In 2009, The Wall Street Journal came out with an article referencing the “forgotten market” online.
They were referring women ages 35+–but especially the 55-64-year old set who typically shop in bricks-and-mortar stores, and who struggle to find age-appropriate clothing online.
That’s a huge part of the reason Halsey Schroeder launched Halsbrook. It’s a women’s apparel site boasting high quality, classically designed, and yet modern pieces from irresistible designers such as MaxMara, Elie Tahari and Oscar de la Renta.
Launched in 2012, Halsbrook really took off when the company was featured in a NY Times article in 2013.
Since then, Halsbrook has cultivated a loyal baby boomer shopper fan base with their popular try-at-home shipping program, stellar customer service, and of course, impeccable eye for fashion.
We sat down with Mary Oldfield, COO at Halsbrook, and Olivia Batty, Marketing Associate, to discuss what makes Halsbrook unique in the women’s apparel space and how their marketing plan uniquely fits their audience.
As with any business, it’s not always smooth sailing–but Halsbrook has been able to successfully overcome some major hurdles.
Oldfield has over 15 years of experience in omnichannel brand management and corporate development and has been working with the company since 2014.
Batty joined the Halsbrook team as a Marketing Associate in 2015 and has agency experience working with brands like Kraft and Stolichnaya.
“One challenge is that Halsbrook is a young company and we’re competing with huge department stores, boutiques, and ecommerce sites,” says Oldfield. “There’s a lot of competition.”
When Oldfield first joined the company, she took on the management of Halsbrook’s paid search campaigns, which took more time to manage than she anticipated.
“As I got deeper and deeper in my learning, I realized that to do search really well, it’s necessary to manage campaigns on a daily basis at the SKU level,” says Oldfield. “Google’s also making changes all the time, so it’s not easy to stay on top of everything –basically, you can’t set up your campaigns once and then forget about them.”
This was particularly true online, as Oldfield noticed impression share on Google was declining due to an increase in competition in the apparel space.
Initially, the team spent a lot of time and money to increase impression share and clicks on Google, particularly around the holidays. Unfortunately, as all PPC advertisers can attest, more spend may bring in more traffic, but there’s no guarantee that conversions will follow.
Once Halsbrook combined forces with the CPC Strategy team, a new strategy emerged–one based on their customer behavior and traits.
The audience they attract is known for being steadfast in brand devotion.
“Given our value proposition, we appeal to women with a sophisticated shopping palate. Many of our customers are 40+, ” says Oldfield. “These women are incredibly loyal, so once they’re introduced to Halsbrook and trust us, they will continue to shop with us.”
This is part of the reason Oldfield’s not quite as worried about first-time visitors not converting on their first, second, or even third visit. She knows that with continuous touch points, including remarketing (more on that below), those visitors often turn into customers. It just might take a bit more time.
“One thing we focus on is helping our customers become comfortable with the online shopping experience. Our customers like to try things on, touch the fabric, and see how they look in person,” explains Oldfield.
One of the ways the team keeps customers comfortable is by ditching the overwhelming selection on other sites, and focusing on a more boutique-style shopping experience.
This is part of the reason why the team launched their “Halsbrook On Approval” program, which gives customers the opportunity to order up to three items of clothing to try on at home before buying them. At the seven-day mark, those customers can either choose to ship the items back or keep them with an automatic charge to their credit card on file.
This program is even more practical when you consider that Halsbrook carries some exclusive designers you won’t find anywhere else online–making sizing more of a challenge.
“We carry over 80 different designers, and some are quite well known, but half are boutique designers that you are not going to find anywhere else online,” Oldfield explains. “Those other brands often led to questions about fit, so this was a good way to get customers to shop new designers and styles in a risk-free way.”
Halsbrook also helps customers visualize scenarios where outfits might work.
For instance, “The Style Guide” is a section on their site that offers wearable outfits for every occasion–whether customers are hosting friends at home or on a week-long getaway in Madrid.
Halsbrook rarely misses the mark with their advertising initiatives, and this is mainly due to the pulse they keep on their target market.
“On a regular basis, we send out surveys to our customers, tailored to their shopping history,” says Oldfield. “The surveys cover everything from what customers like and don’t like about the Halsbrook shopping experience to how customers like to spend their free time. They are critical in helping us stay in tune with our customers.”
In those same surveys, the Halsbrook team asks if customers would like to join an exclusive “Halsbrook community” whom the team can call or email to get more one-on-one feedback for new initiatives and programs.
Their office is also a fantastic resource, considering the majority of employees are women, excepting a male-dominated tech team in Buenos Aires.
“If you look at our group here, we have women in their 20s and up to their 60s. We leverage each other’s opinions, especially if we’re about to launch something new,’ says Batty. “We’re also in tune with our mothers and friends to get ‘sanity checks’ on new initiatives.”
If it sounds like Halsbrook customers resemble friends more than just numbers, it’s because they are.
This is reflected in the customer service they provide via email, phone, or online chat.
“We don’t see customers as numbers or transactions,” says Oldfield. “Customers are people we’re trying to build a relationship with, which can be difficult if you don’t see them in person. Everyone in the office takes turns with customer care responsibilities–talking with customers on the phone, email, or chat.”
These conversations aren’t your run-of-the-mill service complaints. Many Halsbrook customers still place orders via their recently launched catalog, as they appreciate the personal touch. Many of the customer service reps double as fashion consultants for customers.
“A call with a customer can turn into a long conversation, “says Batty. “They talk about why they want to buy a piece, what they’re wearing it to, the accessories they might choose to wear with it–they share more than most people would with your average service person.”
For a retailer that started and exists solely online, Halsbrook is refreshingly anti-bandwagon.
While other apparel retailers may be chasing after the latest trendy platforms and ad formats (read: Snapchat or Periscope), Halsbrook has been hugely successful with their digital campaigns and even some traditional outlets.
They’re in tune with their audience and know what formats can work for their products, and their print and digital campaigns work hand-in-hand to attract and convert customers.
“With a catalog, you get more space to tell your story and to share beautiful images–two things that make direct mail a smart top-of-the-funnel initiation into the brand,” explains Oldfield.
Direct mail has been a huge force for driving awareness among top-of-the-funnel potential customers.
“Here’s the thing with direct mail,” says Oldfield. “Frequency is very important. If this is their first interaction with Halsbrook, they may not place an order right away, but after the 3rd time or the 4th time, the brand may ring a bell.”
Direct mail is growing rapidly, but email marketing is currently the number one driver of sales–the Halsbrook team sees open rates close to 25%, which is a testament to the power of the opted-in Halsbrook customer.
“Once women see us, get to know us and trust us, they will keep shopping with us,” says Batty.
Their second biggest conversion source is ads on Facebook and Google; used for both top-of-the-funnel marketing and remarketing to recapture site visitors who completed (or didn’t complete) actions on their site.
In fact, from Q3 2015 – Q3 2016, Facebook Dynamic Ads orders increased by 293.68% and Google Dynamic Remarketing Ads orders went up by 42%.
What about more top-of-the-funnel ads?
The team knows that cold customers may not convert within the first 28 days of seeing or interacting with a top-of-the-funnel ad on Facebook. However, that’s not their expectation.
“We understand that what we offer is a high consideration purchase, so we don’t expect conversions right off the bat,” says Oldfield. “The best metric to look at with those ads is the CTR, to see whether people are engaging with them.”
If trends for Halsbrook continue, those customers will be back, and with time, will grow into VIPs. On average, Halsbrook’s VIP customers shop about 7-8 times per year —some over 50 (yep, that’s more than one order per week).
This is especially significant when you consider the high Average Order Value for their products.
Halsbrook may not possess a silver bullet to success–but they certainly have the inside track on their customers, and that’s turned out to be a pretty good substitute.