Business challenge

As its click-and-collect and online businesses went from strength to strength, The Works saw an opportunity to use personalized marketing to drive even deeper customer engagement—but how?


The Works uses IBM Watson Campaign Automation to identify individual customer preferences and reach out with highly relevant messages, offers and promotions at speed and scale.


41% increase

in online sales thanks to targeted email campaigns

16% boost

in click-through rates by sharing relevant content

Lifts revenues

attributed to the digital channel, contributing to continued growth

Business challenge story

Building customer engagement

Consumers have more choice than ever around when and how they shop—and for bricks-and-mortar businesses, adding new channels can be vital to compete. The Works, the UK’s leading value retail chain, knows first-hand that offering customers the flexibility to shop on their own terms is a powerful strategy for growth.

Simon Joseph, Multi-Channel Director at The Works, begins: “Over the past few years, we’ve seen significant changes in shopper missions. To capitalize on the rising popularity of digital fulfillment models, we saw an opportunity to do something unique in the UK’s value retail space at the time: empower customers to buy online for home delivery or collection in-store.”

For a number of years, The Works has relied on IBM WebSphere® Commerce to deliver seamless e-commerce experiences to customers across the UK, including an innovative click-and-collect service. The digital channel is now an integral part of company’s long-term growth strategy, which also includes opening 50 new retail stores per year across the country.

“Our business has been going from strength to strength, and we recently became a publicly traded company,” continues Joseph. “As we continue to expand our retail footprint, customer engagement is crucial—both to drive footfall to our bricks-and-mortar stores and to attract incremental revenues through our e-commerce site.”

In the past, The Works relied on manual processes to build and launch email campaigns to its customers. Because of the amount of time required to create campaigns, the company was limited to generic messages. The Works was confident that increasing the personalization of its outreach would spark customer attention and drive engagement—but its previous email marketing platform made it difficult to deliver dynamic content.

Engagement is a key pillar of our expansion strategy, and thanks to IBM Watson Campaign Automation we can share relevant, compelling content with every customer.

Simon Joseph, Multi-Channel Director, The Works

Transformation story

Segmenting based on behavior

To enhance its digital marketing capabilities, The Works selected IBM Watson Campaign Automation—putting personalized, multi-wave email campaigns at its marketers’ fingertips for the first time.

“One aspect of the IBM offering that impressed us most was the support,” Joseph continues. “We knew from our experience with IBM WebSphere Commerce that IBM had the skilled resources we needed to get the most from our investment.”

Elizabeth McNab, Email and Social Marketing Manager at The Works, adds: “From a marketing technology perspective, IBM Watson Campaign Automation out-performed the other solutions we considered. We saw a great deal of value in the ability to segment our customers based on browsing behavior data from our website, and to optimize our messages for mobile platforms. IBM Watson Campaign Automation also makes it easy to integrate data from third-party platforms, which enables us to harness data from our customer loyalty system.”

Today, The Works uses IBM Watson Campaign Automation to segment its customers based on their browsing behavior and purchasing histories, and reach out with relevant content, offers and promotions. 

“As a multi-channel business, we need to find innovative ways to talk to all our customers—not just our online shoppers,” says Joseph. “Today, any in-store customers who register for a loyalty card are given the opportunity to opt in to communications from our IBM Watson Campaign Automation database. By taking a more proactive approach to data collection, we are gaining deeper insights into individual customer profiles, which helps us shape more compelling messages.”

The Works can now use AI-powered analytics in IBM Watson Campaign Automation to visualize how customers are reacting to its emails and identify opportunities to enhance future campaigns.

“In the past, we had no straightforward way to determine what was working well in our campaigns and what wasn’t—but now, that’s all changed,” comments McNab. “With click-through heatmaps in IBM Watson Campaign Automation, we can clearly see which parts of our emails are attracting the most attention—and we’ve already started making changes as a result. For example, we recently saw that toy promotions with GIF animations had significantly higher engagement than those with static images. By feeding this insight back to our designers, we’ve seen a significant boost in click-through rates for these campaigns.”

The Works has also seen success using the Watson Marketing Assistant capability of IBM Watson Campaign Automation. An early adopter of the solution, The Works has now trained the assistant in its internal terminology and uses it on a weekly basis to prepare customer engagement metrics for the company’s board of directors.

Results story

Driving business growth

With IBM Watson Campaign Automation driving its digital engagement strategy, The Works is attracting increased footfall to its stores and more visitors to its e-commerce site—supporting its year-on-year revenue growth.

“In the past, we lacked the agility to innovate our approach to digital engagement, but IBM Watson Campaign Automation has introduced the speed and flexibility we need to move toward one-to-one marketing,” continues Joseph. “We can now support a comprehensive range of targeted email campaigns, ranging from store-specific offers to online-only promotions. And even though we’ve stepped up the frequency of our communications, our unsubscribe rates are extremely low—demonstrating the value customers see in relevant content. In fact, since we went live we’ve seen an average increase of 3.4 percent in email open rates and a 16 percent rise in click-through rates, contributing to a 41 percent uplift in online sales.”

Alex Beard, Digital Product Marketing Manager, at The Works, comments: “Because we’ve cut out many of the manual processes involved in building campaigns, we have more time to invest in innovative projects. For example, during the 2018 World Cup we turned an England game into an opportunity to engage with our customers by preparing two different messages to share based on the outcome of the game. This campaign was a first-of-its-kind for us, and the response from our customers was extremely positive.”

The Works is using digital marketing to support a new bricks-and-mortar venture: an arts and craft brand called The Craft Works.

“We’re piloting a new store format specializing in arts and crafts materials, and IBM Watson Campaign Automation is enabling us to build targeted unique campaigns and newsletters that speak to this segment of our customer base,” explains McNab. “Although the project is in an early phase, we’re already seeing very positive results around digital engagement. And because we can now target customers so precisely, we’re seeing increased interest in email from teams across the business.”

As it moves ahead with its growth strategy, The Works plans to build on its success with the IBM platform.

“Looking to the future, we’re interested to explore the potential of AI-powered solutions such as IBM Watson to enhance our decision-making—for example, by creating predictive models for customer churn,” concludes McNab. “Engagement is a key pillar of our expansion strategy, and thanks to IBM Watson Campaign Automation we can share relevant, compelling content with every customer.”

The Works logo

The Works

Britain's leading discount high-street store, The Works offers a wide range of quality books, toys, arts and craft, gifts and more. With 450 stores throughout the UK and Ireland, The Works was founded in 1981 and is headquartered in Birmingham, England.

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