Using big data for small business wins: I Love Linen's ecommerce story

We find out how one small Australian retailer is using customer analytics and insights to drive a new level of engagement across its online store

The term ‘big data’ conjures ideas of big data sets and even bigger budgets. But as one ecommerce entrepreneur has discovered, those same concepts can deliver big results even for a small business.

Lauren Roe cut her teeth working as a consultant in a customer analytics program for one of the big four banks. Her parents, however, had a background in retailing with the manchester retail business, I Love Linen, which launched in 1996 and grew to three stores in Brisbane.

When her father fell ill, putting a strain on both the family and the business, Roe trimmed back her hours with the bank to care for her father as well as help her mother with behind-the-scenes business activities. This led to her setting up I Love Linen’s online shop two years ago. Roe soon saw the opportunity to begin employing the same processes she was exposed to every day with the bank to online linen retailing.

“The program [at the bank] was all about having a better understanding of customers to service them effectively, based on time and product,” Roe tells CMO. “That’s a simple philosophy that any business should be using, big or small.”

It was a stint of maternity leave which then gave her the additional time she needed to put that philosophy into action for I Love Linen.

“You’ve got a pretty rich source of insights at your fingertips with an online business, because it is much easier to access purchase frequency of popular products,” Roe says.

Her use of analytics concepts to date has been simple but powerful, with purchasing behaviour used to aggregate customers into small groups who then receive targeted promotions for other relevant products.

“For example, if people have invested in pillows and quilts, they may not have tried any of the sheet sets and quilt covers that would complement their other purchases,” Roe says. “So there is a cross-sell opportunity. You isolate people who have purchased hotel bedding and send them an electronic direct mail to let them know we stock hotel-quality bed linen.

“It is just looking at purchase history, rather than just sending a blanket email that everyone gets. And the click through rate is a lot stronger when it’s tailored. And it shouldn’t be a surprise, because people respond better to information when they believe the sender has considered them before sending it.”

The I Love Linen website is based on the BigCommerce platform, which gives Roe sufficient capabilities to download sales data and cross reference it with customer behaviour. While she concedes her processes are not rocket science, she is also aware of only a small number of small business taking these simple steps.

“Maybe it’s a lack of time, or they don’t know how to cut the data,” Roe says. “For any small business that is online, where they have access to all of this sales data, you can ask yourself where the customer is going to be next on their purchasing journey. And they might not have even been aware that you sell other products.”

Read more: More marketing emails reaching Australian inboxes

Roe is an avid user of Google Analytics to monitor online page views, to compare visitor views to actual purchases, and fine tune her offer accordingly. She also retargets anonymous customers to ensure items consumers have looked at on her site remain front-of-mind even after they leave the site.

All up, Roe believes the targeted email activity only absorbs an additional five hours over each electronic direct mail cycle. “You just have to start to read the data and see what comes up,” she says. “You can find all of these interesting tidbits of information, which can lead to better opportunities for you and the customer as well.

Roe says the online site is taking as much revenue as any one of the three offline stores, despite being in operation for less than three years.

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