Retail chain Chinese Laundry, which sells women’s shoes, had relied on disparate systems, which caused confusion and inefficiency.

Keep it simple and singular—that’s the e-commerce technology lesson offered by Chinese Laundry, a retail chain that makes and sells women’s shoes.

Until about five or six years ago, the e-retailer used a lot of homegrown technology for its e-commerce operations, says Scott Cohn, Chinese Laundry’s vice president of e-commerce. As online and general sales continued to grow at the privately held firm, Chinese Laundry started buying other, separate systems, including new point-of-sale technology for its stores. The retailer also hired a company to manage its technology systems, he adds.

Problems didn’t take long to surface. “Things were constantly out of sync and had to be jerry-rigged to work with the back end,” says Cohn, who will further describe his experiences at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in June in a session entitled “The Grass is Never Greener on the Other Side of a Technology Integration.” Checking inventory via the disparate systems made “inventory visibility very cloudy,” he says, and payments were tracked in one system, with the rest of an order’s information stored in another. “We did that for 18 months,” he said.

When the technology contracts expired, Chinese Laundry sought bids for a new, single, integrated e-commerce platform system and decided to hire Celerant Technology Corp., which had provided some of the previous technology to the retailer, Cohn says. “The old Celerant website was resurrected and turned on,” making the switch that much easier, he says.

The latest version of the Chinese Laundry platform, launched in August 2014, ties together order and inventory information from different sources and has a customer relationship management system that gives the retailer a “single view” of shoppers, he says—for instance, a customer who goes into one of the Chinese Laundry stores in Las Vegas and gives her email address can be segmented and marketed to under a single account, no matter if she makes another store purchase or goes home and shops the Chinese Laundry e-commerce site.

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Cohn will not detail how much Chinese Laundry spent to integrate its operations under a single e-commerce platform. A spokesman for Celerant offers a basic idea of cost, though it’s not specific to Chinese Laundry: “E-commerce sites can start at around $15,000 and go up from there, depending on features and functionality of the site,” he says.

Chinese Laundry is “getting a very fast return on the investment” from the technology change, Cohn says Evidence of that comes from several areas. For one, the inventory the retailer carries has decreased by 15% to 20%, thanks to Chinese Laundry having a clearer view of what’s in stores and its e-commerce warehouse, and the ability to pull store orders from that warehouse and web orders from stores. (The retailer also drop ships orders.) “We are not only better informed (about inventory) but we can pull up order information from point-of-sale devices in stores,”  he says. 

Secondly, online conversions have increased about 23% since the technology switch and related upgrades, improvement he credits in large part to the Chinese Laundry site becoming “much more usable on tablets.” He adds that while the retailer is not yet using responsive design—a technique that automatically fits a site to the device or desktop computer employed by the shopper—work is underway on moving to responsive design. Finally, Cohn says, the retailer’s page views are down 29% since the technology improvements. That’s a good trend, he says, as it indicates that site navigation has become more efficient, meaning shoppers are more quickly getting to the products they want.

The upcoming June issue of Internet Retailer magazine—set for distribution at the IRCE conference, which takes place June 2-5 in Chicago—will feature an in-depth look at the experiences of one retailer that, unlike Chinese Laundry, has decided to build most of its e-commerce technology instead of buying it from vendors. Research shows that when it comes to e-commerce platforms, 233 merchants in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide report building their own systems, a 4.51% decline from the year before. In general, such a trend holds for the Second 500 Guide and for other systems such as fulfillment. To read more about that trend, and what e-commerce technology experts think about it, subscribe for free to Internet Retailer magazine

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