Subscription retailer Bark is testing ways to keep its subscribers long term, while also encouraging them to add more items to their subscription box orders, says Ed Walloga, vice president, lifecycle marketing and ecommerce.
“We needed to have a lot more targeted conversations with each consumer throughout their lifetime with Bark. And we needed to do that efficiently,” he says.
Bark started its business in 2012 selling a monthly subscription BarkBox containing two dog toys and two dog treats in each shipment. The dog toy and dog food subscription retailer expanded its product offerings through the years, including offering dental products in 2020.
To figure out how best to market to consumers to increase upselling and cross selling, Bark turned to Simon Data, a software tool that allowed the retailer to run comparison tests and see how marketing campaigns perform.
Retaining and building up the lifetime value of its customers is important to the subscription retailer.
Data shows 5.6% of retailers in Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000 retailers used a subscription model in 2022. That’s down from 6.5% in 2021. That percentage differs depending on the category. 36.1% of Top 1000 food and beverage retailers had a subscription model in 2022. That is up from 27.8% a year earlier. 28% of health and beauty retailers had subscriptions in 2022, and 10.1% of specialty retailers like Bark.
During its fiscal fourth quarter 2022, Bark’s average order value increased $2. Upselling and cross selling accounted for the boost, Walloga says.
“And a huge amount of that was the increase in improving [conversion for] dental Bark Bright,” he says. Bark Bright are products like toothpaste and dental chew treats for dog teeth care.
Bark tests marketing emails for Durable Dental Chew products
In January 2023, Bark tested two marketing email campaigns for its Durable Dental Chew product launch, which is part of Bark Bright.
Bark sent the emails to its regular BarkBox subscribers. These subscribers received plush toys with treats as part of their core subscription.
The other type of subscribers are Super Chewers. These subscribers receive more durable toys in addition to treats as part of their core subscription.
The A/B split tests involved “several hundred thousand in each pool, and the A/B test was an even 50/50 split for each pool,” according to the company.
A/B testing, also known as split testing, allows Bark to test a percentage of its subscribers with two email campaigns to see which results in more opens or clicks. Bark can test different images or language and compare which ones consumers responded to more favorably.
The results showed that BarkBox subscribers were more responsive to the standalone announcement. Conversion rate was 16% higher for those BarkBox subscribers.
Meanwhile, Super Chewer subscribers were more responsive to marketing that highlighted the product collection. Conversion rate for these consumers was 30% higher.
“This was a surprising result, but this is why we test these things,” Walloga says.
Bark believes that because Super Chewer is a more specialized product, consumers liked a side-by-side comparison of original and durable products.
Bark subscribers opt in for SMS texts
There are 2 million BarkBox subscribers receiving a box every month, Walloga says. BarkBox sends subscribers products they can add onto each box. That program includes sending push notifications via SMS, he says.
“We’ve got a very aggressive push notification,” Walloga says.
SMS is an opportunity to “have worthwhile conversations with active and engaged customers,” he says. “That’s where you can apply SMS, and it doesn’t feel like a promotional campaign [to the consumer],” he says.
Bark used Simon Data to launch SMS in July 2022. It currently has 175,000 subscribers opted in to receive text messages. The opted-in base is growing by an average of 35% each quarter, according to Bark.
When customers respond to Bark SMS texts, a Bark employee responds, Walloga says.
“Our customer care team can pick up the [SMS] conversation and respond directly,” he says.
SMS subscribers receive a mix of product availability announcements. These include alerts about exclusive treats, toppers and toys they can add to their subscription box before it ships. SMS recipients also receive order status updates like shipment confirmations and account updates. They also receive marketing messages for “seasonal moments” like Cinco de Mayo or celebrating Star Wars on May 4th.
One of the most successful SMS texts reminds subscribers they have 24 hours left to add to the next box, he says.
Also, Bark is working on using its app to engage with consumers.
“We want to test pushing notifications directly to the Bark app,” Walloga says. According to Walloga, “a vast majority of our users are engaging on a mobile phone or the Bark app,” he says.
Bark adjusts email marketing strategy to retain subscribers
Bark subscribers typically commit to six- or 12-month subscription periods, Walloga says. The retailer reviews data to identify which customers are most at risk of leaving, he says.
“We’ve developed [email] outreach to those customers to remind them of the value that they saw as a Bark user,” he says.
This includes noting purchase history and favorites, he says. In addition to a personalized message, the retailer also sometimes includes incentives. This has allowed Bark to keep subscription renewal rates strong, Walloga says.
Email is still at the core of Bark’s digital marketing tools, Walloga says.
“Email is one of the fastest ways to test and iterate, and it gives you a little more real estate to have a conversation with a consumer,” he says. “But by no stretch is it the only channel we use.”
Personalized communications increases loyalty, Walloga says. Some of the tests Bark tried focused on loyalty, reminding customers of the value Bark brings them.
“If you have a very targeted, personalized conversation with the consumer or subscriber, they will respond,” he says.
Bark is No. 174 in the Top 1000. The database is Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of the largest North American online retailers by web sales.
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