Erin Kriessmann from Title Nine – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan: [0:02] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. This is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today, I am talking to the acting Ecommerce Director of Title Nine, Erin Kriessmann. Welcome, Erin.

Erin Kriessmann: [0:12] Hi, Shaun. Thank you.

Shaun: [0:13] Now, Erin, traditional first question. What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Erin: [0:18] You know, I’m racking my memory, but I’m pretty sure that it was a plane ticket. I know that early on that was probably my primary online purchase.

Shaun: [0:30] A very common purchase nowadays, isn’t it? And how about your most recent purchase?

Erin: [0:34] Last night, I purchased an episode of “Breaking Bad” on Amazon. Does that count as a purchase, buying media?

Shaun: [0:40] Yeah, absolutely, that is a purchase. It’s digital content.

Erin: [0:45] I’m a huge online shopper. I buy everything from diapers to vacation rentals to clothing online.

Shaun: [0:52] It is the way of the future, isn’t it?

Erin: [0:54] Yes.

Shaun: [0:55] Now, Erin, can you give me a little bit of background about yourself?

Erin: [0:59] I am, as you mentioned, currently acting as the Ecommerce Director for Title Nine. I’m actually a consultant, and I’ve been working in the online space for about the past five, exclusively the online space, I should say, for about the past five years. Prior to that, I came from a traditional advertising background and worked for some large agencies in the media world early on in my career.

Shaun: [1:25] Cool. So, tell me a little bit about Title Nine. What does Title Nine do?

Erin: [1:29] Title Nine is a women’s apparel company. We sell women’s athletic apparel and sportswear, which is a little bit of a misleading term because that’s sort of our non-athletic apparel, but primarily we focus on selling women’s athletic apparel.

Shaun: [1:48] Great. Do you know why the company decided to focus on that market?

Erin: [1:52] I do. The founder of the company, a woman named Missy Park, was an athlete in college, and when she graduated from college she made it her mission to sell clothing that she couldn’t find as an athlete. At the time, there were very few retailers selling clothes specifically for women’s sports. I don’t know all of the details, but I heard that legend has it that she was initially selling female sized basketballs and sports bras.

[2:24] Of course, it evolved into a very, not large but a mid-sized multi channel retail outlet. It started as a catalog company. We now, of course, sell via catalogs, online and we have 13 retail stores.

Shaun: [2:41] OK, so you’re a true multi channel retailer.

Erin: [2:44] A multi channel retailer, yes.

Shaun: [2:48] What do you think is unique about marketing to women?

Erin: [2:54] There are so many things about marketing to women that are unique. I think women shop online more than men do. The most recent data that I’ve seen indicates that that’s the case. Women tend to make more purchases over all than men do. They tend to be the primary purchasers for their household. In my experience, women will shop around a lot more and make comparisons before making a purchase whereas men from the data I’ve seen tend to be more focused and directed in their purchases, which as a marketer opens up all kinds of opportunities when marketing to women because they are more easily distractible. They are also more cost conscious.

Shaun: [3:35] Yes. Interesting. It definitely gels with my own experience. Now, how does Title Nine distinguish itself from its competitors?

Erin: [3:48] There aren’t a lot of them. That’s a really good question. There’re a lot of things that make up the difference. First and foremost, there aren’t a lot of companies that are exclusively focusing on sportswear for women. Certainly, in the past couple of years, there have been a few that have cropped up that are more narrow niche players, but in terms of retailers that sell apparel for women across the spectrum of athletic activity, we are one of the few.

[4:19] Of course, we do sell a lot more than just athletic apparel. We have evolved into selling skirts and skorts and even dresses, but one thing that I think differentiates us is that all of our clothing is chosen and developed with an athletic and active woman in mind. So while, of course, it has to look good I would say even more critical in the assortment that we carry is that the clothing has to be functional.

[4:49] For example, we would never sell a bathing suit that you couldn’t get up and play volleyball in or actually swim in without it falling off. We sell dresses, but they tend to be made out of fabrics that are breathable and don’t wrinkle; that are wash-and-wear. It’s very functional, easy clothing.

Shaun: [5:10] So, you put function over fashion. While fashion is still important, it’s got to be functional.

Erin: [5:16] That’s a very fair statement, and then last but not least, one differentiator is that increasingly a lot of our assortment is Title Nine branded products that we’re developing on our own, and we are the only people that sell a lot of it. While we do sell some other manufacturers’ products, increasingly we are developing our own brand of products.

Shaun: [5:38] That’s interesting. Is that because you saw gaps in the market for particular products that you couldn’t find a source?

Erin: [5:45] That’s definitely part of it. I think, there’s also definitely a competitive advantage to having products that people can’t get anywhere else. We have a very loyal customer base and people that have shopped with us for years and years and years. We want to continue to give them reasons to come back to us, and one of the things is there’s products that you can only get from us.

[6:11] One other thing that I should mention is we are sort of an evolving process, and we also have some tools that, I think, make shopping online with us easier. One example of that is a bra genie that we’ve developed, which gives a bunch of different ways to shop for sports bras. They can either search for what size they actually are. They can shop by size. We have a bra finder tool that allows them to filter our assortment, based on five criteria that they define. We have some unique tools that we’ve developed specifically for shopping online that are differentiators in our space.

Shaun: [6:53] Excellent. Now, do you also get men using the site buying gifts for friends?

Erin: [7:01] I imagine that we do. I will be honest and say I don’t know any precise details of the number of customers that are men. Certainly, our customers are mostly women. Just last year, we did attempt for the first time to actually reach out to men and try to go after some of that gift business. So, we were doing some advertising in some mail or more balanced publications, both online and off line, messaging the fact that we have gifts for athletic women. So, those are very much targeted towards men who would be shopping for women.

Shaun: [7:41] Great. Now, what does Title Nine actually mean? Where did the name come from?

Erin: [7:47] The name comes from legislation that was passed in, I think, 1972 mandating that any programs that received federal funding providing equal opportunity for women. Even though the legislation doesn’t specifically state that that is referring to athletic programs, that has been the biggest impact of the legislation. So, essentially, women can’t be ignored in the world of high school and college athletics.

Shaun: [8:16] Right. And that legislation has made quite a difference.

Erin: [8:20] It certainly has, yes. [laughs]

Shaun: [8:23] Great. It sounds like it’s obviously a big focus around women in sports in Title Nine. What is the culture like there?

Erin: [8:33] Well, you hit the nail on the head. Missy, the founder, is really passionate about sports and getting girls and women involved in sports and empowering them, so the culture is very much what you’d expect from a company founded by a woman with such passionate beliefs.

[8:56] They are very supportive and encouraging of everyone who works here, pursuing their hobbies and interests, particularly their athletic hobbies and interests. So, it’s really common to see people walking around the office wearing running shorts, either right before or right after going out on a run.

[9:13] The company sponsors something called the Title Nine Challenge every year where employees are supported both financially and emotionally, I guess, in pursuing some kind of group goal. For example this year a bunch of us are competing either in a triathlon or half marathon in the fall and there are several races leading up to that and there are Title Nine hires coaching for swimming and cycling and running. It’s very much part of the company culture to be active and athletic.

Shaun: [9:49] Fantastic. That sounds like a superb place to work.

Erin: [9:51] It is. [laughs] Pretty great. Occasionally, they do these things called Feats of Strength at our corporate offices. That’s a fun break to get people up from the desk. Last week we did a virtual chair-sitting contest where there were about 35 people spread throughout the office and we competed in a squat contest. [laughs]

[10:15] You don’t win anything other than kudos. Yeah. [laughs] Bragging rights. But, it’s a pretty good culture.

Shaun: [10:24] That’s a good idea. I should try that at the ACLI offices. I bet we wouldn’t do as well, actually. [10:31] Now, just to talk a little bit more about your online store, what do you see as the biggest opportunities you have online?

Erin: [10:39] You know, we have surprisingly given that people have been selling online for what, 12 years now. I don’t think we’ve been online quite that long, but surprisingly there is still a lot of opportunity. In large part, what limits us is that we are on a relatively dated ecommerce platform.

[11:03] We’re in the process of migrating to a newer ecommerce spot for and will be re-launching the site in mid-August. So, there are a lot of things we would like to be doing yet we can’t currently do this because we’re on an older ecommerce platform.

[11:18] I would say, first and foremost, something that is on all of our minds that we have been wanting to do for a long time is launch reviews on our site, reviews and ratings. I think we have the type of product and the type of customer base that would really lends itself to reviews.

[11:36] That’s something that will be enabled with our new ecommerce platform. Just, you know, our site gets the job done very straight forward and basic at the moment, but there are a lot of functional capabilities that will be enabled when we re-launch and I can’t give all of that away now, [laughs] but a lot of things we will be doing.

Shaun: [11:59] Now, can you tell what is the ecommerce platform you are upgrading to?

Erin: [12:04] We are currently with Market Live and we’re on probably one of the earliest versions of the Market Live platform. We are migrating to their 5.5 platform in August.

Shaun: [12:15] OK. Oh, fantastic. Still with Market Live, but you just…

Erin: [12:18] Still with market Live. We actually went through an RFB process and evaluated other ecommerce vendors and largely because… In part because of our existing relationship but also because of their experience integrating with people using Commercial Ware, which is an order management system, we chose to stay with them.

Shaun: [12:37] OK, great. So, do you have any tips and advice on what works best for you on your ecommerce store?

Erin: [12:50] What works best?

Shaun: [12:52] I suppose you have already mentioned your various, your bra genie and your bra finders.

Erin: [12:59] Yeah. That tool is certainly something that I think differentiates our site. Frankly, we have dramatically improved our onsite search capabilities since we started using SLI and I would say that is probably one of the things that… It’s the one thing that I don’t worry about any more.

[13:19] It’s one thing that we have total control over and have improved dramatically. Before we started using SLA we were using the out of the box package solution that came from our ecommerce vendor and we didn’t have a lot of flexibility.

[13:36] Well, the majority of our searches are still from people coming to the site with a catalog in hand who are searching by item number or item name. About 40 to 50 percent of the searchers on our site were more general searches that frankly up until about December of last year weren’t giving people a very positive experience because, for example, people couldn’t search by manufacturer or brand. They couldn’t search by fabric type or by product usage. Really the only types of search terms that would yield any meaningful results were specific product names or very general like “tee shirts,” very general product categories.

[14:19] But, once you got down into more descriptive search terms, we really didn’t have much flexibility in terms of manipulating the results that those customers would see.

Shaun: [14:31] OK, I’m pleased to hear that that is working well for you.

Erin: [14:35] Yeah, we have been very pleased.

Shaun: [14:37] Great. What are your biggest headaches? What’s not working for you at the moment?

Erin: [14:45] What’s not working? I think there are some things we would like to be able to do that we can’t currently do. Shop by outfit is one of those things. We don’t have the ability to present outfits that might be merchandized together in a catalog that we know sell well together. It’s difficult to present those on the site currently as a collection. That’s probably our biggest handicap at the moment.

Shaun: [15:14] And will your new ecommerce platform address that?

Erin: [15:17] It will.

Shaun: [15:18] OK, fantastic. Now, so apart from the ecommerce platform and reviews, is there anything else you can tell us things that you are changing this year?

Erin: [15:31] I would say that we for the first time are making a bigger push with actually acquiring new customers online. I think historically a lot of multi channel retailers are in the position historically where ecommerce has been seen as a transactional channel and not a customer acquisition channel.

[15:54] That is definitely changing this year. Definitely more emphasis on email. More emphasis on all forms of digital communication and increased focus on engaging with our customer online and by providing relevant content and doing more than just trying to sell to our customers online. Really, trying to have a relationship with them for making it more of a two-way communication experience with them.

Shaun: [16:26] OK, that’s interesting.

Erin: [16:28] And reviews and ratings are part of that. But, we also have a content site called “Time Out with Title Nine” that is getting more increasingly paying more attention to it and putting more resources behind.

Shaun: [16:40] Fantastic. And I think that’s really important to be able to engage with the customers outside of just that purchasing process. Because then they look to you as a source of information and they’ll go to you first when you do need to purchase.

Erin: [17:00] Yeah, absolutely and I think again given that we are in an enviable position of having a very loyal customer base, who are passionate about the brand, kind of giving back to them in some way, which we attempt to do by providing content that would be relevant to people who like our products. That’s really important to us.

Shaun: [17:22] Yeah, I agree. That sounds like a great strategy. Now, tell, Erin, how do you keep up with the latest trends in ecommerce?

Erin: [17:34] To the best of my ability. [laughs] It’s a very fast moving, constantly evolving space as I’m sure you are aware. I subscribe to a bunch of newsletters that are relevant to what I do. I collect the iMedia Connection and there are probably six or sever newsletters that I read pretty regularly, if not daily.

[17:59] I take part in industry events and industry organizations. I go to conferences, attend webinars. It’s like drinking from a fire hose. There’s a pretty constant and evolving stream of data and information out there about trends and technical developments that I’m always trying to keep abreast of.

Shaun: [18:26] Yep. And there’s definitely plenty out there. It’s a whole job itself, just keeping up with what’s new in ecommerce, I think.

Erin: [18:35] Yeah, absolutely.

Shaun: [18:38] That’s really excellent. Erin, you have shared with us some very interesting information, particularly talking about the passion that Title Nine has for its industry, for women in sports. It seems to provide the brand. So Erin, I just want to thank you very much for your time.

[19:01] We’ll wrap it up there. Thank you.

Erin: [19:03] Thank you, Shaun.

Shaun: [19:04] That was Erin Kriessmann from Title Nine. And I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems for the Ecommerce Podcast. Tune in next time.