The busy holiday season is almost over for BuySeasons, Inc., the parent company to two costume brands, BuyCostumes.com and CostumeExpress.com. That's because its holiday season is the months of September and October, when the online retailer with a product catalog of more than 1 million customizable costume and accessory combinations does 75 percent of its business.
In honor of Halloween, Total Retail asked Eric Kirkhofer, chief operating officer at BuySeasons, how the company gets through its busy season each year without scaring away any customers.
Total Retail: How does BuySeasons prepare for Halloween each year?
Eric Kirkhofer: We begin preparing almost immediately following our Halloween season. We start with an analysis of the things that went well and the things that did not. We look for emerging patterns in shopping behavior — buying closer to when the merchandise is needed, for example — and operational trends. We also look at emerging product categories and ones that are beginning to decline so we can adjust our next season’s buy accordingly.
TR: BuySeasons typically has 11,000 Halloween SKUs. What are your most popular ones? And how about this year vs. other years?
EK: This year we've reduced our SKU count to focus more on great sellers and less on the items that sell very occasionally. It’s retail 101, but it can be harder in an online environment where the website can become one endless aisle. Some of this year’s top sellers include the Inflatable T-Rex, PJ Masks and a category of adult costumes called “ride alongs."
TR: Besides focusing more on best-sellers, how does BuySeasons help shoppers avoid feeling overwhelmed and find exactly what they need in just a few clicks?
EK: Choice is a huge upside for our business, but can be overwhelming for our customers. We've tried product-based recommendations and segmentation-based tools, but they simply didn’t work for our business. We needed something that would allow our shoppers to find what they were looking for as quickly as possible.
Rather than scouring through 10,000 SKUs, we can now help our customers whittle their sorts down to 10 SKUs in a only a few clicks thanks to our partnership with Reflektion, an e-commerce personalization engine. The technology enables us to gain insight into the preferences and intent of a shopper based on her clicks, and then in the same session present the most relevant costumes based on that shopper’s interests.
TR: When did BuySeasons start working with Reflektion? How does BuySeasons use Reflektion's personalization engine to help make sure its shoppers don't feel overwhelmed?
EK: Reflektion powers our merchandising, product recommendations and site search. We started working with the company in 2015 because we were looking for a solution that could capture and respond to each individual shopper’s intent in each session, in real time. Specifically, Reflektion allows us to streamline a customer’s path to product in three main areas — real-time merchandising, product recommendations, and individualized site search
Shoppers begin to reveal their preferences as they engage with products and content that share common attributes, such as color, style, size, gender, character, category, etc. For example, based on her behavior, a shopper reveals an interest in dark-colored female items. Reflektion helps our websites recognize these patterns and merchandise accordingly.
There are several areas across our sites to merchandise items to each individual shopper. The “just for you” section on our homepage displays items that a visitor has shown interest in throughout current and past sessions. These intelligent product recommendations speed up the path to purchase and relieve the shopper from having to sort through thousands of products that get in the way of finding the perfect item.
Individualized Site Search
For sites with a vast catalog like BuyCostumes.com, it can be seriously challenging for shoppers to find what they’re looking for. For example, there could be more than 400 items that match the search term “animal costume.” By understanding the shopper at the individual level, we can prioritize items around their preferences for specific attributes. For example, a woman sees female-focused merchandise and search results that exclude less relevant men’s and kids products. Additionally, the site starts to combine elements like her preferred colors along with her interest in animals. Without ever needing to ask her what she prefers, the site intuitively presents merchandise that’s spot on for her preferences. It’s like having a personal shopper!
TR: Can you discuss the learnings BuySeasons has gleaned from working with Reflektion? And what did it do with this information?
EK: The biggest learning is that shortening the path to product drives revenue. If you can get people looking at products faster, the better the Reflektion engine can work, and that leads to increased sales. We've expanded the page types where we display product recommendations and are looking to use the Reflektion engine in our email campaigns going forward.
TR: How has Reflektion helped BuySeasons increase conversion rates by 20 percent, page views per visitor by 30 percent and revenue per visitor?
EK: Once we were up and running with Reflektion and our sites started taking into account the real-time individual intent of their shoppers, an important shift occurred. Because we were now able to respond to the shopper’s expressed interests in real time, rather than on our e-commerce team’s best guesses or outdated data, shoppers could more quickly discover the items that expressed their individuality. As a result, engagement rates increased, with conversion quickly following. And it only got better with time. Curating shopping experiences based on the individual’s unique profile has proven to be not only highly effective from the moment someone lands on the site, but also improves over time as the shopper clicks and searches within each session and subsequent visits.
The results of our new approach to digital commerce with Reflektion are dramatic and far exceeded our expectations. Overall, across all devices, conversion rates jumped 20 percent and revenue per visit increased 21 percent
TR: Since Halloween is BuySeasons’ busy time (vs. the traditional holiday period for retailers), what advice can you give our readers as they begin the holiday rush?
EK: I’d offer retailers preparing for the holiday rush to consider these three big tips:
- It's never too early to start.
- Make sure to look at last year’s data at a broad trend level but not at the SKU level (trends change like crazy).
- Ensure you have a personalization solution that's implemented and ready to go well before the holiday season kicks off, and make sure the solution is responsive in real time so you can maximize conversions.
Related story: Personalization Key to BuySeasons E-Commerce Success