Why Did Steve & Barry’s Avoid Data Collection?

Is anyone shocked that low-price apparel and accessories retailer Steve & Barry’s needed to file Chapter 11 in July, and may leave a label scar in malls across the nation?

Inventory issues aside, before the bankruptcy filing, the company’s Web site stated it had no plans to sell online. The merchant was married to selling in one channel – bricks and mortar – and prided itself in word-of-mouth marketing.

It grew from being a handful of near-campus stores with a goal of selling cheaper college sweatshirts to a mall anchor filling vacated space and selling apparel designed by the celebrity likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Stephan Marbury and Venus Williams.

But it did a horrible job at collecting data on its customers. Matter of fact, take away credit card data, it knew nothing at all about its customers. Data collection by Steve & Barry’s did not seem to exist.

Steve & Barry’s does allow customers to sign up for e-mail notifications, but asks them solely for an e-mail address. No age-brackets, no income ranges, no idea the sex of the registrant. And without an e-commerce aspect or a loyalty program, it has no idea what its customer is… or was.

Selling $14.98 sneakers was a great addition to the low-price inventory. Marbury’s idea was to sell a quality pair of basketball shoes that those less well off can afford. And the line expanded to running shoes, cross-trainers casual urban footwear.

But how many of those shoes were sold to the intended audience, and how many were bought by a 30-something writer and editor looking for a cheap pair of kicks?

One could guess from anecdotal information that teen girls were buying college sweatshirts, opening the door for the Amanda Bynes’ fashion collection. Or that some 40-something moms bought t-shirts for their kids, making the Sarah Jessica Parker “Sex-And-The-City”-ish line a must-sell.

But Steve & Barry’s made no attempt at database marketing, did not try to build a house file, and was left trying to sell Bubba Watson golf apparel on the cheap to an audience that probably didn’t care.

It’s a lesson that just about every retailer has learned by now.

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