Banana Republic Tailors Catalog to Its Top Customers

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Twenty-three-year-old Banana Republic is growing up.


Not only has the company changed the look and feel of its fall catalog to reflect its new, sophisticated brand image, but the merchant also hopes to integrate its catalog marketing initiative into its overall marketing and customer retention effort.


"There's a measure of waste in the mass nature of a catalog mailing -- trying to reach people interested in buying purely through catalog. That's no longer our objective," said Catherine Lewis, vice president of customer loyalty at Banana Republic, San Francisco, a division of Gap Inc.


The marketer has stopped using its 3-year-old print catalog as a prospecting vehicle.


"In the old days, [the catalog] wasn't necessarily incorporated strategically into our loyalty mailings, our strategy," she said.


Last month, Banana Republic mailed 1 million fall catalogs nationwide to its credit card customers who buy online and in stores, who Lewis said are the company's best customers. She declined to give the size of the company's entire customer file. The catalog serves as a new-season teaser to get those top customers to shop at one of the 320 Banana Republic stores or its 2-year-old Web site, www.BananaRepublic.com.


The 24-page, 18-by-11-inch book, which was designed inhouse, mimics the style of a newspaper. It is filled with mostly black-and-white photographs of male and female models clad in accessories and apparel but also highlights the earthy colors of the company's fall merchandise, which include caramel, chili pepper and brown sugar. The new design is intended to appeal to slightly older customers.


The copy touts the company's focus on retention by appealing to customers as individuals: "The fact is, no two stories are alike. It's the same with style. Style comes down to finding what you like and wearing what you love."


The marketer expects to mail catalogs less frequently in the future. Though Banana Republic books typically have been mailed nine to 10 times per year, Lewis said she expects mailings only at each major season.


"While it may look like we're mailing this book fewer times than we mailed the catalog [in the past], actually these customers receive communications from us all year long," she said. "These are just key communications in the stream."


Lewis said she expects the design of the print catalogs to change each season. For example, the holiday book is likely to be a "compact, easy-to-use gift guide" type of mailer, she said.


While the fall catalog highlights merchandise, other mailings acknowledge and react to a customer's individual behavior. Banana Republic sends mailings that recognize a customer who hasn't shopped recently or give a gift to an exceptional customer.


The fall catalog includes a postcard that offers exclusively to recipients $25 off any $150 purchase at one of the company's retail stores, its Web site or its call center. The change in mailing strategy is not necessarily intended to cut costs, which is a secondary concern, Lewis said. Banana Republic's parent, Gap Inc., has been struggling to redefine its brand. Last month, the company reported that comparable-store sales fell 17 percent from a year earlier and announced a staff reduction of 1,300 plus a $30 million charge to pay for it. Last week, the company's stock was trading around $19, down from a 52-week high of almost $35.


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