Not right now.

Role Reversal: Why Pure-Play Retailers are turning to Brick and Mortar to Engage Consumers

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 by

Piperlime, Birchbox, Warby Parker…What do all these pure-play retailers have in common? They are investing in brick-and-mortar stores.

Not too long ago, showrooming, the act of browsing in-store before purchasing online, was seen as a retailer’s worst nightmare. So much so that one brick-and-mortar retailer tried to charge customers for looking without the intent of making a purchase. But now online-only retailers are realizing the advantages of having a store presence. Blueport breaks down how brick-and-mortar stores have evolved to suit e-commerce and tips on how furniture retailers can stay ahead. 

Pure-Play Retailers Hop on the Brick-And-Mortar Bandwagon

Birchbox is the latest pure-play retailer to hop on the brick-and-mortar bandwagon. But instead of just adding another outlet to sell products, they are utilizing their store to engage shoppers and build a lasting relationship with them. The store will also utilize technology to create an engaging and memorable experience, such as allowing shoppers to look up product descriptions and reviews on iPads.    

So why are some retailers turning back to brick-and-mortar stores? Recent studies show an increase in webrooming, or the act of browsing online before purchasing in-store:

  • 78% of US shoppers engage in webrooming, compared with 72% who admitted to showrooming
  • Consumers increasingly expect consistency online and in-store when it comes to products available (51%), pricing (69%) as well as deals and special offers (57%)
  • 71% of consumers expect to view in-store inventory online

Whatever path shoppers take to make a purchase, it is clear that a combination of online and in-store shopping increases consideration and most likely conversion.

Omnichannel is Not Just About Stores and E-Commerce

While having a brick-and-mortar presence and an e-commerce website is a start, it doesn’t mean your business is omnichannel. Here are a few tips to help you get on the omnichannel track:

  1. Treat your stores as fulfillment centers. Location is key to speedy delivery and likely your stores are located in densely populated areas. Make your stores work harder for you by housing enough inventory in-store to make faster deliveries to your shoppers whether they purchase in-store or online. Allow the option of in-store pick-up and cross-store shipment and you’re golden.
  2. Give your shopper the ultimate in-store experience through customer service. Having a positive experience in-store will make shoppers more likely to visit you again on their digital devices, even after they shop around or don’t make a purchase with you right away.
  3. Sync up your delivery times, pricing and promotions everywhere. Shoppers have come to expect consistency in their desktop, tablet, mobile and in-store experiences. Make it easy for them to shop anywhere, on any device – the ability to do this is the true linchpin of what it means to be omnichannel.

In furniture, we know that stores still matter – they will never be replaced by technology and UPS because shoppers still like the store experience and to touch and feel before they buy. However, they also demand the convenience of shopping anywhere at any time. This is precisely why furniture incumbents are fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to enable a modern and engaging furniture shopping experience. By embracing both showrooming and webrooming, you’ll be well on your way to being at the forefront of furniture commerce.


About Blueport Commerce
Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

Three Ways To Bridge The Omnichannel Commerce Gap Between Consumers And Retailers

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 by

“To be omnichannel or not to be omnichannel?” Hate to say it, but that’s no longer the relevant question for retailers. (The answer, is "yes, of course" in case you were wondering.) The question is rather, “are you doing enough to allow for the (truly) omnichannel experience today’s consumers not only desire, but expect?” For most retailers, the answer is no. While making the transition to omnichannel can be difficult, it’s certainly a step most retailers have recognized as important.

So, how can you hop on the omnichannel bandwagon? Here are three tips for retailers to begin bridging the omnichannel gap.

The Consumer/Retailer “Omnichannel” Gap

While omnichannel is certainly a priority for the vast majority of retailers, only about a third of retailers have operationalized the basics consumers have come to expect (such as store pick-up, cross-channel inventory visibility, and store-based fulfillment). Why is that? Simply put, enabling an omnichannel experience is much easier said than done. The path to full synchronization of inventory across all channels requires a hefty investment of money, time, and resources. Technology upgrades, employee training, and even a change in organizational leadership remain barriers, preventing many companies from becoming fully omnichannel. As a result, only 6% of retailers surveyed for Forrester’s January 2014 report, Customer Desires Vs. Retailer Capabilities: Minding The Omni-Channel Commerce Gap*, report no significant barriers to becoming an integrated omnichannel company.

Three Tips To Bridge The Omnichannel Commerce Gap

1. If you have it, flaunt it. Don’t let the physical limits of your brick-and-mortar square footage limit your reach. 71% of consumers expect to view in-store inventory online. In fact, almost 40% of consumers are unlikely or very unlikely to visit a store if physical store inventory is not provided online. Blueport pushes the omnichannel envelope with Store-Sync, which mirrors inventory from anywhere on any device and shows you what’s available at a customer’s closest furniture store.

2. Enable store employees with mobile technology. Consumers have increasingly come to rely on mobile devices to aid their shopping experience, but 61% still value the assistance of an in-store sales associate. Furthermore, nearly 70% of consumers expect the sales associate to have a mobile device on them to – among other things – reference both in-store and online product information and view inventory across stores.

3. Allow consumers to “mix and match” purchase and delivery options. Buy online, pick up in-store. Buy in-store, ship to customer. Buy online, ship from local store. Browse, or shop from any device, anywhere. Just as today’s consumer is hopping back and forth across channels, they are expecting the same agility from retailers. One third of retailers currently utilize their stores as fulfillment and delivery hubs for online orders, and an additional 40% intend to do so within the next 1-2 years.

The shopping behavior of today’s consumer has hard-wired expectations for a seamless omnichannel experience, yet many retailers are falling short of delivering. Rather than playing a game of catch-up, retailers should be actively seizing the opportunity to ramp up channel integration.  

*Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Accenture and hybris software, November 2013


About Blueport Commerce

Blueport Commerce is the omnichannel solution for the $78B furniture industry. We marry retailers' bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology and unique marketing and sales solutions to create modern, efficient, easy shopping experiences. $6.3B in furniture retailers choose Blueport. For some retailers, Blueport's SaaS omnichannel platform powers their branded websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many retailers, we do both. Our technology is transforming furniture retail, for the 4% of sofas that sell online and the 96% that don't. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our available jobs on our careers page.

There’s Something In The Water At Furniture.com

Saturday, November 30, 2013 by

There’s a saying in Brooklyn, New York that Brooklyn bagels are the best because of their water. Well there is definitely something in the water here at Blueport Commerce. No, we don’t have better bagels. But we do have a vision for the future of Furniture e-commerce.  

Blueport Commerce has recently re-branded our in-house brand, Furniture.com. You may be thinking to yourself, “this is fantastic!” or, “hm, I didn’t even notice” or your feelings are somewhere in between. For us, it is a monumental step to greater things - A gateway to better serve our customers and how we will ratchet up the opportunity for selling furniture online in a big way. Intrigued yet? Here’s why you should be:

Tapping Into The Potential Of A Category-Killer URL

For years we’ve recognized the potential Furniture.com has as a domain and have invested a lot of time and effort in realizing that potential. The Furniture.com re-branding effort is only the beginning of the road to success, coming on the cusp of what is sure to be a promising season for e-commerce. We hope our new brand helps customers say to themselves “This is a place where I want to shop.”  Our customer is and will always be our focus, and it’s up to us to deliver on the promise of providing an exemplary experience for buying furniture online, unlike any retailer now and in the future.

Creating A Brand That Serves Our Customers Even Better

Now that we have a new brand to stand behind, we’re focusing our efforts on the entire site experience for our customers – this may mean simple changes to our checkout process to implementing new tools like augmented reality or completely reinventing the experience of shopping for furniture online. We want our customers to not only consider shopping with us, but love going to our website and buying the great products we sell.

(Really) Seizing The Opportunity To Sell Furniture Online

For large furniture retailers, Blueport Commerce offers something unique. We not only provide a full e-commerce solution, but also own and operate Furniture.com to give furniture retailers an opportunity to drive incremental sales online. We bring our experience and technology unique to furniture to create a targeted customer experience online. Our ability to tie-in our platform with even the oldest inventory systems allows for a seamless integration and an omnichannel customer experience. Retailers, in turn, bring their assets to bear in fulfillment. And, for our clients with branded sites on our platform, the stores are an integral part of doing business online. We love show-rooming for that reason. 

While our new brand is a monumental step, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what selling furniture online can offer. But the combination of our recent efforts and efforts over time will make the difference, so keep a close eye on us. With a little blood, sweat, tears, a solid model, and of course the water, you can be sure we will seize the billion dollar opportunity furniture e-commerce presents.


 

About Blueport Commerce

Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity.  We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores.  For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Translating Hockey Success to E-Commerce: How Canadian Retailers Can Beat Their US E-Commerce Counterparts

Saturday, May 25, 2013 by

 

Canadian Furniture E-CommerceFor years, Blueport has been following the fledgling and humble beginnings of e-commerce in Canada, as well as the rise of the connected Canadian consumer, making Canada seemingly the ideal destination for an imminent e-commerce shopping explosion. Yet despite all this promise, Canadian consumers’ needs aren’t being met, and thus they are finding the products they need elsewhere: across the Canadian-US border. Currently, 68 percent of the online shoppers surveyed said they have shopped at a web store based outside Canada.

Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon of Forrester Research reports in The State of Canadian Online Retail –  2013 that one of the biggest factors hurting Canadian retailers is their seeming disconnect between physical and digital retail; the lack of a true omnichannel organization.

The report (funded in part by Canada Post and Shop.ca) is based on surveys with 1,103 Canadian online shoppers and concludes that U.S. retailers are in a strong position to steal online revenue from Canadian retailers. Part of this is that many Canadian retailers currently don’t embrace the two key drivers critical to the omnichannel: customer-centricity in all forms of fulfillment and payments.

1. Mastering Shipping, Pick Up and Returns the Canadian Way

It is a myth that Canadians require free shipping – consumers from Canada are actually more concerned with flexible pickup options than expedited shipping. Canada Post, in a model similar to Amazon Locker, allows consumers to pick up their orders in different nearby locations, such as local pharmacies or convenience stores. And 57 percent of consumers polled said they would be somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if a Canada Post nearby pickup option wasn’t available, with 48 percent saying the same about an online retailer’s physical location.

Canadian shoppers are also adamant about their need to both buy and reserve online and pickup in-stores. In fact, 47 percent of those surveyed are somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they cannot buy online and pickup in store, and 40 percent said the same about reserving online and picking up and paying in store. Sites such as Best Buy® and Future Shop allow these options, and Future Shop even allows for pick up a mere twenty minutes after placing an order.

In the case of returns, 43 percent of Canadians demand free returns as a mandatory condition of shopping online. However this has been slow to catch on with Canadian retailers, and as a result, business is not booming, and Canadian dollars continue to get spent overseas – 25 percent of online spending by Canadians goes through international websites.

If US retailers in Canada and the Canadian Post can adjust to this customer-centric business model, Canadian retailers must adjust their shipping, pick up and returns policies to match.

2. Payments

In a positive trend, PayPal and Interac Online are getting adopted by more and more Canadian e-commerce retailers. However, retailers must remain flexible with regard to payment models, and offer more omnichannel payment methods. Of consumers polled, 52 percent were somewhat or very likely to abandon cart if they could not use a store gift card online, 41 percent felt the same about store credits and 37 percent felt similarly about loyalty points. The best thing Canadian retailers can do? Consider every payment option not enabled as lost revenue, and work to implement payment methods that work both online and in store.

Overall, The State of Canadian Online Retail - 2013, stresses the importance of all retailers offering an omnichannel experience – a seamless blend of physical and digital retail. However, progress is being made in the Canadian furniture world: many homegrown Canadian furniture retailers have the option to reserve online, as well as pay and pick up in a local store. Additionally, free shipping is offered once a furniture order reaches a certain minimum, though for big-ticket considered purchases, that minimum is harder to meet than for apparel. All are great starts – but for Canadian retailers to stand strong against foreign retailers, the focus needs to be on meeting their local consumers where they are – by being world-class, customer-centric organizations.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

About Blueport Commerce

With Blueport Commerce, furniture retailers can build an integrated, branded e-commerce platform online, elevating their brands and creating an ultimate online superstore. Blueport Commerce is the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture retail online. We serve the top furniture retail chains with billions in sales interested in selling furniture online. Blueport Commerce is a full-service solution that combines a decade of experience, innovative technology and customized marketing services to meet the unique, localized needs of furniture retail chains. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.

Key Insights on E-Commerce from Forrester’s The State of Retailing Online 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013 by

Blueport E-Commerce Forrester Report RetailBuy something online last year? You weren’t alone. According to The State of Retailing Online 2013: Key Metrics and Initiatives by Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research, overall growth for web retailers from 2011 to 2012 was 28%. We at Blueport Commerce are thrilled about the continuing trend of increasing e-commerce activity. Statistics from this report we found particularly salient include:

The Explosion of Mobile

Currently Forrester’s mobile forecast shows less than 5% of e-commerce sales coming from phones. However, of the retailers surveyed, smartphone year-on-year growth hit 129%, and tablet year-on-year growth hit 178%. And while the actual sales may not be there yet, as many consumers use their mobile devices to browse while in stores, mobile has a net positive impact on retailers’ conversion rates, as 36% reported that mobile sales and traffic aided their company’s overall web conversion rate.

Blueport’s takeaway: Retailers should be prepared to optimize for mobile and tablet traffic in order to improve conversion rates, both on the web and on mobile. 

The Need for Speed: Optimization

Retailers mentioned their top priorities in 2013 are improving their site’s conversion rates and redesigning their site experience, optimizing their site’s performance. The three top investment areas cited by retailers for long-term growth are site optimization (e.g. website redesign), mobile optimization and international growth (27%), with products and fulfillment to international markets, as well as localization and translation. Under the large category of site optimization, checkout and a responsive design framework were two sub-areas cited as needing improvement in 2013.

Blueport’s takeaway: Optimization boils down to a simple concept: what levers you can pull to make it as easy as possible for browsers to pull the trigger to become buyers. The need to reach consumers where they want and how they want is critical, and retailers should focus on ensuring all consumers’ browsing and buying needs are met with optimized site and mobile experiences.

The Exorbitant Cost of Marketing

Forrester previously found that web marketing usually consumes about 10% of a web retailer’s expenses. However, that figure is only increasing due to greater competition as email marketing continues to become harder to differentiate, SEO and SEM costs are skyrocketing, social media sites are now experimenting with paid models and there are additional costs associated with mobile marketing. Investment in the effort of organic SEO optimization is worthwhile given the ROI – it isn’t as exorbitantly expensive as Pay Per Click (PPC), and, done right, it can increase conversions. Additionally, the benefits of organic SEO last longer than PPC, whose impact goes away the second you cut off the funding.  

Retailers surveyed also noted that IT investments were the most critical for continued revenue in 2013. Adding to their IT resources and improving core site performance were listed as top priorities, at the expense of social media, whose monetization effects haven’t yet been proven.

Blueport’s takeaway: Focus on the levers that will truly push your margin. Since SEO can account for up to 40% of traffic, maximizing low-cost alternatives like organic search are high impact/low cost.

Shipping as an Opportunity, Not a Pain Point

Same-day delivery and broad reach of fulfillment like Amazon’s was all the hype of in 2012, but other than the big players, few retailers are focused on their fulfillment or post-transaction experiences. Forrester recommends retailers follow the path of companies who focus on fulfillment as a differentiator: tactics such as shopper loyalty programs, expedited delivery programs, shipping clubs and store fulfillment.  

Blueport’s takeaway: The key here for furniture retailers is not just focusing on the front end but also on the back end operations. In essence, while many retailers are focused on website redesign and optimization, the back end operational part of the site is virtually ignored. Furniture retailers have the opportunity to offer not only varying delivery options, but also the chance to rethink shipping pricing models overall. By implementing a truly localized omnichannel experience, furniture retailers who allow customers to choose between various delivery options are better set for success.

WHY AND HOW SHOULD I SELL FURNITURE ONLINE?

3 Ways Furniture Retailers Can Stave Off Amazon

Friday, November 16, 2012 by

Amazon Furniture Retailers Stave Off CompetitionIt is inevitable that any retailer in the e-commerce space will aspire to be the success story that is Amazon, no matter how unrealistic that dream may be. As an e-commerce site that was born in 1994 as a seller of used books, Amazon has morphed into a Goliath in the industry, becoming the dominant retailing marketplace for products ranging from books to electronics to food. With its low prices, rapid delivery and huge inventory, Amazon poses a threat to retailers in all industries.

“It is coming down to convenience, assortment and price,” said the operator of a Los Angeles area consumer electronics retailer to HFN. “And Amazon is beating us on all three fronts.”

However, there are steps furniture retailers can take to counteract Amazon.com before they find themselves floundering like former retail giant Best Buy. We at Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture online, have our retailers place an emphasis on service, product knowledge and convenience to ensure customer loyalty and retention.

1. Service

While Amazon is known for their accommodating customer service, our clients can actually benefit from showrooming, which extends a personalized touch that Amazon itself can't offer. Shoppers in a brick-and-mortar store may be tempted to see, touch and feel a piece of furniture they like, and then immediately try to find it for less online on their mobile device. With the help of experienced, knowledgeable salespeople in the brick-and-mortar store, as well as an e-commerce website optimized for mobile, plus a mobile app, furniture retailers can turn showrooming from a lost opportunity into a closed sale by keeping the buyer on their brand's site. Additionally, offering iPad and touch tablets loaded with inventory information as well as allowing store consumers to experience online checkout while in their store, can reach more connected consumers. 

Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising and supply chain, said it best when she said, “Do we love being a showroom? Yes, when we can book the sale.”

And we at Blueport Commerce are confident that in this case, our clients can book the sale.

2. Product Knowledge

Currently, Bed, Bath & Beyond is one retailer most at risk of losing out to Amazon. “Our work suggests there is 89 percent direct product overlap with Amazon in kitchen electrics, 83 percent in cookware and 83 percent in cutlery, all key traffic-driving categories,” said Matt Nemer, retail analyst with Wells Fargo.

Bed, Bath & Beyond is responding by changing its merchandise mix toward more exclusive products, mirroring that of Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports, who are less vulnerable to Amazon due to name cachet and exclusive products. Bed, Bath & Beyond now has its own specialty food, as well as home textiles. In a similar vein, by offering a strong range of one-of-a-kind, name-brand products, as well as having a plethora of information about each product available both online and in-store, furniture retailers can benefit from consumers who aren't just price shopping, but are looking for durable and stylish furniture and appliances that last. 

3. Convenience

Bed, Bath & Beyond, which currently receives only 3 percent of their total sales from e-commerce, has invested heavily in improving their website and opening an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center in Georgia. Convenience-based improvements they are exploring include in-store pickups and returns on e-commerce purchases, identical pricing on merchandise between stores and online, more exclusives and increased private label. Like Bed, Bath & Beyond, furniture retailers who can most successfully merge the in-store and online e-commerce experiences to result in the most seamless, customer-centric experience possible will succeed. 

“Having a unique product mix, backed by a strong knowledge of the products and consumer needs, will definitely help smaller brick and mortar retailers hold off Amazon,” said Alan Mendelson, a business reporter based in Los Angeles.

Our retailers who offer quality service, a deep product knowledge and convenient ways for customers to shift between digital and physical channels are the stores who will survive as Amazon continues its rapid growth. 

Omni-Channel Retailing 2012: Marrying the Best of the Digital and Physical Channels

Friday, June 22, 2012 by

This month, Retail Systems Research (RSR), released its report “Omni-Channel 2012: Cross-Channel Comes of Age.” This benchmark report has a number of interesting findings, including:

  • Retailers now understand that consumers use multiple channels to complete a single purchase.
  • All the retailers surveyed believe a single brand identity across all channels is important.
  • Retailers believe consolidating customer data all channels is the most important requirement and biggest hurdle to creating a seamless customer experience.
  • RSR recommends retailers focus on understanding their customers, and then a singular cross-channel strategy will come out of that.

It’s Not Just E-Commerce, It’s Digital

At Blueport Commerce, we help our big-ticket retail clients not just with e-commerce, but with their entire digital channel, which has evolved to encompass social media and mobile commerce as well. And with these clients, our ultimate goal is to help them provide customers with the best of both the digital and physical shopping experiences (or the closest approximation of the physical experience online).

The RSR report credits physical stores’ biggest advantage as being able to provide instant fulfillment. But with big-ticket items like furniture, that is often not the case. For sofas, dinettes and similar items, consumers like to be able to see and feel their items. We work with our clients to offer rich, detailed information and spectacular imagery to make the customer feel as close as they can to shopping in the store. And this in-depth content is available to shoppers using their mobile devices in-store and even to salespeople, arming them with the information they need to close sales.

We also have solutions for our retail clients that struggle with legacy systems, allowing them to offer customers up-to-date inventory and delivery information – the same they would get in-store.  We plug right into their own inventory and pricing systems, so we can display real-time local information to customers for pricing, inventory and delivery.

The Future of Retail – Online and Offline

The RSR report addresses the current shift going on in retail today. Retailing today is not just about selling the right products at the right price, but it’s about selling solutions. This requires understanding customers and their paths to purchase so you can deliver the information and product when they need it, while also allowing customers to access the information and items when and where they would like to.

At Blueport, we believe the only way to meet customers’ expectations is to complete a seamless cross-channel experience that leverages the best of each channel.

Related posts:

Retail CIOs Should Champion Collaboration Across Departments

Friday, February 3, 2012 by
Here at Blueport, we’ve been passing around last week’s StorefrontBackTalk blog post “Should CIOs Now Surrender to Marketing?,” and it has sparked some discourse between our own marketing and technology functions. As Director of Integration, do I think CIOs should surrender to marketing? They already have!

Some don’t know it yet and some have walled themselves up in time capsules, and for both those groups, the battle has passed them by. Those CIOs who don’t know it yet lead organizations that just can’t seem to make up lost ground chasing the most profitable new technologies. Those who have walled themselves off behind pretexts of the need for conformity and centralized control have done nothing but stifle and stratify the process of business evolution critical to ongoing competitiveness. IT organizations that encourage and support peer business unit management of specialized, cost effective, outsourced applications have won the day.

When CIOs Let Go, Bigger Opportunities Result

By foregoing complete control of all that has become the technology function, the CIO also realizes benefits and reveals opportunities. No IT organization has excess resources to spend making specialized applications that compete with today’s best-in-class cloud and SaaS solutions. Spinning off responsibility for tools that cater to subject area expertise allows CIOs to focus resources against core projects where their resources thrive as opposed to working a potentially complicated solution in an unfamiliar discipline.

A Real-Life E-Commerce Example

The real opportunities result when, through a collaborative approach to enabling specialized applications, a vision develops of the next generation corporate infrastructure, an infrastructure that enables and supports snap-in specialized solutions and opens the door to the same type of quick, cost-effective solutions for all business units. Collaboration between the company’s business functions leading to a common enabling infrastructure gives the CIO the benefit of steering decisions on critical issues central to modern IT, such as compliance and security. Finally, the specialized applications researched and implemented by business units act like a research and development IT skunk works, exposing the organization to the newest technologies and solution patterns.

A real world example of this is your typical big-ticket retail e-commerce website.  Assuming the CIO chooses to develop the e-commerce solution in house, the company first needs to decide on a technology for catalog, order tunnel, fulfillment, and reporting. Then the CIO must hire a development team or train existing staff. While the staff is either hiring or training, none of them are advancing the IT organization’s other core solutions. And, as the new e-commerce team is building the website against the initial technology chosen, they are already falling behind technically. When the in-house solution finally launches, it is already underwhelming to consumers and, more often than not, the effort needs to be set aside immediately to resume work against the ever-present backlog of requests for changes to core business solutions.

All the while, the CIO could have used one of the SaaS solutions that are evolving quickly and constantly setting new user experience paradigms.

Alternately, if the CIO chooses to embrace an SaaS e-commerce solution advanced by the marketing team, the CIO’s team would have input on integration and security, as well as an easy case with management for building enhancements to core infrastructure and systems. The enhancements to the core infrastructure, quickened and focused by working against the new SaaS e-commerce solution, open the door to additional SaaS or cloud solutions as well as new technology core solutions by the in-house team. And don’t forget the finished product: SaaS solutions evolve very quickly and constantly set new user experience paradigms – customers love the new website. The next SaaS integration is very cost-effective, and the CIO is the hero. Best of all, nothing of true importance was actually surrendered to marketing.  

Next week: Marketing responds!

Related posts:

Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

5 Tips for Handling Inventory Stock Information on E-Commerce Sites

Friday, September 30, 2011 by
“I always remember that it costs a lot to get people in a store…and takes very little to convince them not to come back.”

This quote was from a recent Practical Ecommerce article about inventory stock status on e-commerce websites. The consumer who is quoted had a very bad experience shopping online. He tried to purchase the discontinued HP TouchPad once it went on sale for $99 (originally $399).

Like him, many other shoppers went online to make the same purchase, and, like him, many were successful – at least in placing an order and having their credit cards charged. Unfortunately, the stores oversold, and instead of getting their new tablets, these consumers received emails apologizing for unexpected demand and saying that their orders would be cancelled.

It’s remarkable that the massive players mentioned in the article still have this issue, especially selling a fairly simple item that, if in stock, is easy to fulfill. The resulting outrage points to how high consumers’ expectations have become in the area of fulfillment.

Blueport’s focus is meeting these high expectations, even in the toughest logistical categories. When you’re browsing our sites, you’re seeing real-time local inventory. If you order a sofa, you know it’s in stock and when you’ll get it – often as soon as tomorrow and for a very low delivery price. What Amazon has done for UPSable items, we’re doing for sofas, appliances, large electrics and more.

Regardless of what you’re selling online, the article concludes with a few excellent suggestions:
  1. Be up-front about product availability.
  2. Communicate when inventory is low – it might even help you sell the item.
  3. Be clear about any stock disclosure policies you have in place to protect yourself.
  4. Explain who is fulfilling the orders for your product.
  5. And should you a sell a customer an item that is no longer stock, take care of the problem: Let the customer know you are sorry, explain what happened, and then offer a discount toward a future purchase. Do not automatically add the customer to your email list for marketing promotions.

The overarching theme here is to be straightforward with your customers about the merchandise you have on your website. You could potentially miss a sale or two today, but the long-lasting result of creating a trusting relationship between customers and your e-commerce site can be priceless, especially in categories that are difficult to fulfill.


Related posts:
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Forrester's Brian Walker Outlines the Fundamental Shifts Taking Place in E-Commerce Technology

Friday, September 10, 2010 by
Forrester’s Brian Walker recently coined the term Splinternet to describe how consumers are beginning to interact with e-commerce companies in numerous ways, including mobile phones, social networks and in-store displays. This e-commerce transformation naturally requires significant new technology investments and fundamental changes in how retailers approach e-commerce. Internet Retailer covered Walker’s new report, "What every exec needs to know about the future of e-commerce technology," which addresses the shifts taking place in the e-commerce space. 

Some key takeaways from the report:

  • As the influence of the online retail channel on consumers continues to grow, retailers will need to shift spending to this channel -- or risk losing sales.
  • Consumers' interactions with retailers will move beyond just the website to include mobile phones, iPads and other innovations. According to Walker, many of these innovations will be built on proprietary technology requiring that retailers "develop systems that can easily integrate and support these existingm -- and emerging -- customer experiences in order to compete and capitalize on changing customer expectations."
  • Consistency of information, policies and fulfillment across channels will be a must for retailers as they expand their touchpoints with consumers
Walker notes that most retailers today don’t have the systems in place to manage this new kind of multichannel retailing and fulfillment model. Thus, they will require a fundamental shift in how they approach e-commerce within their organizations and focus on investing in flexible e-commerce systems that can meet their cross-channel retail needs.

How is your e-commerce strategy changing in light of this shift?

Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

Arhaus Furniture's Custom iPad App Aims to Drive Cross Channel Sales

Thursday, August 19, 2010 by
Arhaus Furniture, a high-end furniture multi channel retailer with stores in 13 states in addition to a print catalog and an e-commerce site at Arhaus.com, will soon arm their entire delivery team with an iPad application aimed at not only enhancing the product delivery experience, but also driving repeat and incremental purchases from their customer base.

The application is designed primarily for customer use: customers will be handed the iPad at the start of the delivery, which will include a welcome and thank you message from the retailer, will be able to look at different furniture setup options and even browse the entire Arhaus ecommerce catalog. Customers will also sign off on deliveries using their fingers on the touch screen and will also be able to fill out a post delivery survey on site.

While the iPad application will certainly result in efficiencies in the retailer’s fulfillment and delivery systems, what is interesting here is how the company is adding another level to their customer service experience through a true cross channel retail strategy. For example, while a customer is having a sofa delivered that they purchased at their local store, they will be able to browse the Arhaus.com ecommerce catalog through the iPad app for the matching chair they recall seeing during their shopping trip. 

No doubt that we will continue to see more and more retailers integrate these type of mobile and tablet products into their multi channel strategy to enhance their customers' retail shopping experience, be it in-store or on the go.  And as retail channels become increasingly blurred and intertwined, the importance of having consistent content and product information for your customer no matter where they are shopping will be imperative and essential to driving sales.

How are your stores or franchises integrating technologies such as the iPad into their sales or customer service process?


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce



Local E-Commerce: The GSI Commerce Perspective

Friday, August 6, 2010 by

Forrester’s e-commerce analyst Brian Walker recently featured a great interview with GSI Commerce founder and CEO Michael Rubin on his blog. Rubin discussed how GSI is evolving and what some of the main areas of focus will be for the company in the near future.

One of the most interesting things that stood out for me from their conversation was Rubin’s identification of localization as one of the next key e-commerce trends to watch in the near future. Consumers are increasingly demanding more personal, relevant and local products and services from their online shopping experience. Consequently, retailers will need to invest in technologies that cater to these local preferences to capitalize on the consumer need.

Part and parcel to a localized e-commerce experience is the expectation of rapid and lower cost delivery and return of products. In order to deliver on this promise, Rubin points out that multichannel retailers will need to leverage their stores and distribution centers to get consumers the products they want as quickly and cheaply as possible. This is an area where GSI is investing a great deal of time to provide innovation. 

We have been focusing on e-commerce localization at Blueport Commerce for the last decade.  Like GSI, we believe this is at the heart of the next generation of e-commerce, or rather, the next generation of cross-channel retailing. Whether they are shopping for a new piece of clothing or a new piece of furniture for their home, consumers want their retail experience to be local.  They want the comfort of knowing they can connect with retailers in their area, who can answer questions about the product, or handle exchanges or returns quickly and easily. 

In order to deliver this kind of experience, retailers need to stop thinking of e-commerce as an isolated ‘island’ within their operations and begin to construct a truly coordinated, cross-channel strategy. E-commerce teams need to be aligned with bricks-and-mortar stores as well as fulfillment and warehouse facilities.  When all of these components are working as one holistic retailing effort, localization is inherent and e-commerce becomes a driver of multi-channel retail sales.

This approach is at the heart of Blueport’s e-commerce package and I am intrigued to see the innovations from GSI in this area as well.


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce


 

IBM Invests in E-Commerce

Monday, May 24, 2010 by

This week IBM announced its plans to acquire Sterling Commerce, an e-commerce company and provider of cross-channel fulfillment solutions, for $1.4 billion. While IBM already participates in e-commerce with its WebSphere division, the integration of Sterling Commerce will add collaboration, communication and integration solutions for fulfillment, as well as a stellar client list with more than 18,000 customers worldwide, including 80% of the Fortune 500 list.

From a technology standpoint Craig Hayman, general manager of IBM's WebSphere division noted that the cloud computing model which Sterling employs is attractive to IBM. He also noted that many of IBM’s current customers are looking for easy-to-scale solutions, which make them great candidates for migration into the cloud.

From an industry perspective, it’s great to see giants like IBM expanding their reach into e-commerce as it further validates our fast-growing industry. The move will help IBM to better position itself against the likes of tech giants HP, Cisco, and SAP.  It also represents a greater business goal of the company, which is to grow through acquisition. IBM has said that the company plans to spend $20 billion on acquisitions by 2015 and its purchase of Sterling Commerce is certainly a good start. 


Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce

 

Ecommerce Software Packages: Which one is right for me?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by
Any retailer setting up an ecommerce store or considering replatforming their current offering, knows the choices in ecommerce shopping software are endless.  The landscape is wide, with numerous vendors offering ecommerce software packages.

The big-ticket retailer often finds their ecommerce shopping software choices to be even more complex.   This is because their needs are inherently different.  They go beyond setting up a basic online shop, to require more sophisticated merchandising capabilities and fulfillment, and an ability to understand their unique business models. Performing an ecommerce software comparison seems an impossible task.

So where do you start in your decision making process? Here are two initial points to consider:

1. Start by evaluating your current ecommerce shopping software or the retail systems you use to run your business.  Many big-ticket retailers find their systems are not ecommerce ready, and that they may pose a barrier to going online.  Make sure the ecommerce software packages you are considering are able to seamlessly integrate with your current systems.  At its best, your online ecommerce solution should be able to extract the data found in your current systems, augment for e-commerce, then return completed ecommerce transactions to you that are indistinguishable from orders placed in your stores.

2. Make your ecommerce store an extension of your bricks and mortar store, not an island in itself.  Look for an ecommerce software package that treats your SKUs, prices and your product information exactly like store orders from a fulfillment and service perspective.  This is a fundamental difference between ecommerce shopping software for mass merchants, and that which is geared towards big-ticket retailers.  The result is less work, higher customer satisfaction and a reduced need to develop separate staff or procedures for online sales. E-commerce becomes another store, seamlessly integrated with your strategy, operations and reporting.

Finding an ecommerce service provider that meets these inital criteria is the first step in setting up your ecommerce store and capitalizing on the advantages of e-commerce.



Finding the Path to Easy Ecommerce

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by
Implementing an ecommerce strategy opens possibilities for your business — increased sales online and in stores, more efficient marketing, and direct one-to-one communication with your customers to name a few.

Whether this is the first time you are selling online or you are coming back to give it a second try, Blueport Commerce walks you through this transformation step-by-step to make ecommerce easy.

With more than a decade of experience in helping big-ticket retail make the leap into e-commerce, we not only understand your business and your market, but we also understand the hurdles you will face along the way. Our managed ecommerce solutions help retailers drive their multichannel strategy and make the transition to ecommerce easy, worry-free and profitable.

Ecommerce will impact every aspect of your organization, each in different ways. From IT, to merchandising, to operations and even right down to your in-store staff:

Merchandising: Meticulously presenting your product to its best advantage, we introduce your customers to the breadth of your merchandise without their having to leave home.

Marketing: We understand the complexities of big-ticket retail marketing and will work to make e-commerce an integral, invaluable component of your marketing strategy.

Operations: We share retailers' passion for efficiency and service — in fact, we believe that e-commerce can't succeed in a category like big-ticket without it. We cut our teeth in furniture — arguably the most challenging of fulfillment problems. Our platform and processes are designed to make shipping a sofa — or your product — as easy as calling UPS.

Finance: Incremental e-commerce growth sounds good, but what will it cost? What are the risks? Our business model is designed to answer these questions, making e-commerce a positive ROI effort almost immediately.

Store: We understand that the biggest impact of ecommerce is in your stores and we have implemented technology and services to send you as many educated, easy-to-close customers as possible making e-commerce easy and a positive ROI effort almost immediately.

IT: In our ten years of experience in working with retail chains to deploy e-commerce systems, we've seen it all. We'll work with your existing infrastructure and processes and translate them into an effective e-commerce strategy.

Our goal? Use our infrastructure and experience to take what you've built online, as efficiently and robustly as possible


Operations is where the rubber hits the road.

Monday, March 8, 2010 by
Do you have Operations QUESTIONS?

We know that operations is where the rubber hits the road. Fulfillment and customer service are your passion, and unlike some retailers, you don't have the luxury of just dropping a product in a UPS box. We suspect marketing and merchandising efforts, like ecommerce, often mean headaches for you.

That's why we're different than any other ecommerce software solution. Blueport Commerce's Custom System Integration is designed to make e-commerce a closed loop that begins and ends with your existing systems. Our platform extracts your SKUs from your system, and returns orders to your system in a format identical to an order written in your stores. We've done this with any number of systems, from home grown to major commercial packages, with the end result being ecommerce orders that are no different to fulfill than store orders.

We share your passion for efficiency and service — in fact, we believe that ecommerce can't succeed in a category like yours without it. We cut our teeth in furniture — arguably the most challenging of fulfillment problems. Our platform and processes are designed to make shipping a sofa — or your product — as easy as calling UPS.

E-commerce for franchise retail: Can it be done?

Thursday, February 25, 2010 by

While other e-commerce providers avoid the unique challenges of franchise retail models, Blueport Commerce embraces franchises.  We are the only e-commerce solution designed to handle the complexity of putting a distributed, localized franchise retail model online.

In this franchise retail model, the parent brand handles the "heavy lifting" of content development, catalog development and maintenance, overall marketing strategy, payment processing and technology management. Centralizing these functions guarantees a high quality e-commerce experience that is both highly valuable and affordable for their franchise's membership. Dealers then “localize” the e-commerce experience in their region, refining selection, pricing, promotions and delivery options. 

The independent franchise dealers reap the benefit of a fully functional e-commerce website they could not afford alone, but retain local control of online store content, local marketing, pricing and fulfillment of local orders. More than 900 independently owned and operated dealers use Blueport Commerce to offer their local customers a best in class franchise retail experience online.
 

Fulfillment: Closing the Loop on E-Commerce

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 by

Fulfillment and customer service should be a priority for every e-commerce transaction – however all ecommerce solutions are not created equal. Fulfillment becomes even more complicated for big ticket retail, or those retailers whose products do not easily fit into a UPS box.

E-commerce can't succeed in a category like big-ticket retail without a specialized technology provider. One with an e-commerce platform that’s able to process your product from order to delivery — and make it as easy as calling UPS. 

How is an online order fulfilled?

Ecommerce solutions should make the process a closed loop that begins and ends with your existing systems. A platform should be able to extract your SKUs from your system, and return orders to your system in a format identical to an order written in your stores. Whether you have a home grown system or a major commercial package, the end result should be that e-commerce orders that are no different to fulfill than store orders.

Additionally, it’s important to ensure that your website only features products you can fulfill, and provides accurate local delivery dates. Dropped or discontinued products should be removed from your site automatically. Customers should be shown the same delivery dates they would get in a store, based on local stock, purchase orders or inter-store transfers.

The result is e-commerce volume that, from a service and fulfillment standpoint, is the same as store orders. Your team will know how to fulfill an e-commerce order from day one — just like a store order.

The Blueport Commerce Approach to E-Commerce Integration

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 by
At Blueport Commerce, we are committed to respecting and integrating WITH systems, not in creating a separate e-commerce solution for you to then maintain. We believe that to be effective, e-commerce integration is essential: your e-commerce must work seamlessly with the systems you use to run your current business.

We also understand that your systems are likely not e-commerce ready, and that you may consider them a barrier to going online. This is a challenge we've faced many times before.

Our e-commerce platform is designed to integrate with any system— to extract what data can be found in your systems, augment it for e-commerce, then return completed e-commerce transactions to you that are indistinguishable from orders placed in your stores.

Your SKUs, your prices, your product information, enhanced and then returned as an order in your system that can be treated exactly like store orders from a fulfillment and service perspective. The result is true e-commerce integration: less work, higher customer satisfaction and a reduced need to develop separate staff or procedures for online sales.

E-commerce becomes another store, seamlessly integrated with your strategy, operations and reporting.