How Express strikes while the customer is hot to purchase

February 13, 2013 10:19 AM

The consumers who shop at Express Inc., whether online or in its 625 stores worldwide, are “in a hot state,” says Jason LaRose, senior vice president of e-commerce. That is, they’re ready at a moment’s notice to take a picture of the cute dress or cool jacket they see someone wearing in a bar or at a party, find the item online and buy it, “sometimes without having thought about it a lot,” LaRose says.

“They’re a real spontaneous group, and we want to be spontaneous with them,” he told attendees this morning at the 2013 Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference in Orlando.

Knowing that its customers—mostly fashion-conscious women and men in their 20s—are always on Facebook and always checking their mobile phones for messages from friends, Express designs for the web and mobile devices and plans its marketing programs to fit that lifestyle.

For example, the retailer, which has 3.3 million followers on Facebook, assigns 20% of its call center personnel to respond to customer posts on social networks and to engage with text chats with consumers, “because that’s what our customer thinks is the right way to interact with us.”

Another example: Express sends its marketing e-mails at 7 a.m., knowing that the vast majority of its e-mails are opened on mobile phones and that its customers look at their phones as soon as they wake up. “They roll out of bed and look at the darned thing, before they brush their hair or brush their teeth,” he says. He says Express’ e-mail open rate was 23% higher in 2012 than the year before, but didn’t disclose the rate at which customers open its targeted e-mails, which Express sends to customers who request e-mail three to five times per week.

Express still mails 12-page paper catalogs, but also sends 11 million customers electronic versions of the catalogs that are 38 pages long, with embedded videos. That reflects how this younger consumer shops, he said—browsing products, watching a video, browsing some more—and Express makes it easy for the customer to buy at every point along this somewhat circuitous shopping path. “That’s how our customer wants to go in and out of browsing, engaging and shopping,” LaRose said.

Many of its customers engage with the brand three to five times a week—not necessarily buying, “they don’t have that much money,” LaRose noted—but posting on Facebook, writing product reviews or retweeting a page showing a product they liked. That’s valuable to Express, and the retailer rewards customers with bonus points for its ExpressNext loyalty program when they promote the brand on social networks.

Also recognizing that its customers don’t carry paper coupons with them, but always have their mobile phones, Express delivers coupons in the form of two-dimensional bar codes the consumer can show at a store checkout counter. The retailer also allows customers to store those coupons in Apple Inc.’s Passbook mobile wallet introduced last year.

“We don’t know if Passbook will be the long-term answer, but it’s the one they’re using the most right now,” LaRose said. “If they change their opinion, we’ll change ours.”

Express redesigned its web site in the past year as it moved to the ATG e-commerce platform that’s now part of Oracle Inc. The retailer adopted responsive design, creating one code base for the site and tailoring the elements that the consumer sees based on the device she’s using.

LaRose said many retailers are moving to responsive design because it’s easier than maintaining separate sites for computers, tablets and smartphones. But that wasn’t Express’ motivation, he said. Instead, Express chose responsive design so that the site would look the same regardless of the device the customer is using.

“Our customers so seamlessly move back and forth between device types and we don’t want to reteach them how to interact with us when they move from one device to another,” he said. “We want our customer to know if that’s the way you post a review on a desktop, that’s also how you do it on a tablet or mobile. We think it’s the right decision for our customer.”

As a way of highlighting Express’ focus on social and mobile elements, and its hip style, LaRose noted that Express is not only No. 102 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 guide, but also No. 82 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Top 400 and No. 69 in the Internet Retailer Social Media 300, and was included in Internet Retailer’s Hot 100 list of outstanding e-commerce sites in 2012. The number of retailers that make all those lists, he said, can be counted on the fingers of one hand.





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