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Rachel PanettaHead of Retail and Ecommerce MarketingTimberland
VF Corp.’s Timberland brand is one of the retailers using very close-range mobile messaging to communicate with consumers, offering discounts and promotions to people once they are in the store. Known as proximity marketing, Timberland has been working with a company called Swirl, which has a mobile app of the same name and can message consumers inside the store and within a certain range outside the store. Rachel Panetta, head of retail and ecommerce marketing for Timberland, spoke with eMarketer’s Christine Bittar about this technology and how it drives store sales.
eMarketer: You’ve been testing Swirl’s mobile app, which delivers messages to shoppers inside your store, since last year. Are you pleased with the results so far, and can you say how shoppers are responding?
Rachel Panetta: For one thing, it’s building awareness. For example, our store in Boston is off street level—up two floors—so a person could easily miss it if they weren’t looking for Timberland. In one instance we heard via Swirl, the message actually got a shopper to come into the store. Her exact words were, “I would’ve walked right by Timberland if I didn’t get the alert.”
eMarketer: I believe the technology that Swirl uses can reach up to about 350 feet. So in your example with the upstairs store, passersby were still able to get the message?
Panetta: Yes. We can actually set the distance. We have a piece of equipment that we manage in-house so we can set the distance from our store.
eMarketer: Besides alerting customers to a location, what other types of benefits are you getting out of this proximity marketing program?
Panetta: We were interested in finding out if the messaging gets shoppers to buy more. It seems to be the case, and through customer conversations we heard comments like, “It definitely got me to buy more,” and, “If I was on the fence about something, the [promotion] pushed me to make the purchase.” From qualitative research and seeing some revenues generated from it, we see proximity marketing wasn’t only building store awareness, but also driving conversion and sales.
eMarketer: I know that Swirl can work through a retailer’s mobile app that shoppers have downloaded, or you can choose to use the Swirl app—which is the way Timberland uses it. Do you think you’ll introduce your own Timberland app, or is that unnecessary?
Panetta: We do rely on the Swirl app getting downloaded. We’re going to roll it out in 10 more specialty stores, and when we do that we’ll also join Swirl for a marketing campaign to our current database and in our stores to alert consumers that if they download it, they’ll get product updates and some new messages from us.
We don’t think it’s necessary for us to have our own app—certainly not right now. We have a mobile SMS program that we do in our outlet stores, so between that and partners like Swirl, I think we’re fairly covered for the moment.
eMarketer: What are your observations about ecommerce and mcommerce, and what is your expectation for the next year?
Panetta: Our consumer base is gravitating to ecommerce—if not for shopping, then perusing our website. We’ve certainly seen large growth in traffic on Timberland.com, and we’re continuing to see that traffic growth from last year carry into this year.
For us, we’ve been using mobile to drive in-store sales, and it seems to be working quite well. We have a mobile website, and we launched responsive design emails, so we are doing things to make it easier for the consumer on a mobile device. However, when it comes to mobile marketing, a lot of our focus has been on this mobile to brick-and-mortar effort.
We’re not seeing consumers purchase so much on a mobile phone, and it’s not where the majority of our time is currently being spent. But we definitely want to make sure that the mobile experience is easy, but driving mcommerce business is not first priority for us right now.
eMarketer: You joined Timberland in 2011, right as VF was acquiring it. What do you think are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the business since starting?
Panetta: I was actually interviewing [at that time] and as I was walking through stores, the purchase was just being announced. I would say the biggest change is embracing the importance of ecommerce. … It’s really gone through the building. Everybody understands the effect and the need to focus on digital. I think that permeates throughout the building, whereas when I first started, digital wasn’t as much of a main focus—at least not for the marketing team—but it certainly is now.
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