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Success Story: Darn Tough Vermont Accelerates DTC Channel Via Kibo Personalization

Success Story is a Sourcing Journal feature highlighting innovative solutions across all areas of the supply chain.

When Darn Tough Vermont first launched its direct-to-consumer website in November 2016, it was clear that the sock manufacturer had plenty to learn about e-commerce and direct sales. But it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic, when the brand halted production at its Northfield, Vt. mill for two weeks, that the company realized what a necessity DTC sales were to the business going forward.

Prior to the DTC launch, Darn Tough operated entirely in wholesale since its debut in 2004, selling through retailers such as REI and L.L. Bean. But with Covid-19 pushing more consumers to shop online, the brand knew there was an opportunity to acquire a wider shopper base. Ryan Dahlstrom, global director of digital commerce, Darn Tough, said the pandemic accelerated the DTC business’s initial five-year plan to three years.

While the premium, all-weather outdoor and lifestyle merino wool socks producer implemented Kibo Personalization in late 2019, the platform gained a larger role in the brand’s long-term plans amid the pandemic-driven acceleration. In particular, Kibo Personalization helped Darn Tough gain a better read on customer data, enabling the company to streamline what had initially come from multiple analytics systems into one.

“The biggest need of the channel was data and information, and an easy way to make sense of it,” Dahlstrom told Sourcing Journal. “We had all this data pouring in, but we often asked, ‘What does it mean? How are we making sense of any of this? How do we use it to make decisions?’ Early on, using the platform, we gained better insights from basic analytics—such as products trending up in one area and trending down in another area—to formulate hypotheses.”

While Darn Tough caters to consumers with active lifestyles, the brand offers both specialty and tactical product lines for different sports and weather conditions that appeal to a wider, diverse customer base. The brands encompass nine categories: hike, run, athletic, work, lifestyle, snow, hunt, tactical and juniors. With that in mind, personalization capabilities were necessary to capitalize on the data.

“There’s some overlap, but there’s not complete overlap,” Dahlstrom said. “And the reason personalization is important is a skier might not be a hiker, and a hiker might not be a runner. What it’s allowed us to do is talk to a hiker as a hiker. We don’t clutter the conversation with information that’s not relevant.”

More accurate consumer profiles

On the wholesale side, Darn Tough was often defining customers based on descriptions from individual retail partners. But Dahlstrom said the company has achieved an estimated 60 percent alignment between top-selling products through DTC and B2B. To understand the other 40 percent of top-selling products, Darn Tough now must dig deeper into individuals’ shopping habits.

Since integrating CRM data and outside consulting into the Kibo platform, the manufacturer now better answers questions regarding the residence and shopping habits of specific category customers, according to Dahlstrom, such as a hiking socks shopper living in Washington or California, or a lifestyle socks consumer in Texas. From there, the brand can build more accurate customer profiles that enable more relevant messaging.

“Having that layer of information has been huge for DTC. Bridging that out, it allows us better insight in forecasting to know what we have to have on shelf at any given time,” Dahlstrom said. “It better informs the product development team, so they have a better idea and some better insights of who’s buying what.”

Dahlstrom said this data has been particularly insightful for the company’s sales team. The customer data has enabled the team to look past some of its traditional assumptions. In one example, he noted the shock among team members when sales growth continued to accelerate in a market that they originally labeled as “90 percent saturated.”

Prior to the pandemic, Darn Tough got a preview of what Kibo Personalization could do.  The brand initially saw various benefits from the platform’s host of testing, personalization and reporting capabilities, experiencing a 12 percent increase in average order value (AOV) during its 2019 holiday promotion.

For the promotion, the brand wanted to encourage add-to-cart with a new offer message at the conversion point. Using the platform, it segmented the traffic and added a short call-to-action right below the add-to-cart button on checkout.

Additionally, Darn Tough wanted to customize the messaging on the top bar, which typically reads “spend $50 and shipping is on us.” In customizing the messaging to be more time sensitive and evoke urgency, the sock seller bumped new visitor conversion 3.3 percent.

The call-to-action on the mobile site says “Order Today for Holiday Delivery!” and replaces the initial copy.

Via Kibo, Darn Tough even A/B tested new payment options, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, which ultimately helped boost conversions 8.4 percent during the first trial.

Accounting for both the pre-Covid trials and the pandemic-driven growth, Dahlstrom knows the journey is still in the early stages. But the brand is now better prepped for the current environment since Kibo has ultimately helped foster a culture of experimentation and optimization.

“We’ve yet to produce our best experience,” he said. “We can always do better. We can always be more personal. We can always be more relevant.”

Traditionally a U.S. brand, Darn Tough is thinking global now that it knows more about its American consumers.

“We know what hikers in Seattle do and what runners in New York do, but, what’s the runner in London like?” Dahlstrom asked. “What does a hiker in Berlin do? What are they going to be amped about when it comes to sock height, color and cushion?”

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