Greg Robin Insights

Promotional Index Launch

With more than 6 years of historical data tracking email promotional activity from nearly 300 consumer brands we are excited to launch our first data product!

This fall select clients can access structured weekly data for this first time.

Investors will be able to quantify and help answer the following:

  • Changes in campaign frequency
    • Did a brand run more marketing campaigns in order to drive sales?
    • Did a brand reduce campaigns as demand increases?
  • Growth in customer and lead lists
    • Has a business grown its lead list?
  • Intensity of promotional offers and discounts
    • Did the size of discount increase as a seasonal sale progressed?
    • Did the coupon specify a higher discount than prior periods?
  • Changes in promoted products
    • Are there changes in which products are being discounted?
  • Changes in targeting strategy
    • Is a brand struggling to hit sales quotas engaging in more “blasts” to its entire list?
Compare current promotional cadence with prior periods

AEO, ANF, GES: Promotional Ensemble Reveals Sharp Decline in Discounting

Our promotional email ensemble helped investors better understand and quantify the magnitude of changes in the intensity and aggressiveness that apparel brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), American Eagle (AE) and Guess (GES) are sending. As weather has warmed, our promotional ensemble reveals robust demand growth as consumers previously stuck at home load up on “going out” summer apparel.

Our promotional ensemble quantifies the changes such as key declines in the volume of email campaigns, the distribution discounts offered.

ANF: 93% decline in discounting email volume this May
Significant Promotion heat map measures changes weekly

Successfully channelling rebounding demand for swimwear, AEO’s Aerie has further throttled back its promotions.

Our tracking on an sector basis reveals AEO has become one of the least aggressive promotors compared with its peers compared with just a year ago.

For Guess, our email intelligence allows investors to quantify the exact campaign frequency and intensity. As can be seen below, Guess is pushing out significant promotions and discount coupons much less frequently than a year ago as organic demand has rebounded.

Random Walk Email Intelligence: Inflections Identified EBAY, ETSY

EBAY: More aggressive discounts in certain product categories

Our email intelligence uncovered a subtle, but critical change in the email sending patterns of EBAY.

During COVID as demand had risen to unprecedented levels, EBAY throttled back the frequency and intensity of their email campaigns and discounting.  However, this March our proprietary systems detected a reversal, with EBAY ramping up a specific type of email campaign containing discounting language unseen before.  As management began to see COVID demand wane, they began using steeper promotional language in specific product categories.  We identified this and warned our clients.  In ETSY our tracking of order confirmation volumes showed a significant sequential slowdown in April. 

Our ensemble has detected incredible, all-time high demand for car rentals(CAR) this spring as locked up Americans return to travel.  This has resulted in less time and interest than a year ago for stocking up the home on small electronics(BBY), home décor (BBBY, ETSY), at home fitness (NLS).   

Consumers go outside as garages overflow with kettlebells & stationary bikes

AEO, CWH ELY, LE, NLS, PTON, SEAS, SEAS

To start April our email intelligence is indicating potentially significant changes in consumer shopping behavior. Temperatures are warming, and coincident with a COVID positivity rate in California sinking to 1.5% the state is relaxing restrictions and Americans are looking to get out.

Our ensemble indicates sharp decelerations in ‘garage’ fitness equipment such as Bowflex, Nautilus and even Peloton. Have we finally maxed out our kettlebell collections? Our email intelligence tracking various order confirmations shows volumes near 6 month lows.

On the positive side, our email intelligence tracking ticket confirmations indicates the broader reopening of Sea World and Magic Mountain has generated explosive demand in getting out to the theme parks.

Our ‘Spotlight’ report focuses on identifying the bullish combination of declining promotional email activity coupled with rising organic online traffic. The names with the biggest strength share a common threat of getting outside. These include: AEO’s swimsuit line Aerie, ELY and Calloway’s new ‘Epic’ drivers and irons, LE with Land’s End outerwear and swim and CWH camping gear.

Spotlight: Bullish quadrant of declining email promotions and exploding organic online engagement

GameStop (GME) Squeeze: Proves demand for online “games” strong, not brick and mortar stores.

In the COVID era Americans are spending more time indoors hovering over their laptops, ipads, iphones looking for entertainment. With only so much Netflix (NFLX) content available for binging, consumers are ramping their COD, GTA and other gaming activity. The recent Reddit GME casino hysteria perhaps the most intense form of “online gaming” seen in history.

Using our proprietary email intelligence, we investigated whether there was any evidence of actual demand increases for the stale brick and mortars dinosaur GameStop.

Below our promotional ensemble quantifies exactly how desperate GameStop was in attempting to generate sales surrounding the critical holiday period. Compared with a year ago incentive email offers have risen an astounding 1300%. Also alarming, is our classification has tagged substantially more steep discounts than a year ago. Upon closer inspection these are from increasing coupons such as “up to 50% off games”, “$40 off used games”. Increasing discounts for core product offering bode poorly for demand.

Often times with the focus on online, management teams are shifting sales from in-store to online in an effort to show evolution. However, our promotional data reveals much of this increased e-commerce activity is from pushing out steep , never seen before discounts to their existing customer base.

DOCU, WIX, FVRR, UPWK: Unique Data Sets Uncover Secular Changes before the Street

Tracking New Customer Acquisition: 2020 was our most successful year in uncovering demand changes undetected by ‘big data’ credit card and transactional sellers. As COVID forced Americans inside, consumers discovered existing virtual solutions were superior to legacy in person dependent platforms.

For Docusign (DOCU), Fiverr (FVRR), Upwork (UPWK), Wix (WIX) our email intelligence captured exponential explosive growth in new customer acquisitions a full quarter ahead of pricy ‘big data’ transactional providers. By focusing on unique leading indicators such as “Welcome to Docusign” and “Your Wix site is published” instead of chasing coincident revenue proxies such as receipts we provided our investor subscriber parters a big jump on their competition. Docusign (DOCU) shares have appreciated more than 150% since growth in consumers receiving these confirmations triggered our identification in MARCH. Similarly, our methodology identified Upwork(UPWK) to start May with shares quadrupling.

If consumer preferences changes again as Americans leave their homes our investor partners will be the first to know.

ABNB, BKNG, EXPE: Travel bookings returning as vaccine rolls out?

EXPE- Hotels.com email booking confirmations fail to stabilize into 2021.

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The Promotional Spotlight:

We recently made substantial upgrades to our email categorization system. As as result of this, we can now better understand which brands and businesses are changing how they communicate with consumers and leads.

Our weekly ‘Promotional Spotlight’ report highlights the brands whose discounting and promotional activity have diverged the most since the prior year. We can provide custom analysis for investors in brands of interest. Which brands increased their steep discounts? Which brands are sending their seasonal sale related email offers more frequently? Are brands slowing their sending pace based on strong demand.

90% Returns: Random Walk Portfolio Utilizing Promotional Intelligence Outperforms Benchmark

Random Walk partnered with Lucena Research to better understand the impact of email intelligence on share prices.

Lucena Research conducted a robust nearly 3 year backtest comparing the retail benchmark (XRT) with Random Walk’s(RW) proprietary methodology measuring email promotional aggressiveness. While the XRT returns were nearly flat, the RW portfolio generated 90% returns.

The RW Model uses Lucena’s machine learning to incorporate RW factors such as declines in promotional activity, compares steep discounting email volumes and overall promotional email volumes to determine portfolio constituents.

Here is how the Backtest works:

  • Each day in backtesting the period from Dec 30, 2016 to July 23, 2019 we scan the Random Walk Universe (about 150 consumer stocks) for constituents that match the criteria for a long entry, which is determined during the training period from July 1, 2015 to December 12, 2016 using Lucena’s proprietary Machine Learning Algorithms.
  • The long position is held as long as the model tells us to.
  • The minimum value for allocation of each constituent is 5% and max value is 25% of the portfolio.
  • Transaction cost and slippage are considered in this backtest.

Intuitive analysis of the signals generating events:

A long event is selected when:

  • 12 week moving average of emails sent after log normalization and ranking against peers with discount percentage of 51- 100% is lower than 0.25 or in simpler terms when the number of emails sent in higher discount category of 51-100% is less over the previous 12 weeks as compared to other consumer brands.
  • 18 week moving average of projected total volume of emails sent after log normalization and ranking against peers is higher or >0.75, or in simpler terms, when larger numbers of emails are being sent by the company over the previous 18 weeks compared to other consumer brands.
  • Ratio of Trailing Twelve Month Earnings to Market Cap ranked against Russell 1000 constituents is between 0.6 and 0.971.
  • Volatility over previous 252 days ranked against Russell 1000 constituents is between 0.02 to 0.6.

Transactional Data: Institutional Investors’ Fool’s Gold

Why Credit Card Data Fails

Big data in investing is here and we are a part of it. However, some institutional investors are getting confused as to the end zone.

There are several expensive credit card transaction products that correlate well with coincident revenues some of the time. With Wall Street investors trained to drool at regressions, error bands and correlations, the allure that these products can do the decision making is appealing. While often accurate in predicting some component of revenues, this “data” approach has herded investors into a series of grossly inaccurate conclusions on consumer stocks in 2017.

To be specific, the largest big-data transaction vendors led investors right to slaughter in a wide range of mall based retailers this spring. Ironically, the data generally projected somewhat accurate revenues in names including JC Penny (JCP), Macy’s (M),  Foot Locker (FL), Michael Kors (KORS), Vitamin Shoppe(VSI) and several others. In summary, the transactional data indicated results were to be inline, an expensive and grossly wrong conclusion.

Why did this expensive credit card data fail miserably? Look how tight those error bands are! The transactional data provided no context into organic demand of these products. Credit card receipts did not factor in the desperation among retailers engaged in their steepest discounting in history. Share prices collapsed and investors overly focused on transactional data were left with a classic Pyrrhic victory, attempting to take solace with the mantra of “but we were right on revenues”.

Other times, the transactional data is correct most of the time when its business as usual, then misses the largest move because something unusual has occurred the sample did not detect. So investors are correct, when there is no money to be made, and wrong right when a business is about to be dramatically revalued due to a massive inflection in demand. Vitamin Shoppe (VSI) comes to mind in this scenario. The Random Walk ensemble captured the 50% plus collapse in business as customers migrated to Amazon and stopped by placebo pills altogether. Through a combination of click stream data, review volumes, email responses our more robust, less precise approach generated alpha for our clients.

In terms of risk reward, compounding the problem is the herding mechanism related to this mass consumption transactional data. Every highly transactional, well resourced hedge fund is viewing the identical data sets, yielding the same conclusion. This now incorrect herd exacerbates the share price collapse as panicked analysts- now uncommitted shareholders all attempt to rush through a tiny exit door at once.

In contrast, our more robust and diverse data ensemble can be less precise for coincident revenues, but more ACCURATE in predicting changes in consumer behavior that ultimately influence share price. Our view is that new customer acquisition volumes, organic demand for products and repeat customer frequency drive share price. These are the metrics we focus on predicting because the relate future growth. We don’t want to predict the present or past.

Our data ensemble detects Blue Apron giving away food to attempt to bring back past customers.