Urban Outfitters CEO on Business, Brands and Blogs

Lifestyle apparel and home decor merchant Urban Outfitters seems to do everything right. But like many multichannel, multititle retailers, Urban Outfitters has struggled with channel competition.

In his Sept. 28 keynote address at the Shop.org conference in Dallas, CEO Glen Senk said that when the company launched direct businesses for its Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters brands, the groups were kept separate from retail. And as a result, each group viewed the other as a competitor.

So the merchant five years ago combined the teams for Anthropologie and a year ago did the same for Urban Outfitters. The company now has category experts who have financial responsibility, and merchandising experts who handle the buying for the respective category.

Does this work? Some businesses that remain separate do a better job because they are experts in one channel, Senk admitted. “But then you don’t get the seamless cross-channel experience for the customer.”

It’s important that each channel try to be the best, Senk said. “Be aware of what you do better than the other channels, but work together.”

Having a strong brand is critical in retailing today: “The brands that will survive are the ones that give more value to the customer,” Senk said.

Urban Outfitters has always used customers to be brand advocates, Senk said, but the advent of social media has made this faster and easier. The past fall it encouraged customers to take videos of themselves wearing their new Urban Outfitters purchases and post them on YouTube, “which was huge for the back to school season,” he noted.

On some days 20% of Urban Outfitters’ business comes in from social media. But social media is about more than generating revenue for the merchant.

For instance, when designers for its FreePeople apparel brand began blogging, they started having conversations with the customers, he said. This is great for product development.

In addition to company blogs, customer ratings and reviews can essentially provide a free focus group for your business, Senk added. Reading customer reviews “is like being in the dressing room in the bricks-and-mortar channel,” he said.

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