October 31, 2002, 12:00 AM

One Small Step

(Page 2 of 2)

On its web sites, Brylane has just begun a program of informing customers about the steps in the order process, such as order status, returns or exchanges, finding out if Brylane carries a product that doesn’t appear on the site, and so on. It is basing the enhancements on specific customer feedback. “We did a lot of customer surveys to ask customers what they meant when they said certain things,” Kazmer says. For instance, a customer who asks “Where is my order?” might be asking because she hasn’t received it or she might be asking because she wants to make a change to it and is wondering if it’s too late. Similarly, a person who says she has a billing problem may be referring to the charge as it appeared on her Visa statement or she may be inquiring about Brylane’s deferred billing program. “Finding out exactly what people were looking for was another hole to plug on our web site,” Kazmer says.

Anonymous store shoppers

Gaining customer information on the web or from catalog calls is easy compared to learning customer data from the store shopper. And to be really successful, retailers need to make sure they are gathering information in all channels, then using it in all channels. That’s easier said than done. At J. Crew Group Inc., measuring who is doing what across all sales channels “is one of our biggest challenges,” David Towers, vice president of e-commerce operations for J. Crew, told the Shop.org Annual Summit in New York in September. “Multi-channel retailing is more than just the three channels of store, catalog and web,” Towers said. “It’s three squared, because you have three channels for browsing and three for buying, and there are all these different iterations of customers you serve.”

At first, J. Crew identified store shoppers and web shoppers by capturing credit card information at the store and matching that with credit card data captured in web transactions. It halted such a practice when it was deemed illegal, Towers said.

Knowing who is spending how much where and why, said Towers, can determine where a retailer should be investing or easing back on investments. “This is a matter of optimizing costs across the organization and of proving the worth of all of the channels so that you optimize all of them for all your customers,” he said.

J. Crew, which uses a CRM program from Art Technology Group Inc., tackles the challenge of gathering customer data with creative merchandising. “We are looking at coupons on the web to maximize shopping the store,” Towers said. “We also want to be able to use personalization technology so that we give a compelling personalized message to visit the store. We want to say to the customer, get up from your Dell, here are the directions to the store in Austin near you, park in lot B, walk into the mall just past the Orange Julius and into our store. There you will find a sweater in stock that is a perfect fit with the jeans you just bought online. That’s the type of personalization we are trying to achieve.”

Some retailers are finding, however, that they already have a wealth of information about customers, whether they shop in the store or on the web. That information comes from the gift registry-and some retailers are making registries the key to a multi-channel CRM program, says Catharine Harding, vice president of retail solutions at technology provider Blue Martini Inc. “Gift registries are a great CRM opportunity,” she says. “It’s the most data that customers are ever going to give you about their about their likes and their preferences.”


The Internet and e-mail streamline the entire process, Harding says. “Weddings are planned hugely online these days,” she says. “Most young couples are comfortable with the Internet and e-mail.”

Some retailers incorporate e-mail into the process from the very start, encouraging couples to use e-mail to alert the store that they intend to register. That way, stores have a follow-up mechanism if the customer doesn’t register. Once the couple registers, the retailer can use the ease of e-mail communication to cross-sell and up-sell the couple. For instance, the store can compare the information with other registrations and up-sell the couple based on amount of items in the registry, noting, for instance, that the average couple registers for 12 place settings for china and the six they’ve registered for may not be adequate. “With minimal cost and marketing intervention, you can create a campaign to build the registry,” Harding says.

The retailer also can use e-mail to alert couples to impending events. For instance, most retailers discourage couples from registering for towels and linens more than three months before the wedding because of the problems of keeping current styles in stock. And so three months before the wedding, the retailer can send an e-mail to the couple telling them it’s time to register for towels and linens. Even after the wedding, the relationship continues. The store can review what has been unbought in the registry and offer the couple a discount on remaining items.

One key to success in a multi-channel CRM program is quick identification of the customer when the customer arrives, say analysts. So, for instance, stores might want some mechanism to identify a customer as the customer shops. “By the time customers get into checkout, most retailers don’t want to send them into the store again,” says Peterson of NetPerceptions. Thus some retailers issue cards to customers that they can swipe in the store to find specials. Others, such as Nordstrom Inc., use web-enabled checkout counters throughout the store or browser-equipped PCs in a back room so sales associates can identify customers and make the appropriate pitches.

However they identify the customer, though the desired result is the same: Creating a good feeling which will bring the customers back to the store or the web site. And the Internet is playing an increasingly important role not only in executing CRM but also in understanding CRM results. “We put source codes on all clickable links,” says Lingo of Illuminationa. “So if a customer receives an e-mail, clicks on the store locator and then shows up in the store, we’ll know right away how that customer got to us.”


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