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Staying on Par With Shoppers

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When Oscar Austad created Austad’s Golf in the 1960s, he had a simple mission: “Bend over backwards for the customer and they will be your friend for life.”

Today, technology helps Austad’s create a personalized experience across all its channels.

Austad’s Golf is a family-owned 11-store chain. Austad, who was originally an insurance adjuster, had an affluent clientele who golfed. “He learned their preferences for clubs and courses, and then began selling golf equipment out of his car trunk,” said Joel Harrington, Internet marketing and operations director, Austad’s Golf, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Since the first store opened its doors in 1963, a consumer-centric approach has served as the company’s foundation.

While Austad’s employees have a knack for interacting with shoppers in-store, the chain had a harder time creating the same personal experience online.

“Our online visitors were nothing more than faceless customers,” Harrington explained. “We tried to reach them with weekly e-mails, but these general promotions caused our open rates to decline.”

That was when the chain got personal.

Austad’s already tried to keep up personal relationships through its in-store Players Club, which captures customer names, addresses and transaction data.

This still wasn’t enough to foster personal relationships online. That was when the company decided to merge data from its physical and online operations and become a multichannel player.

“Now as shoppers visit the store, we ask them to provide their e-mail and the categories they would like to hear more about,” Harrington said.

After storing preferences in a database, the retailer creates targeted e-mails that direct users to Austad’s Web site. They are prompted to sign up for e-mail alerts, created and managed by service-provider MyBuys, Redwood City, Calif.

While online, shoppers are asked to select the specific subcategories from which they’d like to see product recommendations. They can receive these personalized messages when they log onto Austad’s Web site or via e-mail alerts.

Austad’s updates its Web site with new product data once a week. Data and graphics are uploaded via an FTP site, which MyBuys manages and serves to the corresponding Web page. MyBuys algorithms analyze shopper preferences and define shopping segments. Then, the system creates personalized new-product alerts based on their preferences.

Since adding MyBuys to the mix in January, Austad’s has increased its e-mail conversion rates from 2% to 4.5%. The solution is also helping to create a more unified retail operation for shoppers.

“We used to have two customer groups: direct customers who shopped exclusively via Web, catalog and phone; and those who shopped exclusively in-store,” Harrington explained. “Now we have true multichannel buyers who are alerted to new merchandise via e-mail, visit the store to experiment with merchandise on Saturday, and place an order online Sunday night.”

© 2014