Suzy Shier fashions extensive database initiatives

This summer, Suzy Shier has been hitting women across Canada with a brochure, an e-mail bulletin, in-store promotions, loyalty program contests and a shopping party. Such ongoing marketing efforts are all tied in to the company's expanding database marketing efforts.

This summer, Suzy Shier has been hitting women across Canada with a brochure, an e-mail bulletin, in-store promotions, loyalty program contests and a shopping party. Such ongoing marketing efforts are all tied in to the company’s expanding database marketing efforts.

The 35-year-old, Dorval, Quebec-based women’s clothing retailer has a three-pronged database marketing strategy, garnering information about customers in stores, through its Prestige loyalty program and via its Web site ( To date, the company has already signed on 300,000 to 400,000 women across Canada, and this figure is ‘growing continuously,’ says Ronnie Lipstein, director of marketing for Suzy Shier.

With 186 outlets nationwide, stores are ‘the crux’ of Suzy Shier’s marketing, says Lipstein. ‘Join us today’ cards invite customers to sign up, staff ask shoppers if they are interested in participating, and information about Prestige is also on display. Seasonally, the stores also offer a brochure and Suzy Shier’s S Style magalogue.

For its part, the Web site is bringing on more customers to the database today than in the past. ‘The Web site is always mentioned,’ appearing on in-store signage through to shopping bags, and going forward, all of the store’s efforts will sport the site address, says Lipstein.

Launched in 1997, Suzy Shier’s Web site underwent a major evolution early this year, with its conversion from a previously static site to a Flash site. The new site provides more information, is more interactive and offers a 10% off coupon to women who ‘join the Suzy Shier community’ online.

As part of Suzy Shier’s marketing arsenal, the Web site (which is in English and French) allows customers to more easily communicate directly with the company if they have an inquiry related to customer service, human resources or investor relations. The company also uses the site to advertise in-store activities and a ‘collection’ section gives a snapshot of some of its fashions for the season, as well as their prices.

Prestige kicked off in 1994, and 20% of women in Suzy Shier’s database are Prestige members. For a cost of $25 for 13 months, the loyalty program entitles participants to 10% off all purchases. Members have also been receiving $15 worth of coupons, but the company is re-evaluating this strategy because ‘coupons are not a massive draw’ for Suzy Shier’s customer base, says Lipstein, in part due to restrictions such as not being able to use the 10% discount in conjunction with the coupons. ‘A percentage off has a higher perceived value,’ says Lipstein.

Prestige members are invited to participate in monthly contests for items such as trips to Cancun and gifts baskets with merchandise provided by such brand partners as Biore, Jergens, BIC, Avon, Excel gum and Playtex; receive holiday presents, such as a Suzy Shier-branded calendar, agenda or phone book; and can sample sponsors’ products, such as lipsticks, nail polishes and creams. (Suzy Shier works with Toronto-based The Zap! Group to arrange the brand partnerships for these incentives.) These women are also sent mailers and invited to shopping parties, where they can enjoy an extra percentage off on top of their 10% discount.

While ‘Prestige is given a prestigious, exclusive status and treatment,’ says Lipstein, ‘we do a lot for our customers as a whole.’ Customers in the database receive personal phone calls inviting them to special occasions held each month, personalized e-mails sent monthly keep customers up-to-date about what’s happening in stores, and personalized mailings go out about four times a year.

So far, Suzy Shier captures ‘quite basic’ information, including a customer’s mailing address, e-mail address and date of birth, says Lipstein. The company tracks sales daily across the chain, and digs ‘in-depth with analysis’ of customers through focus groups and surveys conducted internally. Indeed, three focus groups or surveys have taken place in the last four months. Suzy Shier does not belong to Air Miles or another database-driven effort.

The retailer’s ongoing communications with customers who are part of its database tie back to the ‘customer-oriented organization’s’ key objective, says Lipstein. Of Suzy Shier’s ‘eight main corporate values,’ customer satisfaction is the top, she says. All of these efforts, says Lipstein, are aimed at ‘ensuring that the customer knows that we’re taking care of her, that she’s important to us and that we’re doing our best to fulfill her needs.’ And delivering on customer satisfaction means knowing as much as it can about its customers’ wants.

Suzy Shier’s target customer is an 18- to 35-year-old woman, who may be a mother, a student or a professional, and needs clothing for morning, noon and night. ‘She is a fashion-conscious woman who is price point-oriented,’ says Lipstein. For this woman, Suzy Shier offers fashions in line with today’s trends and ‘yet at a price that’s not going to kill your wallets,’ says Lipstein.

This target audience represents a relatively recent shift for the company.

‘We have been refurbishing Suzy herself’ over the past couple years, says Lipstein, repositioning from its earlier target audience of women ages 15 to 45. This repositioning involves looking at merchandise and the visual display of stores, right down to fixtures.

A new tagline – ‘Suzy fashions your lifestyle’ – is also part of this repositioning. ‘Our buying team, our marketing team, our visual team are all working much closer together than they ever have before to ensure that we are in fact fashioning the lifestyles of women [who] are 18 to 35, as opposed to just offering merchandise,’ says Lipstein. To achieve this, stores are merchandised to show customers not only separate garments, but how items can be matched together in an entire wardrobe.

‘We are really focusing on the newness of Suzy and the philosophy and the merchandising and the visual display and the marketing aspects, and ensuring that we have a unified presence,’ says Lipstein.

In other marketing efforts, ‘we have done basically everything’ throughout the years, including print, radio and TV advertising, says Lipstein, although the company has been primarily focused internally for media as it unveils its repositioning. Recently, Suzy Shier rolled out radio advertising two months ago and a spring brochure insert in The Toronto Star. (Media Experts’ Montreal office handles the company’s media buying.) In direct mail, the retailer has not yet bought other lists.

Going forward, Suzy Shier would like to obtain a ‘more expansive awareness’ of individual customers, learning about its customers’ purchases, likes and dislikes. The company is in the discussion and research phase on this expansion, but has no confirmed plans. The retailer is also interested in adding e-commerce to its Web site at some point in the future.

As to upcoming marketing efforts, Lipstein is hesitant to peg the company too closely into any one positioning because women today are always changing. ‘We are always responding to the customer,’ says Lipstein.