Susan Sanderson will be the first to tell you that she loves a blank sheet of paper. Perhaps, she was born to be a marketer, retail brand storyteller, and experience transformer. Her father was a creative director at an ad agency, which inspired her passion for the field and ingrained an innate enthusiasm for marketing, branding, and creativity. In fact, for the past twenty-five years, Sanderson has helped develop branded communications and experiences across a myriad of channels and strategies for retailers such as Target, Meijer, and Walgreens.
As the senior vice president, chief brand and customer experience officer for The Vitamin Shoppe, Sanderson has paired her branding skill set with her transformative drive to focus the organization on helping guide customers through their health and wellness journey in the modern retail landscape.
“My biggest mandate is to make sure all of our work aligns with customer needs and tells a cohesive story about our brand,” Sanderson explains. “Working with massive blue-chip corporate companies, I have learned how critical brand-equity management is in building business momentum.” Within the multiplatform reality of social media, brand equity is more significant, she adds.
The digital marketplace is a new moment for the industry, one Sanderson is quite cognizant of. “This is an exciting time for retailers because, now more than ever, we have the ability to deliver branded experiences in ways we could not have imagined a few short years ago,” Sanderson says. “The Vitamin Shoppe is taking a leadership position in using the digital experience to extend and simplify the purchase journey.”
Within this new realm of branded customer experiences, Sanderson and her team are changing the ways in which the company goes to market and how interactions take place with customers. What was once a transactional approach to customer engagement has now evolved to an engagement model, where the focus is on building strong, trusted, long-term relationships. Retail may be evolving in today’s massive technology landscape, but customers still want human interaction that demonstrates a level of care and inspiration—especially when it comes to the vast amount of nutritional supplements and wellness products that The Vitamin Shoppe offers.
This humanizing approach has been ingrained in the company since Sanderson joined in 2015. Now, she’s using a management style that resembles The Vitamin Shoppe’s product offerings in that it helps her teams reach their full potential and best selves with trusted expertise and care. She views her role, in a sense, as a combination of change agent, brand ambassador, and integrator, while continuing to keep The Vitamin Shoppe focused on customers. “My team and I ensure that the customer is at the heart of everything we do,” she says.
Although efforts in customer focus represented a shift for the company, her team discovered a helping hand in the form of customer purchase data from their loyalty program—Healthy Awards—of which 90 percent of its sales are derived. Sanderson and her team then began working on attitudinal and behavioral segmentation, which are methods that separate customers by their shared attitudes and patterns of behavior that they demonstrate when making purchasing decisions, respectively. “The intersection of those two methods gave us a multidimensional view of customer needs,” Sanderson explains.
After gaining that perspective, The Vitamin Shoppe had the customer knowledge to personalize the shopping experience for each customer. As a result, customers are seeing a level of human care that transcends data and creates outstanding products. “We want our customers to leave our stores—or websites or any other interaction—knowing that we care about them and will help them on their journey to their best self,” Sanderson says.
From there, Sanderson and The Vitamin Shoppe expanded their scope toward content, as well as their digital and store propositions, where they found disconnects that would need to be solved. “We’ve spent the last year lining up the customer decision journey against the knowledge we have and ensuring that it was seamless and frictionless,” she says. “We need to show up consistently for our customer in every channel.”
Although the physical stores acted well as a manifestation of the brand, Sanderson found that operating digital- and mobile-first needed to be fully built out to meet the customers where they wanted to be. Moreover, the segmentation found a vast differentiation among customers, so they needed to think through each segment’s journey and optimize it for a variety of platforms and devices.
By following the customer-decision journey that they had developed and building that trusted relationship, Sanderson and the team learned that some customers solely wanted to buy in-store, some online, and some on a mobile app. But many, she says, would transact in multiple ways. “We learned we needed to create synergies between them to make it a completely seamless experience that they could ultimately choose,” she says. “If we want customers to thrive every day, then our stores need to be inspiring, but we also need to be able to do the same thing in a digital experience.”
Another new development to ease customers’ experience involved redesigning The Vitamin Shoppe’s website. Beyond merely making the site optimized for mobile, the new design integrates educational content and commerce while making it easier to navigate. In addition to improved functionality on the website, a newly developed mobile app offers the ability to make purchases and manage Healthy Awards loyalty points.
Customers can also receive all of their vitamins and supplements via a new subscription model, SPARK Auto Delivery, an innovation launched thanks to the new understanding of customer needs and buying behaviors. Easy Reorder is another option that automates the reordering proposal to customers when they should be low on, for example, a thirty-day supply of vitamins. These enhanced experiences serve as more tools for The Vitamin Shoppe to make personal connections with customers and establish a level of care and inspiration.
“It makes it easier for customers to stay on track with their health and wellness goals,” Sanderson says. “A segment of our transactions tends to be replenishment, so we can make that an easier experience for repeat customers, as well as gain more of their share of wallet.”
These innovations may be new, but The Vitamin Shoppe’s unwavering mission has been clear since its inception forty years ago: to be a trusted guide and expert to customers on their journey to wellness. To this day, The Vitamin Shoppe continues to share that same passion for which it was built upon, thanks to its Health Enthusiasts and leaders such as Sanderson who are dedicated to solidifying the company’s position as a leading omnichannel lifestyle destination and wellness authority.
“You can buy vitamins anywhere, but what you can’t get is expertise, community, inspiration, and a support system to help you achieve your health and wellness goals,” Sanderson says. “That’s what our customers are getting when they step into our stores, visit our website, and engage with our Health Enthusiasts. Although our work in enhancing our in-store and digital experience is never done, I am proud of what our team has accomplished thus far and look forward to continuing to reinvent those experiences in the spirit of our customers.”
Olson 1to1 congratulates Susan Sanderson-Briggs for the recognition of her hard work at The Vitamin Shoppe, and we’re proud to partner with her and her team. As a Leader in Loyalty and CRM with extensive retail expertise, it’s been an honor to work with someone of Susan’s caliber and track record. We look forward to continuing the journey together.