After a months-long process of cleaning up its customer data, plus-size retailer Ashley Stewart is using its shopper data for email and text marketing.

Getting quality customer data is not easy.

Julie Daly, vice president of digital commerce for plus-size retailer Ashley Stewart Inc., knows firsthand the challenges of managing customer data coming from stores, disparate systems and duplicated accounts.

The retailer began using marketing analytics platform AgilOne Inc. in 2016, Daly told Internet Retailer at the National Retail Federation 2019 conference in January. The retailer started with just its ecommerce data as a trial run but knew it needed to feed in its store-level shopper data to get a holistic view of the shopper. Ashley Stewart has 89 stores.

It took close to eight months for the retailer to launch on the platform because it took months to clean its data, or to ensure it was a good quality, Daly says. For example, one shopper could have multiple email addresses or names associated with her, which are all separate in the system. Two shoppers listed with the names “Allie Kotlowitz” and “Ally Kotlowitz,” but with the same email address, are likely the same person and should be consolidated into one. Multiple shopper entries can happen from errors at the store level. If a store associate takes down an email address, data entry is not perfect, as there are likely typos or different spelling variations. Online, if a shopper is typing in her own information, and it’s for an order confirmation, that data is much better.

In the end, Ashley Stewart ended up removing about 1% of its data entries during the cleaning process, Daly says.

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But now that AgilOne and Ashley Stewart have a quality customer data set, the retailer can use that information to market to shoppers.

Daly compares email and text marketing

The retailer gathers 80% of email addresses online and 20% in stores. It’s flipped for phone numbers, as the retailer generates 80% of phone numbers from stores and 20% from online. That’s largely because shoppers are used to signing up for email lists online and to giving their phone numbers in a store, she says. To incentivize associates to get this information, Ashley Stewart has thresholds for how many sign-ups associates get for these programs as well as bonuses.

The retailer’s email pool is roughly 2 million, Daly said. The retailer has about 450,000 consumers that have signed up to receive SMS message, and it  segments its list into groups of roughly 115,000 consumers based on shopper preferences such as dresses or denim, she says.

Email has the higher return on investment, as it is cheaper than text, she says The retailer constantly evaluates its email open rates, click-through rates and opt-out rates. Daly can assess that, if an email’s open rate wasn’t up to the target she wants, then the subject line wasn’t good. And if the click-through rate wasn’t up to par, then the offer inside wasn’t enticing enough, she says.

Building up its pool of SMS numbers is important, Daly says. Overall, email open rates are declining, which Daly says is an overall industry trend as texting is becoming the preference among younger shoppers and consumers receiving too many emails in general.

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“By the year 2022, even though we have 2 million email addresses on file, fewer are going to continue to open them,” she says. “More people are going to want SMS.”

Because of this trend, Daly predicts that more retailers will add SMS-marketing programs, and shoppers may grow wary of this platform too.

“Customers will become more possessive of her texts, and you will have to earn trust there, that you don’t spam her,” Daly says.

Ashley Stewart sends up to 10 text messages a month, which the retailer communicates when the shopper signs up. Usually the retailer only sends four to five texts a month, but during the holiday season, especially during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday stretch, the retailer “absolutely” sent the max amount, Daly says.

Ultimately, the one-two punch of an email and text often has the best results. For shoppers that receive both an email and text about the same promotion, conversion increases 1.5-more times compared with a shopper who just received one of the communications, Daly says.

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Next, the retailer is plugging data marketing firm Epsilon data into its AgileOne platform for more filtered segmentation, such as demographics and lifestyle interests.

Roughly 40% of the retailer’s sales are online, Daly says.

Ashley Stewart is No. 296 in the Internet Retailer Top 500.

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