It might be an icon in the world of footwear, but until recently Montreal-based Aldo Group didn’t have much of a digital footprint: by the company’s own admission, its previous iCongo servers were difficult to update, and frequently plagued by inventory inaccuracy and poor performance during moments of high website traffic.

That changed in September 2013, when Aldo migrated from iCongo to SAP Hybris Commerce, a cloud-based retail solution developed by the German enterprise software firm’s Canadian arm.

“Customers now expect a very seamless experience when jumping from online to the store,” Riad Hijal, SAP Hybris’s global vice-president of omni-channel commerce solutions and strategies, says, with retailers expected to be capable of shipping an item that is listed online but unavailable in the physical store at a moment’s notice.

Riad Hijal
SAP Hybris’s global vice-president Riad Hijal says retailers face tough consumer demands.

“The ability to accommodate these types of scenarios became very, very important for Aldo,” Hijal says.

Since deploying the new platform, Aldo’s website traffic has grown by four per cent, conversions have grown by 12 per cent, and year-over-year sales have grown by 20 per cent – hardly a surprise in an era where customers are demanding a mobile-friendly shopping experience but retailers have been slow to respond.

Though iCongo was acquired in 2011 by Hybris (which itself was purchased by SAP in 2013), it was built on a legacy platform that wasn’t designed for frequent innovation, Hijal explains.

And with Canadian retail standards low compared to other countries – as recently as 2014, only three per cent of Canada’s retail economy was online – for years Aldo viewed its technology component as little more than a way to distinguish itself from the pack, Hijal says.

“Ten years ago, no one believed we could sell shoes online,” Aldo Group’s senior director of customer applications, Serge Rose, is reported to have said recently.

Hijal says he would take Rose’s statement further.

“A couple of years ago most people not just in Canada, but across North America, saw mobility just as a place for consumers to do some research,” he says. “The reality is that today in a lot of retail categories we’re actually seeing more traffic coming from mobile than from traditional desktop browsers.”

Aldo’s leaders noticed, Kijal says, and responded by hiring SAP Hybris to create an omnichannel shopping experience for each of its three brands – Aldo Shoes, Call It Spring, and Globo – both to attract mobile customers and expand into new regions.

By implementing SAP Hybris Commerce, Aldo has both simplified its back-end operations and gained access to valuable sales data that it will be using to optimize its redesigned website, which it currently plans to reveal in 2017.

Still powered by Hybris Commerce, the updated website will include new payment and shipping options, and continue to provide customers with access to Aldo’s worldwide inventory across each of the company’s channels, including mobile applications and in-store kiosks.

“For that scenario to seamlessly work, a lot of things need to happen behind the scenes, and they need to happen accurately, otherwise the whole thing falls apart,” Hijal says. “The information has to be available in real time, it has to be consistent, and it has to be reliable, and that’s what Hybris commerce has enabled Aldo to be.”

Despite the apparent benefits of accommodating mobile shoppers, forward-thinking retailers like Aldo remain a rarity in Canada, Hijal says.

According to a February study by consultation firm Accenture PLC, while 44 of Canadian consumers want more retail services via mobile devices, particularly real-time promotions, only seven per cent of retailers have the ability to send them; 28 per cent of Canadian consumers want to receive automatic credit for coupons and discounts via their mobile phones, but only 16 per cent of retailers can accommodate them; and though 50 per cent of Canadian consumers would like to check product availability online before visiting a store, only 28 per cent of retailers allow them to do so.

“Quite frankly, I find it baffling,” Hijal says. “I think the time is now to embrace these technologies, and to think about your customers’ expectations holistically and make sure that you don’t think about e-commerce as a separate silo, but as an extension to the overall customer experience.

“You can even differentiate [from online retailers] by using your physical store as an anchor,” he adds.

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