far exceed the opt-outs. Open rates from triggered campaigns are triple what we see with the bulk emails we send. We are happy with the prospecting rates and I have seen improvements in reactivating consumers.”

Liz Parks is a Union City, N.J.-based writer with extensive experience reporting on retail, pharmacy and technology issues.

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