How The Entertainer's Birthday Club is personalising gift shopping

Personalisation and gaining a single view of customers is a technology minefield for any retailer, but if you are a gift retailer – with customers purchasing a few times a year for children – how can you piece together a view of several different gift recipients with different ages, gender and preferences?

This is the problem The Entertainer has, with customers engaging with the retailer at Christmas and also at random times throughout the year.

Rob Wood, head of online at The Entertainer, said the retailer sees a huge Christmas spike where it conducts 60% of its annual business in the last couple of months of the year. "We go from being a smallish website to an enormous one quite quickly, and that's a logistical challenge because if we can get those customers to shop more frequently throughout the year, it will smooth out the peak and hopefully make us more money," he told Essential Retail.

The Birthday Club

Wood said The Entertainer is keen to encourage its customers to return throughout the year. "Our customers tend to make high-value purchases around an occasion, either Christmas or a birthday," he said. "The challenge is to link the customer to a child's birthday."

A few years ago, The Entertainer developed a Birthday Club for its online customers, which lets shoppers sign up for birthday reminders, by providing information including name, age and gender of the recipient. The Entertainer can then send personalised recommendations via email in the run up to the child's birthday.

While the project has been running for a couple of years, it is only in the last six months the retailer has been able to automate these campaigns using SmartFocus' personalisation technology.

"We bought in SmartFocus last summer and it has let us do more sophisticated campaigns," Wood explained. "We also wanted a CRM system and we didn't really have a single view of customers , but with SmartFocus we're working on building and tying the two things together by segmenting customer data and working out how customers are buying from us."

While Wood said the project is still in its early days, The Entertainer has around 80,000 children's birthdays in the club, with an average of two birthdays per customer. "But it's a big gap between the number of emails we have on our list [800,000]," he noted.

"But people in the Birthday Club convert twice as well as our normal email customers," added Wood. "It's about the timeliness, a lot of the time we were sending emails to customers who didn't need to buy a toy that month, while now we're targeting people in the market to buy. We also offer recommendations which replicates the experience in store, where our staff will have four or five good recommendations. As a toy retailer it's about brand credibility, which we can now replicate in our emails."

Single customer view

But Wood said getting the retailer's customer data in order before embarking on personalisation was an "absolute nightmare". Before The Entertainer could properly start working with SmartFocus it needed to make sure all of its store and eCommerce information was on one database which the vendor could plug into. With The Entertainer's website – – on the Hybris platform and its in-store ePos on an Itim solution, Wood found there was a lot of data in both systems but not all of it crossed over. "It was a long process to make sure all the data gets into SmartFocus as expected and to chose which had the master view – Hybris or Itim."

Digital receipts

The Entertainer is also using yReceipts to tie in-store customer data to online purchases. Wood described how store associates ask customers for their email address and the solution automatically recognises emails as they are typed into the system which reduces time and manual error. He also said the solution allows The Entertainer to link credit card tokenisation to email addresses. "Once a customer has given their detailers, and if they use the same credit card to pay again, the system recognises it and we don't have to ask for the email again."

yReceipts is being trialled in a dozen of The Entertainer's stores, but Wood said the challenge is optimising the precious time customers are stood at the till "We're trying to work out what offers the best value for the customer, and how we communicate the benefits of signing up, especially when it gets to the middle of December and the queues are out the door because we're so busy."

Once the data cleansing was completed, the retailer could embark on its personalisation journey. Wood explained that SmartFocus is an ongoing project and the vendor fits into The Entertainer's test and learn agile methodology. "It's easy to change the rules and there is a nice little cockpit to make small changes. We can send out test emails and look at the click through and conversion results and making tweaks off the back of that."

Homepage personalisation

The Entertainer is about to launch on-site personalisation with SmartFocus in the next month. Wood said using the information gathered through past purchases, yReceipts, hard log-ins or cookie tracking, the retailer could personalise a homepage depending on whether you're a Star Wars or My Little Pony fan.

"The challenge for retailers like us is our customers don't necessarily visit frequently enough," he said. "So for Shop Direct or Amazon, their customers frequently visit and stay logged in on their devices throughout the year, so it's much easier to display that personalisation."

He said if customers aren't explicitly giving information, either through gift finders or the Birthday Club, the retailer needs to be a bit more clever and make some guesses.

"You won't be completely right all the time, at the moment it is based on purchase history, so if someone has bought Star Wars for their nephew and now want to buy for their daughter, we will probably recommend more Star Wars," he said. "But where we can be a little more clever is offer recommendations based on customer's browsing data as well. We're not quite at that level of sophistication, but if email clicks and browsing history shows a different range of products, Smart Focus can override the purchase history and show My Little Pony instead."

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