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Shoe Carnival’s Three-Pronged Approach to Winning Customers

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Shoe Carnival CEO Cliff Sifford admits the Evansville, Indiana-based retailer launched its e-commerce business late in the game. The company’s former president didn’t see the value of selling shoes online because of the returns, but that all changed after a meeting with Nike.

Shoe Carnival expanded into e-commerce three years ago, and as Sifford explained at the May 7 Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America’s (FDRA) Footwear Innovation Summit held in Washington D.C., has tackled the space by continuously being present and through multilayered messages. As shopping styles change, Sifford said adopting an omnichannel marketing strategy has been critical to Shoe Carnival staying relevant in the marketplace.

“Retailers who have successful omnichannel experiences are those that have been able to identify all potential touch points that they can have with the customers and know exactly when, where and how to engage with them,” he explained.

Sifford described shopping as a circulatory process. In particular, he said female customers are inundated with inspiration to shop on a daily basis—be it by something they see in a fashion editorial, on a blog or on a friend—which leads to research, which can lead to discovering more inspiration. Once a purchase has been made, a satisfied shopper will share their experience online with friends and family, and in turn, inspire and initiate another shopper’s journey.

Those posts to social media generates data that allows marketers to better target and deliver more pointed messages to consumers, Sifford explained. Shoe Carnival identifies core consumers through first and/or third party data, likes its loyalty program, and then targets that core customer by building layers of messaging.

Sifford said Shoe Carnival’s always going digital strategy “allows us to sequence messaging to the right device at the right time making sure our target audience is met with the right message.” In order to sequence messaging in a way that helps grow Show Carnival’s customer base, Sifford said the company takes a multiprong approach to content. “We have both broad and targeted messaging that enables customers to interact with Shoe Carnival at any stage of the shopping journey.”

Sifford breaks that cocktail of content into why, how and what. The ‘why’ layer is broad in scope and examines why the brand exists and what it stands for. The ‘how’ layer shows the utility and benefits of the brand. The ‘what’ layer is very product specific, driving the urgency and interest in the brand to work to “close the loop.”

For its Fall ’14 boot campaign, Shoe Carnival took this three-layer approach to position itself as a destination for fashionable footwear. The first step was an aspirational TV commercial depicting the boots in an energetic rock concert setting, followed up with print and digital images of models wearing the boots and the trendy ways the boots can by styled. To seal the deal, Shoe Carnival showcased the product and the deals that could be had, helping drive consumers to its stores and e-commerce site. The messages were reinforced with complementary banner ads, emails and social media posts.

By telling stories in multiple ways, the exec said Shoe Carnival has increased conversion. “It shows us we can’t just shout to customers, ‘Buy now, buy now,’” Sifford said, adding that retailers need to give reasons to care about the product. Customers might be programmed to check online for the best value before they head to the store, but he said value may not be price, as the coupon suggests. “Her passion for shoes is what keeps us all in business.”

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