Ever wonder why Urban Outfitters always seems to always squirm its way up to number one on every top retailer list? Of course their stores, quality collaborations and overall coolness factor plays into their success, but that can’t be the only thing right? If you just agreed with that statement, you just made a correct assessment. The team at Urban Outfitters has a secret weapon-it’s called the UrbanOn app. We chatted with Jim Davis, Urban Outfitters’ Director of Customer Relationship Management and Interactive Marketing, about why the app is just so good.
FashInvest: Where did the idea for the UrbanOn app come from?
Jim Davis: In Q3, Q4 of 2012 we started having discussions about trying to deliver an experience to customers that would allow them to engage with the brand more and not just be another way of purchase. Something that would have features and functions, as such, that would allow someone who is primarily a store customer to engage with the brand more through a digital experience, that would not interrupt their desire to shop in the store, but hopefully enhance that ability and allow them to still engage with us digitally, in a way that made them a deeper part of the brand.
Something that when they were not able to get to the store, they were still able to find out what we were doing and have ways to become an insider.
How would they do that? How would the online buyer or someone who is primarily engaged with us through online experiences be able to do that?
We started talking about it back in 2012 and then September of 2013 the first generation of that vision really got pushed forward into the IOS version that you see today.
FI: The app is currently only available on the IOS platform. Will other operating systems be used? If so, when?
JD: We do have, unfortunately, a shopping experience out there for Android right now, but it does not have the same feature function parody that IOS has. We are going to be changing that. I cannot give you a date, but I will tell you, it will happen this year. We want it to be a part of our early fall experience of back to school, back to college shopping and we hope it will be out there on the Android platform prior to or the very beginning.
FI: What changes took place from the app’s initial launch to now?
JD: I think that when we first launched the app, everyone at corporate was very enamored with gamification concepts early on. We thought that by creating things that were similar to what Foursquare had put on the marketplace or maybe Scavenger or apps like that, we would have the best of both worlds- in terms of allowing people to experience some of the digital content on their phones in a mature way, but also by using things like challenges and gamification to engage that store buyer in an interesting way.
We were not sure how well they [customers] would resonate on becoming an Urban Insider and getting early access or early notifications about cool collaborations we were doing and also, some of the unique collections that we designed ourselves that will sell in the marketplace. It was really letting them know that it was coming and they buy it before anyone else is going to get access to it.
The other thing that is really interesting too is the music player in there, which is UO Radio. A lot of people open up the app either everyday or every other day and listen to that and then don’t do anything else. They just listen to the music player. Music is a huge part of the Urban culture.
We have our own music director here. We always understood how important music was to the Urban customer and the Urban culture, but I do not think we understood to quite that degree. We are really looking on how to expand the music features within the app because that’s what the people really seem to love.
FI: When you were in the process of creating the Urban On app, did the push for omni-channel retail influence the decision?
JD: It certainly did. We, like most retailers in our space, recognized that more and more customers are trying to experience our visual environment on a function of some variety. We knew that one of the best ways to curate that experience rather than just delivering a mobile or phone optimized version of our website, was actually getting to the native app space with IOS and Android and be able to use some of the native features they allow to create a more seamless experience that extended well beyond the shopping capabilities, but also interaction experiences.
Customers want to identify themselves when they are checking out in our stores because they know that one of the byproducts of that is it makes it easier for us to interact and market to and with them. Once you create your UrbanOn account there is a barcode and all you have to do is show that when checking out and it automatically identifies you. It links you to that transaction.
Customers know that by doing that they are going to see different things down the road like, emails, in app notifications, push notifications or news feed items based off their behavior. All of that capability and making sure we were able to create a more engaging experience than we thought, otherwise we would not be striving our desire.
FI: How has the app helped engage Urban Outfitter’s audience?
JD: One of them I already touched on was the music player piece. Other ways it does is a combination of allowing people to do things that were already doing. Like, sharing pictures on Instagram, wearing Urban Outfitters clothing and things like that. We reward customers for doing that because essentially they are helping us market the brand.
We have these little cool things that we do on a regular basis either on Twitter on Instagram. If they use the right hashtag, they will earn rewards. Chances could win free beauty products or we gave away a free collection of Badu bags recently to customers that were helping us get the word out. We do things like that on a regular basis.
We want to allow a really seamless interaction with all of the social media networks that they are already heavily using. We want to encourage them to share the good news that Urban is doing and then reward them in the process for it.
FI: What does the UrbanOn loyalty program offer to shoppers?
JD: We choose not to use the word loyalty when we talk about it because it tends to have what we perceive to be negative connotation to it like points program and we did not want it be associated with those kinds of programs. It is being the ultimate insiders at Urban Outfitters and there’s no hurdle to join. All you really have to do is give us a little bit of information and help us individualize the experience for you.
They have to create an account-sharing an email address and creating a password, otherwise it’s almost impossible to deliver a really rich experience within the app. The hurdle to join is really low and what they get for it is all of this early access and exposure to the things that Urban Outfitters is doing near them or the places that they may be traveling to.
If they share love with us, we will share love back with them. We give them free merchandise once in a while and let them benefit from things they were already doing, which is loving Urban Outfitters and social media.
FI: Do you think UrbanOn gives Urban Outfitters a greater competitive advantage?
JD: I think it does and I think some of the features that we are going to release this year are really going to leap frog some of what the competitors are doing. I think the way that we seamlessly integrated with social media is already there on a large capacity.
I think people trying to create their own networks is a really bad idea. You never know what’s going to be interesting and what’s going to be next, so I would rather have conversations about how we integrate with Snapchat. Conversations like how we make our wall garden better than Snapchat.
FI: How many registered users of the app do you have?
JD: They do not want us to share any specific numbers, but I will tell you that we are well approaching a million members before we get to summertime.
FI: What’s the greatest thing you’ve achieved in launching UrbanOn?
JD: I think the biggest thing may not be customer basing, but we were able to create this semiotic relationship between lots of areas of the company including our IT team, which does all of our development, the merchandising group [and] the creative group.
We do everything internally. This was a project that required almost every area of both our brand and our shared services group to come together and deliver a high function, high availability, very easy, very fast capability to a user to their iPhone.
I think it’s really hard for some companies to come together across so many different platforms areas and we did and we continue to do it with everything we release and every feature that we have. It’s a huge win for the company.
What I really admire about it and what the customers the see is, that, in a way, we are starting to create Urban Outfitters ‘in their pocket.’ That’s a phrase I like to use, but it really is. It is a way to get exposure and experience the brand if you are not close to a store.
It is a way to experience and get exposure to the brand in new ways even if you are in the store every day. It is things that we do not offer on our website or you cannot get in the store. It is also a way to get a little extra out of our websites and stores by just carrying us around in your pocket.
FI: How the app has strengthened Urban Outfitters culture and overall brand image?
JD: This is part of my responsibilities to our social media and analytics so I’ve got people doing all the monitoring and customer behavior, paying attention to what they say about us from the market research perspective. Everything that we see about it so far is- people really appreciate the fact that it is not just shopping. A lot of people get that we are more than just a place to buy clothes or cool books and shop a lot of things like that.
I think the point is that it has really brought that to a broader audience for those that do not live near the store, but also the people who experience the store, but did not know about some of the other stuff. Like now, we actually have a really interesting beauty business with all of these niche brands and we use the app to help inform people about these kinds of things.
We see a lot of positive feedback around the music piece. One day someone posted something on Twitter because they happened to be listening to the music player on the app and the song that was playing, was also playing in the store that they just walked into at the same time.
That does not always happen, but that’s our design. We want the experience to be seamless across all of the different ways that you might engage with us. I think all of those things are helping tie the Urban Outfitters culture together with the physical experience and the digital experience.
FI: When people talk about what retailers are doing the best, Urban Outfitters always ends up on that list. Do you think UrbanOn has a part to play in that?
JD: I do and I think we have already gotten a lot of really good call outs in the process for how we use some of the really interesting and targetable messaging features within things like the geographic level. We did all kinds of fun things when all the snow storms hit the Northeast this winter, like snow day call outs for people that we know were trapped in the dorm room somewhere or trapped somewhere.
I think that those kinds of things, in addition to what we are really doing with social media through the app and some of the new features we will add this year around allowing people to engage with each other more, are really going to be industry leading call outs.
FI: What are UrbanOn’s targetable messaging features?
JD: We have the ability to really target what we do from a push notification perspective to a news feed. There is a news feed section on the app that users can go to and if you have the app closed you get the little exponents. So say that you have something going on, it will take you right into it.
There’s also these in app messaging features so that when you open the app the next time any of the messages you might have missed, will kind of pop up and you can read through any of the alerts or anything we thought might have been interesting. We are able to do any of that targeting much like we would anything from an email perspective or website perspective. We can do things based off geography.
Obliviously, we know things about your purchase history. We can use that to indicate to us that you might have an interest in a purchase, like an upcoming dress collection or an upcoming collaboration that we might have with a specific brand like Adidas or Converse or something.
It really is the culmination of what traditionally was viewed as CRM [customer relationship management] in the app experience from a messaging perspective and really we are trying to use all of this messaging capability to help make sure that people stay active within the app environment, but also make sure that they are aware of all of the different things that they could be doing.
We have various trigger communications for reviews that help them understand that if you use this feature here’s another feature that’s kind of like that, that they may be interested in.
By Ashley Paintsil and Candice Young