September 2, 2010, 11:13 AM

Outsourcing its web platform lets Nambé focus on brand-building

The manufacturer and e-retailer threw out its homegrown e-commerce platform in favor of a software-as-a-service option.

Jeff Creecy inherited a homegrown e-commerce platform when he joined Nambé Inc., a manufacturer of decorative goods, in 2005. The retail e-commerce site worked as it was originally designed to, but it was hard to update to keep up with changes in online retailing.

A major problem was that the software engineers that built the site had left the company. Having been a software developer early in his career and now as vice president of information technology, Creecy knew how difficult it could be to understand and maintain a design built by others. “When I joined we were a couple generations away from those who developed it. When you don’t have the resources that understand the platform it is easy to get mad at the tool. It would get buggy because we weren’t investing in it,” Creecy says. Nor was the company in a position to invest the resources required to maintain a self-managed site, he says.

When received too much traffic, the site crashed. Site navigation, such as how the product search box worked, had fallen behind industry norms. The manufacturer knew it was missing out on sales it would get if the site functioned better.

Nambé approached Truition, an e-commerce platform provider, in 2007 to fix its underlying web architecture issues. CDC Software purchased Truition in 2009 and Truition now operates as CDC eCommerce. The company also provides e-commerce platform services to MLB Advanced Media, No. 179 on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, among others.  

Nambé and Truition redesigned the site using Truition’s software-as-a-service platform; Truition hosts the e-commerce site and visitors to connect to the software via a web connection. Gary Black, general manager of CDC eCommerce, says the service hosts all site functions at its own facilities. Nambé says content managers can access and update site content without having detailed technical knowledge. The new site launched in spring 2008.

The redesign may not have been apparent to customers, Creecy says, because Nambé maintained a lot of the site’s visual design. “The big changes we made were in search and navigation and the technology underneath that. [The new site] groups things into the attributes we think are relevant to the consumer. We worked very hard to enhance our customers’ ability to find the products they want,” he says. For instance, the top navigation lets consumers see products made of crystal or those made of metal alloys. A later site improvement added zooming capabilities to product photos.

Like a lot of e-commerce sites, the new initially offered customers sale prices and deals on discontinued products and overstocks, but Nambé’s focus for the site has changed over the last two years. Creecy says direct web sales, which he assumed management of during the implementation of the new e-commerce platform, haven’t matched his initial projections, which he attributes largely to the lackluster economy.

The company also understood that as a manufacturer, the majority of its business comes through wholesale contracts with department and specialty stores that sell Nambé products, and through corporate gift programs. Recognizing that couldn’t compete with retailer clients on price without jeopardizing its wholesale business, Nambé has refocused its e-commerce site to operate primarily as a brand-building tool, although it continues to sell products. Creecy estimates that only about 7% or 8% of total sales come from

“One thing I’m committed to is to make sure we have a site that coexists properly with our selling channels,” he says.

Major site initiatives include creating more site content and building social media, and is working with CDC eCommerce to build the required functionality. Customer reviews, for example, will be added soon. A Nambé blog will follow.

Creecy says little of this would have been feasible using the old site architecture, given the company’s limited resources to develop software internally. “I very much have a predisposition to outsource where I can gain the benefit of somebody’s infrastructure and best practices,” he says.

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