Source: Apparel Magazine, Cover Story, May 2016. Author : Deena M. Amato
In an omnichannel world, customers don’t shop by channel, they shop their favorite “brands.” Eager to make this transition, Town Shoes Limited added an integrated cross-banner retail platform that not only integrates ordering across all sales touchpoints, but also streamlines fulfillment efforts — a move that drives a complete omnichannel experience.
Town Shoes has gone through significant changes over the years, all positioning the company for omnichannel success. Leonard Simpson opened the first Town Shoes location in 1952. For 60 years, his family ran the 100 percent privately-owned business. In 2012, the company purchased Sterling LP, and since then, the company, now known as Town Shoes Limited, operates Town Shoes, The Shoe Company, Shoe Warehouse, Sterling and DSW Canadian locations.
“For 64 years, we have experienced rapid change and growth, a 64-year-old start-up company, of sorts,” explained B.J. Morden, the chain’s senior director of IT. “The merger boosted our store count, and now we are ready to migrate the company to the next level — omnichannel growth.” Morden joined the team in 2013 to help drive the company’s omnichannel goals. At that time, the banners all featured marketing and promotional sites, and only Town Shoes operated a transactional web site. “It was then that we created a three-year roadmap to become an omnichannel retailer,” Morden said. “Our goal is not to be cutting edge, but instead to deliver an engaging customer service model that would help us become a shopper’s favorite place to buy shoes.”
In 2014, the chain tapped Jesta I.S. to get the ball rolling. The first step was to integrate a common commerce platform that would support a digital storefront for each brand, all accessible through an umbrella portal, of sorts. The next step was to incorporate the architecture within its point-of-sale (POS) platform, a move that would enable instore associates to use the platform exactly as shoppers use it via desktop, laptop or mobile device.
Among the features available through the new platform are product lookup, mobile checkout, gift card management, clienteling and real-time visibility into the crosschannel loyalty platform, as well as their shoppers’ unique customer profiles. Most importantly, this platform gives store associates a clear vision into their inventory availability. “This platform allowed us to create an endless aisle, one where we could check in-store merchandise availability, and order merchandise from other locations or the manufacturer — a means of allowing shoppers to always have access to the shoes they wanted,” he said.
Town Shoes’ endless aisle service, which is dubbed “Shoephoria,” features available inventory across the chain’s 200 stores, and its suppliers, on a single online platform. Where the challenge lay, however, was in Town Shoes’ ability to streamline fulfillment in an omnichannel setting, especially as the company managed two order engines: one that was associate-driven at the store level, and the other customer-driven via digital devices. “It is great that we have a platform that can process orders, but we still needed logic and a supply chain eco-system that can manage delivery information and fulfillment,” Morden explained.
By leveraging the omnichannel order fulfillment algorithms of Jesta’s Vision distributed order management module, Town Shoes now has centralized order management software that enables the company to use its network of brick-and-mortar stores as nationwide fulfillment centers. The system also empowers Town Shoes to tap into its unsegregated pool of inventory to improve productivity and increase order fill rates, all with the final goal of refining its customer service. “Algorithms process almost 1,000 orders a day, managing them throughout the picking, packing and shipping processes,” he said, adding they co-developed the fulfillment feature alongside Jesta.
Meanwhile, using store inventory instead of supporting separate warehouses for each channel enables shoppers to buy, pick-up, even request that merchandise be sent to any store. Real-time inventory visibility guarantees optimal fulfillment and ensures both profitability for the retailer and efficiency for the customer. Once the service went live in March 2015, the chain spent the first half of the year extending the complete solution, including the Shoephoria endless aisle service, into its fleet of stores, enterprise-wide. The second half of the year was spent integrating its manufacturer partners onto the system to enable drop-shipping to omnichannel shoppers using the Shoephoria service.
Over the past year, Morden reported that online sales have doubled, and ‘firsthit fulfillment,’ the process that occurs when the first store carrying available inventory designated to fill an online order does so successfully, is at nearly 80 percent. Orders placed and fulfilled through the platform have more than doubled since going live. “We are taking the total opposite omnichannel approach from other retailers. Many retailers often begin the process with fulfillment centers, and then add store fulfillment, while we pioneered our service with store fulfillment,” he added. “This hybrid model provides value and benefits.”
— Deena M. Amato