March 25, 2014, 11:01 AM

A tote bag wholesaler packs its new e-commerce site with features

Scout by Bungalow has launched a new web site on the Magento e-commerce platform to provide more self-service features for business customers. In 18 months, it expects 75% of its B2B customers will be transacting on the web, an executive says.

Lead Photo

A screenshot of the wholesale side of ScoutBags.com

Custom tote bag seller Scout by Bungalow built up its wholesale customer base of 1,700 stores over the years starting with in-person sales, later adding e-mail and e-commerce support. But when it came time to upgrade its web site, which also serves consumers, the cost was daunting—not to mention that the old e-commerce platform was no longer providing competitive features, says Elizabeth Bailey, retail business manager. Scout turned instead to an entirely new e-commerce platform provider, eBay Inc.’s Magento, to provide the technology it needed to enhance the site and provide the flexibility it needs to grow e-commerce in the coming years. The new ScoutBags.com launched last October.

“There are only so many people you can service on a personal basis every day,” says Scout wholesale manager Kate Hanlan. With just 13 employees in its office in Washington, DC, the merchant is counting on the web to handle most of its increasing order volume. Within 18 months, Scout expects at least 75% of its business customers will be placing orders online, up from about 40% now, adds chief operating officer Tabitha Bowling.

The retailer is using various methods to drive more shoppers to the web site, including offering web-exclusive sales, directing business customers to the site to download images for use in their store merchandising displays, and even sending postcards advertising the site via postal mail to reach the slowest web adopters, Hanlan says.

One of the top reasons Scout selected Magento was the platform’s ability to segment customers into different types, allowing the merchant to personalize the web display by serving content likely to appeal to each customer. That allows the merchant to enable specific features for not only consumer versus business customers, but also to segment business customers based on each customer’s participation in its loyalty program, Bailey says. Scout’s loyalty program has five levels based on the value of wholesale customers’ annual purchases. Magento allows the retailer to present business customers with promotions and products  designed for their level in the loyalty program.

Scout can also track within Magento customers’ offline sales—which contribute to the loyalty rewards they earn—because the e-commerce platform now connects to its Intuit Inc. QuickBooks accounting software, Hanlan adds. Web development consultancy Blue Acorn built the custom loyalty features and the bridge between Scout’s accounting software and the platform.  Hanlan says Scout selected Blue Acorn as its Magento developer in large part because of its experience building web sites to handle both consumer and business customers.

While the loyalty-levels project wasn’t easy, it was well worth the effort, Hanlan says. For one thing, it makes e-mail order notifications easier because offline order data is automatically transmitted to the Magento software, which connects to Scout’s Sliverpop e-mail marketing software. As soon a sales rep enters the data for a purchase placed in person, by e-mail or over the phone, the platform automatically sends an e-mail confirmation. “That was really exciting to us,” Hanlan says. “It takes out some of the manual work for notifying people about their offline orders.”

Blue Acorn is working on a custom payments feature that will allow Scout customers to choose between paying immediately with a credit card or receiving an invoice later, she says. Another feature that will help with both business and consumer customer service will enable Scout agents to see inside shoppers’ online shopping carts while helping them on the phone, via live chat or via e-mail, she says. Agents may also complete the checkout for a customer who is unable to for technical reasons, a feature designed to reduce the number of shoppers who abandon the site without finishing transactions. That capability came built into the Magento platform, Hanlan says.

For live chat, Scout uses the Magento extension from vendor Olark, she adds. Scout will soon be adding proactive chat features—where an agent can identify a customer on the site who might need help and ask if she can be of assistance.

Magento offers business-to-business features Scout didn’t use immediately, but quickly added based on customer feedback. For example, it added a “mini-cart” to the upper-right side of the site that lets a customer keep track of items she’s selected, without having to leave the page, Bailey says. “Placing an $8,000 order [the other] way would take forever,” she says. Scout also added new filters to its site navigation to help shoppers find items in a variety of ways, such as by the type of decorative pattern, whether the tote can be monogrammed or the number of pockets.

The new site is also renders better on mobile devices than the old one did, Bailey adds. As a result, conversions on both the iPhone and iPad have been up, she says, without giving specific figures.

Scout uses the Enterprise Edition of Magento’s web-hosted software, which starts at $15,500 annually. Magento is an open-source technology platform, which provides the user with access to the software source code for making modifications. 

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