When Data Flows Freely Between Shopper And Online Store, Life Is Good

Susan Lyne, C.E.O. of the Gilt Groupe–a members-only, online seller of luxury brand goods at discount prices–spoke at a panel hosted by Financial Times in New York last week.

Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent was there to hear what she had to say.

“Personalization is probably the single thing you could focus on that will have the largest payback.” Some of that, she said, is self-generated: “Asking people to self-identify as liking ‘x’ brand, or wanting to read more about this or that.”

But Gilt has also started heavily personalizing all of the e-mails it sends out. There are now “literally hundreds of thousands of versions of the e-mails,” Lyne said. “It starts when you come in; we separate you by being male or female, and where you live. But over time, we look at your browsing behavior and your buying behavior—anything you’ve tried to add to your cart and not been able to, anything you’ve waitlisted—to get a sense of what your sizes are. We layer that on top of vertical data, so we get more data. We run it every night, so the next day your e-mail has been ordered in such a way that the brands you’re interested in and the sizes you wear are at the top. It’s all automated.” This process hasn’t yet been extended to Gilt’s website, because that is such a big undertaking. But “if we could change the site 800,000 ways, we’d do so,” said Lyne. “And in time, we will.”

This explanation of how Gilt segments their email list into hundreds of thousands of variations is a great example of a company successfully scaling one-to-one. The interesting thing is how a company like this begins to alter its members expectations, not just for how Gilt treats them, but how all online retailers and service providers treat them.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. After working for seven agencies in five states and freelancing for several more, I ventured out on my own in 2009. Today, as head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon, I'm focused on providing effective integrated marketing solutions to mid-market clients.