Experian Summit: Limited Brands Revamping Processes for Customer-Centricity

NEW YORK — Limited Brands, a $9 billion retailer with chains like Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and Henri Bendel, is spending millions of dollars revamping all business processes and technologies to become more customer-focused.

Limited, Columbus, OH, created Insight, a multiyear initiative to improve information architecture, business and technology, and systems and processes across all channels and brands. The changes will affect customer marketing, merchandise planning and allocation, demand chain and finances.

“We want to be able to identify customers consistently, but that's difficult because your customer's changed,” Jeannine Ralston, vice president of Limited's Insight customer marketing, told attendees at a “Future of Information Summit 2006” organized by data services giant Experian and its Simmons Market Research arm.

Insight has a staff of 600, half of them consultants. They have their work cut out, keeping in mind objectives relative to the customer. Among them are trading up between brands, mega-branding, the anything/anytime/anywhere phenomenon and store/client/cross-channel segmentation.

The Insight team has seven business requirements focused on the customer, including: know who the customer is and what she wants; attract and emotionally engage her; differentiate from competition; provide an integrated customer-friendly experience; and anticipate future expectations. The other two are traffic-driving integrated marketing and a customer marketing platform with proprietary data.

Why the need for these measures?

“There's a continued trend of media and customer fragmentation,” Ralston said.

Americans spend less time on traditional media, she said. They spend 50 percent less time watching network television, 22 percent less time reading magazines and 21 percent less time reading the newspaper, according to JupiterResearch numbers she cited.

Customers are spending more time online. Using the same JupiterResearch data, she said 76 percent of Americans went online in 2004, spending 12.3 hours a week and with an e-mail penetration among online users of 98 percent.

Similarly, Limited's customer face represents a changing marketplace. Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics in 2000 accounted for 35 percent of U.S. women ages 15-34. It will reach 38 percent in 2015.

“The marketplace is changing. Our customers are changing,” Ralston said. “Because if they're going to pay us in cash, I don't know who they are.”

Add to this issue the proliferation of communication vehicles leading to information overload for the average consumer. But new technologies like TiVo and Apple's iPod as well as the increased use of the Internet and mobile text messaging are letting the consumer edit her own content.

Multichannel browsing and buying, with the accompanying channel fragmentation, is a reality that Limited is equipped to handle. Citing a holiday shopping study, Ralston noted that 60 percent of shoppers browsed in one channel and shopped in another. That's why the company launched the site at www.bathandbodyworks.com in October.

Not helping retailers is that retail-only shopping was down 5 points to 27 percent, according to DoubleClick numbers she cited. Then there's the maze of abbreviated regulations to cope with: COPPA, the Patriot Act, GLB, PII, CAN-SPAM and DNC.

So it's not surprising that Limited is working overtime to identify customers consistently across the organization, differentiate them by their value, customize the experience, install metrics to measure impact and ensure processes meet customer permission and regulatory requirements.

Insight is using vendors to help in the transformation. Experian is helping with database building and management, Aprimo with marketing resource management, Unica with campaign management, MicroStrategy for reporting and SAS for analytics. It is still looking at e-mail deployment options.

Limited eventually hopes to be able to match and merge names and behavioral details from the 75 million to 100 million names in its database.

“Our goal is that we're going to use these customer insights to deliver individual customer experiences,” Ralston said.

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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