Group Publishing Inc., a supplier of religious books, recently had an e-commerce awakening.

The publisher, which sells to customers like churches, retail chain Barnes & Noble Inc. and e-commerce powerhouse Amazon.com Inc., had failed at its first attempt to sell online, Jeff Michaels, head of sales and marketing, said during the B2B Workshop last week at IRCE 2016 in Chicago.

Group Publishing’s former chief marketing officer had chosen an e-commerce technology platform that didn’t work well with Group’s business operations software for managing such things as customer orders and inventory records, resulting in a convoluted customer experience. “We spent 11 months trying to integrate this thing, and not one order, from quote to cash, was ever processed,” Michaels said. “Shortly thereafter the CMO was let go.”

The publisher directed Michaels to pick a new e-commerce platform that would integrate well with the company’s Oracle enterprise resource planning, or ERP, system, which Group Publishing uses to organize data on inventory levels, financial records and customer activity.

Michaels identified four key online issues that Group Publishing needed to address:  simplify customers’ online path to purchase; make it easier for customers to place online orders; engage customers as individuals instead of as business entities; and increase customer acquisition and retention. “Our predominant customer is the church,” he said. “We’re dealing with these highly experiential people who want to be engaged as individuals within the organization, not as institutions.”

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In August 2015, Group decided on an e-commerce platform from Kibo Software Inc. Kibo is the result of a January 2015 merger of e-commerce platform provider MarketLive Inc., order-fulfillment software firm Shopatron and Fiverun, a mobile point-of-sale vendor. The Kibo professional services team spent seven months building out the new platform. The new Group.com went live in February 2016 on Kibo’s software-as-a-service, or SaaS, e-commerce technology platform. SaaS enables companies to access through a web browser a technology vendor’s Internet-hosted software, freeing the client from running the software on its own infrastructure.

The new site embedded product information into six company blogs designed to target individuals. Three of the blogs produce content for church ministries dealing with children, young adults and women; the other three address the management of volunteer organizations; the management of ministries and churches; and how churches can drive up membership and participation in activities. “We needed to simplify our path to purchase, but not everybody is on the same journey,” Michaels said. “Some are on the learning journey, some are on the purchasing journey, and we needed to simplify the whole thing by blending content and commerce.”

Group has since recorded a 128% increase in its conversion rate of customers who visit Group.com and eventually buy something, Michaels said. He declined to specify Group’s current conversion rate, but credited increased customer retention to new content and making the site easier for customers to use.

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The new site lets customers find and purchase a product in three steps: Buyers can type a product name or item number into Group.com’s search bar, add an item from the search results to their cart and review the order, and click to complete the purchase. The average time to find a product and place an order is five minutes, Michaels said.

The new site also features a price-comparison tool that lists products from both Group Publishing and its competitors. In addition, the site saves customer cart information after each shopping session, and allows business buyers to create wish lists of items they might want to purchase in the future.

The new sitehas produced improved results, including:  a 49% improvement in the site’s abandonment rate, or the percentage of visitors who leave without placing an order; a 50% reduction in the number of abandoned shopping carts; and a 12% average increase in repurchases across all types of customers.

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Michaels declined to disclose Group Publishing’s sales or other financial information. He also declined to specify the cost of deploying Kibo, which doesn’t make its pricing publicly available.

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