Steve Madden Ltd., a leading American shoe designer, prides itself on marketing and selling fashion-forward footwear brands for women, men and children, while creating personal one-to-one relationships with its customers. The company was founded in 1990, when Steve Madden himself took his entire $1,100 savings and began crafting shoe designs in his Queens, NY factory. The footwear mogul's unique shoe designs soon resulted in millions of customers worldwide and the company expanded into apparel and other accessories such as handbags, belts and hosiery.
Today, the company distributes products through its retail stores, its e-commerce website, and department and specialty stores throughout the United States and Canada as well as through special distribution arrangements in Europe and in Central and South America.
Within its first decade, the company became well known, and as the popularity of the Steve Madden brand increased, the company searched for other avenues to market its products; thus, in 2005, the Steve Madden website was born.
"Since the on-line store launched, we have seen 30 percent to 40 percent growth year over year," says Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience for Steve Madden Ltd. "By and large, today Steve Madden.com is the largest Steve Madden store in terms of product sales and number of products available in the world."
Currently, the website handles several million visitors a month responsible for 30 million to 50 million page views. Although the company wouldn't release total sales derived from the web, Koven did offer that "it's not an insignificant percentage and it is growing." What he would reveal were the equally impressive mobile stats, which measure customers who log on to the site via avenues such as the iPhone or other phone devices.
"We probably will transact this year a quarter to half million dollars in direct conversion of mobile transactions," he shares. "Those numbers are very interesting and promising."
The online store is extremely tied in to the retail stores and fosters an easier and more rewarding shopping experience for whatever avenue a customer chooses to take for his or her final purchase.
"Obviously, the website is the most easily accessed of all the marketing mediums and many people go to the shop to pre-shop and look at what's new with different styles, and then will go to their retailer of choice," Koven says. "That may be [Stevemadden.com], may be at a Steve Madden store, a retail partner, an online partner ... the site is facilitating and supporting it all."
Ready for transition
This year, Steve Madden made a concerted effort to beef up its e-commerce solutions, participating heavily in social media, engaging in a full suite of analytical tools through Omniture Test&Target and setting a goal to merchandise the site uniquely for each and every customer.
With that latter goal in mind, the company is in the final implementation stages with e-commerce personalization provider MyBuys, which will execute targeted product recommendations and alerts to all Steve Madden.com customers.
"We are going to be implementing MyBuys in the 4th Quarter for up-sell and cross-sell and alerts and we think that's meaningful in the customers' overall experience," says Koven. "We're looking daily to improve site search and to improve our presentation of products. Not many companies are using Omniture Test&Target to optimize the shopping experience with highly targeted offers at different intervals of the experience."
Before coming to the decision to use MyBuys, the company contemplated doing it themselves, but decided the type of thinking technology and the maintenance thereof would be best served it they could identify a partner to do it with. After a stringent search, they believed MyBuys would deliver what it was looking for best.
"We felt the ability to really algorithmically present relevant items to our customers as they are shopping, and shopping more frequently with visiting the site, was something that was essential to improving the overall experience," Koven says. "We believe the customers, going into the holidays, would benefit by a more relevant presentation of things that they are more likely to be interested in."
It has always been a mantra of Steve Madden to make things conform to each individual visitor - be it on the website or at the store - instead of operating on more of a mass approach.
"For us, we really believe that we have a very loyal customer, a very fanatical customer, and we engage in tremendous [opportunities] to communicate with and enable customers to communicate back with us," Koven says. "The theme of MyBuys and Omniture and live chat and customer service is that it all connects back to a very highly one-to-one customer experience where we are moving closer and closer to personalizing to that particular customer's needs and historical interests with their shopping experience."
MyBuys customers see on average a 300 percent increase in click-through on recommendations, which leads to positive uptake on revenue. Koven won't go as far as revealing what the company hopes to get out of the relationship in dollar amounts, but he does speculate that one positive outcome will be that the items will find the customer more than the customer having to go digging deep to find things appropriate for them.
Even shoppers visiting the Steve Madden site for the first time will have data quickly analyzed by MyBuys, as algorithms start dissecting and pattern matching for buyers within their first cloud of clicks.
"The expectation is that our conversion rates through the use of MyBuys will improve," he says. "I think obviously it will help because if we identify that a customer buys a certain type of product, we can alert them on a more predictable basis on things they are highly likely to like and want to buy. If we present the items, identify and demonstrate, we are doing some of the thinking for the customers."
e-commerce at work in the store
Although the Steve Madden stores may not be able to micro-merchandise for an individual customer as well as the website can, Koven believes that the online mechanisms are at play at the retail stores.
"The internet provides some obvious testing opportunities to let us utilize the information back for overall improvement, so I think there will be residual benefits and sifting through overall findings to see what's applicable to help the stores out," he says. "It gives us a good read on what people are buying and have interest in."
There is merchandise sold at the stores that is not online and vice versa, which is usually due to inventory availability, but the company works hard to tie in the on-line store to all avenues of purchasing.
Steve Madden's refined approach to merchandising also affects the company's inventory management.
"As we engage more with MyBuys and look at analytical findings, it gives us a better read on what is getting bought, what we need more of and when to create similar things," Koven says. "We think it will give us good indicators to sharpen our business and assortment.
We're making necessary investments both on the front end of the site and the back end of operations and technology to satisfy customers."
As of now, if someone were to buy an item from the website, they would need to return it by mailing it back in, but the company already has a plan in the works that will allow a customer to return an item purchased online to a store. That is expected to be announced in the near future.
Speaking of the future, the company knows that it's important to continue seeking out ways to improve the overall customer experience via the Internet.
"It's important to continually think proactively and find people who think likewise to see not only where the world is this year, but where it's going and continuing to evolve," Koven says. "With the speed of e-commerce growing and social media taking hold, you have to be very on your toes to keep business sharp. It's very easy for someone to publish less than exceptional experience and we are very mindful of technology and media and base business developments." In short, he says, it's crucial to offer the best experience possible to "make sure people say the right thing about our business and our brand."
Keith Loria is a free-lance writer from New York who specializes in businessand entertainment writing.
other e-commerce strategies at-a-glance
* Increased presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media
* Incorporating celebrity tie-ins to support purchasing
* Enhancing presentation of Live Chat to help customers throughout the transaction
* Making significant investments in technology to ensure order fulfillment process
* Steve Madden writes his own blog to communicate with customers