The Empowered Marketer: From Ecommerce to In-Person

Some of the most successful ecommerce brands have slowly been making a change.

Instead of offering products online only, many digital-native brands are now investing in pop-up shops, showrooms in key locations, and other special in-person events.

Ecommerce leaders have realized that stores are not dead at all. In fact, a physical location can seriously help a brand build an audience by offering an exclusive in-person experience. This is exactly what Dormify is working on.

Dormify is a one-stop-shop for small space decorating and inspiration that started with college dorms. Caren Sinclair-Kay, Dormify’s President, has helped the company expand beyond ecommerce, recently opening showrooms in New York, Chicago, and Maryland, and expanded the product line from dorms to apartments.

Caren has more than 20 years of experience in the ecommerce world, going back to first generation internet startups. Since then, she founded three of her own startups, advised many more, and is now helping Dormify expand into new markets and new marketing channels.

In this exclusive interview, Caren shares:

  • How content builds their email list and drives revenue
  • The importance of the customer lifecycle in personalizing marketing
  • How in-person pop-up events impact Dormify’s bottom line
  • ….and much more.

Listen to Episode 21: The Empowered Marketer

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1. What was the story behind Dormify? How did the company get started and what is the target audience?

Amanda Zuckerman, who founded the company with her mom, Karen, was on a shopping trip with her mom her freshman year in college. They realized there was scarcity in terms of a sophisticated look in twin XL bedding size for dorms. Dormify was born out of the frustration with what was available at the time.

College is definitely the bullseye from a target perspective, but we also have teens as a segment, because what we’ve found teens are very inspired by what Dormify offers. It’s an aspirational brand for them, and they’re buying it for their home bedrooms. And then simultaneously, because our product is sophisticated and very high quality for a really good price point, we created APT. This is for when you’re graduating college and you’re moving into your first apartment, but you’re still dealing with small space constraints. Often, if you’re living in a city, those apartments are quite small. So we service that first apartment buyer with our small space solutions as well.

2. What channels do you use to engage that audience? Do you focus exclusively on digital channels, or have you branched on to in-person events?

Social is certainly strong, but we engage in other either digital or offline channels. The biggest channel for us outside of social is search. During our key seasons, we will do display ads, whether it’s programmatic or other display. We also do direct mail. We sent out a catalog and this year it was actually a nationally dropped catalog for back to school. We also had a few pop-ups this summer, so we dropped postcards in geographies around our pop-ups to drive people in store, as well as some out-of-home opportunities nearby. We were in two different malls — one in Maryland and one in the Chicago area. So we were in out-of-home situations opportunities within the malls to drive people into stores.

Last year, we did a big in-showroom event during back to school in New York, and we just saw the benefits of having stylists work one-on-one with a customer in an appointment and really helping them style their space. So the average order value is substantially higher in that scenario. To decide which locations to focus on this year, we took a look at our sales and we looked at where we had strong revenue already without having a physical presence. We knew that if we put a physical location within that area, it would just lift the region and drive more from that region. That was really the strategy.

3. I also noticed that you have a lot of content on your website, like the Freshman Planning Guide and Style Quiz. How does this on-site content drive your marketing?

We really want to be a resource for our demo to be able to come to get information, inspiration, checklists, and really to help guide them through the process. We view that as our overall mission — to be the consummate resource as it relates to small space design. And certainly, with college being a big transition in one’s life, you need a lot of support and information and resources to be able to make your home away from home.

The Style Quiz is really a way to help our customers really figure out their style. We help with the process of figuring out what is your style and what products may work with what you just have told us is your style. It’s really a value add to help them through that process. Same thing with the Freshman Planning Guide. It’s really meant to help you plan for freshman year. So one part of that is your room and your space. Another part of it may be what you need to create study habits or zones where you’re effective with studying. It’s really all under the umbrella of being the consummate resource to help our customers through this journey.

For all of this, you do have to give us your email address first. And all of the data that we get from the Style Quiz is fed into our CRM as well as our on-site personalization engine. So we’re taking those nuggets and feeding it to personalize your experience throughout your journey with us. We are trying to learn as much as possible about our customers and every piece of information, whether it’s click data, stream data, or information about themselves from the Style Quiz. We’re using it to nurture customers.

The Guided Shopping has been a really successful trigger initiative. Our click-through rates were 40% higher than what they are for our regular promotional emails. The series generated a substantial portion of our overall email revenue from the summer. Guided Shopping started to look very close to abandoned cart in terms of its efficacy. Certainly a much more robust post-purchase experience, really guiding you through not just like one purchase, but the journey of everything you would potentially need or consider purchasing.

4. Do you have a strategy for customer retention and driving repeat purchases? For example, once a freshman buys something for their dorm do you then reach out the next year to refresh the style?

We actually do it more than just annually, because we are trying to obviously move people through our lifecycle from a first purchase to repeat to loyal. A lot of our strategy is around add-on products, which is very akin to the guided shopping, but also we have capsules throughout the year. So if you come in during back to school, then we’re trying to get you to have a repeat sometime in early September, when you’d moved in and realized that you may not have gotten everything you need. But also then comes holiday, which is our next big sort of shopping moment, and really getting into the mindset that Dormify has novel gifting products in addition to just your own space.

There’s a whole sort of strategy around getting folks to shop with us around the holiday time period. We’re looking at the average time between first purchase, from first to second, and then second to loyal. So putting together a sort of series where we’re hitting in and around that time with just messaging that is personalized — whether it’s new products that fit within what we know you have already bought or some sort of strong promotional element. We always want to encourage customer loyalty.

5. As you’ve expanded into this apartment décor world with APT, are you shifting any of the marketing strategy to address this new market?

We have a personalization module where once we know you’re interested in APT, that is what you see on the site. So all of the imagery that you see — the categories that are front and center — all speak to what you would need for an apartment. For example, small furniture or even larger sized rugs that you wouldn’t have room for in a small dorm. That’s what the actual photography looks like. There’s also the size of the bed we’re using and a space that is reflective of an apartment versus a dorm room. But also all of our targeting is entirely different than our college targeting, including age range to interest areas. We have a APT Instagram as well as a segment which is APT-specific, and we run lookalike campaigns off of the APT segment.

6. Since you’re in it every day and you’re keeping an eye on the trends, what do you think is coming next and will be important in 2019?

I think the most important thing for any brand is to really understand what you stand for, and how you can be the most relevant and authentic with the customers that you are trying to reach. Customers really see through brands, but they want to believe in brands and want to feel that brands understand them. They want to see that brands have a heart and soul, that they stand for something, and that they’re authentic at the end of the day. So I think just really understanding how that translates through all of your touch points is really important. I do believe there will be a continued push where you’re going to see digitally native brands in retail settings and creating environments that are not just shopping environments but are very experiential.

The younger market appreciates experiences, not just products. They want to have an experience associated with a product and know the brand stands for more than just the products they sell. It’s all part of this ethos around creating an experience that goes above and beyond just selling products.

To learn more, check out, or follow them on Instagram @dormify.

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