In the midst of retail’s struggle to keep their storefronts open, we decided to put two all-American brands—both offering a timeless take on staples such as knit sweaters, cotton blend socks, turtlenecks, and other classic items—to the retention test. And in an era where free shipping with a wool sweater isn’t enough to keep customers around, our aim was to identify whether their efforts warmed us up enough to become loyal customers.
In this series, PostFunnel will follow two competing brands to assess their customer marketing performance. For each case study, we’ll enact a customer journey with the respective brands, documenting every customer interaction that was sent to our testers and give professional inputs and insights from our experience with the brands.
To mark our third Prix, we compared two classic U.S. clothing and accessories brands:
J.Crew is a multi-brand retailer offering a variety of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories. J.Crew owns and operates 281 J.Crew, 181 J.Crew Factory, and 113 Madewell stores.
Multi-national Banana Republic offers refined, timeless items for both men and women, and is owned and operated under GAP Inc. To date, there are 642 locations across the United States.
Our third Brand Prix has begun; may the best retainer win.
This round, we gave our tester $500 to spend and six weeks to engage with the brand on a few different platforms. The PF editorial team then graded the performance based on personalization, strategy, user experience, and overall engagement on all life cycle stages. We created our analysis based on metrics that speak to the data-driven marketer, moving beyond traditional tactics, and instead, approached the shopping experience from the marketer’s POV. We graded the companies on each life cycle stage out of 10 possible points, with an average final score.
The Lay Of The Land
For our first action, we created a J.Crew account and registered for their email list.A couple of days later, we returned to the site and looked through their look books to discover newly promoted items, including sweaters, jackets, and jewelry. We saw several items we liked, so we filled up our cart. Several hours later, we received an email reminding us of our unpurchased items waiting in the cart.
The next day, we went back to the website and continued looking through items. We were happy to discover that our cart was still full, so we added two more items; a sweater and a turtleneck.
When we began our customer journey with Banana Republic, we immediately created an account and opted in to their emails, all via desktop.
The following afternoon, we went back on their site and clicked on a few of their featured looks, mainly looking into sweaters and jackets.
On day three, we revisited the Banana Republic site and browsed their sweaters, jewelry, and home and gifts category. We choose a few turtlenecks, wet bar accessories, a bracelet, and a jacket to add to our cart.
The brand sent us an email reminding us of our full cart, and mentioned that one of our items was now sold out and would not be restocked.
New Customer’s Club
After several days, J.Crew sent an email nudging us again to fulfill the order, so we returned to the website and completed the purchase: a jacket, top, socks, a book, a pair of pants, and a water bottle totaling $300.
When we returned to the website the next day, we realized we’d mistakenly ordered the wrong size turtleneck in the wrong color, so we emailed customer service to correct the mistake. Although the item was non-returnable, J.Crew’s customer service was extremely helpful and communicative, and clearly laid out a plan for us to follow regarding the returns. They also waived the shipping fee for the new shirt.
The communication nudged us into fulfilling our purchase, and shortly after completion, we opened an email informing us that they had received our order.
After two days, we received a shipping confirmation; part of our order was on its way. Hours later, a similar email notifying us that the rest of our order was in transit.
Although we were unable to get everything in our cart, we went ahead with the order, and received a confirmation email from Banana Republic for: two turtlenecks and a couple pairs of socks, and a few other items for a total of $290. Complying with a now-somewhat standard within the retail industry, we qualified for free shipping.
Banana Republic sent another email on the following day to inform us that our package was delivered, only there was one major oversight on their end; we couldn’t find our package anywhere, so we emailed support and asked for their assistance. They answered us the same day, stating that oftentimes, the shipping company will say a package was delivered, but customers should allow for another five days to receive their order. If this was a well-known issue within the company, why hadn’t they corrected their system and spared their customers the time looking for their package?
* We received emails with irrelevant content (such as ads for women’s clothing) nearly every day. We were gifted with steep discounts of 50-60% off, but as the products weren’t connected to our activity, we felt disinterested and less receptive. On the social media front, we haven’t seen any marketing attempts in terms of Facebook or Instagram ads, a seemingly odd strategy for this digital age.
We Got Mail…
Little more than a week passed, and we still didn’t see an email updating us on the status of our order, but in this time frame, we’d already gotten our packages. We followed their initial instructions (returned one item with the prepaid shipping, placed an order online for the item we originally wanted, and sent customer service our new order number via email). We did, however, see some display ads while browsing other sites, but like with Banana Republic, we noticed the brand’s marketing attempts on social media were completely absent.
Exactly five days later, our items were delivered, but we did not see a confirmation email from Banana Republic stating that our package had arrived.
In the span of four days, J.Crew notified us that they received the return, and they shipped the new order to us.
When we went to return an item we no longer wanted, we printed off the return label and sent the items back. Interestingly enough, Banana Republic acknowledged via email that we printed off the return slip from their website but did not let us know our return was completed and they received our package. During our third phase into Brand Prix, we noticed that the amount of communications was getting more and more excessive and oftentimes repetitive. While they were generous with discount offerings, it would have been nice to receive fewer emails on sales, and more content geared more towards our every day routine, such as styling tips with items we already bought.
We received no further messages from J.Crew until six days later; an email asking us how we liked the products and whether we’d leave a review. J.Crew’s emails were slightly less frequent and more consistent with our purchases (specific communications about how to style winter clothes, sales on sweaters, or cold weather accessories, etc.), and in terms of design, featured brighter colors, but their communications also heavily relied on discounts.
The Final Verdict
After six weeks of communicating with the brands, we could conclude our scoring. Our testers went over the transactions they received from both companies and joined our marketing experts to try to understand and evaluate the brand’s marketing plan. This is what they came up with:
It’s less a matter of who won, because we can’t say we have a winner here. What we do have is a clear loser in Banana Republic. In 2018 you can’t go with a “spray and pray” approach. Sending tons of emails and counting too heavily on monetary discounts misses a real chance to communicate with the customers. Having no control on the campaign frequency means that your customer will eventually just stop opening your emails. The money offers had no real rhythm to them and no correlation to the activity. The social presence was nowhere to be found.
J.Crew made the same mistakes: Too many emails, many of them irrelevant, heavy discounts, and no real presence on social. Both brands seemed totally unaware of the fact that following the customer’s journey is never a bad practice. However, they did put in effort on some fronts, such as the purchase process, design, and the frequency of the campaigns, and that’s why they landed in first this time.
Think we got it right? Or should we have picked another winner? Leave your comment and tell us what you think or join the discussion on Twitter and Facebook by using the #BrandPrix hashtag.