Urban Outfitters Dresses Up Its Social Strategy

The fashion retailer is leveraging a combination of social channels, gamification, and a custom smartphone app to engage with its customers.

Most companies today understand the value in having a presence in social media. According to Investis' Q3 2013 social media survey, 88 percent of the S&P 100 had at least one corporate account linked to a social channel. The real innovators, however, know that the true value in social goes beyond having a presence; they use social as a way to engage on a one-to-one basis with prospects and customers, making these interactions natural extensions of their brands. Fashion retailer Urban Outfitters is one organization that is taking social engagement seriously. "Social engagement is a must at Urban Outfitters," stresses Moira Gregonis, the company's senior marketing manager.

With so many social channels available, organizations need to do their research to really understand who their customers are and how they want to interact. "Our customers are on the go and highly engaged," Gregonis notes. "It's important that we give them a platform that allows direct and instant communication with the brand." Another important characteristic is that Urban Outfitters' customers are technically advanced and this required the brand to, as Gregonis puts it, "keep up with them."

While Urban Outfitters has been leveraging social media to engage with its customers since 2008, last year the company decided to take a step further and integrate mobile and a concept of gamification in its social strategy. In October, following a partnership with DemandWare, the brand launched Urban On, a native app for iOS devices that provides a platform for the brand to encourage engagement through check-ins at stores, brand mentions on social media, and participating in a number of in-app challenges in return for rewards. "We built this app to create a platform for our customers to use and to become brand insiders," Gregonis notes. "We know that our customers are engaged, but wanted to give them a platform they can have fun using, and get rewarded for doing so." An Android app is also being planned.

The app is not a one-time initiative, and is instead part of the company's overall engagement strategy. "An important part of our brand culture is to facilitate a dialogue both with and among our customers," Gregonis says. This strategy builds the company's social media following and extends its reach through interactive communication that helps increase engagement and also offers an improved shopping experience.

Gamifying the brick-and-mortar experience

Especially at a time when ecommerce is becoming the chosen method to shop for an increasing number of consumers, retailers are doing their utmost to encourage consumers to visit their physical locations. Urban Outfitters recognized this and is using the app to engage consumers who walk into one of its 185 retail locations. One feature of the Urban On app is the scanning of an individualized barcode embedded in the app on the consumers' smartphones that allows checkout clerks to identify customers rather than have to ask for an email address or phone number. "This allows consumers to be recognized for shopping in our stores," Gregonis notes. She explains that this allows for easier conversation at the register. "Instead of asking for a receipt to be emailed, we can have customers scan their phones," she explains. This strategy has an added benefit because it allows Urban Outfitters to create a single customer profile, bringing together the in-store, app, and online experience.

Creating a unique experience helps physical stores combat one of the phenomenons of today-showrooming. Using the app during an in-store experience gives consumers added value. "We are engaging customers in stores through 'My UO' and the 'Get Some' mini challenges," Gregonis explains. The challenges give customers the opportunity to earn badges or even enter the chance to win merchandise. For example, one challenge invites users to explain why they're having a good day on Twitter or Instagram, using a hashtag, to enter a draw for an outfit.

In order to make the experience holistic, Urban Outfitters is leveraging multiple social channels. For example, consumers can post a photo to Instagram using a particular hashtag to complete challenges and the app also encourages them to link to their Twitter account.

As Gregonis notes, the aim is to "give fans the ability to interact with [Urban Outfitters] in fun, inventive ways." Customers can customize their app and even use it to listen to UO radio while shopping, which in turn gives them the chance of receiving music-related benefits, for example attending the sound check of a favorite band or winning tickets to the Urban Outfitters concert series. "Urban On and the app are like the VIP pass to the brand - we want our customers to become brand insiders and they can do that through the app," Gregonis says.

The app has helped increase engagement with customers. "We are finding that our most engaged customers are shopping through the app and increasing their frequency," Gregonis says, although she adds that this is still hard to measure, especially considering the app is relatively new.

While Gregonis notes that it has been hard to measure the app's impact on foot traffic into stores, she notes that this is expected to increase when the Android app is launched. "We will have the ability to create fun challenges for both iOS and Android devices," she says.