Apr 2, 2013

Billy Reid Rewards Engaged Customers With Exclusive Sales

Billy Reid is a retail clothing line based out of Florence, Ala., with brick-and-mortar shops in New York City, Texas, Atlanta, and elsewhere. They email customers based on location sometimes, letting them know about an event in a particular city, for instance. Occasionally, they’ll send a newsletter to their entire list with a big, brand-wide announcement. But a couple years ago, they started thinking a little bit differently about the email sales that were proving to be a big revenue driver.

Intrigued by MailChimp’s member-activity ratings, Billy Reid’s email crew started experimenting with exclusive sales offered only to highly engaged customers. "A lot of retail outfits claim that signing up for email membership gains them access to private events and sales," director of e-commerce, Graham Heard, says. "Ours really does. The four- and five-star users get first access to sales, private sales, and in-store events when they’re in the market the customers reside in. When we hit a private sale or a limited-time sale, things go extremely quick, and we work on a low-inventory levels, so we send the most engaged customers first to ensure they have dibs."

The reason Graham and the rest of the Billy Reid team decided to abandon sending sales to their whole list was twofold: First, they get more usable data by splitting the list into segments. And though it’s no longer an issue, when they first started using MailChimp, a good response to an email would slow down their website’s performance. By splitting up the list, they could spread traffic more evenly throughout the day.

Speaking of time of day, Graham’s got some thoughts on it. "We are not of the belief that sending at 10am on Tuesdays and Thursdays is the best time to send like industry experts say," he explains. "What happens when retailers are told the best time of day to send is that all retailers try to send at that time, and customers get accustomed to deleting all the marketing messages that come on Tuesdays at 10am. So we base sending off two things: the results we get from the split sending of our segmented list, and on times that make sense according to what is going on in the world that day."

Sometimes, "what’s going on in the world that day" happens to be football. A large portion of Billy Reid customers enjoy the sport, so Graham and his team try to be mindful of that. Sometimes, they’ll even experiment with sales times according to big games. "We had a sale reminder go out in between the AFC and NFC championship games," Graham says. "Sounds crazy, but since we had a sale ending at midnight that night, we sent to our most engaged customers in between the games, instead of later in the evening, which some would consider a more desirable time to send on a Sunday. The result is a bunch of tablet shoppers looking for something to do while sitting on the couch, and thus we hit them when we knew we could grab their attention."

What have they learned? For starters, that their 4 and 5-star customers have great open rates (averaging more than 40%), and since they collect zip-code data on their email addresses, they can see which parts of the country are home to these great customers—the ones who are most excited about Billy Reid products. This has some tangible, brick-and-mortar value as well. "Before we opened the Atlanta market in summer 2012, [the city] had the highest click rate for our campaigns. Austin wasn’t far behind, so we opened in Austin later that summer. We’re currently seeing lots of opens and clicks from folks in San Francisco and Boston, so those are being heavily looked into by our real-estate guys."