BustedTees, one of the internet’s leading t-shirt brands, has long used personalization to increase clickthroughs, sales and customer retention. In 2013, the company launched TeePublic, a cross between Etsy and Kickstarter for a curated online community of more than 13,000 t-shirt designers. That’s given the company exciting new opportunities to use personalization to zero in on consumer aesthetics and pop culture preferences.

We recently had an opportunity to talk with Adam Schwartz, COO of both companies, about customer retention and his plans for TeePublic’s personalization roadmap.

Sailthru: I know that BustedTees is very focused on customer retention. Can you explain why?

Schwartz: We’ve had the experience with acquisition that a lot of people have. When you start out, you get on Facebook and display networks and start spending. As you acquire customers and see how difficult it is, what the costs per customer are, and what the costs per acquisition tend to be across any of those networks, it becomes clear that those spends need to be profitable. The easiest way to increase the value of acquisition spending is to lift retention. We stopped thinking a whole lot about acquisition to focus on getting retention to the point where the long-term customer value is high enough to support our prospecting costs. 

Sailthru: What challenges are you facing right now in your industry?

Schwartz: The key challenge we’re facing today is getting the right customer to the right product at the right time. TeePublic has 10 million SKUs, and we need to get the right one in front of the right customer.

Sailthru: How are you addressing that? Ten million SKUs is hard to even comprehend!

Schwartz: We are using personalization to go beyond tracking customer interests to following customer behavior on the site and creating audiences based on that data. That’s where we’re evolving to, and, while I don’t think we’ve made it to the mountaintop yet, that’s where we are headed.

Sailthru: What type of data are you using to match your customers to just the right product?

Schwartz: We’re going to create interest tags for designers. If a customer goes to a designer store and clicks or purchases, they will get an interest tag for that store. Once we have enough interest tags, we can create audience segments and send automated emails or newsletters with content pulled from individual designer stores.

Sailthru: What other creative approaches are you taking to connecting with your customers?

Schwartz: We’re really excited about connecting personalization to the referential and pop culture-based nature of TeePublic’s t-shirt designs. We think of these designs as content. Because we have so much content and so much data to work with, we can start looking at a consumer’s pop culture interests, such as TV shows, films or music, and start directing emails at them that link to those interests.

If we zero in on the Netflix show that a customer really loves, we can come up with tons and tons of user-generated content–that is, t-shirts–that relate to that show. That’s personalized content we know you’re going to love.