The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed footwear retailer and manufacturer Bata’s commitment to omnichannel marketing.
At global omnichannel retailer Bata, data doesn’t just sit in spreadsheets and dashboards. It helps everyone better understand Angela, a customer persona the footwear chain created that does more than provide a focus for marketing.
The company continuously gathers information from around the world. It uses data to refine how it caters to Angela's tastes and needs, informing everything from shoe design to merchandising plans to how Bata aligns its brick-and-mortar and online channels across regions. Think of Angela as a valued customer whose desires are core to the company's plans.
"She's looking for fashionable products, so we want to sweep her off her feet," says Group IT Director and CIO Massimiliano Gerli. "We like to see her happy and comfortable with shoes that she can be proud of."
The Angela persona helps Bata serve more than 180 million consumers each year from its commerce site as well as more than 5,500 stores across 70 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. Founded in 1894, the company has 35,000 employees and 22 manufacturing facilities that produce half of its products. Under Gerli's IT leadership, the company continues to improve its digital channels, offering a more comprehensive product catalog, faster delivery, and a seamless customer experience between its site and stores.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed Bata's commitment to omnichannel marketing. Company leaders ensure that employees remain safe, and customers have an easy way to shop when the Bata stores are closed. "Everyone has been forced to get familiar with digital," Gerli says. "Omnichannel is no longer just an option—it's the foundation of consumer expectations."
During the pandemic, Bata's stores have opened and closed in line with local government regulations. The company has partially offset revenue shortfalls in its physical stores with faster-than-expected growth in online sales. Bata operations in one Central European country were able to completely offset lost sales in stores.
Bata's cloud-based ecommerce operations continued uninterrupted, and Gerli's team was able to equip most employees for remote work quickly. "I am talking beyond the US and Europe," Gerli says. "I'm talking about Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia—places that don't necessarily have the infrastructure to support that."
When Gerli joined Bata in 2018, he inherited complex legacy IT systems that weren't providing company leaders with the information they needed to improve customers' shopping experiences. The company needed more in-depth insights into consumer demand at the store, regional, and country levels.
Bata adopted Oracle Retail applications, including Merchandise Financial Planning and Assortment Planning in Latin America and Xstore Point-of-Service in Latin America, Europe, and recently in Asia Pacific. The applications help Bata deliver a consistent experience to customers in those regions, provide real-time visibility into inventory, and simplify sales associates' training. With this technology investment, Bata is modernizing its operations, reducing unnecessary inventory and markdowns, and improving profit margins.
Bata now has a much clearer view of each consumer. When shoppers go to its online store, the system recognizes them based on their loyalty information and presents them with products based on their past purchases and behaviors. Beyond that, it also offers products based on regional and third-party data, so, for example, customers in Europe aren't seeing flip-flop sandals in December. "We have markets where 70% of sales are generated by consumers who are part of our loyalty program," Gerli says. "Because we know a lot about their preferences, we can send messages that are relevant to only them."
One area where Bata is looking to improve is customer returns. Its first priority, of course, is to ensure that customers are happy with their original purchases, but when they need to make returns, it's making the process as smooth as possible. For example, customers can now buy online and return in a store, presenting "an additional opportunity to have a positive experience and maybe leave with another pair of shoes," Gerli says.
Another way Bata is connecting its stores and commerce sites is by, in effect, making every Bata physical location a warehouse. In Europe, for example, it's making the inventory in more than 200 stores available to fulfill digital sales where needed, Gerli says.
The company is experiencing a huge increase in online transactions year over year. Bata estimates that missed sales opportunities cost the company 15% or more of company revenue in the past, simply because a size or color wasn't available. Now, with new visibility into stock worldwide, it expects to reduce that percentage significantly.
For Gerli's IT team, keeping Angela happy requires focus. "There's no time for nice-to-haves," he says. "There's just time for what matters."
That often means having to say no to system features that aren't critical to long-term success. "Implementations take time," Gerli notes. "And you need to make sure you're running in the right direction. If you discover you've run the wrong way for a year, you've just lost your opportunity."
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Photography: Courtesy of Bata Shoes