If you went to college in the Northeastern U.S., chances are you’ve seen a lot of “Maine Hunting Boots” or “Duck Boots” as we used to call them. If you lived or attended school in sunnier parts of the country, you might grimace at the site of the shoe design, but it’s the one that made LL Bean famous.
LL Bean was founded in 1912 and Leon Leonwood Bean, the company’s founder, pioneered the purchasing experience at that time with “post-paid” shipping. I think that means that you only had to feed the horse that pulled the delivery carriage at the end of the trip! Now, with the company about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, “free shipping” has been reintroduced as a differentiator and significant enhancement to the customer experience at the company’s online store.
Online retailers have a limited number of pieces to play with to deliver solid service and develop brand loyalty in the process. An easy to navigate and inviting site is a must, but the intricacies of the shopping cart, payment options offered, and ability to access customer service are other features high on the list.
Many online retailers hold onto the “free shipping” card tighter than airlines hold passes to their airport lounges. LL Bean took the step today to open up free shipping to all customers with no minimum purchase, no end date, and no other conditions. The feature will no doubt be a hit with customers and it will be interesting to see how LL Bean follows up in 6 months or so with announcements of associated lift in sales related to this new policy.
Interesting from a loyalty marketing perspective is that, once the free shipping offer was released to the market, LL Bean also announced that it was increasing benefits for its Visa Cardmembers by doubling rewards on everyday purchases made with L.L.Bean® Visa® Cards. Cardholders will now earn 1% everywhere Visa is accepted and 3% on L.L.Bean purchases, in addition to other member benefits such as free monogramming and free return shipping.
If we were to put some coins on the scale of loyalty value proposition, we could see that, in the opinion of Bean executives, free shipping is somewhere equivalent to “double points’ for it’s co-brand cardholders. You could look at this as though the cardholders were able to double-dip in this deal, but it’s safer to say that doubling the earning rate on card spend was the appeasement for cardholders to continue to feel special among the masses.
The changes announced just last week provide an interesting window into how some experienced marketing executives at a 100 year old retailer view customer experience. In this case, a differentiating benefit took precedence over “double points”.
What’s your take?