Wednesday Mar 26, 2014

ULTA Beauty’s Digital Makeover

Reporting today at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, guest blogger Adam Blair captured insights from retailers:

ULTA Beauty’s revamp of its digital sites last year went much more than skin deep. The 675-store beauty products retailer achieved its goal of a comprehensive site redesign that provides a consistent guest experience across desktop, tablet and phone devices, and it also brought its search and navigation functions together under in-house control with the help of Oracle Commerce including Oracle Endeca and Oracle ATG 10.2.

The ULTA.com site’s home page, category and product pages now boast new features including product metadata and easier access to user reviews. In addition, ULTA guests can now check available inventory of specific products at the store/salon they’re planning to visit.

The redesign, designed to emphasize the breadth of product offerings available from ULTA, also gave the retailer’s business side far greater control over key e-commerce elements, including pricing, promotions and site design changes. With fast-moving beauty and cosmetics trends, “there was no way we could stay current if we had to keep going to IT for changes we wanted to make,” said Jeff Hamm, Director of Ecommerce at ULTA. Hamm and Director of IT E-Commerce Michelle Pacynski discussed the process and the results at Oracle Industry Connect for Retail here.

“Every aspect of the home page is now configurable by the business teams,” said Pacynski.

The redesign process, which took approximately six months and was completed in time for the 2013 holiday season, eventually involved running both the “traditional” site and the redesigned site simultaneously. This large-scale A/B testing allowed ULTA to continue refining the new site’s design with actual guest feedback, ensuring performance and the user experience would be positive. “What had looked good ‘on paper’ or to us internally might not look good to a user,” Hamm admitted. The testing process was supplemented by focus groups, online surveys and store intercepts.

The site redesign has received a positive guest response as well as increased consistency between its navigation and search functions. The retailer’s overall results have been strong, with an 82.5% comp store sales increase for Q4 of 2013. ULTA Beauty opened 125 stores last year and is on track to open an additional 100 locations in 2014.

Resisting ‘Scope Creep’ Ensured Hot Topic Merchandising Upgrade’s Success

Reporting today at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, guest blogger Adam Blair captured insights from retailers:

Hot Topic’s IT team was determined to make the retailer’s merchandising systems upgrade clean, simple and logical, as well as on-time and on-budget. They achieved these goals by “religiously” avoiding scope creep and involving business users early on in the 10-month process.

“We really managed the scope of this. It’s vanilla – not even French vanilla,” said Hassan Youssfi, Vice President of IT Applications at Hot Topic. He and COO Don Hendricks presented their best practices for a smooth systems upgrade and integration process at Oracle Industry Connect for Retail here.

“You will hear from users who want to add ‘flavor’ to your vanilla project,” Youssfi noted. The IT team addressed this issue by providing its business users with early “sneak previews,” designed to bring issues to the surface and “tackle them early in the process,” he added.

Another important success factor was that Hot Topic, which also includes the Torrid brand, spent three months doing a complete data cleanup on the retailer’s legacy system prior to beginning the upgrade itself, which was completed in February 2013. “The data from the old system had never been purged, and the style/class hierarchies had grown over the years,” Hendricks explained. “We wanted to clean up the data in the old system’s format so that people could see the changes and not attribute them to the implementation of the new system.”

Hendricks and Youssfi also credited the functionally rich Oracle systems, powered by Exadata, with allowing them to keep the overall upgrade “vanilla” while still offering internal users an improved experience. Solutions include Oracle Retail Merchandising System, Sales Audit, Price Management, Invoice Match and Analytics.

Benefits include creating a single system of record where there had previously been separate siloed databases, and providing easier access to data by the retailer’s business users. “IT is not in the reporting business any longer, because users can write their own reports,” said Hendricks. Hot Topic has also gained efficiency, speed and enhanced capabilities: “Certain promotion types that had not been possible with legacy systems are now capable of being done,” he noted.

Deckers Outdoor and Scheels All Sports reveal secrets to in-store engagement

Reporting today at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, guest blogger Adam Blair captured insights from retailers:

Providing store employees with both the training and the tools to enhance the customer experience are critical to making the brick-and-mortar store a true point of differentiation, according to executives from Deckers Outdoor and Scheels All Sports who participated in a panel discussion moderated by Stores Editor-in-Chief Susan Reda at Oracle Industry Connect for Retail here.

“We focus on training our sales associates to provide a great experience, and that kind of customer service training includes how to ask questions and how to interact with customers to find out what they are really looking for – and how to translate what the customer is saying into a product they would want,” said Marc Windahl, Vice President of IT at Scheels. The retailer also turns its 25 stores into destinations for the entire family: “Eight of our stores have Ferris wheels, and many have features such as miniature bowling alleys and golf simulators,” as well as restaurants and coffee shops featuring multi-flavored fudge made on-site, Windahl added.

A retailer’s corporate structure is also critical, according to Kim Heidt, Global Director of Store Operations at Deckers Outdoor, known for its Ugg shoe brands. “We’ve created a president of omnichannel responsible for all our e-commerce, stores and wholesale operations internationally, which helps us all work closely together here, operating off of a single project list,” said Heidt. “In addition, our company president does a quarterly ‘town hall’ meeting to identify our key initiatives and how we’re tracking to them. This helps create business owners in the stores, so even down to the level of the store associate, they understand what we’re doing in omnichannel. We’re putting technology behind our efforts, but also empowering our stores to do the things that need to be done for good customer service.”

Technology is critical to many store-based initiatives, from mobile point-of-sale that opens up valuable real estate to analytics capable of passively tracking shoppers’ cell phones to help retailers understand actual traffic and shopping patterns. Panelist Jeff Grossman, Director of Retail Solution Consulting for Oracle, noted that “there’s a lot of technology out there to help retailers revolutionize their business and get closer to customers.” He discussed BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology that emits a Bluetooth signal that’s readable by customers’ cell phones equipped with a specific mobile app. This technology can be used to send marketing content to a device when the shopper gets near a specific aisle or product.

Moderator Reda questioned how much consumers will be willing to accept in terms of in-store communications to their own devices. Grossman noted that any application’s benefits need to be relevant to each customer. “With any marketing campaign, there’s the context for it, the content that’s delivered and the conduit to deliver it,” he said. “If a shopper downloads the Walgreens app to help handle their prescriptions or the Kohl’s app to take advantage of coupons, that provides a real benefit to them.”

To make the store experience even more relevant, retailers should be looking for technology that gives them a common view of the customer across channels, providing store associates with information about, for example, a shopper’s past purchases and recent online searches. Such technology needs to be accompanied by ongoing and upgraded training of associates. “They should know why customers are getting specific messages, and also be aware that not all customers will be getting the same message while they are in the store,” said Deckers’ Heidt.

Neiman Marcus CEO Calls Merchandising System Revamp Transformative

Reporting today at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, guest blogger Adam Blair captured insights from retailers.

Calling the implementation of a revamped common merchandising system “the single biggest capital project we’ve ever done at Neiman Marcus,” President and CEO Karen Katz discussed the luxury retailer’s need to keep this major technology transformation on track with Oracle President Mark Hurd at Oracle Industry Connect for Retail here.

Katz admitted that the 41-store retailer, known for its personalized customer service and carefully curated product assortments, faces some singular challenges – in part because it has been so successful. “Our merchants believe that the way we run our business is so unique that we need highly customized systems,” Katz told Hurd. “We want [Oracle’s] help in making sure we don’t do that. You’ve worked with hundreds of retailers on these types of transformations. We know we’ll make some mistakes but we don’t want to make the same ones as others have, so staying on a clear path and keeping us focused will be very important.”

Neiman Marcus is hardly technophobic; its $1 billion-plus in digital sales makes it the largest luxury e-commerce business in the world. Three years ago, the retailer equipped all 5,000 of its store associates with iPhones, with the mobile devices replacing the ubiquitous “black books” that contained detailed information on the retailer’s highly demanding customers and their shopping preferences. “We wanted our associates to keep their client books in the app, but we also wanted them to communicate with customers as they wanted, via text, e-mails or phone calls. Now they can send photos, collages or ideas about wardrobe items that the customers might need,” noted Katz.

In its quest to create “the same kind of memorable customer experience online as in our stores,” Katz noted that Neiman Marcus has created the position of senior vice president of omni-channel and also has relaunched its consumer mobile app, which connects shoppers with their preferred sales associates. In turn, the retailer’s commission-based associates have been incentivized to create more omni-channel customers. “There are entire categories of product that we’re never going to sell within our stores, such as home furnishings, sheets and towels,” said Katz. “Our associates can sell these through the website and get commissions on those sales.”

Katz noted that while she honors the brand’s storied history, technology is critical to staying relevant, especially given the power of today’s consumer: “Retailers need to accept that the customer is in the driver’s seat, and not just follow her but get out in front of her. That will be the future.”

Oracle today released more information about the initiative with Neiman Marcus

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