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Urban Outfitters' New App Strategy: Be Cool

Urban Outfitters' New App Strategy: Be Cool

Photograph by Scott Eells/Getty Images

At 42, Urban Outfitters (URBN) has what we could call a Brooklyn dad problem: It’s trying to stay cool, keep the kids on its side, and do the grown-up, responsible thing, all at the same time. The company’s latest effort to strike the right balance is its new rewards program and the social networking-style app that goes with it.

The app asks users to upload a photo, customize the display background, and fill in a few personal details. Then it syncs with users’ social networks and distributes reward points when users mentioning the brand on Twitter or Instagram (FB). It also gives credit to those who respond to in-app promotions such as a prompt to buy a vinyl record (a major part of Urban Outfitters’ inventory). The rewards give users a range of perks, including advance warning on sales and early access to popular merchandise and concert tickets.

If the new mobile platform works as planned, it will drive sales, encourage loyalty, and harvest users’ photos and Tweets—marketing gold these days. If it backfires, Urban Outfitters will be just another retailer alienating young consumers with annoying requests for data: How old are you? What music do you like? How was school?

“It’s extremely sensitive,” says Senior Marketing Manager Moira Gregonis. “I don’t think anyone really likes to be marketed to, and as a brand, we don’t want to be pushy.”

The company’s website is already filling up with somewhat fuzzy, ultra-saturated photos. Curalate, a social marketing company, routes the content straight from the accounts of Urban Outfitters fans via the tag #uoonyou (as in “Urban Outfitters on you”).

The app embodies a bid for sales, the latest tool in a retail world bent on seamlessly processing orders between digital sites and brick-and-mortar stores, so-called “omni-channel” service. While only Web orders over $50 are shipped for free, every product purchased via the app will be delivered gratis.

Urban Outfitters will also be able to recognize when shoppers are inside a store, providing they check in on FourSquare. The company is still trying to decide how aggressively it will ping users with location-based offers and information.

None of this is surprising, given Urban Outfitters’ performance of late. In the most recent quarter, e-commerce orders were up by 40 percent over the year-earlier period, while sales at Urban Outfitters stores open at least a year improved by just 5 percent.

Chief Strategy Officer Matthew Kaness says the company has started to think of itself as “a pure play e-commerce” outfit that just happens to have 500 or so brick-and-mortar stores, including outlets for its Anthropologie and Free People brands.

You know, just like a little Web startup, but with $3 billion in sales. #nobigdeal.

Stock is an associate editor for Twitter: @kylestock

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