How the LCBO launched its ecommerce site in less than 12 months

Making it equally convenient for online shoppers in Moosonee, Thunder Bay, and Toronto to order Pelee Island Pinot Noir from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was certainly harder than adding a bottle to a virtual cart, the organization’s CIO says – but not as difficult as you might imagine either.

Announced last April, the LCBO’s new ecommerce site officially launched on July 26 after less than 12 months of development, the organization’s senior vice president and CIO, Michael Eubanks, tells

“I think it’s always difficult to get a cross-functional team together from a business standpoint, and then orchestrate everything between 10-plus vendors,” he admits. “But from a technology leader’s perspective, it’s also exciting.”

Of course, given the organization’s domination of alcohol sales in Ontario for most of its 90 years, the first question one might ask is why the LCBO, which recorded $5.57 billion in sales last year, didn’t move online sooner.

“Like many retailers you want to make sure you get your bricks and mortar experience right, so we’ve spent lots of capital on refreshing our stores and making sure that we’ve optimized customer service at the store level,” says Eubanks, who joined the LCBO in 2014 after two years as CTO of Toronto startup One Inc.

Like other corporations, the LCBO has been following a long-term, multi-platform strategy with several initiatives mapped out over a three-year period, he says, with ecommerce “a natural extension” of its current retail efforts.

A ‘wagile’ approach

Originally planned with a development schedule of 12 months, the LCBO’s ecommerce site was able to launch sooner thanks to the startup-like approach Eubanks has encouraged his team to follow since joining the organization: he calls it “wagile,” a portmanteau of “waterfall” and “agile.”

Employing a top-down structure, Eubanks’ “wagile” strategy for the ecommerce site began with the appointment of a program manager who was given authority over every one of the 15-plus vendors that contributed to the project.

To ensure the vendors’ cooperation, Eubanks also made sure they were included in the project’s steering committee.

Michael Eubanks headshot
LCBO CIO Michael Eubanks says the organization’s ability to leverage existing technology partners is the secret behind its recent ecommerce launch’s success.

“I think giving a single program manager the authority to direct the various vendors was really effective,” he says. “Having full accountability between our vendors and the IT steering committee made sure they were fully aware, engaged, and accountable for the job.”

To save time, rather than selecting new vendors the program manager was instructed to leverage the LCBO’s existing partners, including IBM for the website’s basic platform and hosting infrastructure; Toronto-based services firm Tangentia Inc. for its implementation; digital marketing agency Razorfish for its design; Beanstream for transaction management services; NCR, JDA, and Texas POS for point-of-sale; Canada Post for home delivery; Teradata for big data management; Adobe Analytics and Microstrategy for content management; and Telus for CRM.

“For any IT professional, it’s important that you make sure your business partners are engaged and demonstrating leadership – being the sponsors that you need them to be in order to execute a successful project,” Eubanks says. By relying on prior partnerships, the LCBO ensured that would be the case.

Another key element that Eubanks believes made a difference was the project’s testing strategy: every week the management team would organize scrums in which developers tested various scripts end-to-end, documenting both “mission critical” errors and smaller mistakes, and giving priority to the former.

“The thing that I’ve tried to deploy within the LCBO is this concept of agility,” he says. “The world’s changing quickly, and we want to make sure that the capabilities the business wants are executed sooner than later.”

The result: since the end of July, Ontario residents have been able to order some 5000 Canadian and international wines, beers, ciders, and spirits online, with the organization promising a selection of up to 16,000 different products by 2017.

Delivery is free if shipped to the nearest LCBO location, or $12 per order, plus tax, if brought to a customer’s door.

“The volume of purchases and site visits have already exceeded our expectations, so we’re very happy,” Eubanks says. Asking the tough questions

While is a business-facing site, we couldn’t help asking Eubanks one consumer-related question: why do home deliveries typically arrive within four days, according to the organization’s website, while store deliveries might take as many as four weeks?

“It’s the same ‘leveraging our assets’ philosophy that I mentioned earlier,” he says with a laugh. “We have trucks on the road that visit stores on a scheduled timeframe… and that’s why we’re able to offer free delivery to stores, because we’re leveraging our existing supply chain.”

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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