A new forecast from Forrester Research credits greater online spending by Canadians, lower shipping costs and more selection for the spending increase.
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But Millikin is building his e-commerce business beyond the Mary Engelbreit brand and developing a specialty in licensing and operating e-commerce sites for other artists who sell assorted products through specialty retail channels. He has launched a web store for crafts retailer Debbie Mumm Inc. at Shop.DebbieMumm.com and will soon launch another online retail shop for artist Karen Rossi at KarenRossi.com.
The three sites will share the same e-commerce platform, so that one order management system will control orders from all sites, Millikin says. “We have three different brands, but the orders all flow into the same order-entry system, and support our single pick, pack and ship operation,” he says.
By not having to re-key data from web orders into order management systems, Millikin can avoid logjams that can slow service. “When we’re handling 500 orders a day, we can’t keep re-keying all that data,” he says.
For Santa Cruz Surf Shop, which uses a similar combination of StoreFront for its web sites and RetailPro for its stores, the integrated platform serves its strategy of spreading out products on its web sites without much depth in items per SKU. Skateboard manufacturers offer as many as 50 variations of each product, with the emphasis on presenting different graphic treatments to cater to the whims of customers looking for a particular design or mix of colors.
But the shallow inventory often resulted in a customer ordering from an image that was no longer in stock, leading to post-order customer service expenses, Parr says. But no more. Now the web-enabled POS system automatically removes images from web pages as soon as a particular SKU is deleted. “Dynamically pulling inventory from the web sites has cut down on customer service costs,” Parr says. He figures Santa Cruz Surf reached ROI in the StoreFront system in the first couple months of its deployment. “Now we have just one customer service rep for both stores and the two web sites,” he says.
Because StoreFront makes its programming code available to developers, users can benefit from new features developed by others. By searching on the web for StoreFront applications, Millikin has found multiple modifications that provide for improved retail operations, he says. For example, he has found and deployed a streamlined StoreFront checkout system that reduces the number of steps to three from five.
Another modified module acquired from outside developers makes it easier and faster to change product details in back-end databases that instantly show up on web pages. “It lets a marketing person change product structures without having to get the IT department to do coding, so it’s a lower cost of ownership,” Millikin says.
And it’s the combination of system integration and lower operating costs, he adds, that gives him an edge to be competitive. “If we weren’t integrated, we wouldn’t be in business,” he says.