July 29, 2010, 12:49 PM

How West49 homes in on teen buyers

Personalized e-mails boost the retailer’s open rates and sales.

Lead Photo

West49 Inc. caters to a a group of consumers passionate about its products—skateboards and all the apparel and gear that boarders love—but it has a short window for reaching customers before they move on to other things. “Our customer base tends to drop off after they reach age 17,” says Brent Laderoute, advertising and creative director.

To better engage its customers while they’re still hot for the latest in skateboards, West49 has stepped up its e-mail marketing with segmented campaigns tailored to customers’ interests, Laderoute says. Working with the Campaigner e-mail marketing system from Protus, West49 has increased e-mail click-through rates from an average of about 10% to more than 30%—and within only a few months, he adds.

The Campaigner system enables West49 to conduct A/B tests to find the most effective e-mail campaigns. In some cases, the retailer was able to triple its open rate by choosing the most effective e-mail subject line out of several tested, Laderoute says.

West49 gathers information about customers’ shopping interests using web analytics and through surveys that ask about their interests in areas ranging from skateboards and sports to music and TV shows. It can then better plan e-mail marketing campaigns around particular themes and target customer segments according to their interests.

With e-mail templates that it can modify with sections of personalized content, West49 has been able to send out promotional campaigns that, for example, feature a particular style of skateboard across the top of an e-mail message sent to customers known to prefer the featured style. In addition, it may send an e-mail with information about a Toronto rock concert only to residents of the Toronto metropolitan area.

The highest e-mail click-through rates typically come from members of West49’s loyalty club who earn credits good toward future purchases each time they buy something. West49 routinely sends out e-mail marketing campaigns specifically for its loyalty club members, and often coordinates them with direct mail print campaigns for back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons.

The personal touch helps West49 quickly engage newcomers in its constantly changing base of customers in its targeted 10-17 age group. “It definitely keeps us more relevant with new customers,” Laderoute says.

West49 has also explored innovative ways to leverage its segmented e-mails. Last year, for instance, it developed a TV reality show that ran on Canada’s Bite TV cable channel, which caters to teens and young adults, and featured several amateur skateboarders from across Canada competing in multiple events over eight days. The retailer coordinated e-mail marketing and other forms of online marketing, including exposure in social media sites, both before and during the show. “We have seen a significant increase in revenue from loyalty program members who received segmented e-mail compared to those who didn’t,” Laderoute says.

The result was not only more traffic to West49.com and the retailer’s chain of 76 West49 stores, but a jump in customers signing up for its e-mail. “We saw a spike in new sign-ups to receive our e-mail marketing messages,” Laderoute says.

West49 is also looking toward tying its e-mail marketing campaigns more closely to customer data in its store point-of-sale system. The retailer recently deployed a new web-enabled POS system from JDA Software Group Inc., and it’s planning to eventually export customer data from the system to the Campaigner system. “We’ll be able to segment e-mail marketing on brands to those people in our POS system known to buy that brand,” Laderoute says.

For all the helpful features Campaigner offers, however, Laderoute notes that it’s still important to tend to the fundamentals of e-mail marketing. For example, open- and click-through rates will taper off, he says, if he doesn’t maintain his customer e-mail lists to ensure it has updated e-mail addresses. 

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