Chico's Updates Its Survey Style Through Mobile

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Feedback from customer communities revealed that it was time for a new look.


Trends come and go, but direct customer feedback never goes out of style. Fashion brand Chico's FAS Inc—better known as Chico's and as the parent company of Boston Proper, Soma, and White House Black Market—reinforced this lesson when customer community feedback convinced the retailer to make its survey more mobile friendly.

Ivy Boehm, senior director of consumer insights for Chico's, and Carolyn Szczurek, the company's manger of consumer insights, discussed the fashion retailer's mobile makeover at the 2014 Vision Critical Summit in New York last week. 

What Chico's knew:

Chico's has a clear idea of who its customers are. A series of segmentation studies, customer statistics, and traditional research has helped the brand identify women 40 to 50+ years old as its target audience. This demographic is also high-end, loves to travel, and keeps up with trends—including technology—according to Boehm.

What Chico's didn't know:

Of course, as with any retailer, Chico's had gaps in its customer insight, and Boehm had a hypothesis as to why: If Chico's didn't know something about its customers, there's a chance that its customers didn't know it about themselves either.

Take, for instance, the in-store study Chico's conducted last year. To better understand shopper flow and store layout influence, Chico's interviewed customers as they exited its stores and placed cameras inside of its stores. When the company asked customers what they thought of the store, they responded with adjectives like “elegant” and “sophisticated,” Boehm said. However, the video footage told an entirely different story. While shoppers moved methodically through larger stores, they beelined through smaller, awkwardly laid out sections of the store. This tighter layout rushed customers out of the stores, Boehm said, and ultimately, prompted customers to spend half of the time in smaller areas and purchase only half of the number of items as they did in more spacious ones.

“She couldn't tell us that because she didn't know that,” Boehm explained. 

What Chico's wasn't aware that it didn't know

Still, there were some insights that even Chico's didn't know it was missing. Although the retailer knew that mobile engagement was growing rapidly, it didn't know how much its older audience was interacting with mobile. 

Chico's noticed this mobile reliance after asking customers to answer survey questions on a format that wasn't mobile friendly. The brand received complaints from customers, Boehm said, because participants couldn't complete the surveys on their mobile devices.

To better gauge customers' dependence on mobile, Chico's conducted a bit of research via Vision Critical's customer intelligence platform. According to the data, 23% of its research community members use mobile devices—nearly doubling from 12% in 2012. The number of community members using tablets also surged from 6% in 2012 to 12% in 2014.

“As researchers, we need to get on the train,” Boehm said.

A collection of communities

After seeing these results, Chico's decided to use Vision Critical's platform again to take a deeper dive into its customer panel and community members' mobile usage.

“This is our year of learning,” Boehm said. “This is our year of testing.”

So Chico's kicked off its “slim and trim year,” as Boehm called it, by reaching out to its four customer panels and communities. Three of these communities have 15,000 members and the newest panel has about 5,000. To build its communities, Chico's taps into its loyalty club and database members. 

When inviting members to participate in a study, the company may segment its members by age, region, and spend to ensure that it has a wide representation, Boehm explained. Any time a customer participates in a panel, they're entered to win a $100 gift card. Panel members can also receive a coupon for longer surveys; however, Boehm said that Chico's is moving away from this tactic. And to avoid burnout, Chico's spaces out the number of studies customers can participate in. So for example, if a customer participates in a fall shoe study, the brand won't ask that customer to participate in a winter shoe study, Szczurek said.

Finding the right fit

Customers' reliance on mobile was underscored when Chico's conducted a study in which panelists were asked to share a photo of themselves wearing a certain style of pants. Most of the participants took photos and attempted to upload the pictures via their mobile devices.

“We need[ed] to catch up with her,” Szczurek said.

This insight—paired with additional research and analyses of what other brands were doing—convinced Chico's that the company had to create a more mobile-friendly experience. So, it started decreasing the number of survey questions that it asked panelists across all of its platforms. In fact, Szczurek said that the company cut its survey questions down from at least 25 to 10 or less.

In addition to adjusting the number of questions, Chico's changed how it asked questions. The fashion retailer started spacing out questions over more pages and included a specification box next to questions that marketers wanted customers to elaborate on. 

“It's taking the fish and making it an easier sushi roll,” Szczurek said about the brand's more succinct strategy.

And because Chico's wants to enable desktop or mobile participation for both its quantitative and qualitative studies, the company expanded its forum capabilities. When asked to upload a photo, participants can now share it through email—a capability that works on both channels


Since beginning its mobile modifications, Chico's has seen its White House Black Market panelists, who tend to skew a bit younger, come to mobile faster and more frequently. Additionally, mobile engagement for the Chico's brand has doubled. 

Chico's is able to keep its communities engaged through participation reminder messages and by sending quarterly newsletters to panelists that tells them on which areas customer feedback had an impact.

“We've gotten to the point where we don't even trust the data [from] really long surveys anymore,” Boehm said explaining that customer focus tends to drop off after too many questions.

In addition to driving engagement, Chico's has been able to learn how to better address different customer segments. For example, Boston Proper customers are generally jet setters who are business-oriented and like snappy bits of content. After creating a community for the Boston Proper audience this year, Chico's discovered that its members dropped off if the company began a survey with an open-ended question. 

The brand has continued to discover customer insights about specific products. After asking customers to upload pictures of themselves wearing a pair of pants featuring a new length, Chico's discovered that panelists didn't know which shoes to pair with this style. This informed the marketing team that they had to feature the pants in a head-to-toe outfit in their creative, Boehm explained.

Looks like mobile and customer feedback will continue to be main elements in Chico's community collection for seasons to come.


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