May 02, 2002
Case Study

How BabyCenter Gets 60% of Online Store Sales from Registered Members

SUMMARY: Remember two years ago when personalization was all the buzz among major eretailers? The thought was if you could personalize your site so it was tailored as much as possible to each unique visitor, you would increase sales. BabyCenter actually went forward with a personalization project. What is interesting is how it affects their email newsletters. Each registered member gets two different newsletters, one slightly personalized, one dramatically personalized. Guess which one makes more sales?
by Contributing Writer Jane E. Zarem

Fewer customer segments are as large or as eager for helpful information as the combined population of pregnant women and new parents. Fewer good excuses exist for women (and even some men) to go on a shopping spree than when a new baby is on the way.

However, there is so much established competition going after this demographic, that the founders of content and shopping site BabyCenter realized that success required more than just a huge and motivated target audience.

How could BabyCenter differentiate its site, build an audience, create strong relationships, and then leverage that customer loyalty for product sales?

In April 2000, BabyCenter's management team decided to give more impact to the site's content, its store and its email newsletters, by making them highly personalized.

First BabyCenter's in-house tech team created a new proprietary personalization platform, built upon a general application server that includes three distinct components:

a. An authoring tool allows editors to create content for BabyCenter’s website, store, and newsletters and to specify the precise audience (pregnant women or mothers with a child of a certain age) for each article and each product.

b. Site personalization technology automatically tailors the site's content while a visitor is browsing, in order to display related articles and product offers to the right person at the right time.

c. A marketing tool delivers extremely targeted offers for BabyCenter store items to each registered email newsletter subscriber, based on their stated preferences, as well as their shopping histories with the site.

Although the site uses cookies to track visitors' paths and then display related content, the BabyCenter team knew their personalization technology would have a much greater impact if they could get visitors to register. Therefore the site's design is built around getting that registration, first and foremost.

Instead of presenting lots of articles or product offers on the home page, the screen is dominated by a big red arrow with the headline "Start Here!" Visitors are instructed to enter their email and pregnancy due date (or baby's birthday) in order to get personalized news.

Visitor who choose not to register can access general information but they will continue to be prompted to register as they wend their way through the site.

The actual registration form is simple and non-intrusive, requiring only due date or baby’s birth date and email address.

Lara Hoyem, BabyCenter's Media Marketing Manager, explains, “We didn’t want to put up any barriers to people signing up. That’s all the information we need to create a personalized ‘My BabyCenter’ home page and send the email newsletters each week, customized with information based on her stage of pregnancy or the age of her baby.”

New registrants are also given the option of entering their name, zip code (used for targeting advertiser ads), and a password for chat sessions. The compliance rate for these non-required items is “actually pretty high,” Hoyem says.

Registered members get two main benefits:

1. Personalized site content

Whenever a registered user logs on, he or she sees a personalized “My BabyCenter” home page that says: “Hello, [name], you’re 35 weeks pregnant today,” or “...your baby’s 4 months old today.” Visitor's customized pregnancy or baby diary, and other features and offers, are updated each week according to the stage of that member's pregnancy or his or her baby’s age.

Links to general content areas such as Ask the Experts, In the News, and Community Chat also highlight age, or stage, related topics on health, development, learning, and activities.

Where a pregnant woman might see a link to an article called, “Why I Need More Water When I’m Pregnant,” a mother of a 7-month old baby might see a link to an article called, “How Long Should I Breastfeed?”

2. Customized email newsletters

Hoyem says, “Personalized email delivered to Mom’s mailbox — and customized with information at the very level of her individual interest — is very powerful.” Members can opt-in to receive two different newsletters:

a. “My Baby This Week” newsletter is highly customized with information and product offers that relate to the development of the recipient’s baby that week. A woman in week 12 of pregnancy, for example, might see an article on how the baby’s heartbeat can be detected; the mother of a 7-month old baby, one on how it might want to try feeding itself. (See link to sample below.)

“Both pregnancy and the growth of young babies progress on very tight schedules that are true for everybody,” notes Hoyem. “So those cycles lend themselves particularly well to this."

b. "Weekly Bulletin" newsletter features a wider variety of information (such as store sales, new articles, general baby care advice, etc.). The Bulletins are customized on a broader scale, with separate editions emailed to pregnant women or to parents of babies, toddlers, or older children. (See link to sample below.)

The house-ads (ads for items in the BabyCenter store) featured in both newsletters are completely customized based on shopping history and the content the recipient has accessed online. For example, two subscribers, with the same age child, might receive different ads based on their individual buying history.

BabyCenter's 1.6 million registered members account for more than 40% of the site's monthly visitors, and a whopping 60% of BabyCenter's store sales. 35% of store sales are driven directly by members clicking through on offers in their personalized newsletters.

The conversion from shop to buy is significantly higher among members clicking through from newsletters than from visitors arriving via affiliate or other advertising links. Depending on price point and other variables, products advertised in the newsletters sell at multiples ranging from two to ten times their average weekly sales.

Who actually buys depends on the product and the timing. Parents of babies and toddlers have very specific needs and will buy eagerly if those needs are met. Pregnant women need more products but receive many gifts, so they visit the store but don’t necessarily buy.

In March 2002, BabyCenter delivered 14.5 million newsletters, or 2.25 newsletters per registered user each week. The highly personalized “My Baby This Week” newsletter generates about twice as many click throughs as the more general Weekly Bulletins. Interestingly, pregnant women are more likely to click through than parents of young babies or toddlers.

The site gets about three million unique visitors per month, who account for 65 million pageviews per month. This unusually high pageview-to-visitor ratio reveals that the personalized content is indeed highly compelling.

In March 2001, BabyCenter was acquired by Johnson & Johnson. BabyCenter operates independently, however, and markets differently from its parent.

“They were surprised that we weren’t doing any branding,” Hoyem says. “Although we’re not against branding, we’ve been able to monetize our online advertising in ways that don’t compare to putting print ads in a magazine. The dollars spent may be equivalent, but the actual results — the number of people coming onto our site and registering —are not.

"And registering subscribers is how we drive our bottom line.”

Sample of text-version of "My Baby This Week" newsletter and Weekly Bulletin newsletter
(HTML version is prettier than this, but you get the gist:


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