June 3, 2013, 12:35 PM

Stores that keep up with the web

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Urban Outfitters has also made a point to keep up with such rapidly changing areas as social media and mobile commerce, Devine says. The retailer's approach to mobile plays into an overall store and web strategy aimed at giving shoppers a consistent experience however they interact with the brand. Its iPhone and iPad apps, for example, both stream UO Radio while open so mobile shoppers will hear the same songs that are played in physical stores.

In keeping with its penchant for experimenting with new technologies, and for displaying a whimsical sense of humor, Urban Outfitters was also one of the first retailers to test Twitter Vine, an app that allows Twitter users to record and share six-second looping videos with sound.

In addition to tackling social media, mobile commerce and advances in fulfillment and order management technologies, many retail chains at the top of the fastest-growing list are taking advantage of the increasing amounts of information available to them about who their customers are, what they are buying, when and in which channel. Some call analyzing this growing mass of consumer information "big data."

In the last few years, for example, The Children's Place has focused on linking its e-commerce platform with its customer relationship management system and loyalty programs so that it can better understand its customers, says Michael Dupuis, vice president of e-commerce.

The merchant can analyze such key metrics as web site visit frequency, purchase frequency, size and channel, to determine what certain customers or customer segments respond to. For example, Children's Place tracks site visitor Jane Shopper when she buys a red boys T-shirt in a store and swipes her loyalty card, then follows her onto the web three days later when she signs in with her user name and password to write a review of the T-shirt. The merchant also knows that she browsed other colors of the same T-shirt for about five minutes, but then decided to purchase a pair of jeans. Children's Place can combine the data on all of those interactions, compare them to other shoppers' behaviors and not only figure out how to market to Jane more effectively, but also to customers that behave online and in stores in similar ways.

"We now have one single real-time view of the customer inside of a database," he says. "We can take groups of customers that are particularly valuable to us and figure out how to achieve the highest likelihood of conversion. This is enormously valuable as far as sourcing new customers, allocating marketing dollars and figuring out how to deliver campaigns that ultimately speak to customers in a way that works, and driving more out of each one."

The Children's Place has gone from generating around 1% of total sales, or about $5.1 million, from e-commerce in 2003 to nearly 12%, or $215.0 million, in 2012. That's more than 4000% growth in online sales over the last decade. Investors have been impressed by the retailer's overall performance, as the stock price—about $11.50 a decade ago—is around $48 today. Among the 146 retailers that survived the last 10 years of the Top 500 Guide, Children's Place is the fourth-fastest growing in terms of online sales.

The retail chains that have survived the last 10 years and flourished the most online have been those with the foresight and wherewithal to take advantage of new technologies to give shoppers what they want, says Dupuis of Children's Place. "It used to be said that if you're not a technology company, you shouldn't attempt to be one," he says. "But omnichannel retailers nowadays have to be both technology companies and data analytics companies to beat the competition."



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