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Guest comment: While supplies last

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by Kara Trivunovic

These days, everyone is looking for a great bargain, and why not? The world of online shopping has made it easier than ever to comparison shop. Plus, it's immediate and completely accessible. Even in shaky economic times, consumers are looking to spend – they just want to get more for their money. Factor in the rise of member-based, limited-time, designer sales sites, and shoppers are in virtual shopping heaven. Confessions of an online shopaholic may just be the next box office hit!

Retailers have seen success in offering exclusive designer sales for years, much like how H&M experienced overnight successes when designers such as Jimmy Choo, Comme Des Garçons and Stella McCartney ran their exclusive sales in conjunction with the store. Shoppers are desperate for the latest designers but at knock off prices. And, if they don’t have to face the crowds of men and women sifting through racks and piles – then even better. Imagine being able to pick through all those amazing offers from the comfort of you couch. Sign me up!

Online shopping and e-commerce is a proven and successful channel for driving revenue for many retailers and isn’t fading any time soon, but how can retailers offer the same kind of bargain deals on only a select number of garments? Well, when they’re gone, they’re gone and the customers know it. They have to act fast to get the latest deal. Talk about creating urgency within your marketing message. What’s even more evolutionary is that the sense of urgency isn’t just a one time and done instance, rather companies like Hautelook, Gilt Groupe, Ideeli and Rue La La (to name a few) have turned it into an entire business model. It gives “while supplies last” a whole new meaning (and sense of urgency).

Previously, retailers of this nature have been challenged by serious lag times in email distribution, which directly impacted customer satisfaction. For example, if the sales alert arrived to the inbox for some customers at 10am and for others at 11am or 12pm – some of the much desired inventory could already be gone, limiting the equality for consumers to gain access to the inventory. Some of these retailers have found a way to get these offers and sales notices to their clients faster, which means more real-time traffic to the site, and greater customer satisfaction, leveraging burst email technology. This method of email distribution enables companies to deliver millions of emails within a five-minute time frame, providing customers an equal opportunity to enter these limited-time sales events.

Hautelook is one such sample sales site that is taking advantage of this technology. A US-based fashion site that hosts up to 12 sales daily lasting 48-72 hours each, Hautelook recently deployed burst technology to manage all of its 60-80% off designer merchandise sales. Each of the 2+ million customers receive a unique and personalised email, based on their shopping behavior and email preferences, and that experience is delivered for each of them within the same 5-minute window. This gives customers equal access to the website’s sales.

In order to achieve this level of speed, volume and personalisation, HauteLook had to migrate from an outsourced email service provider to a dedicated email solution from StrongMail that could directly connect to their customer databases. This direct connection eliminates the need to pull the lists and import them into their email system prior to sending a campaign. Instead, the email campaign is dynamically generated on the fly using the latest customer data to ensure relevancy and streamline the entire process.

Going with a dedicated solution also ensures that HauteLook always has the technical resources required to send this volume of customised messages in the required timeframe. Because most email service providers have their clients running on a shared email infrastructure, there's no guarantee that sufficient resources will be available if other clients are sending high-volume campaigns at the same time. HauteLook's dedicated solution solves this problem, while also providing the scalability to accommodate their rapid growth.

The necessity for such technology came at the demand of the consumer, which further proves that the brands no longer control or drive the marketing experience. Consumers know there has been a massive swing in power here, and they are taking full advantage (as well they should). Heed what your customers are saying – they are saying it for a reason. Had Hautelook not taken their customer feedback seriously and subsequently found a solution to support the need – they might not have become the 2+ million member strong retailer they are today.

So what does all of this mean? It goes beyond burst technology and the ability to deliver email quickly. This is about fielding, evaluating and applying consumer insights and feedback. They know you can do it and expect that you do. As the consumer gets more and more sophisticated in the ways of email messaging and online marketing capabilities, the programmes and experiences we offer them must correlate - otherwise it will be the marketer that gets left behind and your customers may just go riding off in to the sunset with a competitor.

Kara Trivunovic is senior director, strategic services at StrongMail

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