The retailer in July began testing new personalization features and in one test upped its average basket size by $5.

Just a year ago, plus-size clothing retailer Ashley Stewart Inc.’s digital personalization efforts were limited to segmenting customer emails based on what the retailer knew about a shopper and some attempts via social media.

“If there was a lapsed customer who had not purchased in a while, we might send her an email with a promo code to convert her,” says Donna Yu, director of customer relationship management for Ashley Stewart.

But Yu and her company wanted to go further and deliver helpful customer service found in stores to its e-commerce site. “Online customers many times haven’t been to a store, and we want to bring the same sense of community that we have in stores to online,” Yu says. “We want to understand what each shopper is buying and what she is interested in.” For example, much of Ashley Stewart’s apparel is organized by “diva” lines, such as the Saturday Night Diva, the Church Diva and the Career Diva. Ashley Stewart store associates know the styles their regular customers gravitate toward, but online, the brand had no clue, Yu says. “We wanted to push toward developing an understanding so we could really speak to [the online shopper],” Yu says.

In July, Ashley Stewart, No. 737 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000, signed a contract with personalization platform Evergage Inc. The retailer began testing several of its tools on AshleyStewart.com, which operates on Salesforce.com Inc.’s Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) e-commerce platform, that same month.

First, Ashley Stewart tested adding a sense of urgency to purchases and tied it to the specific product a shopper was looking at. Ashley Stewart heavily markets in stores and online that it carries limited quantities and limited sizes of its looks. In fact, at stores, many consumers know when new shipments are coming and purchase clothing before it even hits the showroom floor, Yu says. To convey that sense of newness and urgency online, Ashley Stewart tested telling visitors the number of other shoppers looking at a clothing item at the moment. “It will say ‘500 divas are viewing this style,’” Yu says.

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That tool, coupled with heavy marketing copy that stresses how all looks are available for a limited time and in limited quantities, is working. In an A/B test on dresses, shoppers who were shown the number of other consumers looking at the same item at that moment spent $5 more on average than shoppers not provided with that information.

Evergage, which charges Ashley Stewart a quarterly fee based on site traffic, adds its JavaScript tag to AshleyStewart.com to track visitor behavior, Yu says. That enables the retailer to see the colors and styles a shopper typically gravitates toward and then use that data to better customize search results, Yu says. For example, if Evergage sees a shopper typically views red dresses with halter necklines, it will show those styles first both in search results for dresses and on the dress product category page before, say, blue long-sleeved dresses.

These customized displays are tools Evergage calls SmartSort and SmartSearch.

“When it comes to shopping for clothes, it can be very overwhelming. With SmartSort, Evergage puts in the top row what it thinks the shopper is most likely to buy based on browsing and purchasing behavior,” Yu says.

Learn more about Ashley Stewart’s personalization efforts in the February issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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