Aisle allows brands to turn any marketing channel into an attributable, verified in-store purchase when customers text a photo of their in-store receipt to Aisle and receive a cashback reward within 24 hours. Brands can also leverage Aisle to retarget submitted customers with additional redemption reminders, winback flows, and more.
Tiffin, CEO and Founder of Aisle, sat down with our team to share his insights on how DTC brands can bridge the data attribution gap between DTC and retail. Let’s dive in.
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Q: Thanks for chatting with us today, Tiffin! We’re stoked to hear more about what you and the Aisle team are up to. I’d love to know, what inspired you to create Aisle?
Tiffin: My boss back at Super Coffee would say ’Tiffin, you’re spending all this money on ads and you can’t tell me who’s buying in-store?’ After hearing that every day for two years you’re like, I’ve gotta solve this problem. We had no idea who our in-store shoppers were, we had no idea why they were buying, and most importantly, we didn’t know how to get them to rebuy. And if you think about all the tools that existed, all the cashback apps that tried to solve the problem of how to activate someone in-store, they didn’t work for two reasons. The first was user friction, and the second was that all of the current solutions weren’t built by people in the [ecomm] space. There’s no customer empathy.
Q: For brands that have traditionally kept their DTC and retail channels separate, why should these omnichannel players care about creating a bridge between the two in their overall strategy?
Tiffin: A lot of people will give you a much sexier answer and use lots more buzzwords, but very simply it’s because you can sell more units. I avoid using words like “connecting the online shopper and in-store shopper” or “omnichannel attribution” because at the end of the day, what matters is providing these brands an opportunity to sell more in-store because it’s going to be their retail and units per store per week that get them acquired.
Aisle allows brands to turn any marketing channel into an attributable, verified in-store purchase when customers text a photo of their in-store receipt to Aisle and receive a cashback reward within 24 hours.
Q: Do you think a direct-to-consumer brand must have a retail presence to get acquired or to have a competitive edge, then?
Tiffin: I’m going to speak to what I know. When I was at Super Coffee, DTC was a nice accelerator and made revenue bigger, but at the end of the day, the questions we were being asked were ‘Did you sell in Walmart? Target? Sprouts? Did you sell in Middle America?’. DTC brands will win on the coasts, LA, NYC, but can you sell to Karen in Wisconsin who goes to church every Sunday? If she’s buying her stuff in-store and she’s buying your product, you have a much better chance. Look at Essentia Water which got acquired by Nestlé – they didn’t get bought because Patrick Mahomes talked about it on their Instagram. It’s because of the crazy volume they were moving at retail.
I’m the biggest believer in DTC, but ultimately, if you’re a consumable, you’ve gotta get into the big box retailers.
Q: Hypothetical: Let’s say your brand boosts spending on Facebook Ads, and you see a low ROI on the platform but a spike in retail purchases at the same time. On one hand, you could assume there’s some cause/effect relationship there, but at the same time there could be any number of other factors at play, like if there was a shift in end-cap displays or the sales team had a big week. With so many attribution factors to consider, how can brands develop a cross-DTC-and-retail attribution strategy that doesn’t rely too heavily on assumptions?
Tiffin: Good question. For us on the DTC side, it’s very easy to point to something and attribute it, like changing a button on a PDP and then it converts better. But think about you as a grocery shopper. On one hand, you literally can’t assume because any number of things can change from store to store. Did the shelf packer display the product right? Were we on a store promotion? Was the product expired or even put out on the shelf? There are factors you can’t even begin to model there. Or even if your brand runs a Superbowl commercial and you run the ads based on zip codes and see a 20% lift – even then, you’re just guessing, right? There can be a legitimately limitless amount of stuff that influences retail success that I don’t even think it’s worth it. But the short answer is you can’t make any assumptions because they’re all wrong.
Q: So what you’re saying is that, in regards to retail, there are so many factors that you can’t possibly have a sustainable direct attribution model.
Tiffin: Exactly. With DTC you control every part of it, you can control what percent of traffic goes where, what percentage of the population that lands on your site will see this page, and more because you’re essentially the traffic director. You’re in control. But with retail, you just hope and cross your fingers. There’s some directional stuff, but beyond that, you’re just taking a guess.
Q: Where does Aisle step in to solve that attribution problem, then?
Tiffin: Verified purchase. We say hey, take a picture of your receipt and send it to us and get cashback. That’s proof that a person saw an ad, scanned a QR code, or clicked a widget on your website, put in their phone number, and now we know 1:1 where a shopper came from, right down to the ad placement. So the short answer is that instant verification from the rebate gives us the proof to 100% tell you where a customer came from.
When Meta provides incrementality lifts, I think that’s kind of like hocus pocus. For us, at any time we can export their transactions, which shows you the customer ID, when they converted, and what store they purchased at down to the zip code. So when brands overlay Aisle’s transactional data with store-level sales data like IRI, SPINS, or Nielsen, the connection is incredibly clear. There were no assumptions or hypotheses. Is it this person, yes or no? Is that data reflected in the units per store per week scan data?
Q: If a subscriber cancels their DTC orders but starts buying at retail, do you view that as a good, bad, or neutral thing?
Tiffin: I always like to put myself in the brand operator’s perspective. I’m going to say this is Tiffin coming from Super Coffee, not Tiffin from Aisle. I think Tiffin from Super Coffee doesn’t care, because at the end of the day, going back to units per store per week, that person might say I don’t need my subscription anymore but now is picking up a bottle a day at their local store. At the end of the day, revenue is comprised of wholesale, retail, DTC, etc. It doesn’t matter as long as that person continues to buy.
I also don’t believe in this whole death of DTC thing. DTC will still be here, people will still shop on Amazon. Shoppers are gonna want to buy where they want to buy. It’s just more convenient.
And customers like Karen in Wisconsin will probably have a higher lifetime value. She’ll be buying it every single day. People on average go to three to four different grocery stores whether per week, or per month, what people like is variety, but it’s still a habit. You want that person buying in-store because they’re gonna buy from you every single day. Right? Like me with some energy drinks that I love, all my energy drink brands, I drink them all the time, and I’m not buying them online, you know.
So there are a lot of brands that are running pop-ups that are like “Do you want $20 off online, or do you want a BOGO in-store?” They’re allowing users to pick.
Q: How can DTC brands use a solution like Aisle to keep subscribers retained or maximize the value of their digital subscription program without inadvertently losing them to retail?
Tiffin: I believe there’s a better chance of a customer going from DTC to in-store, I’m not sold on in-store to online yet. Right now it’s a one-way attribution channel. People will go from DTC to in-store but people in-store like in-store, they’re not going to DTC. We’ve had some brands give some crazy offers online, like 50% off, an amazing deal, and nobody takes it – because nobody needs four things of toothpaste. But to answer your question, we surprise and delight. Aisle can be placed right in their subscription portal and brands can offer a BOGO deal as a loyalty perk retention play.
The second thing is knowing that churn is going to be inevitable, so instead of waiting for them to churn, let’s give them another option and also track attribution. Let’s say someone is going to cancel because they have too much coffee, you don’t wanna offer them 15% off – they’re literally telling you that they have too much. Instead, let’s say hey, sorry about that, thanks so much for letting us know. Here’s a free bottle of coffee you can redeem in-store. Now, at least if the customer churns online, it’s because they wanted to buy in-store, and we know that because they converted on a surprise and delight offer.