Case Study

E-Commerce In A Hurry

Matt Pillar

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

A century-old retailer takes its outlet stores online in just four-and-a-half months, then watches e-commerce boom.

It’s a big year for 530-store Bealls Inc. 2015 marks the retailer’s 100th anniversary of brick-and-mortar retailing, and this October it will celebrate the 1st anniversary of e-commerce operations for its outlet banner Burkes Outlet.

Lest you label those banners laggard for their late-blooming foray into online sales, it’s all part of the billion-dollar enterprise’s omni-channel plan. “Bealls Inc. has operated an e-commerce site since 1998, but it was a strategic decision to limit our outlet store business to brick-and-mortar,” says Roy Fung, e-commerce director there. “Our outlets run a completely different business model than our department stores,” he explains. “Our outlet merchandisers focus on opportunistic buys of off price merchandise, so there’s significant fluctuation in inventory, and when that inventory hits the shelves it’s here today and gone tomorrow.” That model created concerns about e-commerce execution; by the time buys were made, inventory was allocated to stores, and products were loaded to an e-commerce site, the company feared the kind of inventory management discrepancies that would surely let consumers down.

E-commerce for outlets wasn’t in the plan, but there was one big problem. Consumers kept coming to the informational Web sites the company maintained for Burkes and Bealls Outlets—which were not e-commerce enabled—and then promptly leaving. Fung says e-mail marketing campaigns, in particular, would result in huge traffic spikes, “but consumers would leave the site when they realized e-commerce was not an option.” The demand was clearly there, but the opportunity was not.

Centralized Fulfillment Center Enables E-Commerce

Consumer demand forced Bealls’ hand. Traffic to its static outlet sites indicated a missed opportunity for sales, and worse, potential customer disappointment. But, how to wrestle the fluidity of its outlet inventory to the ground? As it turns out, supply chain executives in Bealls’ department stores division had been experimenting with centralized fulfillment to good effect. The near real-time inventory visibility it afforded into the availability of even fast-moving merchandise showed promise in the outlet business model. “Central fulfillment put the inventory management piece in play, so we decided to move on the opportunity and introduce our outlet businesses to e-commerce,” says Fung.

That was in the Spring of 2014. The goal was to go live before the holiday rush.

“We quickly began to outline our priorities for the site,” says Fung. “Responsive design was a must. We knew that most consumers were looking for off-price merchandise at our static sites from their mobile phones.” Despite the need for speed, Fung and his team were cautious about selecting a platform that would accommodate integration for future growth. “We wanted something that featured proven integrations with leading-edge applications, for email marketing and automation, for example,” says Fung. 

A committee of decision makers from the marketing, IT, and e-commerce teams at Bealls boiled the selection process down to EPiServer and one other platform, eventually choosing EPiServer in late June. “We liked their speed to market promise, the scalability we saw, and the EPiServer team’s commitment to the e-commerce space,” says Fung.

From Concept To Launch In 4.5 Months

Bealls immediately began working with California-based EPiServer Premium Solutions Partner Guidance, which handled site coding and configuration, reporting and analytics, and third party integrations for the retailer. It chose EPiServer subsidiary Everweb for hosting. “Another feature we really liked was the CMS (content management system) in the EPiServer solution, which features a WSYWIG interface that requires very little coding,” says Fung. That system stores upwards of 2,000 different pieces of marketing content excluding products, helping his small marketing team work more efficiently. “The platform also handles order management, checkout, and customer service, so little third-party integration is required.” Those factors were quite beneficial given the retailer’s timeframe for launch.

After four-and-a-half months of design, development, testing, quality assurance, and user acceptance testing, the site soft launched at the end of October and went fully live before Black Friday. “We’ve been able to track a couple million page views per month since go-live,” says Fung, “And that’s just based on organic search with out-of-the-box sales.” In fact, the retailer’s hunch that many of the organic visitors to its old, static sites were ready to pay proved true when they were given the opportunity. Organic site traffic drove nearly 40 percent of sales during the first six months of the site’s existence.

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