RetailPlus NY: Insights from BirchBox, Forerunner Ventures and CNN

The Retention Science team is back at it with out RetailPlus roadshow thought leader series. This week, we went back to NYC to Gemma at the Bowery Hotel where we brought leaders in eCommerce and retail together to connect over good food and even better conversation.

Dinner was paired with an expert panel featuring Lindy Hoelscher, Marketing / CRM Director atBirchbox, Melissa Grillo, Operating Principal at Forerunner Ventures, Sara O’Brien, Reporter at CNN, and Jerry Jao, Founder and CEO of Retention Science who acted as the moderator while they discussed eCommerce and retail trends in 2016.

The night’s conversation covered everything from the emergence of multiple celebrity brands (think Honest Company and Draper James) to online brands opening brick and mortar stores to what the next big technology push will be in 2016. Here are some insights from the night:

Are celebrity brands, like Draper James, Ivy Park, and Fabletics, just a trend?

It completely depends on the celebrity and the product. Grillo pointed out that while celebrities, like Reese Witherspoon for Draper James, definitely give you a marketing advantage, it’s important to make sure that the brand has staying power beyond the celebrity. Your product needs to address a big enough market to be sustainable beyond the celebrity’s reach.

More and more digital brands are opening brick and mortar stores – how can they keep the online experience going in-store?

While brands like Warby Parker and Birchbox initially built up their user base offering their products online, more and more customers are looking to experience the product before they buy – which is why these brands are now opening physical locations.

Grillo pointed out that Bonobos, a custom tailored men’s clothing brand, has Guideshops where customers can try on and order all the clothing they see on the website and their purchases are shipped directly to their house. This ties together the offline and online experiences of a brand by letting customers physically try on items and shipping it directly to their home.

There was a huge technology push for mobile in 2015, what will the technology push be in 2016?

“Mobile is one of our most important channels,” said Hoelscher of Birchbox. Birchbox has found that their mobile app users are their most engaged and highest converting customers. Hoelscher did point out that while mobile is nothing new this year, it is an ongoing channel that needs to be maintained and updated constantly.

Grillo pointed more toward social apps as the next big thing, specifically Facebook Messanger and Snapchat for customer service. “There’s so much potential for brands with Snapchat – it’s so real and unscripted, people really rally around that.,” commented Grillo.

With so many channels available, what are top brands using to retain their customers?

With social media, SMS, and more, what did our panel say was the channel they use most to retain customers? While admitting it’s not super sexy, BirchBox finds that email is what works. More specifically, they’ve found that value added emails (i.e. free gifts) work better than discounts to get their lapsed customers back.

At Retention Science, we’ve also seen brands, like Dollar Shave Club, have success winning back customers with emails that use content to specifically address the reason customers were leaving.

We’re sure to see an influx of new marketing technologies in 2016, from the Internet of Things to Artificial Intelligence, but it was clear from our panel that the most important thing to keep in mind when adding new technology to your marketing mix is to insure that it fits within your brand and adds value to your customers. Don’t be afraid to use tried and true technology, like email, if it works for you, but don’t shy away from enhancing your email campaigns with technology like AI to improve conversions. As Grillo pointed out at the end of the night, “It’s a really exciting time to be a marketer because you get to be creative and have the data and numbers to back up your ideas.”

We’ll be on the road with RetailPlus next month with an event in Los Angeles – want your brand to attend? Send us a note, we’d love to meet you!