Tag: Customer Acquisition

Why Every Potential Acquirer of Belk Stores is Looking at Customer Data Analytics

A week ago, Belk Stores (BLKIA:OTC) announced it was considering strategic alternatives (We’re for sale) and had hired a banker.


Whether the outcome is a strategic acquisition by another retailer in the department store or adjacent business, a financial buyer, or no-sale,  the data room inquiries are all running to  Belk Stores customer data, because aside from the financial engineering that is a stock in trade for M&A professionals, customer analytics are where any remaining deal leverage resides.

For either type of buyer, the future value of the investment has to exceed the value paid.  In retail terms, this means an increase in average annual transaction size, and/or an increase in the frequency of transactions (whether brick and mortar or online), a longer customer lifetime (retaining customer purchasing over time) and/or the ability to generate new customers at a favorable price point.  To be successful, they have to do these better than Belk could themselves.  For a strategic buyer it’s a tall order.  For a financial buyer it requires an awful lot of acumen.

While the underlying value of the real estate (of Belk’s retail locations) will be of significant interest (look at the bounce Dillard’s got a couple of years ago when they announced a never completed REIT) the big leverage is in their customer purchase history.

Here are the essential questions to the Belk transaction:

For Strategic Buyers:

  • If the acquirer doesn’t share a lot of markets with Belk, they’re asking “if we convert Belk to our nameplate (think “Macy’s” for instance) in markets where we don’t have a presence today, can we expect Belk sales from the most recent 12 months to stay the same, shrink or grow?  This involves market definitions down to virtually the household level and a detailed examination of buying patterns by price point per merchandise category. Then those households are re-aggregated to create accurate market measurements .  A couple of years ago, without current data analytic capabilities, you really couldn’t even consider doing it.
  • Where there are shared markets, how many of our customers actually also shop Belk? Which of the two do they spend more with? By price point by sku at the household level.  How has this changed in the last year?
  • In each market, how many households have purchased from us in the last ten years? From them? (Net of moves in and out) By lifestyle, including age, what is our untapped potential, if any, in each market based on our best market experience?  What was the customer acquisition cost in each market by lifestyle in the last twelve months? Has this grown or shrunk?
  • Where penetration is low, is it a mismatch to consumer type, an assortment problem, presence of competition, or other facts? If so what are they?
  • When thinking about CAC, how many transactions does each customer have to make before the gross margin generated produces a breakeven result against the incremental acquisition cost?
  • For existing Belk customers how much spending has shifted, at the household level, to e commerce? Has this increased or decreased each household’s annual spending by market? Lifetime value? By demographic segment at the household level?  Let’s be sure ecommerce sales aren’t mixed into store sales and therefore distort store sales data.
  • How much showrooming is going on at Belk stores? (Compare foot traffic counts to same day in store transactions on an historic basis.)  Is this showrooming going to Belk online or to others? At what mix?

For Private Equity Buyers:

  • What are the trend lines in customer acquisition cost, and the components of lifetime value analyzed separately (annual size of transactions, number and lifetime length) by lifestyle and segment?  What will we do to improve these?
  • Is there enough cost take out to improve EBITDA without significant customer change?
  • What are benchmark comparables for the whole company and the industry for both for brick and mortar penetration in each existing market and  ecommerce?
  • Is there freestanding ecommerce business not associated with stores? Can this profitably be increased?
  • Any way to catch up on ecommerce with the industry? Encourage or discourage showrooming?

Same store sales don’t directly translate into customer metrics and can mask either problems or opportunities.  What are the trend lines in each category?

All of the answers to these questions now exist in the Belk customer data. They can provide a very good snapshot of Belk as it stands today. For strategic buyers, the combination of their customer data with Belk’s reveals a detailed picture.  For the financial buyer, comparing Belk actuals to available comparables describes the probability of a good outcome.

Every business should know the cost – in time and money – to acquire a customer, how much that customer will produce in revenue, and for how long. This gives them the ability to identify customer segments and target acquisition cost, budget for results, and measure performance.

Unfortunately most don’t know the cost of customer acquisition, but we do.

When you partner with Keane Consultants, you get a proven track record of success in bringing costs down and driving win rates up.


Contact us at www.keaneconsultants.com or info@keaneconsultants.com (414) 737-3644


All Growth Strategy is Quantitative

All Growth Strategy is Quantitative.  You can’t grow what you can’t predict.

I was in Ireland not too long ago in a meeting of a company board of which I’m a member.  The company  had a very good year – a great one, really – based on a executing a good strategy very well.  Success has been several years in the making, and their efforts have now paid off for them.

In most companies, growth challenges are greatest at sales of $10MM to $15MM.  Growth is impeded by a company’s inability to extend its reach and effectively attract resources required for growth.  The big question on the table is how to move from efforts based on great experience and instinct to  systems, processes and structures that allow growth to continue as more people and resources are added to the business.

In other words, become more quantitative.

This means moving to rely on accurate factual data to teach managers how to make key decisions that incorporate both their best instincts and and quantified facts.

Examples include marketing analytics, sales forecasting, and disciplined unit economic analysis (cost accounting) for all non-sales related activity.

In this introduction to managing by analytics, I cover three topics: Segmentation, A/B Testing, and Comparables. In this short blog, you will learn how to segment customers, how to determine an optimal approach for your target, and how to compare your results.


In the ecommerce world, there’s lots of talk about “growth hacking.” Whether you like the title or not, the point is that solid, quantitative discipline will produce much better results than any other process.  Any company who regularly acquires new customers, or would like to, can use these same quantitative disciplines whether they sell by e-commerce exclusively or not.

Today, tracking acquisition – where each incoming sale or lead came from – on your website isn’t only easy; it’s an entry level requirement.  This is a preliminary step in the segmentation process — describing in some way the commonalities and differences in each group of new leads/sales/customers.

This leads to several questions – what are the better segments (meaning ones who produce more growth per dollar spent)?

The next question, tho, is critical – how can you generate more from that source?  How do you get from these “better segments” to finding more of them in the marketplace?

One way is to use the same sources you’ve been using — SEO, advertising, social media, adwords, websites, and the like. This works and can be quantified in cost per lead/sale/customer.

However, if you want to proactively solicit potential prospects, you need to be able to identify them – and reach them – you need to be able to identify them by findable descriptions that can apply to the entire market.

Segmentation is based on being able to apply the segments to the universe of potential customers and economically find the segments your product appeals to.  This may require a combination of social, SEO, adwords, and other tactics that, when combined, result in a formula that is predictably repetitive.  Or it can be a description, along behavioral or demographic lines, that point to people or sources that can be “found” in the marketplace.

Good information like this will increase the velocity of growth, as well as the predictability of future results.

Analytics make growth repeatable.


A/B Testing

What offer or product description appeals most?  This is basic A/B testing.  Every  program or campaign – whether inbound or outbound – ought to present, randomly, many different approaches.  (We often set one up to be what we currently see as the winner, the “control,” and others, served to a smaller percentage of incoming leads, “the tests.”)

Think about the power here.  The presentation, the copy, the method of presentation – all can be tested – and pretty much in real time.  Results are evident in hours and days, and the “winner” quickly becomes the control.

What would happen if…

The A/B test means you can finally know:

  • What would happen if we changed the pricing to volume-based?
  • Is the case study or the benefit description more powerful?
  • Do we ask for a number to call, fill out a form, institute a realtime chat, or just let people call us?
  • What would happen if we incorporated a free trial/test/offer/sample?
  • Will more customers buy a bundled offering?
  • What if we target inquirers with an “only for them” offer each day that expires in 24 hours?
  • How frequently can we communicate with customers?

These kinds of questions can be answered in a day or two and no longer are the subjects of endless meetings, debate and hypothesizing.  You can get an answer and move on.


We use comparables every minute in our lives.

A good comparable is a standard – the best margin, the highest sales rate, fastest result.  More important it tells us what the best possible has been in a category.  (I’ve seen many business plans that rely on results that are two or more times better than the best historical comparable – and the author didn’t know it.  While it’s not impossible to achieve, it’s imperative to know what the height of the bar is.)

Good quantitative growth management comparables mean we know:

  • what a good lead/sale/new customer (as defined by our segments) costs and what others are paying for it;
  • what we and our competitors are spending in marketing per dollar of revenue;
  • what our customer acquisition costs are and what range theirs are in;
  • how our product costs line up with theirs.

Sources of this information run from published reports to trade associations, web data from collection and reporting sources; competitive spending on AdWords and other bid-based products; direct customer feedback.  Every growth system must systematically track comparables performance.  These comparables can come both from our own “best” historical examples and from examples in the market as a whole.

In many pre-growth companies, measurement is budget-based.  Budgets set goals that the business has to achieve but don’t provide any information about comparable performance.  Without comparables being included in the budgeting process, both on the revenue and cost side,  it’s hard to tell if the business is achieving more than it should, or less.


Every business should know the cost – in time and money – to acquire a customer, how much that customer will produce in revenue, and for how long.  This gives them the ability to identify customer segments and target acquisition cost, budget for results, and measure performance.

Unfortunately, most don’t know the cost of customer acquisition.  

We do.  When you partner with Keane Consultants, you get a proven track record of success in bringing costs down and driving win rates up.   www.keaneconsultants.com