June 3, 2004, 12:00 AM

A gift to retailers: Registries that build long-term loyalty

Online gift registries continue to pay dividends as customer loyalty and customer acquisition tools—particularly for multi-channel retailers with a national presence.

Gift registries continue to pay dividends as customer loyalty and customer acquisition tools-particularly for multi-channel retailers with a national presence.

REI Inc. for example, garnered 6,000 gift lists and thousands more new customers related to those lists in just the first eight weeks of offering a multi-channel gift registry, says Joan Broughton, vice president of multi-channel programs. “The response to our integrated gift registry has exceeded every projection,” she says.

Neil Stern, senior partner with retail consultants McMillan/Doolittle, says that more retailers are looking at gift registries as a way to attract customers, then continue to build relationships with them through continued e-mail contact and special offers. “It’s a great way to build loyalty over the long term,” he says.

The REI gift registry, which can be accessed through REI.com and REIOutlet.com, by telephone and through in-store web-based kiosks, was launched without an extensive marketing campaign, Broughton says. REI limited its promotional efforts for the registry to home-page links, in-store signage and communications between in-store shoppers and store employees.

Customers can set up registries by calling a customer service agent, building a registry online or using a hand-held device to scan selected items in a store. Purchases, whether online, by phone or in stores, result in automatic updates of the registries so customers who create a registry can see online which items have yet to be purchased. REI will also make suggestions online for additional products.

REI took about a year and a half to prepare for the gift registry’s launch, Broughton says. To test how well its products would support gift registries, for example, it commissioned a national telephone survey of 800 consumers who had been known to participate in outdoor recreational activities. It found that 77% of women and 73% of men said they enjoyed socializing with friends when engaging in recreational activities outdoors.

REI also modified its fulfillment operation to support the multi-channel registry, Broughton says. To accommodate online ordering of gift-wrapped boxes, for example, it needed to extend its pick-and-pack conveyor belt and train additional workers in the art of gift-wrapping, she adds.

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