From Sports to Fashion: Rue La La's New CMO Sees Plenty of Similarities

Perry Cooper Had Roles at NHL, NFL Before Joining the Flash-Sale Site

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It's hard to imagine Rue La La being lumped in the same category as the National Football League and National Hockey League, but Perry Cooper, CMO of the flash-sale site, is using his experiences at both sports franchises to grow the company's membership base.

Perry Cooper
Perry Cooper
Before joining Rue La La in December 2011, Mr. Cooper served as VP-digital and direct marketing at the NHL, where he was responsible, among other things, for the league's digital- and direct-marketing strategy and its e-commerce business, as well as web analytics, a similar role he held at the NFL.

It's in this arena Mr. Cooper developed an appetite for e-commerce, which is what lured him to Rue La La.

"Rue La La is more similar to the NFL and NHL than you might think," he said. "Both have a multichannel, direct-to-consumer model that require innovative audience development techniques. With sports, as in fashion, the strategy is to build around a displaced consumer with access constraints. Delivering the best products and experiences results in a member for life."

Mr. Cooper said his experience running direct-marketing campaigns for the franchises is a natural cross over to Rue La La, where he is using his skills in digital marketing and web analysis daily.

Mobile has become a critical part of his strategy, as 35% to 40% of Rue La La sales on a weekly basis are now made through smartphones. One weekend in April, that number shot up to more than 50%. Mr. Perry said he expects mobile to account for 50% of all sales in the near future.

No surprise, then, that Rue La La's biggest campaign is centered on getting customers to download its apps for smartphones and the iPad. "We are really pushing the 'three-screen' experience," Mr. Cooper said.

But in order for all of this to come together, Mr. Cooper is also building up Rue La La's marketing database to better market to each member based on their usage and purchase history.

While the majority of Rue La La's marketing is through member referrals, Mr. Cooper is tapping social media to build out reach. "Social is reimagining the referral," he said. "Our referral business, where we offer members $10 if their friends sign up, is still an important part of driving new membership, but social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the next generation of the referral."

The referral process is inherently social, and Rue La La's business has been built upon friends telling friends about the site. So it's natural that social media is at the core of Rue La La's marketing strategy, as not only a tool to attract new members but to get to know existing customers better.

"Social media will become a bigger source of traffic than search if we do it right," Mr. Cooper said. "At NHL it represented 10% of traffic and we see it being at this level or higher at Rue La La."

Aside from word-of -mouth and social media, Rue La La does some print campaigns and is considering TV spots. Mr. Cooper also said he would like to partner with the right TV series to create curated boutiques. These efforts seem to be working, as Rue La La's member base, which currently boasts about 6 million users, has grown by 2 million subscribers in the past 10 months.

Flash-sale frenzy broke out several years ago, as these sites sought to meet the recession demand for fashionable clothing and accessories at a discount. Rue La La was launched in 2008 by Retail Convergence, which was acquired a year later by GSI Commerce for $350 million. GSI was bought out by eBay in March 2011 for $2.4 billion. Michael Rubin, founder of GSI, bought back Rue La La and formed the holding company, Kynetic.

But now as these companies begin to mature and the space starts to see consolidation, their profitability is being called into question.

Rue La La is going through its own restructuring, which includes outsourcing the sales staff connected with its Rue Local operation. Rue Local was launched in 2010 in Boston as a competitor to local-deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.

But Mr. Cooper doesn't seem concerned by the competition and what some call online-sample-sale fatigue. "Competition will always be there. We aren't focused on it," he said. "We are focused on keeping our loyal customers happy. Rue's experience is different than competitors and has a great repeat business."

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