News

Lionel roars into omnichannel

BY Dan Berthiaume

Lionel LLC has been making and selling model trains for 115 years, but that doesn’t mean the company is behind the times. Lionel is using NetSuite NetCommerce to run its end-to-end omnichannel commerce business.

The implementation, which only took four months, powers the company’s consumer-facing e-commerce websites for its Lionel Trains and Lionel Racing brands, call center, inventory management, order management, marketing, customer support and financials.

With two different brands previously running on multiple, separate e-commerce sites, the company endured challenges conducting business with consumers and retail partners. The sites were not fully integrated with their back office systems, which forced Lionel to perform time-consuming batch processing and dual system updates to perform simple tasks like price changes. This resulted in inaccurate inventory data and negative customer experiences.

Since 2011, Lionel had relied on NetSuite for its financials, inventory and order management. Now the company also uses NetSuite’s unified omnichannel commerce platform to support the company’s growth while getting deeper insight into customer, sales and inventory data. [pb]

The move to a unified, omnichannel commerce platform with SuiteCommerce has given Lionel the ability to deliver branded, highly personalized shopping experiences including video and image zooms. The company can also deliver an optimized mobile commerce experience, as well as perform dynamic merchandising and quickly and easily list new products.

Other benefits include customers being able to track their own order status, purchase history, service and return requests. Staff and shoppers can have access to live data including customer, order and inventory status across all channels.

“SuiteCommerce eliminated all of the challenges of trying to connect our systems,” said Rick Gemereth, Lionel’s VP of IT and operations. “We now run on one unified commerce platform in the cloud, making us more efficient, more agile and better able to respond to the needs of our customers. With NetSuite, true inventory visibility across the entire organization allows us to keep up with the demands of our customers and retail partners. Plus, the entire user experience is far superior on our ecommerce websites.”

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MARKETING/SOCIAL MEDIA

Want it now? Social media can help

BY Dan Berthiaume

Social media has evolved into a powerful marketing tool for retailers. But so far, social commerce is not yet a major transactional channel.

Twitter is the latest social platform to attempt to take advantage of social media’s immediacy to offer direct purchase functionality aimed at impulse shoppers.

Partnering with e-commerce providers including cloud-based commerce solution vendor Demandware, as well as e-commerce platforms Shopify and Bigcommerce, Twitter is offering “Buy Now” functionality. Leveraging tools such as open commerce APIs and configurable product feeds, the integration extends commerce functionality from third-party commerce platforms to tweets.

This means that retailers can leverage their existing e-commerce infrastructure, including payment, order management and shipping, for purchases made on Twitter. Rather than having consumers link to a separate e-commerce page from Twitter, shoppers can instead buy directly from a tweet on their PC, tablet or smartphone. And the cost of enabling this functionality is greatly reduced via direct integration to various third-party e-commerce providers.

Considering the inherent real-time immediacy of 140-character tweets, obviously “Buy Now” will best serve as a way to entice customers to make snap purchase decisions based on discounts and promotions. One of the first retailers to launch Buy Now functionality is Demandware user PacSun.

“Our customers live on Twitter, so giving them an easy way to buy products that they discover in their Twitter feeds, without leaving the app, is a no-brainer,” said PacSun CEO Gary Schoenfeld. “Social commerce is a key part of our overarching strategy, and Demandware has made it easy for us to integrate the Twitter Buy Now feature with our existing ecommerce order processing system." [pb]

TWITTER: There is nothing preventing Twitter from partnering with even more e-commerce platform providers to provide Buy Now, and it is entirely possible the company will do so after seeing how this initial rollout performs. It is important to view Twitter Buy Now as the latest step in a continuum of social media companies trying to let consumers buy what they want, when and where they want it, without having to leave the world of social media.

Twitter itself has been piloting a buy button, slightly different from the Buy Now button, since September 2014. The buy button lets users tap the button to get additional product details. They are then prompted to enter shipping and payment information. Once that’s entered and confirmed, order information is sent to the merchant for delivery.

Twitter has so far partnered with smaller e-commerce platforms like Fancy and Gumroad on this buy button, although media reports indicate it is negotiating with larger e-commerce platform Shopify. Other social media platforms, including Pinterest and Facebook, have already been working with Shopify to expand the reach of their own buy button features.

PINTEREST: Pinterest has also been collaborating with Demandware and Shopify on its “Buyable Pins” feature launched in June. Users can tap the “buy it” button on a pin they like and immediately purchase the displayed item with Apple Pay or credit card. Personal info can be saved to make purchases even faster. Retailers including Jo-Ann Fabric, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Michael’s and Gardner’s Supply Company all offer buyable pins.

FACEBOOK: Naturally the granddaddy of all the social media platforms, Facebook, is taking part in the buy button fun. Since summer 2014, Facebook has been testing a new “buy” button designed to help businesses drive sales through Facebook in News Feed and on Pages.

With this feature, people on desktop or mobile can click the “Buy” call-to-action button on ads and page posts to purchase a product directly from a business, without leaving Facebook.

Also, Facebook’s Instagram visual social network has been partnering with entities as diverse as eBay Enterprise, Facebook and Barney’s to offer purchases directly from images posted on the site.

In addition, earlier in September Facebook debuted a new “Shop” section of its pages that lets retailers more prominently highlight the products they sell. Shopify has partnered with Facebook to enable Shopify merchants to showcase as well as sell their products in the new Shop section.

Retailers can choose to direct shoppers to their online store, or to checkout directly on the Facebook site or mobile app.

The notion of a distinct “store” continues to fade as constant consumer connectivity offers retailers more points of contact where they potentially make a sale. The concept of making instant purchases via social media is still in its infancy, but look for possible significant growth spurts.

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MOBILITY

Study: Holidays may be merry, but not mobile

BY Dan Berthiaume

Consumers may make merry during the upcoming holiday season, but mobile devices may be less a part of the action than retailers like.

According to a new survey from marketing automation platform provider Bronto Software, only 19% of holiday shoppers plan to purchase from a tablet, and 22% from a smartphone.

Consumers will use mobile devices to search for the best deal: 65% will look for promotions and coupons, 63% will check prices on that store's website and 61% will search for lower prices at another store or site.

Conversely, among the functions retailers expect consumers to use their mobile devices for the most is to read reviews (61%). More than 60% of retailers expect shoppers to use their devices to research their return and exchange policies when, in fact, only 19% of shoppers say they will use their mobile device for that purpose.

The study also found that 38% of shoppers say they won't shop with a retailer that doesn't offer free shipping. Yet only 28% of all retailers plan to offer free shipping on all purchases. Among online-only retailers, only 18% plan to offer the same deal.

In addition, the interest in flash sales declines with age. More than half (54%) of all millennials love them compared to only 39% of shoppers aged 30-39 and 16% of shoppers aged 50-64.

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