Strandbags e-commerce re-platforms under ‘Project Future’ – Strategy – Cloud – Software
Strandbags has restructured its Australian and New Zealand websites with Shopify Plus and a mix of plugins under what it calls “Project Future”.
The retailer, which has more than 270 stores in that part of the world, partnered with digital agency Mindarc for the transformation and put both websites up in a heavily truncated four-month period.
In this week ITnews Podcast, CTO Stuart Freer and Head of Digital and Data Delivery Paul Erskine discuss the origin, status and next steps of Project Future, as well as a new set of transformations beyond.
Freer joined Strandbags – which sells handbags, luggage, wallets and related products – in September 2020 from cosmetics player Mecca Brands.
Erskine joined the group in March of this year, as Project Future began to take shape – one of many hires Freer made to bolster the company’s IT, digital and e-commerce resources.
Project Future was born out of “strategy work” in November 2020, although the timing of this work – leading up to Christmas and with Victoria’s release from lockdown – meant that future digital ambitions had temporarily taken a back seat to high. trading season.
At the start of the company’s fiscal year, Project Future was presented to the Board of Directors and was approved.
“At this point, we had already put out a tender, we had looked at the market and understood which was the right product,” Freer said.
“Shopify was chosen because of its capacity, its integration and because it has an extremely strong partner ecosystem.”
Freer initially set a goal of launching Project Future in April and relaunching Strandbags websites in October.
But as the pandemic progressed and physical stores were forced to close, pressure was mounting on the company’s existing e-commerce properties.
“I watch the performances online and everything is fine [but] it doesn’t set the world on fire, ”Freer recalled.
“We had had several failures of our old platform, and [applied] a few updates that hadn’t been as successful as we would like. And I said to the team, ‘We’re gonna have to shoot [Project Future] cheeky.
“We’re going to have to go live as soon as possible, and I suggest we do it in August, but what we’ll do is we will do it as an MVP. [minimum viable product]. We called it MLP, the Minimum Adorable Product.
Erskine, brought on board to lead the delivery, had been with Strandbags for less than a month when the project was ramped up.
“I was looking around the internal team and no one really raised eyebrows. They were like, “If we believe it, we will, and the seller was the same,” Erskine said.
“No one flinched and everyone was looking after us.”
“The digital and tech team is culturally brilliant,” adds Freer.
“I’ve worked with a lot of different teams in companies in Coles and Mecca, or in the UK with Tesco and Dixons, and they just have this total attitude of ‘we can fix this, it’s not a problem “.
“I’ve had teams in the past that just didn’t have that mentality. [The Strandbags team] has a real ‘service delivery in crisis’ mentality, but then applies that to projects, and that’s unusual. We don’t always see that with a lot of companies and projects.
Previous Strandbags e-commerce sites were relatively basic, consisting of two layers – “a home page, then a product listing page”.
“You couldn’t put content on the product listing pages, it was very difficult to create stories and it was difficult to change the experience,” Freer said.
It was difficult to add payment options, which led to different services being offered in two countries.
The underlying hosted infrastructure has not been subject to autoscaling or easily handling large bursts of volume.
“What we usually had to do for a ‘click frenzy’ or a Black Friday sale, especially last year, was to increase the hearts from 8 to 16 to 24 and keep going up and up until so that we can see response times where we wanted [them] be, ”Freer said.
“But it was all trial and error, with a little bit of hope involved.”
The new websites – Strandbags.co.nz and Strandbags.com.au – provide a radically different experience for customers.
For the first time, there are separate sections for “female” and “male” buyers.
The pages are rich in content and come with recommendations powered by a Shopify plugin called Hi-Conversion, itself powered by Amazon Personalize.
A “smart search” plugin called Sajari is used to link the search terms that customers use to the products they actually wanted; this is then used to improve similar searches in the future.
Customers are notified of which stores have inventory they can click and collect, as well as the near real-time availability of the desired product in the warehouse, giving them reassurance before placing an order.
The sites also have account management functionality for the first time, allowing customers to view their purchase history, change their contact details and – soon – to manage their participation in the Strandbags loyalty program.
The navigation and look of the websites reflects some of the brick and mortar store concepts and designs tested in Blacktown in Western Sydney and Chadstone in Melbourne.
Erskine said the company has spent time examining “the different worlds” in-store and online, and shaping the online experience after in-store practices.
“If a customer walks into the store, how do the staff greet the customer? And how do they then determine if they go through the fashion side or the travel side [of our product range]?” he said.
“The people who run customer service in the store also know the type of questions to ask the customer, so we wanted the website to reflect that.
“And so I think that really helped us in the beginning to kind of shape the web experience. When you go to the website you have the world of travel and fashion and then from there all kinds of questions the customer would ask to find what kind of product they want we have prioritized the website to reflect this.
Getting the new websites live in such a short time meant that some increases originally planned for Project Future have been pushed back into a “phase two” that is currently underway.
One job will see Strandbags drop a “scaled-down version” of the website on mobile kiosks that are currently in around 50 stores.
The intention is for customers to be able to see a small selection of products in store, then go to a kiosk, select the product specifications they want such as size and color, pay, and have the item delivered to the store. store or home.
Freer referred to it as an “endless aisle console”, and said it could come in handy especially in the travel portion of the business, where luggage sets are bulky and currently take up a lot of space in the business. ground to show all the different colors, eg.
Strandbags also intend to explore different delivery services if demand is there, particularly once travel reopens.
“If the demand is there, we’ll try and test an on-demand style service. Imagine going on vacation the next day, tearing the zipper off your case, and needing a new one in two hours. Well, we could probably do it, ”Freer said.
“This is the kind of thing we want to be able to do for customers.
“Apart from Project Future, the company is also launching a new initiative called Project Explorer, which will install Strandbags on new databases hosted in AWS.”