Exclusive: Madewell Launching First App

Madewell is launching its first mobile app this week, seeking to drive digital growth and stronger engagement by its “community” of shoppers.

The app will be available to members of Madewell’s Insider loyalty program starting today, and to all customers on Tuesday.

“The design and development of the app centered first and foremost on our Madewell Insider membership program with a heavy focus on personalization, seamless omnichannel and app perks such as early access to seasonal collections and exclusive offers. There’s really a focus on our best customers,” said Derek Yarbrough, chief marketing officer of the J. Crew Group, in an exclusive interview. Madewell is a division of the J. Crew Group.

Yarbrough expects the app will be disproportionately used by members of the Insider loyalty program, but also attract consumers who haven’t shopped Madewell before. The primary goal was to increase engagement with the Insiders, however. “You do need a reason for it besides just shopping,” Yarbrough said.

Madewell’s Derek Yarbrough. 

Over 70 percent of Madewell’s customers are members of the Insider loyalty program, and they account for what the company indicates is an “outsized” level of business. Madewell, known for its casual, laid-back, denim-rooted assortment, generated $602.4 million in revenues in 2019. Digital sales represented north of 41 percent of total sales.

Yarbrough, citing another good reason for launching a shopping app, said, “About two-thirds of those on Madewell.com get there via mobile devices and it’s continuing to grow.

“Convenience is definitely a theme,” Yarbrough added, explaining that when an Insider member logs onto the app, their loyalty status and points pop up immediately.

Madewell Insider members earn one point for every $1 spent and receive a $10 reward for every 250 points earned. That’s the equivalent of earning 4 cents back for every dollar spent. Customers earn two points on jeans purchases, which underscores how central denim is to Madewell’s business. Jeans represent about a third of Madewell’s volume. The sweet spot for jeans are those priced around $128.

Two points are also earned for each dollar spent on items with charitable ties, and Madewell Star and Icons (those spending at least $500 and $1,000 annually, respectively) can earn triple points shopping on designated days during the year. Insiders also receive free shipping and returns, an annual birthday gift, free monogramming in store and online, and early access to collections and collaborations.

App users will have the ability to personalize their app experience based on their preferences and location. There are other user-friendly features such as zoom-in on images, and favorite items can be saved for future purchase.

Madewell will be adding the ability to track customers’ preferred sizing and filter product availability based on size, and in the future, recommendations on the best size and fit for other products will be provided. The app will also soon be able to inform customers about what styles are available in Madewell stores closest to them. The app carries Madewell’s entire men’s and women’s collections, provides PayPal and Afterpay, and will soon have Apple Pay.

The app underwent three rounds of testing over four months. “Each round was sequentially larger,” said Yarbrough. “We started with a few dozen users. Then a few hundred, and for the last round we gave full access to a few thousand testers. We talked to a ton of customers to gather a lot of input and feedback. We maintain a very large testing pool of customers. You might be surprised how many customers love to participate in the beta test. They love being part of the process. We will continue to get feedback. It’s all about continuous innovation.”

Asked about the challenges in creating an app, Yarbrough said, “We approach all digital experiences from a customer perspective. We gather a lot of input. Then there is the technology piece — how are we building this to make it fast and convenient, and how it integrates with all of our systems, which is really critical.

“Then there is the creative element,” he added. “It’s about making it super-intuitive. At Madewell, we have developed a very agile and innovative approach to development, and there is a real focus on continual optimization. We don’t intend to put it out there and leave it alone.” Creative aspects were done in-house, while Madewell worked in tandem with a third-party tech partner.

In the universe of apps, Madewell is a Johnny-come-lately. “We had a few other projects in the pipeline,” explained Yarbrough, noting that last September, the five-year-old Insider program was enhanced through the introduction of points and rewards. Pre-COVID-19, Madewell implemented omnichannel capabilities, such as ship from stores; buy online, pick up in store; and “dot-com, try-on” where a consumer can try on at select stores and order for home or store delivery certain denim styles typically only found online. After the outbreak, curbside pickups were implemented where feasible.

In addition, last year the J. Crew Group had to get through its bankruptcy while adapting to challenges posed by the pandemic. The Chapter 11 restructuring process lasted four months, involved a sharp reduction in debt and the arrival of new owners, and concluded last September.

Aside from points and rewards, Madewell’s Insider program offers free shipping and returns, and as a shopper’s spend increases, early access to new products and invitations to events are also extended. Enhancing the program helps Madewell collect more data and learn even more about customers to further personalization efforts.

Yarbrough characterized Madewell’s app as “a logical evolution” of the brand “versus some brands that just launch a basic shopping experience, which I think is fine. But if you really want customers to download it, you have to give them a reason, a strong reason for it. A mobile program is a very natural extension of a membership program which really is the passport to the brand.”

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