At Fashion Digital, Brooks Brothers, Bonobos, Uri Minkoff Share Digital Strategies

Fashion brands and retailers converged in New York City earlier this month at the Fashion Digital conference to discuss digital strategies and pain points, figure out what works in social and mobile and learn how to succeed at e-commerce.

Brooks Brothers shared its experience using data and analytics to uncover trends and ferret out and resolve problems. Like many retailers these days, Brooks Brothers uses ad retargeting to influence potential customers during their winding path to purchase. But vice president of direct Cindy Lincks says that retargeting is only truly successful when the ads are linked to current inventory data.

After all, few things are as annoying as having an ad for a great new dress "follow" you around the Internet, only for you to discover once you click on it that your size or desired color is unavailable. In fact, the default color option displayed on retail websites often is out of stock, according to Lincks. Ineffective retargeting is one sure-fire way to disappoint customers.

The brand also relied on eCommera's DynamicAction platform to identify and correct a quality problem that had gone undetected by Lincks' team. It all started when Lincks' team analyzed the return codes — "bits of customer feedback," she says — that accompany garments sent back to the warehouse. "A lot of colors and materials don't photograph or translate properly from the web to real life," Lincks explains. That's often the case with metallics, nudes and neutrals, and red or brown leather.

In this instance, the "needle in a haystack" issue turned out to be a quality problem with basic black chino pants. While the problem was not so obvious that it noticeably affected the customer product rating on the website, Brooks Brothers felt there was an opportunity to optimize the sales performance of this particular pants and stem the steady flow of returns. "A lot of the focus is on [optimizing] fashion items and riding the trends instead of on basics like chinos," explains Lincks. Brooks Brothers shared the eCommera findings with its factories and addressed the quality problem.

Fashion brands should consider strategies to promote and maximize "high inventory, low-exposure" products — the basics that are always on hand season in and season out. Lincks recommends increasing product exposure internally on the brand website and investing in paid search to improve these products' ranking in search results. "In marketing it's easy to invest in things that are selling already," she adds.

DynamicAction also helped Brooks Brothers figure out why one particular product, the Milano men's suit, received a high number of views on the website but posted very low conversion. They discovered that the suit was two years old and naturally, inventory was low, reducing opportunities for customer conversion. In these cases it's best to limit the exposure of past-season items on the brand website, never including them in personalized recommendations in other areas on the site. Brooks Brothers pulled the Milano suit from e-commerce

Data analysis helped the brand figure out why one particular email promotion sort of fizzled. It featured several pairs of men's shoes and boots and while the email succeeded in driving traffic to the website, conversion remained puzzlingly low. The problem was that three of the brand-new shoes highlighted in the message were on 90-day backorder, meaning that customers simply could not order as soon as they wanted to. "Now in marketing meetings, we don't talk about creative first, we have to ensure that the products being promoted are available and can be sold," Lincks says.

True Fit turns data in dollars
True Fit maintains the world's largest inventory of customer fit data and uses that information to enable brands and retailers to provide fit recommendations to customers, with a goal of increasing online conversion and reducing return rates. According to the company, retailers that implement True Fit on their websites have seen a 300 percent increase in conversion, and 86 percent of browsers convert to first-time buyers.

Many see a steep 25 percent to 50 percent drop in returns and a 10 percent to 25 percent rise in average order value, according to co-founder Romney Evans. Even if just 1 percent of website visitors take advantage of True Fit, that translates to a 1 percent sales lift, he says.

True Fit can provide size recommendations to customers who don't even have an account, if they're loyal shoppers on a given site (that partners with True Fit) and thus have amassed a significant data sample. The firm is working to integrate its technology into mobile POS platforms so that sales associates can be empowered with enhanced clienteling features.

In 2014 True Fit will announce some significant changes, including the ability for a user to have an updated Netflix-style account that aggregates various user subprofiles. This will be useful for a mom, shopping for herself, her husband and her children, who needs to store fit and size information for everyone, for example, Evans explains. 

Bonobos leans on Guideshops for customer acquisition
After creating a wildly successful apparel business online, Bonobos entered the brick-and-mortar world last year with the launch in select urban markets of its Guideshops retail experience. Not traditional in any sense of the word, the shops function as an e-commerce showroom where customers can view and try on the clothes before placing their orders via the existing e-commerce website. And while Bonobos' run as a pure-play web-only business was highly successful, clearly there's a subsection of guys who still value sampling the merchandise in person before making a purchase, especially if they're hard to fit, for example.

Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing, says the Guideshops turn the showrooming phenomenon on its head and are essential in acquiring new customers. In fact, repeat purchases are made 50 percent more quickly from customers who first buy from a Guideshop, he says.

He also spoke to the recent changes with Gmail's inbox structure, which now features primary, social and promotions tabs instead of all messages getting lumped into one undifferentiated inbox. The fear for marketers, of course, is that their email promotions now languish unseen on customers' promotions tab. "An unengaged person not opening your emails is worse than getting an unsubscribe because Gmail will start sending your emails to their spam or junk folder," Elbert explains.

But for all the hand-wringing over the new Gmail inbox, Elbert says Bonobos hasn't seen a significant dip in open and click-through rates. Those customers who were highly engaged remain engaged, he says, while there's been a slight dropoff among those who weren't.

Uri Minkoff and the Minkettes
Rebecca Minkoff CEO Uri Minkoff says the company decided early on that everything would be about the customer. "We spent a lot of time going to stores and watching women shop, seeing what they were picking up, what was transacting and why," he says.

The brand launched before social media was as developed and influential as it is today and back in 2005 and 2006, Uri and his sister discovered that Millennial girls were talking passionately about the brand on blogs and forums. He says they decided to answer their fans' questions directly and spent two to three hours daily engaging with brand aficionados. "Designers weren't doing this back then, talking directly to customers," he adds.

The company began getting requests for customized products from fans and Uri says they agreed to do it as long as each girl got seven of her friends on board to purchase the design. "Soon 40 percent of our customers became these bands of eight girls," he explains. "That's literally the level of listening we had before this sense of democracy was cool."

As the Rebecca Minkoff brand caught on in popularity, Uri says some fans approached the company expressing a desire to become brand ambassadors and named themselves The Minkettes. These fans became the brand's eyes and ears, reporting back to the company if a department store's display looked wrong or if a quality issue came up.

While the brand has "nailed" direct to consumer operations through e-commerce, powered by Magento, it doesn't yet operate any U.S. stores but plans to open its first early next year and close out 2014 with three or four locations, and about 15 global stores total.
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