CEO Sharon Price John says Build-A-Bear’s old e-commerce system is a big reason for disappointing online sales in December.
Traffic surges in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31 used to cause the costume retailer’s site to crash repeatedly. But after AnytimeCostumes.com offloaded image serving to content delivery network Mirror Image Internet, there’s not a ghost of a problem.
Whether it’s a costume of a clown or of Michael Jackson, it’s the picture that’s going to close the sale online. But it was images of costumes that at one time made Halloween a nightmare for Anytime Costumes.
Those images were causing the site to crash repeatedly as traffic surged in the weeks leading up to Halloween, says Meredith Abraham, vice president of the web-only retailer, which sells at AnytimeCostumes.com. But that problem vanished two years ago after the e-retailer moved the roughly 12,000 images it uses on its site to the servers of content delivery network Mirror Images Internet Inc., Abraham says.
Now, even though the site attracts 2 million unique visitors per day in the pre-Halloween rush, the site is stable and images load more quickly, says Abraham, whose family closed its lone bricks-and-mortar store in 2003 to focus on the web. “Once we were able to have the images hosted by Mirror Image, it took bandwidth off our servers and allowed the site to perform better,” she says.
While she would not disclose what AnytimeCostumes.com pays Mirror Image for its service, she says it is cheaper than it would be for her to have her web hosting company give her additional capacity to host the 12,000 images-four for each of her 3,000 SKUs plus additional graphics-that Mirror Image stores. Mirror Image charges by gigabytes delivered, which means Abraham only pays for what she uses, even though Mirror Image stores the images all year. “With Mirror Image, it’s scalable, and I’m not paying for what I don’t need,” she says.
The improved performance helped the e-retailer boost sales nearly 10% to $4.8 million in 2008 from about $4.4 million the prior year, although the economic downturn has sales down 10-15% this year, Abraham says. She says the retailer has boosted sales recently by lowering prices and offering free shipping. “Consumers are comparing prices,” she says. “They’re going all over and finding the best price and deals on shipping.”
Recognizing the increased consumer focus on price, AnytimeCostumes.com has recently introduced a price-match guarantee, saying it will match a competing price on any product it sells. For the same reason, Abraham is also thinking of launching a mobile site in 2010, so consumers can more easily compare her price on a costume when they’re in a costume store. “People go shopping in their neighborhoods at temporary costume stores and they call from the stores to compare prices,” Abraham says. “We think it’s important for next year to have a mobile site so they can navigate to us on their phones.”