NRF Member Spotlight: rue21

How utilizing consumer data prepared rue21 to navigate the holiday season and meet the needs of Gen Z

Nearly 180 million Americans shopped during the five-day holiday shopping period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, according to the annual survey released by NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

As the holiday shopping season comes to a close, we connected with Bill Brand, CEO at NRF member rue21 and former Vice Chair of the NRF Foundation, to discuss how the company prepared for the holiday season while navigating consumer expectations and supply chain issues.

2021 Holiday shopping

Learn more about the latest insights on holiday shopping trends this season.

Rue21, an on-trend, omnichannel retailer serving teens and young adults 15-25 years old, recently launched rue21 Rewards — a loyalty program with nearly 7 million members — to better understand its customer base and leverage first-party data to engage and build long-term customer relationships. The exciting new program has also enabled greater insights into rue21’s customer file, which allowed it to test Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals with its most loyal customers to ensure a successful holiday season.

As retailers are in the thick of the holiday season, what types of recent unexpected trends have occurred? How does this holiday season compare with last year?

At rue21, our customer is at the heart of our brand, and we value their insights to make the most informed business decisions. In September, we conducted a survey of our rue21 REWARDS loyalty members and found that nearly 70 percent of those surveyed were planning to shop before Black Friday.

As a result, we knew that we had to shift some of our strategies to win this holiday season with relevant content and offers while our customers were in the holiday mindset earlier than ever. We tested our Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions earlier to ensure they would perform, and we did extensive analysis on promotional pricing. We’ve also been meeting as an internal team for months to align on our holiday go-to-market strategy and continuously optimize plans to ensure a successful holiday season.

How has rue21 used data to help develop a tailored experience for consumers online?

Leveraging data to create a tailored experience for consumers is critical to the success of any modern retailer — and at rue21, we’ve understood this for quite some time. We know shopping happens everywhere — whether it’s scrolling social, scanning rue21.com or shopping in real life, the experience must be always fresh, constantly new and seamlessly connected. We leverage data to strengthen our relationships with our customers, helping us determine how we communicate with them, what we offer them and when.

Last year, we launched our Loyalty Program to better understand our customers and their needs. We now have nearly 7 million members, which not only helps us better understand our customer file, but also provides us the opportunity to engage with our most loyal fans.

We’re continuing to get smarter about our customer’s journey and we’re in the process of being even more sophisticated with a transformative CRM project that will help us maximize customer lifetime value by creating orchestrated customer journeys, personalized content and offers, a unified view of our customer and more — to maximize our margin per customer.

What types of trends and behaviors do you see from Gen Z? How does your company serve this audience?

At rue21, we've built an inclusive brand and celebrate dressing all individuals — offering affordable fashion that is accessible to all. Our product is a constant flow of newness and reflects the moments and movements that are important to our Gen Z community. Rue21’s target audience is 15 to 25 years old, and 40 percent of our customers are from multicultural backgrounds. Through our research to understand this fastest-growing segment of our population, we’ve found that multicultural Gen Zers prefer to curate their own look in a way that is unique, on-style and expressive for their peers.

We also know that our customers are digitally native and socially aware — they want to be connected and inspired by the brands they interact with. We’re fun, positive and on-trend, encouraging our customers to express their individuality through their personal style.

How is rue21 working to navigate the recent supply chain issues?

Rue21 has always had a strong supply chain team as well as strong vendor relationships. Although we’ve had to be more proactive in our management, we’ve been able to navigate through the supply chain issues very successfully, due in large part to our planning processes.

Our merchants were prepared with trends, plans and orders for each season a year in advance. They have also been in constant communication with our vendors to ensure timing is met, and to troubleshoot any challenges that may arise.

Additionally, we’ve been closely monitoring the flow of goods to our distribution center and stores so we can anticipate, proactively communicate and explore tactics that can lessen the impacts. Our goal has been to get the product to our stores as soon as we receive it. As a mid-size retailer, we have the ability to be nimble and agile. As a result, we’ve been able to manage this global supply chain challenge extremely well.

What is your favorite NRF event?

Rue21’s favorite NRF event is Retail’s Big Show. The content is relevant and engaging — and every year, we leave feeling energized, motivated and inspired. This event is truly unlike any other in the retail industry. It provides the opportunity to:

  • Gain inspiration from some of the best and innovative leaders in the retail business and beyond
  • Network with peers and learn from each other creating meaningful and lasting relationships
  • Speak with a variety of potential vendors — all in one place!
  • Celebrate leaders and the future of retail at the NRF Honors

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