Article in Internet Retailer
Written by Matt Linder
If you build it, they will come. And possibly buy.
That’s what apparel chain Charlotte Russe Inc. hoped for when the retailer launched a mobile app a year ago this month to complement the mobile website it launched in 2012. Sejal Solanki, the retailer’s director of digital experience and product development, says the retailer had never had a problem attracting visitors to its mobile-dedicated website, but hoped the app would lead its loyal customers to spend more when shopping on their mobile phones.
The problem: The retailer’s customer base consists largely of women ages 18-24, a customer demographic that spends a lot of time on their smartphones. Data from Salesforce.com Inc.’s ExactTarget shows that 90% of consumers within that age range consider smartphones an integral part of their daily lives. And the customers of Charlotte Russe, which sells both through physical stores and online, are no exception.
“Over the past year to two years, we saw a huge shift in our traffic from desktop to mobile,” Solanki says. “We have well over 50% of our traffic coming from mobile devices. This generation grew up with a mobile phone in their hand.”
That presented a significant challenge for Charlotte Russe because consumers visited the retailer’s dedicated mobile website from their mobile devices, but they weren’t buying. Solanki saysCharlotte Russe’s mobile web conversion rates have always paled in comparison to desktop conversion rates. Internet Retailer’s Top500Guide.com data shows that Charlotte Russe has a 1.20% conversion rate on desktop. The company did not disclose its mobile conversion rates.
The solution: Launching an app offered one way to attempt to turn those eyeballs into dollar signs, Solanki says. Data from online marketing company Criteo shows app users convert at a rate three times greater than those who visit a retailer’s mobile site.
“I feel like our customers have been asking for an app for a long time and we were just giving our customers something they were asking for,” she says. “For us, it was about trying to capitalize on that mobile traffic and create stickiness with our customer base.”
With what it viewed as a major opportunity in mobile sitting right in front of them, Solanki and her four-person team got to work.
In the summer of 2014, the retailer enlisted mobile commerce platform vendor GPShopper to help it develop and launch an app for both Apple Inc. and Android devices ahead of the holiday shopping season.
The retailer launched the app in about 3-4 months, says Maya Mikhailov, GPShopper’s chief marketing officer, which was particularly aggressive because Charlotte Russe wanted the app operational in time for the holiday season. “From sign to launch were the three months leading up to the holidays, where there was a hard go-live in November pre-Black Friday,” she says. “Both teams worked together during this peak busy season to get this app launched and in the hands of customers as quickly as possible, while not sacrificing quality or features.”
Charlotte Russe set two goals. First, get its most loyal customers to download and begin using the app and, second, convince users to continue shopping on it over the long term.
“If you’re going to take the time to download an app, you must care about the brand a little bit,” Solanki says. “For us, it felt like the app customer was a much more loyal customer and potentially a cross-channel customer. From some of the analytics that we’ve pulled, we’ve found that customers who shop across multiple devices spend more money with us and are more loyal over time.”
To encourage shoppers to buy, the team made sure the app offered a simple checkout process, Mikhailov says. It stores consumers’ payment information and shipping address. In an update in August, Charlotte Russe added PayPal as a payment option in the app.
However, given Charlotte Russe’s limited window to launch mobile apps for both Android and Apple devices, the retailer initially focused on making the app available before the holiday shopping season kicked into full gear. That meant that other improvements, such as personalization, could wait.
“The app needed to have an e-commerce functionality so shoppers could purchase,” Solanki says. “From there, it’s like crawl, walk, run.”
Solanki declined to say how much the company spent on the project, saying only it was less than a half a million dollars. Getting management approval for the project wasn’t much of a challenge given the groundswell of demand from the customer base.
“We did have a lot of customers and a lot of store associates telling us that customers were asking for an app,” she says.
Phase two: It’s one thing to design an app and get it listed in Apple’s App Store and Google Play. It’s another thing to convince shoppers accustomed to buying on a computer or in a store to download the app and buy through it.
Charlotte Russe got word out about its app through email marketing, social media posts and placing signage in its stores.
Solanki says one carrot in particular proved effective early on when it came to convincing shoppers to change their buying habits. “We launched the app with free ground shipping so customers who placed an order on the app got free shipping, whereas they didn’t get that on any of our other devices,” she says. “Conversion was really good out of the gate because whenever you give people free shipping, they like that.”
It’s a move that proved to have a two-pronged benefit.
Enticed by free shipping, customers shopped through the app. And because customers shopped through the app, Charlotte Russe gained invaluable intelligence into its target audience’s mobile shopping preferences. The intelligence gleaned during the app’s first six months taught the team which in-app features and functionalities were vital to driving sales and which ones weren’t.
Experts warn that while perks like free shipping work initially, retailers have to do more if they’re going to keep shoppers engaged.
Download the Charlotte Russe Case Study to learn more.