5 Marketing Takeaways from Retail Startups

Another successful Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum has come and gone, but the insights from a panel featuring digital-first upstarts like M.Gemi and Bombas, to the ...
Updated on March 6, 2023

Another successful Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum has come and gone, but the insights our attendees took away will hopefully stay with them for months if not years ahead.

Of the many speakers and panelists who shared insights with us, a few stood out by helping other marketers in attendance reframe their thinking. From a panel featuring digital-first upstarts like M.Gemi and Bombas, to the CEO of Boxed, Chieh Huang talking about Boxed’s journey from garage to warehouse behemoth, the Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum had more than a few key takeaways for marketers looking to take their strategies to the next level.

Here are some of our favorite gems:

1. Product first, transparency always. 

We’ve written before about how important it is for brands these days to not only have, but truly live and breathe their mission, in order to better connect with consumers. For all of the speakers in our “What You Can Learn from Digital-First Upstarts” panel, this was also the case.

Sure, the product comes first. But transparency about the product and how it supports the company’s mission is equally key. For Adam Bridegan, SVP Marketing at Rhone, a men’s performance wear brand, the product must delivers on a brand’s “core promise.”

If it doesn’t, “You don’t have a business.”

For Bombas, it’s making high quality socks with those less fortunate in mind. For every pair a shopper buys, Bombas donates a pair to someone in need. For SiO Beauty founder Gigi Howard, the before and after photos featuring real, satisfied customers and their written testimonials all on the website “is what sells our products.”

2. Rethink “Value”.

Modern marketers have to deal not only with changing consumers, but also changing perceptions and definitions of concepts. For Boxed CEO Chieh Huang, the success of his company was based on understanding how consumers today define value.

“Back then, value was price,” he said, “but now, value is price plus convenience plus brand.”

With mobile shopping as easy as it is now, just because something is down the street still doesn’t make it more convenient than buying from the device in your hand. The sweet spot for brands is figuring out what convenience means to ] target audiences, and pricing that convenience at a point consumers are willing to pay.

3. Experiment. 

Part of being a digital upstart is about taking risks. For Adam Bridegan, SVP Marketing at Rhone, most brands can find solutions for marketing plateaus if they take the time to experiment.

“The key is testing,” said Bridegan. In an economy where signing a long term lease can be seen as a huge, unnecessary risk, Bridegan and M.Gemi Cofounder and President Cheryl Kaplan found creative ways to break into brick-and-mortar without tying the brand down both physically and financially.

“We don’t sign long term leases at this point,” said Kaplan, “There’s so much real estate and it’s about finding where our customers are, and the right experience for the right spot.”

“The economy allows us to test certain markets,” said Bridegan, “As long as brands are testing the waters; there are viable options.”

4. Then Experiment some more – e.g. use ice cream to sell shoes and partner up. 

And the most viable options are sometimes the ones that are out of the box – like M.Gemi’s mobile gelato and shoe truck that went up and down the East Coast last summer handing out free gelato and opportunities to try on M. Gemi’s summer styles.

Or they’re the thing that many direct-to-consumer brands swear from the beginning that they’d never do: venture into traditional brick-and-mortar. M. Gemi turned the corner of the company’s stunning shoe salon into a fit shop, where shoppers can try on and then buy made-to-order styles that are shipped to their homes.

For Rhone, a partnership with Equinox means they can piggy back on the nationwide gym’s physical footprint and existing brand power to test products in new markets.

5. Listen to your customers. 

Each of our speakers and panelists emphasized the power of listening to ones customers. Experimenting with brick-and-mortar retail locations and concepts is all about finding out where a brand’s customers are, and where they’re willing to go to engage with your brand.

“Part of being a DTC brand is not ever losing touch with your customer,” said Kaplan. “It’s not just about the data, but also the experience you’re providing them with.”

For SiO Beauty Founder Gigi Howard, this means spending an hour a day seeing what customers are saying about the brand on social media, and going so far as to reach out in person when a customer expresses dissatisfaction on social media.

“My product needs a lot of education,” said Howard. “Direct one-to-one discussion with consumers is so important.”

After directly helping a customer improve her experience with the product via social media, Howard was confident that the customer would tell her friends, and those friends would tell more friends, and so on.

For M. Gemi, client feedback is of the utmost importance. “Data is important, but we also survey and talk to or clients a lot as it allows our clients to feel like they’re part of the experience.”

Redefining the Customer Experience 

These digital upstarts are redefining customer experience one touchpoint at a time.

Today’s companies need to go above and beyond to create seamless, customer-centric experiences that focus on both changing and adapting to shopper behaviors and values. The brands that came to share their insights with us at the Criteo Commerce Marketing Forum are just a few in a group of startups using channels in new and experiential ways, planning for long-term growth.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a digital-first upstart to benefit from their key lessons.

Betty Ho

Originally from Orange County, CA, Betty moved to New York in 2013 for a two-year creative writing program and never left. When not writing for Criteo Insights she can be found at a handful of $1 Oyster Happy Hours in Manhattan. She loves dogs but doesn’t have one.

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