Marketing Case Study: 5 Things Small Businesses Can Learn from Urban Outfitters

Marketing Case Study: Urban Outfitters

So why are we focusing on Urban Outfitters today? Because it’s the online retailer with the highest sales growth in the last 10 years. That success, of course, didn’t come by accident. Let’s look at some of the things Urban Outfitters does well and then discuss how small business owners like you can apply this knowledge to your own business.


According to this article from Marketing Land, “Urban Outfitters also scored the biggest jump in Web sales of all the retailers that have been included in Internet Retailer’s annual rankings, growing by 9,000 percent from $7.3 million in 2003 to $663.3 million in 2012.”

So as we’re doing this case study, we’re going to take a close look at the company’s website in particular.

1. Hello, front-and-center email sign-up! Urban Outfitters wastes no time in encouraging site visitors to sign up for its email alerts. The sign-up box comes up the moment you enter the home page. Now, it’s true that some people might say that these boxes are annoying. But the truth is the “lightboxes” or “pop-over” boxes, as they’re referred to by marketers, can work really well.

urban outfitters email

Takeaway for small business owners. If you’re looking to grow your email marketing list, then consider testing a lightbox on your site. The things you need to remember are this:

  • You must deliver useful content.
  • You should time the lightbox to appear roughly 30-45 seconds after someone enters the site.
  • The box should appear only once per session.

Wondering how to add one to your site? Your web person should be able to help. If you like tinkering, there are a variety of widgets and directions available online. Just google “website lightbox widgets” to get started.

2. Say yes to tantalizing offers. We love the scrolling screen on the Urban Outfitters home page. At the time we wrote this post, there were pictures for dresses, graphic tees (a hot item this fall), a feature on the employee of the month, and this fabulous offer (pictured below). Notice how uncluttered this image is: it simply states the facts.

urban outfitters

Takeaway for small businesses. When people come to your website, you need to engage them. This is the essence of content marketing. Give them information they can use and get excited about.

In the Urban Outfitters example, the offer is the discount. The only action the site visitor needs to take is to shop. Depending on your business, your offer might require someone to fill out a form. The key is getting people excited enough to take action.

Make sure your offers…

  • Are clearly stated. You don’t want people struggling to understand what you’re offering.
  • Are exciting. Think about what your target audience wants.
  • Deliver the value they promise. Think how disappointed Urban Outfitters’ clientele would be if they saw this offer, but then discovered it only applied to five products, four of which were already sold out. You need to make sure you deliver on whatever it is you’re offering. This helps develop trust.

3. Make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for. We love how clean the website navigation is. Look at the screen shot below.

marketing case study: urban ouftitters

But wait—now look at the drop-down menus, specifically the product that’s being promoted on the right (the tote bag). That’s a brilliant use of space, and it’s showing that the people behind this company “get” how people shop: people love eye candy.

marketing case study: urban oufitters

Takeaway for small businesses. We know that not everyone reading this is a clothing retailer, and even if you are, you don’t have the marketing budget that a company like Urban Outfitters has, but that’s OK. The key is creating a website browsing experience that makes sense to your site visitors (whether you’re b2b or b2c).

There are two smart things you can do RIGHT NOW to understand if your site visitors are following the paths you’d like them to take:

  • Dig into Google Analytics (you DO have it set-up, right? If not, read this post about why you should). Check out the paths and flows that site visitors are taking. Any surprises? Are people bouncing off where they should be converting? If yes, review the pages and see if you can figure out why. Is the page confusing? Boring? Does it have an offer? Does it indicate where people should go next?
  • Conduct some usability testing. A quality, affordable service is UserTesting.com.

Once you get the results, you can make some informed decisions on what changes and tweaks (if any) you need to make to your site.

4. Keep it real and be timely. Or should we say, “Creep it Real”? We captured this screen shot at the end of September, which goes to show that Urban Outfitters is not afraid to change up its navigation when there’s something lively or current to promote. What’s cool about this—aside from it being so visually interesting…you just HAVE to click—is that if Urban Outfitters does these sort of “change-ups” enough, customers will come to expect and look forward to them, knowing that the next time they visit the site, there will be something new.

marketing case study: urban outfitters

Takeaway for small businesses. Your website should evolve with your business. Treat it like the living, breathing thing it should be. Add new content (a blog is a great way to do this), freshen up the home page every now and then, and/or highlight something current that’s related to your industry. And have some fun with your visual treatments (yes, even if you’re in a more staid profession, like financial services, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun).

5. Go beyond what you “do.” So if I said to you, “What does Urban Outfitters do?” You probably would say something like, “They sell clothes.” And you’d be right (they also have a line for apartments, too). So, knowing that, you’d probably expect to find clothes, clothes, clothes all over the website. And the thing is, you WILL find clothes. But Urban Outfitters goes way beyond clothes. It creates a true shopping experience, thanks to all the awesome content it offers.

Below is a screen shot of the page you land on when you click on “Blog” from the navigation. Yes, it’s busy and there’s A LOT to take in, but that’s what makes it so great. It invites visitors to linger, to click through, and to engage with the brand in a much, much deeper way. No wonder Urban Outfitters scored the biggest web jump!

marketing case study: urban outfitters

Takeaway for small businesses. Think beyond your core products and services. Think about ways to surprise site visitors (in a good way, of course) with content they can engage with, share, and remember.

For example, maybe you’re an accountant. You might think an accountant’s website would be pretty vanilla, right? Well, why not have a feature called “The Way Back Calculator” and highlight the different types of calculators that have been around since calculators were invented. You could even run a contest where people send in pics (or post them somewhere, like Facebook) of calculators. Whoever has the most ancient-looking one wins a prize. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s good silly and it DOES relate to the business since the accountant’s job is all about calculating numbers. (And we bet people are much more likely to remember The Way Back Calculator from Joe Smith, CPA, rather than a list of services.)

What do you think of Urban Outfitters? Do you like the website? What strategies might you borrow for your own site? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Erica Conley-Komoroske

About Erica Conley-Komoroske

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This entry was posted in Branding, Case Studies, content marketing, Small Business Marketing, Small Business Resource and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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