March 6, 2008, 12:00 AM

How a multi-channel retailer benefits from cross-channel data

Title Nine has a single view of its customers and inventory. That lets the retailer of women’s sports apparel better market to and serve customers, whether they shop online, in stores or by catalog.

Title Nine sells women’s sports apparel online, in stores and through a catalog, and two years ago had three separate systems for collecting customer data. Now that data is collected in a single database, which allows the retailer to better market to and serve its customers, however they shop, says Renee Thomas-Jacobs, chief financial officer and executive sponsor of the data-integration project.

“Our customer knows us in a lot of different channels,” Thomas-Jacobs says. “It’s only right we know her in the same channels.”

Title Nine integrated its customer and inventory data in a single location, going live last April with technology from CommercialWare, now part of Micros-Retail. As a result, if a customer in a store can’t remember the style or size of a garment she bought some time ago, a store associate can look it up on the point-of-sale system.

Knowing how customers shop also makes it possible to segment them for marketing purposes, Thomas-Jacobs says. For instance, customers who live close to one of the chain’s nine stores have three options: they can shop the catalog and place the order by phone or mail, go to the web or visit a store. In fact, 30% of transactions from customers who live near stores are still completed online, she says.

That information makes it possible for Title Nine to begin substituting e-mail for catalogs for those customers, since they are comfortable shopping online. “We’re aggressively trying to send fewer catalogs,” says Thomas-Jacobs. “Spending money on e-mail is more efficient than spending money on catalogs.” But the retailer first makes sure it’s e-mails are being opened by the customer, something its e-mail service provider tracks.

While customers naturally provide their name and address online and when making catalog orders, Title Nine trains its associates to capture similar information in stores, so that it knows how customers shop across channels.

Each customer checking out is asked for their name and ZIP code, which brings up the record of customers who are in the retailer’s database. If they are new customers, they are asked for their full address. Title Nine captures the addresses of 70% of its customers in stores, and is capturing customer data on 94% of all transactions, including web and phone. For 75% of the transactions captured in the past year, the retailer also has obtained the customer’s e-mail address, allowing follow-up marketing, Thomas-Jacobs says.

While employees are not financially rewarded for collecting customer information in stores, the capture rates for each store are published very month, creating a competition among store personnel to take top honors. “We’re a very competitive company,” says Thomas-Jacobs.

The companywide view of inventory available also makes it possible to save sales that might have been lost. If a store is out of a style or size, an associate can check the web inventory from the POS system and place the order for delivery to the customer’s home. If the distribution center that services the web and catalog orders is out of stock, an agent can have the item shipped from a store that has it in stock. 2% of January orders were filled through a different channel than the one the customer started with. “2% is a huge amount of sales,” Thomas-Jacobs says. “We couldn’t have done that without the Micros system.”

“Having an integrated system is not just part of marketing, it’s part of our brand,” she says. “The customer knows we’ll move heaven and earth to get her the product. And I know we can do that without losing our shirts because we have an integrated system. Before we did it with clipboards and faxes, and that gets expensive.”

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