Cover Story: Child's Play
Ali Wing has a lot to smile about.
Wing's New York City-based company, giggle, was founded in 2003 with a website and concept store in the city's SoHo district. Since then, the founder and CEO of this cross-channel retailer of baby products, gifts and informational resources for new parents has seen it grow to include 11 brick-and-mortar stores throughout the U.S., a sophisticated transactional website, a series of print catalogs and a growing line of baby products called giggle Better Basics
The secret to Wing's success lies in her keen understanding of her customers — she's a parent herself, after all — and a forward-looking cross-channel strategy based on consistency.
"giggle was born out of a multichannel strategy," Wing says. "We're big believers that to be a great brand to your customers, you have to be multichannel, and you have to make sure your customers' experiences — and the standards of service they receive — are the same regardless of the channels they choose." That includes making sure all product offerings and prices — as well as return and exchange policies — are channel agnostic and consistent in all locations at all times.
giggle gets it, according to Andrea Syverson, president of IER Partners, a branding and merchandising consultancy, and author of "BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants."
"Starting off with solid brand positioning as 'new parent advocates' and moving into a tangible product fit chart on its website for merchandise selection, the leaders at giggle have customers hearts," Syverson says. "By intentionally planning to 'WOW!' and befriend new moms and dads at every customer touchpoint, giggle creates a memorable brand experience across all its multichannel avenues."
A big part of giggle's cross-channel strategy for growth is to expand its retail stores across the country. Plans are in the works to open shops in new markets this year and going forward.
"Parents want to touch, feel and demo products for their children before they make their choices," says Wing, "which is why having retail establishments is an important part of our business strategy."
The consultative selling environment giggle has created is another reason for its retail focus and success. "We have trained personal shoppers and salespeople to help customers get a lay of the land, to ask questions so they know which specifications will matter to customers, and then to help them translate the often jargon-loaded manufacturer functions and features," Wing adds. "This type of one-to-one interaction is difficult online, but works well in-store."
What's more, sometimes shopping in-person is simply faster, according to Wing. "For those customers who live near a giggle store, popping in can be both efficient and inspiring in ways that an online search simply cannot."
That's not to say the online channel isn't important for giggle. The company is truly multichannel, and a large percentage of giggle's sales come via its website — so much so that giggle launched a new, more sophisticated website this month with a more integrated approach to content at the infrastructure level.
Catalogs are the latest addition to giggle's cross-channel strategy. Last fall, giggle sent a holiday mailer to test lift. It was so successful the company went ahead and created a 32-page catalog that hit homes May 15.
Why publish a catalog when e-commerce is where the growth is? Because Wing believes catalogs can help build your brand.
Specialty retailers — as opposed to mass-market retailers that focus on price and selection, or boutique retailers that focus on unique merchandise — live and die by their brands, according to Wing. "giggle's brand focus, which is to be an informational resource for new parents, can be communicated well through a catalog."
The company is publishing several catalogs this year and next. The May 15 catalog is its core, evergreen catalog featuring its most popular products with general information about giggle, including how it selects its products (they must meet four or more of giggle's 10 criteria: tested, good value, healthy, easy/simple, portable, multistage, space-saving, baby basics, innovative and responsible). Then, giggle will launch a fall catalog to hit in-home Sept. 15, another holiday mailer to hit Nov. 1 and a spring catalog in April of next year. The main catalog is available online, and will be joined by an ongoing catalog later this year to focus solely on its Better Basics line.
Catalogs ultimately help giggle acquire customers.
"I don't believe the web, as important as it is, is a great place to acquire customers because online shoppers are generally seeking either the lowest price for products or specific products," Wing says. "Catalogs, on the other hand, allow us to uniquely tell our story in a tight package, go out to lift on a basis that goes beyond purchase terms and go after channels beyond traditional mailings. All of this ultimately helps us acquire customers."
giggle's catalogs are mailed to names on its house list, which is seeded via data from its stores, online channels and giggle's relationships with third parties, such as magazines. In general, giggle uses its catalogs to drive business to its website and stores.
To track who's using its catalogs in each channel, giggle encourages its customers to identify their source. Customers who buy online from its current catalog, for example, can receive free shipping on orders more than $75 through July 31 if they add the source code to their orders. Traditional matchback analyses lets giggle track these orders.
"Is that perfect? Of course not," says Wing. "The relationship between the channels has always been difficult, but it's more easy today then ever before because our data is more connected."
Brick-and-mortar stores, on the other hand, drive registrations, which are predominantly a part of giggle's online marketing strategy. "Our store employees always ask for the email addresses of customers," Wing says. "We've been doing this since the beginning."
giggle uses search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) to drive customers to its website, but it occasionally does some local ZIP SEM marketing around stores. Local stores in specific communities also have blogs, which help with local SEO.
The company also has a traditional affiliate marketing program, a business development partnership with The Wedding Channel, and uses both Twitter and Facebook to communicate with customers and prospects and develop its brand.
"Facebook is almost like an evolved storefront for us, whereas Twitter is more about direct communication," Wing says.
Email is also a key marketing tool for giggle, according to Wing. "We send a weekly email blast to our house list, which is comprised of opt-in subscribers. ... The blasts are similar for each opt-in subscriber, but the secondary message often promotes a specific sale in a specific region."
Thanks to giggle's new integrated e-commerce platform, it will be able to send more targeted emails to its subscribers. "We'll be able to tell subscribers about what's going on at giggle at a more age-specific level," Wing says. "Parents of toddlers, for example, won't receive email messages about prenatal pampering."
giggle's loyalty program is dubbed the "G List" and costs $50 to join, but members get a $75 gift certificate when they do so. Wing says, "If we're planning a special storewide sales event, we let these members know about it before anyone else."
giggle uses its channels for both marketing and operational efficiencies, according to Wing. The company, for example, won't stock less popular colors or styles of certain products in stores in some cities. However, if a customer wants these less-popular styles in a store where they're not regularly available, they can use that store's "Internet Shipping Program" and have it shipped home for free.
The result? According to Wing, "better stock management for giggle and great customer service for our customers."
Transparency for Parents
As many multichannel retailers do today, giggle uses positive ratings and reviews it receives online in all forms of marketing, as well as in its catalog and web features — often dubbed "5-star-rated picks" by its customers.
When it comes to reviews, however, giggle is all about transparency, Wing says. "giggle is an authoritative resource, and we take that commitment to editing and carrying only the 'best' products very seriously," she says. "However, like any business, we're not perfect. ... We post all reviews that follow the required guidelines for posting, regardless of good or bad. And when we see a frustrated customer review, we not only post the review, we follow up in person with that customer to understand their concerns better and learn from the feedback. It doesn't get much more honest than that."