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Fender Breaks Ecommerce Records with ‘Play Through’ Online Music Lessons

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Despite the turmoil COVID-19 has caused for the retail industry, brands across many categories have found innovative ways to stay connected to their communities and continue to generate business revenue, especially through ecommerce.

Instrument maker Fender, for example, wanted to find a way to keep consumers engaged despite its dealer network being disrupted by store closures. A staggering 90% of Fender dealers shuttered in March during the peak of COVID-19 lockdowns.

As households sheltered in place, Fender encouraged them to learn a new musical skill by rolling out a three-month giveaway of free lessons, available through its online learning app Fender Play. The initiative, called “Play Through,” has not only helped bolster its online learning community but also has driven tangible results for the business.

Initially offered as a gesture of goodwill, demand for the lessons skyrocketed, said Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. Initially capping the giveaway to the first 1,000 consumers, “we extended the offer to 500,000 a few days later and ultimately had 930,000 players using Fender Play,” he noted.

Consumers who took advantage of the giveaway were largely first-time players who bought guitars and amps across Fender’s global dealer network, fueling even higher sales. “Fender will now have the greatest sales year in the history of our company,” said Mooney. “I never would have predicted that in the middle of March when lockdowns began.” 

The user base of Fender Play has grown fivefold during the pandemic, from more than 150,000 people in March to nearly one million to date. “Play Through” also has helped the brand reach a larger, more diverse audience, Mooney reported:

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  • Gender: The gender balance on the app went from 70% male/30% female to 55% male/45% female.
  • Age: As of June 2020, 18% of the app’s new users are aged between 18 to 24 and 70% are under the age of 45, a significant shift from the previous user base of adults between 55 and 64 years old.
  • Location: Fender Play reached 10% more users outside the U.S. than before March 2020.  

Tmall Helps Accelerate Ecommerce Growth and Innovation

In addition to bolstering its Fender Play community, Fender fast-tracked its ecommerce optimization. When the pandemic hit, the company prioritized ecommerce infrastructure and experience; now, 70% of its business worldwide takes place online.

“We’re fortunate to have a strong ecommerce infrastructure, from our commerce platform to our global fulfillment operations,” said Mooney. “We already had plans to grow our ecommerce direct-to-consumer business before the beginning of the COVID pandemic, but we had no idea it would happen so quickly. While not without challenges, with those plans for growth we were prepared to handle the influx of new customers to our direct-to-consumer business.”

China has been a crucial market for Fender’s ecommerce business, which is prioritizing its Tmall presence. Since its launch in November 2018, Fender has doubled its Tmall sales year-over-year, and the digital storefront is on track to represent more than 10% of the company’s overall business in China. Between January and July alone, sales increased by more than 50%.

With more than 800 million active users, Tmall not only offers Fender access to a significant pool of potential customers, but also the opportunity to customize its brand experience, according to Edward “Bud” Cole, Fender’s president of Asia.

“The very nature of offline dealers means that not every dealer will want to participate in every product launch or marketing initiative, but the Tmall store is under our direct management,” Cole explained. “In line with our mission and in the store itself, we have complete flexibility to customize our look and our messaging to connect with different players at different stages of their musical journey.” For example, Fender can spotlight famous female guitarists on the Chinese holiday “Women’s Day,” or promote guitars as a school instrument during the back-to-school season.

Chinese consumers are “every bit as curious, as aspirational, and as demanding as consumers in any market,” Cole noted. However, these consumers are “completely comfortable buying online and 100% trust the Tmall platform.” That’s the reason Fender is creating ways for Tmall shoppers to have a high-touch and exclusive experience on the platform. For example, Fender will soon offer a limited range of high-end bespoke products from its Custom Shop line, which previously was only available in certain stores. This line will add to its already exclusive assortment, which includes an expanded range of limited editions, artist models and Fender Made in Japan Guitars & Basses, which will be exclusive to Tmall in the future.

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