Retailer Trades Short-Term Sales of Amazon Prime Day for Long-Term Customer Growth

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Customer Experience
You've heard of "Christmas in July," but what about Black Friday in July?

Yesterday, for the second year in a row, Amazon held its Amazon Prime Day, its mid-year Black Friday type of event. The single day of deals started last year when the company celebrated its 20th anniversary.

From smart TV's to beard oil, shoppers were able to take advantage of some deep discounts, although some argue that the goal of the day isn't to save people money. Instead, skeptics say the idea is to attract new Prime subscribers since customers can't partake unless they're Prime members.

One retailer decided to opt out of Amazon Prime Day in an effort to keep its long-term customer experience intact. Underwear retailer Mack Weldon opted not to participate in day-long event even though the company sells its boxer briefs and crew T-shirts on the site.

I spoke with Brian Fesen, head of marketing at Mack Weldon, yesterday to find out why the company didn't participate and to learn how it nurtures its customers for long-term growth.

You opted not to participate in Amazon fulfillment as well as Amazon Prime Day. What's the reasoning?

We've been selling for three years on Amazon. It's been a great channel, but it's not something we want to send to Amazon Fulfillment Service because they handle the entire shopping service. So much of our business is from driving the customer relationship ourselves. If a customer has an issue with an order they place on Amazon, they are routed to us. It's seamless for the customer. We're able to provide the high level of service to drive value to the business. The reason we've started anything on Amazon is because of convenience to customers. We have the savings meter. We don't believe when you need underwear that you should wait for a sale. When you need underwear you should just stock up and know you're getting a good deal. Every order over $100 gets $10 percent off and over $200 gets 20 percent. We don't have to clog your inbox with special deals and discounts and we focus more on the product itself and delivering a great experience. We're not intentionally opting out of Amazon prime day. We've chosen not to go into fulfillment because we value the customer relationship over the long term. Building the customer relationship is not about hitting them over the head with products and discounts; it's about getting them to feel the difference and educating them on the technology [that makes the fabric].

What's your reaction when you hear people say the company is missing out on driving short-term traffic and sales from not participating in Amazon Prime Day?

We're more focused on the longer-term relationship with the customer. If the customer is incentivized by the price we have our own metrics and look at data pretty closely. With any kind of high-touch relationship-building, starting it off on just any note doesn't set the tone that we're trying to create.

Your entire business model rests on deepening long-term customer relationships. Can you discuss how you go about doing that?

Underwear is an incredibly subjective thing. After your first order we'll follow up by saying we're just checking in. If you're on the fence about the size, we say, 'let us know and we'll send out a different size for you.' We open our doors and reach out and encourage that interaction shortly after a customer has purchased. Shortly after we send a series of emails introducing customers to a series of products. We are branching out and creating that introduction to new customers in the same way. We also have some opportunities where we have a little fun. Every July 4th we offer a gift with every purchase to celebrate our birthday. The first order placed was on July 4th in 2012.

How are employees incited to deliver positive customer experiences?

We empower everyone in the company with total freedom to do everything they need to do to make the customer happy. We don't have formulaic emails. We have real people sitting in the office every day talking to customers with full freedom to replace orders and do whatever they need to do to enrich the customer experience. Recently we've begun collecting personal data and working on a strategy around how to leverage that and create great relationships. We hope those are the customers who will be telling their friends and breaking the mold on what some of those things are.

How are you using mobile to effectively deliver on the customer experience?

Mobile and customer service isn't something we offer right now but customers do reach out via twitter or on Facebook and email. We are also starting with online chat as well. In all these things, we are testing. The last thing we want to do is offer chat on the site and not be able to offer a response within 10 seconds because that's what people expect. I personally don't like responding from a 'do not reply' address. Every email is a touchpoint to get feedback. They can hit the reply button and say hello and tell us what we can be doing to make them more comfortable.

Do you offer social commerce via Facebook?

Customers can purchase from within Facebook. We do encourage the conversation there and they can click on links within the channel but beyond that Facebook isn't facilitating that transaction.

How are you preparing for the 2016 holiday season?

This is our third holiday season. Every year we get a little smarter about it. Last year we thought about it late in the season but this year we are thinking of giftable items and underwear and socks is popular in certain demographics. We do have many more giftable items. What we typically do is put together packs of products -(four polo shirts and a pack of all different colors of the same products). For Father's Day we did packs...and we matched them to personalities. As for the 2016 holidays, we are starting to brainstorm around what that will involve from a creative standpoint.

Are you using content marketing in these efforts?

We do. Creating that content is something we've been focused on over the past couple months and we'll seen a ramp up of that over the next couple months.

What new tools or strategies will the company deploy over the coming months to enhance the customer experience?

We are looking into getting more plugged into our email provider to get better interactions with our website. Right now it's table stakes to know what customers are buying and when they click on emails. We are integrating that to include when you visit our site so we can talk to you differently. Now...we don't know if you've seen one of the products and haven't tried it. First and foremost we can have a timely conversation with our customers and not hit them over the head with new underwear colors. If you just bought 14 pairs of underwear, is it realistic to think you'll come back for a hew shade of blue? We are trying to work on that data. Beyond that we have a lot of work to do on improving the website and offering alternate payment options to ease the friction to get somebody to try a new brand.

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