CHICAGO — Retailers are finding new ways to leverage their customer databases to change shoppers’ behaviors or just understand existing habits so they can refine the merchandise mix.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Tesco, the U.K. behemoth whose Clubcard loyalty initiative helped the food retailer double market share from 16 to 35 percent, is using the program to nudge shoppers toward environmentally responsible behavior.

Shoppers who reuse bags to carry groceries, rather than use new plastic bags, earn Clubcard points that can be redeemed at Tesco and other stores.

In nine months’ time, that incentive reduced the number of new plastic bags that would have ended up in a landfill by one billion, said Terry Hunt, chairman of London direct marketing agency EHS Brann. Hunt, who helped mastermind the Clubcard launch 13 years ago, said Tesco is beginning to reward shoppers with redeemable points for recycling cell phones and printer ink-jet cartridges.

Hunt outlined Tesco’s loyalty card program here last week during the National Retail Federation’s Retail Advertising Conference.

At Banana Republic, the shopper database is sifted to find the most profitable and brand-loyal consumers who make up an “insiders panel” that is polled regularly. The national panel of 10,000 consumers provides regular feedback in various ways, such as uploading photos of themselves wearing Banana Republic outfits, apparel fit testing and focus groups conducted around the country.

Tamra Krefman, manager of consumer strategy at Banana Republic, told the conference the qualitative research yields unique and nonintuitive insights into the brand and its most loyal following. For instance, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are the celebrities shoppers most associate with the Banana Republic brand. Also, Krefman added, panel research revealed the majority of male consumers prefer boxer briefs over other innerwear choices.

Krefman said the panel is a cost-efficient way to get feedback fast.

“It’s about coming up with a quick and flexible way to do research,” she said. “If there is a decision that needs to be made soon, we can easily put together a survey, throw it out to our panel and get responses within a few days.”

The consumer strategy team then synthesizes the consumer feedback data with other research sources and develops a “point of view” memo for various Banana Republic departments including design, product development, advertising, merchandising and marketing.

Loehmann’s is exploiting customer data to help merchants plan and allocate merchandise at the store level more intelligently, said Mara Kelly, vice president of database marketing. She spoke at a session along with Jan Cantler, director of database and customer relationship management at Brooks Brothers.

Cantler also shared customer data insights with planning and allocation executives as well as real estate, finance, advertising, store operations and merchandising. “I am reaching out to every functional area of the organization I can, just starting with small conversations to say, ‘What myths, theories, known facts do you have that I can prove or disprove that will help you understand your business and what you need to do?'” she said.