Driving new customer acquisition with a data-led strategy for Very.co.uk

Shop Direct Case Study



Shop Direct is the UK’s second largest pureplay online retailer, with annual sales of more than £1.8 billion. Its digital department store brands Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com and VeryExclusive.co.uk receive over 1.2 million website visits every day and Very.co.uk is now a £850 million brand.

Shop Direct exists to ‘make good things easily accessible to more people’. With its department store range, leading ecommerce and technology capabilities, and unique financial services offer, it is well placed to deliver on that promise.

Core to delivering on this purpose is the acquisition of new customers. As Shop Direct has transformed from a catalogue business into a digital retailer, using digital channels has become ever more important. However, while Shop Direct has used display advertising successfully to drive sales from existing customers, driving new customers through this medium has been challenging.


The Challenge

Shop Direct partnered with specialist programmatic agency, Infectious Media, to develop its advertising strategy for Very.co.uk. It told Infectious Media that it wanted to use programmatic display advertising to drive new customer acquisition in general, with new customers purchasing on credit being the priority. Shop Direct wanted to acquire these new customers at an ambitious Cost per Acquisition (CPA) and wanted to learn about its customers and advertising so it could enhance its strategy over time.



Shop Direct has a relatively rare advantage over other retailers: it has an extremely clear understanding of Very’s bullseye target customer, known as ‘Miss Very’:

  • Female
  • Aged 25-44
  • An ‘aspirer’ in the socio-demographic group C2DE.
  • Probably has a family
  • Open to making purchases on credit
  • On average, touches her phone 221 times each day

pexels-photo (6)

The challenge for Infectious Media was to accurately find this audience and target them efficiently to create new customers.


Step 1 – Exclude the existing customers

In order to only target new customers Infectious Media needed to make sure they could detect existing customers and not serve adverts to them. Dropping exclusion pixels on Very’s website and in its CRM emails enabled Infectious Media’s technology to know not to show advertising to these customers. This crucial initial step ensured budget was not being used on existing customers.


Step 2 – Honing in on ‘Miss Very’

Infectious Media used four key techniques to hone in on ‘Miss Very’:

  • Infectious Media used a mixture of third party data to be confident that it was not targeting users who were unlikely to ever become a Very customer.


  • Because Infectious Media’s DSP technology can access granular, log-level data from its activity, it was able to discover the every touchpoint Shop Direct had with a user before they converted. This technique, known as ‘upstream analysis’, allowed Infectious Media to see which websites generated the best performance. It could then build a comprehensive whitelist backed by relevant data to target those users most likely to convert.


  • From this, Infectious Media created Private Marketplace (PMP) deals with 136 publishers to provide more access to this audience. These included websites such as Heat, Grazia Daily, and Stylist.co.uk.


  • Through the same process of accessing the granular data of converters, Infectious Media leveraged Lotame’s Data Management Platform to create lookalike audiences. This allowed Very to search for non-customers who share similar traits to their existing customers’ previous online behaviour.


“Once we started to get some of the data back from each of these strategies, we were able to then start to blend them together. For example, we could look at specific Experian data segments who were then found on some of the PMP deals. By blending them together we could get the best of both worlds.”

Chris Howard, Head of Digital, Shop Direct, speaking at the IAB RTA Conference in 2016


Step 3 – Right place, right time, right message

Throughout the campaign, Infectious Media looked at the characteristics of those that had converted. From this, Infectious Media could use its programmatic technology to optimise the campaign to improve targeting and performance:



Performance on mobile outperformed desktop and mobile in both share of conversions, and CPA.



Analysis showed that that users targeted during weekday evenings and throughout Friday and Sunday tended to convert more than users targeted at other times.



By breaking down (by device) how each message performed, Infectious Media could see that desktop converters preferred more expensive products such as electricals, whereas party wear shoppers would be 3x more likely to do so on mobile.


Shop Direct Creative


From these insights, Infectious Media could focus more on the best performing features of the strategy to target users more efficiently.


Step 4 – In the moment

Infectious Media co-ordinated Very’s programmatic advertising with its TV ad-schedule. Using technology by TVTY, display advertising could be triggered when a Very advert appeared on television. The same creative message would be seen in ads online within a second of the TV ad appearing on-screen. This helped take advantage of the TV ad exposure with an audience that was often dual-screening on an additional device.



Between July and October, Very delivered 91.5m impressions to users that were not existing customers but matched the characteristics of Shop Direct’s core ‘Miss Very’ audience. They also were users who were open and able to purchase on credit.


Incremental new customer CPA was consistently outperforming the target by 40%, with new credit customer CPA outperforming the target by an impressive 50%. Shop Direct’s programmatic strategy has so far brought nearly 10K new, incremental customers to its Very brand.


“It is crucially important for Shop Direct to be only reaching the ‘Miss Very’ audience to make our ad spend as efficient as possible. Infectious Media’s strong grasp of how data can be used to target users has successfully helped to identify new customers online whilst performing well under the CPA target.”

Chris Howard