Can you really call your company ‘Canada’s outdoor outfitters’ when you’ve got no stores east of Winnipeg?

Yes, if you build out your presence online.

Based in Calgary, Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters (WSOO) has 13 locations across Canada – Western Canada, that is. With no stores east of Manitoba, the company sees e-commerce as the key to creating a national presence in the market for hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor gear.

Last year, however — through a combination of website analytics, customer surveys and cross-country focus groups — the firm concluded that an online overhaul was long overdue.

“Looking at the website specifically, almost every metric you could measure had room for improvement, either on-site metrics or marketing metrics like driving traffic (to physical stores),” says Adam Dorval, manager of e-commerce and digital strategy at WSOO.

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The Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters website after a major redesign.

The retailer assembled a team to tackle its website woes, led by SAP’s Hybris ecommerce division and Ottawa-based Thinkwrap Commerce. There was a lot to do and consider, including the data migration of 30,000 customer profiles and 50,000 product SKUs. Various e-commerce components had to be added, updated, upgraded or integrated in the retooled site, such as payment processing, gift cards, live customer service chat, shipping, email marketing, analytics, a store locator and customer ratings and reviews.

Rather than ticking off each of these technical features on a virtual laundry list of online functions, WSOO tried to redesign the site based on how its customers actually want to use it. The team discovered that tweaking something as simple as search, for example, can have a huge impact.

“It’s just a little search box but it’s actually the number one use for navigating our site. So there’s a lot of emphasis on it being intuitive and intelligent with type-ahead capabilities and auto correct and (generating) recommendations of similar products,” Dorval says.

"Almost every metric you could measure had room for improvement," says Adam Dorval of Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters' previous ecommerce site.
“Almost every metric you could measure had room for improvement,” says Adam Dorval of Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters’ previous ecommerce site.

Taking a user-based approach also led to the customization of some elements on the new site, including a process to verify that online shoppers ordering hunting weapons are properly licensed. Other parts of the site had to be tailored specifically to account for legal restrictions around the sale and shipment of firearms and ammunition.

Overall, WSOO wanted to make it easier for shoppers to find and buy products on its website. Beyond those basic improvements, “the other major pillar we were looking for was being able to leverage dynamic, real-time data and personalization,” adds Dorval.

WSOO is just starting to “leverage data” analytics for personalized email marketing, he says. The company hopes to eventually customize each shopper’s home page experience based on their interests and “ramp up our personalization based on purchase and browsing history so we can recommend products” through relevant search results, he says.

Personalization is one of the few ways Canadian retailers can differentiate themselves from competitors, especially huge U.S. rivals, says Axel Kuhn, a principal at ePath Consulting Inc. in Toronto. With smaller budgets, he says, most Canadian companies can’t compete on price and delivery times the way Amazon can, for instance.

Personalized digital experiences are also something consumers have become accustomed to, says Kuhn.

“I think personalization is everything. People are expecting that their e-commerce journey is not only highly efficient but also that the system remembers who I am so I can look at my order history without having to research what I ordered last time,” says Kuhn, who is also lead instructor of the eBusiness Management certificate program at the University of Toronto.

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“Digital transformation and omnichannel are just being demanded by customers,” says Riad Hijal of hybris.

Another expectation among today’s shoppers is the ability to seamlessly interact with a retailer through various channels such as online, mobile, phone, email and live chat.

“It’s just business now. Digital transformation and omnichannel are just being demanded by customers and if your organization is not doing that, you’re going to be left behind,” says Riad Hijal, global vice-president of solution and strategy at SAP’s Hybris division.

Since WSOO unveiled its revamped website and ecommerce platform in January, its conversion rates have jumped by over 11.8 per cent while bounce rates have fallen by 11.5 per cent. This July and August, online sales were 54 per cent higher compared to the same months in 2014. By going completely digital, the company has been able to retire its mail order catalog, thus slashing its marketing spend by about 60 per cent.

For all the technology involved in this etailing tale, Dorval’s advice for other businesses is to think about the customer first, and the software solution second.

“Really listen to customers. It’s easy to get lost in technology and complexity and make a decision from a technology perspective … Don’t make your business decisions based around technology.”

Kuhn agrees.

"If you're getting bad data it's worse than no data," says Axel Kuhn of ePath Consulting Inc.
“If you’re getting bad data it’s worse than no data,” says Axel Kuhn of ePath Consulting Inc.

“The very last thing (retailers) should be focusing on is ‘What kind of ecommerce platform.’ It’s more about … what value-added business model can I create for my customer?” he says. “Too many companies become fixated on their current legacy systems or a certain technology that someone in their organization is enamored with and then design their ecommerce strategy around it.”

If you can avoid it, Kuhn also advises against customizing your ecommerce solution too much because it’s usually tougher to do upgrades, additions and changes later. His final tip? Make sure the data you’re getting through analytics is good quality and used in the right contexts.

“If you’re getting bad data,” he warns, “it’s worse than no data.”

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