Creative Bridal Footwear: UGG, TOMS, and Puma

Refinery29 this week covered the launch of a new line of footwear for brides from UGG.  “Uggly” in my opinion!

ugg-wedding-shoes

Coming across this was funny timing though, as I just went to a wedding last weekend where the bride (my very good friend Amy) was creative with her footwear choice.  She first wore beautiful Jimmy Choo shoes to the wedding ceremony and pictures, but for the reception, she changed into sparkly TOMS so she could dance the night away!  You can see a peek of them in the photo below.  Much more chic than the UGGs above!

sparkly toms

Similarly, a few years back, another very good friend of mine, Georgi, bedazzled and added platforms to Puma sneakers so she too could dance to her heart’s content throughout the night (and have a few extra inches sans heels, seeing that she’s under 5’0″).  Both of these women knew that comfort was important, and with dresses so long/full it’s rare that the shoes are even seen!

puma-sneakers-with-dress

I was impressed that both of my friends took unique measures to find comfortable footwear for under their dresses (I personally wore my heels all night, which didn’t bother me amidst the excitement but can then vividly remember them to our hotel room at the end of the evening with feet in utter pain). Seems that Ugg is acknowledging there may be a broader market for this.  Has anyone seen other creative solutions to wedding footwear that brides can wear all night long?

Fall Fashion, Already Here??

This morning, I couldn’t help but notice a few of the luxury department stores already showcasing Fall Preview Collections on their sites.  Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Neiman Marcus each promoted Fall or Pre-fall collections.  It’s a bit striking that while most shoppers are just stocking up on colorful maxi dresses and summer sandals, and the majority of retailers are blasting messaging around summer getaways and poolside BBQs, that these items are already making an appearance.  I haven’t been physically inside a luxury department store the past week or so, but do wonder if these items have simultaneously reached store shelves, or are just available online for now – perhaps as an early pre-read of what consumers will respond to.

Neiman-marcus-PreFall

 

Saks-FallI

Bergdorf-fall-preview

It’s interesting how the fashion cycle works.  Each February is A/W (Autumn/Winter) Fashion Week, where designers show their latest Ready-To-Wear collections on the runway.  From here, the retailers place their orders for the upcoming seasons, and celebrities identify looks to borrow in future months for various events.  Four months later, in late May-early June, items (sometimes modified) from these collections first reach retailers, as demonstrated above.

Shoppers should expect to see “pre-fall” collections at specialty stores like Gap and J.Crew more around the July time-frame, after most summer inventory has been cleared.  There’s likely pressure that as soon as some stores have pre-fall collections available, that other retailers want to be on board and seen as pushing the envelope, offering the latest trends and being up-to-date, after all – who wants to be known as the laggard?!  But to appeal to mainstream shoppers, retailers must remember the importance of “wear now”: most consumers want something they can take home with them and put on that week.  I assure you that most money right now is being made from summer items.  Luxury retailers are simply providing a tease of what’s ahead to adhere to the fashion cycle, generate press and a reputation for offering the latest trends, get their shoppers excited, and provide early buying access to the most elite.    The luxury world truly is a world of it’s own.

How to be memorable: Give consumers the choice

This past weekend I stayed at a Westin hotel in Chicago, and a few elements stood out to me as novel approaches. I encountered two specific instances where they put the choice into the hands of the consumer, empowering their guest with the final decision, which I think was effective at creating a memorable experience.

Upon checking in, the front desk told us “Since you’re Starwood Gold, you get the choice of perks – would you like complimentary internet during your stay or 250 Starwood points?”  My husband and I took the internet (a no-brainer since we are device addicted/internet-reliant), but I thought the approach was unique.  Giving customers the choice of reward likely leads to greater satisfaction, a feeling of pride and creating a more memorable stand-out moment.  Aside from simply a sense of gratitude and extra thanks for the perk (“they even let me choose”), there’s an additional sense of achievement that customers remember: “I did that” or “I chose that for myself”.

westin-hotel

Separately, we noticed a hang-tag that guests could elect to hang on their door (where the do-not-disturb sign goes) that presented the offer “Skip your housekeeping and get a $5 credit daily to the restaurant”. Another way of putting the choice in the hands of the consumers – allowing them to decide what is most important or which they value more highly.  Not only is this part of Westin’s “green initiative” reducing waste, but makes sense economically as the cost of fully cleaning a room is likely greater than $5 when you consider staffing needs and associated salaries, laundry, electricity/overhead and other supplies.  I’m curious how many guests actually choose this option, and of those that do – what part is most compelling to them – knowing that they are helping environmental practices or the attached monetary incentive.  Regardless though of the reason they’d opt for the $5 credit over a clean room, I again think that putting the choice into the hands of the consumers is a wise move.

Madewell builds intrigue and local spin as they head across the USA

Madewell (a brand/store/concept owned by J.Crew) is taking efforts to connect with users all over the nation in what I consider an innovative approach.

Yesterday, I received the below email — detailed enough I felt it was relevant, but cryptic enough to make me curious and click.  After all, everyone loves a party and the idea that the details of where/when weren’t revealed definitely built anticipation:

Madewell-Email

Clicking through took me to their Facebook page that showed me a Madewell airstream trailer that’s making a cross-country trip across the US.  I wasn’t yet a fan of Madewell, but this convinced me to “Like” them.  After all, I wanted to know more!

Madewell-Roadtrip

Madwell-Airstream

Today, from one of my email addresses (associated with New York), I got the below email with the subject line “Hey NYC, get styled this Thursday”.  It highlights an event at the 5th avenue store.   I’m also signed up for their list with a San Francisco zip code.  I received a very similar looking email, but instead of emphasizing an in-person event, it highlights how to participate virtually via Facebook.

Madewell-NYC-and-national

Seen above: The left email was targeted to New York with the subject line “Hey NYC, get styled this Thursday” .

The right was for users not in one of the specified geographies with the subject line “It’s our first ever styling party…and you’re invited”.

When you click through either email, it takes you to their Facebook page with an overall visual of the campaign. 

Madewell-fb

If you then click to see their Events tab, you’ll see that they are hosting similar events in ~20 markets nationwide this Thursday night, with a few hundred people attending each event.  Their Soho store has 2,000+ RSVPs and 5th Avenue has 800+ so far.

Madewell-events

In general, I’m skeptical when it comes to events as to what the pay-off or return on investment is.  But, I do think events can help generate loyalty from a targeted audience.  I was impressed that Madewell seems to have found a way to take this concept beyond a single store, and have multiple events in their stores the same evening, along with a way for their shoppers that aren’t in the specified geographies to participate.  I don’t know how well it will pay off financially in the immediate term, nor from my research does it seem that this generated a large quantitative volume of new “likes” or tweets, but it did lead me to have more positive associations with the brand that will likely last over time, which I think should be the purpose of events in general.  (I should note that I’m not attending the event myself but still have these feelings).  It’s also a FUN concept!

Overall, this campaign did a great job of teasing the readers with enough info to make you want to know more, and generates an excited emotion that they’re inviting shoppers to be part of something “insider-ish” as they make their way across the USA.  Kudos to Madewell!

When a promotional email gets it right and wrong

Received an email from American Express yesterday that stuck out:

AMEX-email

First, on a positive note:

Messaging about Father’s Day immediately after Mother’s Day seemed incredibly wise to me. AMEX jumped while the holiday is top-of-mind for consumers.  As gifts were just exchanged for Mother’s Day the day prior, for many gift-givers it’s a logical thing to now consider what you’re getting dad for the next upcoming celebration.  Also, since this was likely sent to a number of women who just received gifts themselves, there’s probably an element of reciprocity involved — leading them to want to give back something of equal or higher value than what they just received.  I haven’t yet seen other promotional messaging about Father’s Day so this was unique (a bit shocking when you consider the adage that as soon as the Halloween candy comes out of stores the Christmas decorations go up). To me, the timing was impeccable sending this message on the heels of Mother’s Day.  I would expect and encourage AMEX to send a follow-up email closer to the actual Father’s Day holiday which would likely result in higher sales, but this probably captured some initial interest, before the Father’s Day gift-giving messaging is widespread/overwhelming.

On a negative note:

Aside from the broken image (weird line in the middle of it), which I won’t dwell on but does look unprofessional, the issue I’ve had with similar pre-paid gift cards in the past is that there is always a processing fee of some sort. So your options are to either buy a gift card for a store/restaurant you know the recipient will love, get one for somewhere like Amazon with a huge selection, or pay an extra fee for this type of card.  (And it sometimes seems the fee 2-sided, applying to both the purchaser and redeemer).  The subject line of this AMEX email was “Order No Purchase Fee Gift Cards for Fathers Day” so I was intrigued.  Under the “Great Value” bullet it then says “…there are no customer service or activation fees, and funds don’t expire”.  Yet, I was still wary given my past experiences trying to purchase similar cards.  And, for good reason. Check out what happens as soon as you click “Order now”:

AMEX-purchase-charge

There, prominently displayed is a $3.95 Purchase Charge.  Confusion ensues!  I then went back to the email and noticed that in very very tiny print at the bottom is a small code you can type in to avoid this fee (EMDADCM). They are basically touting that there are no fees associated with these cards only to initially disappoint/shock/confuse members after clicking through.  Seems that a more optimal experience would be highlighting the code as a prominent aspect of the email itself. Also, upon clicking through, say you either saw a place to enter the code immediately, or the purchase charge lines were crossed off so you get a sense of immediate gratification, not that you need to hunt around.  Imagine your satisfaction and increased likelihood to purchase if you saw something like this instead:

AMEX-purchase-charge-revised

2 reasons online-only brands go offline

I read two pieces of news last week about brands began online who are now opening physical stores.  Piperlime announced they are opening their first physical store in New York City this fall, and I received an email from Athleta that they’re opening a store (I think their ~15th) in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
I started contemplating when and why online retailers choose to open a brick and mortar presence, and I came up with 2 main hypotheses.

They open these stores to either:

1) gain exposure/marketing/buzz to build the brand (typically in high-volume/high-expense major metropolitan areas)

2) reach target customers in unsaturated markets where there is strong immediate revenue opportunity and the ability to build a loyal following*

In terms of last week’s news, I believe that Piperlime is a solid example of reason #1 and Athleta’s expansion an example of #2.  Let’s examine each:

piperlime-pop-up-store

Piperlime’s 2011 Pop-up store (Image via NY Spender)

Piperlime – opening a physical store in NYC is about bringing the online experience to life, PR exposure, and branding.  Overall, it’s more of a “show” move with long-term benefits than an immediate revenue play.  The real estate costs for a NYC store are likely exorbitant, but they probably selected this market because of access to influencers and to increase their coolness/top-of-mind factor among fashion’s editorial community.  I’m guessing they hope that the press and coverage they will get out of it will trickle to other markets, building the awareness of Piperlime for online shoppers nationwide.  Seems that a pop-up shop could accomplish much of this though, so they must believe this endeavor will have the  ability to continually drive buzz and do so profitably.  (Piperlime did create a pop-up store timed with Fashion Week last year; seems that was a test-run).

athleta-new-store

Athleta new store announcement

As for Athleta – they probably are identifying markets where opportunity exists to be the first mover, establish customer relationships and build loyalty.  For their store locations, they’ve opted for less urban, more suburban markets — places where lululemon hasn’t yet taken over, or may be out of range price-wise for consumers.  It’s important to select locations that will be excited about a fitness-focused store (cities were health is a priority) but where shoppers may not yet be obsessed with/have access to lulu (the leader).  Opening a physical store is more likely focused on immediate sales in these markets.  Athleta has probably learned who their avid online shoppers are and selected markets accordingly that could be profitable both from the get-go and in the long-term.

The fact that both Piperlime and Atheta are owned by Gap Inc does provide advantages for each them when opening a physical store. They can likely leverage the corporate expertise in all of the related store operations – leasing, hiring and training employees, procuring the necessary technology to process payments, tacking on to warehouse/delivery routes of nearby Gap Inc stores, and more.  This knowledge and infrastructure is a huge luxury that any online brand considering opening a brick and mortar wouldn’t necessarily have.

For instance, I’m not sure that Warby Parker, ASOS, Zappos, or Bonobos are itching to open their own stores given all the overhead compared to operating solely online.  If they did, I’d be curious which approach they’d take.  There have apparently been rumors that Amazon and Net-a-porter have considered physical stores, but I haven’t heard a peep recently – also curious how that pans out.

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*Note: A third reason is to simply have a presence in/near their corporate HQ (ie. Zappos corporate store, Threadless Chicago store near their HQ, Chrome Bags store in SF).

Special thanks to my brother (who also has forged a career in retail), for being my sounding board on this post.