January 27, 2017, 9:44 AM

The University of Oregon bookstore gets an education in retail tech

The university’s official bookstore, The Duck Store, in July migrated its enterprise resource planning, e-commerce, in-store point-of-sale and email marketing to Oracle’s NetSuite SuiteCommerce Advanced retail platform.

Lead Photo

The University of Oregon’s 24,000 students and worldwide network of alumni get excited when the school football team does well. Really excited. And that excitement is illustrated in sales, particularly online sales, for The Duck Store, says Alex Lyons, strategic technology team leader for  the school’s official independent bookstore.

The retailer, which generates about $34 million in total annual sales between the web and its 10 bricks-and-mortar locations on and around the campus, including at the football stadium and basketball arena and in the campus town, began selling online in the mid-1990s. And a trip by its football team to the Rose Bowl in 1995 proved that online ordering was taking off, says Lyons, who has been with the bookstore since 2001. “We needed a system to serve and sell to our fans around the world.”

Its first e-commerce site was built in-house on the web application development program ColdFusion from Adobe Inc. and ran on the Duck Store’s own servers. “It was built as a side project by one of our employees,” Lyons says. As the store’s online sales volume outgrew its homegrown platform, The Duck Store moved to e-commerce platform provider Volusion LLC in 2010. And, as web sales continued to grow at a steady clip, now totaling between $1.2 million and $2.2 million for merchandise—often depending on the success of the football team that year—and another $1.5 million for textbook sales, The Duck Store in 2014 decided to consider a retail system that could combine its enterprise resource planning (ERP), e-commerce, in-store point-of-sale and email marketing in one spot.

Last May, The Duck Store decided to migrate to one system under Oracle Corp.’s NetSuite SuiteCommerce Advanced retail platform. “I realized we needed an enterprise-level platform and we were going to have to be fully integrated,” Lyons says. The Duck Store began rolling out NetSuite in July with bookstore merchandise such as clothing and accessories, and will add textbooks to the platform in May, Lyons says. Just six months after its first-phase rollout, The Duck Store is saving time, enjoying added functionality and experiencing fewer internal headaches, Lyons says.

“When anyone from our team logs in, they now access one united system, and that has been a huge timesaver for us,” Lyons says, “All team members have access to the same data and the same information.” This is especially helpful when keeping track of inventory and pricing for food and beverage items, which are complex and have moving expiration dates, high turnover and numerous SKUs. “It’s so much easier now to spot problems with supply chain data, which has a lot of moving parts,” Lyons says.

Before moving to SuiteCommerce Advanced, The Duck Store hobbled between its legacy back-end system, a common system used by university bookstores nationwide called MBS Textbook Exchange Inc. that housed its ERP system, point-of-sale system and textbook e-commerce systems, and its Volusion platform. Staff spent ample time each day entering data from that older system into Volusion and creating workarounds for the two platforms to integrate—albeit clumsily—with one another, Lyons says.

“We were limited with what we could do because of all the manual steps required to take data from our legacy system and put it into Volusion,” Lyons says. For example, item management and accounting systems were still housed in MBS and staff had to extract that data from MBS and import it into Volusion twice a day. “Our staff was spending a ton of time reconciling sales info and updating inventory numbers for our some 25,000 unique items,” Lyons says.

Across accounting, fulfillment, operations and web development, bookstore employees were spending as many as seven hours per day moving data between the two systems and troubleshooting errors. “The modern and legacy systems didn’t play well together,” Lyons says.

Having the new integrated system saves time and makes launching large-scale price changes and promotions much easier. For example, active members of the University of Oregon alumni association receive an annual 20% discount on a single order. With its old system, The Duck Store used a generic coupon code for the discount, which was leaked to the public. With SuiteCommerce Advanced, The Duck Store was able to create a coupon promotion that matched a unique coupon code to each active alumni association member’s membership ID number. That code is only good one time and is void after applied. What’s more, The Duck Store can also now easily see what alumni association members are purchasing, which can help the store with personalization and targeting down the line.

Lyons says she and her team evaluated three vendors and went with NetSuite in part because it wanted a solution that would integrate its systems, including ERP and web, out of the box, without requiring heavy customization on The Duck Store’s end. Lyons also likes that the software integrates with other services. For example, the store uses Bronto, which is owned by Oracle, for email marketing and will soon be integrating with Pubnet, a textbook publishing e-commerce exchange owned by The Nielsen Co. Oracle NetSuite charges The Duck Store an annual software license fee for SuiteCommerce Advanced in addition to a fee for 120 users to access the software. It also pays an annual POS system license fee and a fee for unlimited POS access for cashiers.

In addition to easy integrations, Lyons likes that she and her team have the ability to customize how they view data in SuiteCommerce Advanced. “We can fine-tune how we see data to make better decisions,” Lyons says. “Before we would just get canned reports. Now we can customize anything from transaction data to item data.”

In the near future, Lyons wants to add a customer loyalty program to SuiteCommerce Advanced and also outfit warehouse workers with mobile devices to help make order fulfillment more efficient.

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