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Q&A: Alan Thomas of La Perla on developing relationships with customers

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Ahead of our IRUK 500 report on The Customer, due out this autumn, we asked Alan Thomas, global head of digital marketing and CRM at La Perla, how the upmarket Italian lingerie specialist develops relationships with its customers.

Internet Retailing: Start out by telling us about La Perla and how the company has succeeded online.

Alan Thomas, global head of digital marketing and CRM: La Perla was founded more than 60 years ago in Bologna, Italy, and the company has always held a steadfast commitment to offering only the finest clothing on the market. We have over 150 high-end boutiques in London, New York, Milan and throughout the world, and we have a very strong brand among our core demographic. We’ve been able to carry that brand over to the online world, where we’ve focused on providing our customers with a world-class shopping experience. I think one of the main reasons for our success online is that we deliver a high level of customer support and personalised interactions that make our customers feel like we’re fully invested in our relationship with them, which of course we are.

IR: In a customer-centric multichannel world, what are your top one or two tips for engaging customers in the first place, and then retaining their business in the future?

AT: Our first tip for engaging new customers is to understand what type of persona they are based on what we know about them. Are they a value seeker? An impulse shopper? A comparison shopper? We can usually categorize them early on by looking at factors such as how they arrived at our site, what pages they have visited, what products they browsed, etc, and then comparing their behaviours to that of similar customers in our historical data. Once we know what kind of shoppers they are, we can target them very effectively with personalized, relevant offers and information.

Long term, it’s about continuing to learn about our customers on a continuous basis. What products did they buy? What products did they return? Which campaigns did they respond to? Through which channels do they prefer to be contacted? What days of the week or times of the day do they usually respond? The more we can cater to their particular preferences, sending them relevant offers at the right times via the right channels, the more likely they are to stay with us rather than going to one of our competitors.

IR: Do you find it’s getting harder to engage customers in the first place, as competition increases – and what are you doing to stand out from the crowd?

AT: Absolutely, it’s getting way harder to engage customers because they have so many more options to choose from. If they don’t find what they’re looking for right away, or they don’t feel like we’re giving them a high-quality experience, they’re likely to look elsewhere. So, we have to combat this trend by paying very close attention to our customers’ needs and wants on a one-to-one basis, and responding to those preferences in the most effective way we can.

For example, if we can predict that they’re looking for a certain product or style or collection, we try to present them with the relevant information as quickly as possible. If we determine that they’re shopping for a gift, we try to provide them with the right kinds of gift ideas. If they just want to browse online, but then purchase in our retail stores, we try helping them find a store nearby.

In short, we try to figure out what our customers want, provide them with the relevant content, and remember their preferences for the future.

IR: How are you using technology to achieve these ends?

AT: Customer automation software Optimove helps us achieve a high level of personalisation and targeting by enabling us to develop one-to-one relationships at scale. The Optimove software removes the guesswork and uses all the data at our disposal to identify and/or predict what our customers want to receive from us. The system uses this information to automate the processes of highly-accurate personalized targeting (based on what they call ‘micro-segments’ or ‘customer personas’), multichannel campaign execution, campaign measurement and systematic optimisation.

Without having to hire a team of data scientists to crunch our customer data, Optimove automatically tracks customer behavior and allows our marketers to easily manage hundreds of scheduled and real-time (activity-triggered) campaigns. We are very pleased with the increases in customer engagement, retention and lifetime value we’ve seen the system help us deliver – and consider it to be one of the pillars of our customer-centric strategy.

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