February 8, 2012, 12:00 PM

Bonobos takes a page from flash sale sites

The apparel retailer offers private sales to its most loyal customers.

Lead Photo

Bonobos Inc. late last month quietly launched its first loyalty program, which the online men’s apparel retailer is calling Great Apes.

The e-mail-based program takes a page from flash sale e-commerce sites by offering a select group of customers access to private sales of marked-down inventory. The program, which the retailer offers to shoppers who make purchases most often, aims to provide value to customers who show enthusiasm for its brand while also helping the retailer move excess and out-of-season items, says Richard Mumby, vice president of marketing at Bonobos, No. 789 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide.

The majority of the Great Apes e-mails Bonobos sent were to customers who are already accustomed to regular e-mail blasts from the retailer. When a shopper signs up for the men’s apparel retailer’s e-mail list he can elect to receive messages daily or one to three times a week. The retailer isn’t concerned about e-mail fatigue because the Great Apes e-mails have a clear value proposition—each e-mail will offer shoppers access to exclusive discounts, says Mumby. Moreover, recipients won’t be inundated with Great Apes messages because the e-mails will be irregularly sent to make each message somewhat of an event.

While the retailer has sent only two Great Apes e-mails so far, Bonobos’ tests shows “favorable purchase behaviors” that correlate with e-mail frequency. “We don’t want to oversaturate consumers,” he says. “But we haven’t seen the number of e-mails have an effect on revenue.”

That may be because of the tone of Bonobos’ messages. The e-mails aim to capture the conversational tone that “guys use when they talk,” says Mumby. For instance, a pre-Valentine’s Day e-mail that Bonobos sent out in partnership with cosmetics e-retailer BeautyBar.com urged shoppers to “Stay out of the dog house” by buying a gift in line with his level of commitment, which ranged from “Very promising fourth date” to “Practically a Nicholas Sparks novel, you two!” Sparks is a best-selling novelist who typically writes love stories.  

“We’re relevant to shoppers because we know how to talk to them,” he says. “We’re not overly transactional. We spend a lot of time putting context around our messages and we try to make our e-mails fun.”

As the Great Apes program evolves it will likely feature a point system that will encourage shoppers to increase their purchase frequency to gain membership into the program, says Mumby. “Ultimately we’d like to have as many customers in the program as possible,” he says.

Mumby will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition 2012 in June in session entitled “The Ins and outs of Facebook ads.

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