Thursday Mar 27, 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 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.


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.

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