September 9, 2014, 1:11 PM

How a distributor increased online orders fivefold

After migrating off of a custom-built e-commerce site, Christian Art Gifts made it easier for its client retailers to place orders.

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A family-owned business selling art and gift items to some 4,000 retail companies, including large retail chains as well as mom-and-pop merchants, Christian Art Gifts is wholesaling more products online after migrating to a new e-commerce and business software system, Heinrich Johnsen, the company’s owner, says.

At the same time, he adds, the company expects e-commerce to account for far more than its current single-percentage share of total sales, as small retailers in particular become more comfortable with buying its products online.

“We’re looking for e-commerce to be at least 30% to 40% of total sales,” Johnsen says.

Christian Art Gifts sells some 2,000 SKUs, with a constantly changing mix of products ranging from books and day planners to necklaces, leather wallets and coffee mugs—all with a Christian or inspirational theme, such as with imprinted crosses or terms of hope and encouragement. The family-owned company until earlier this year had operated a home-grown business-to-business e-commerce site that did not integrate well with its Microsoft Dynamics financial and inventory management software. That made it difficult, for instance, to update inventory availability on the customer-facing web site as it processed online orders, Johnsen says.

Johnsen, a former business and technology consultant at an international consulting firm, at first figured he would find a new e-commerce platform and customer relationship management software to plug into the Dynamics application. But that didn’t go as easily as he had hoped.

“I realized it would be a very complex integration,” he says. As a B2B e-commerce site, with a wide range of customers from major retail chains like Barnes & Noble to small, independent merchants, Christian Art Gifts needed a tightly integrated e-commerce and back-end business software system that, for example, could show particular price discounts based on order volume and each B2B customer’s contract terms.

Johnsen opted instead for an entirely new system from NetSuite Inc., SuiteCommerce, which provides a customer-facing e-commerce site integrated with NetSuite’s business software for managing financial, inventory and other records. Christian Art Gifts is developing its new NetSuite platform in three phases. The site accommodates small purchases by individual consumers as well as bulk orders by business customers who can log in to view their contract pricing.

In the first phase, completed in February, Johnsen says customers can, among other things, view better product images and information on inventory availability. Those two improvements, he says, were primarilty responsible for a fivefold increase in site traffic and online orders on ChristianArtGifts.com. In addition, the use of responsive design provides for consistent shopping features across smartphones and tablet computers as well as desktops, Johnsen says. Responsive design is a way of constructing a web site so that the way it displays changes based on the device the visitor is using.

In the second phase, slated for completion in early November, Christian Art Gifts will implement additional improvements, including a new online billing module that will let business customers view and manage their invoices and make online payments. Business customers will be able to view any credits Christian Art Gifts has granted them, for example, and apply the credits toward any due invoices, and choose their preferred method of payment, such as PayPal or a credit card. A business customer with a set spending limit will also be able to view the amount available for spending.

The third phase, due early next year, will give customers more control of managing orders and returns online. A business customer awaiting a shipment of a case of goods, for example, will be able to view details online of what is actually being shipped within the case.

For a free subscription to B2BecNews, a weekly newsletter that covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industryclick here. B2BecNews is published by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes the monthly trade magazine Internet Retailer.

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