Boot Barn Inc. views its decision to equip store associates with internet-connected tablets as a way to salvage sales in stores that it would have otherwise lost.
“Every omnichannel sale we have could theoretically be looked at as a lost sale because [customers] looked for something, we didn’t have it and they were going to leave,” says chief information officer Steve Williams. “Even if the take-home margin [on an online sale] is a little lower, it’s still money you never had.”
Each of the western-wear retailer’s 212 stores has had a pair of tablets since November as part of Boot Barn’s “We Have It Promise” campaign. The tablets give store associates access to inventory throughout Boot Barn’s network, including in other stores and online, essentially opening the retailer’s inventory to store shoppers. All the technology for what’s called the WHIP system was built in-house.
“With our WHIP environment, you get the access to the depth and breadth of the inventory, and you get the consultancy of an experienced sales associate,” Williams says. “It’s the same supply chain. It does provide the entire [inventory] availability.” This includes products that vendors sell but Boot Barn might not have either in its stores or distribution centers.
“Even if it’s not in our stores or distribution center, we can still have it drop-shipped, regardless of the supplier,” he says.
In addition to salvaging sales that might otherwise be lost, the inventory transparency initiative benefits Boot Barn by giving it more information about what shoppers want. The retail chain can then make sure stores have the products shoppers look for in particular markets.
A surge of requests for a particular product using the We Have It Promise program probably means Boot Barn was understocked. That data, available in real time, can help it adjust its inventory and product mix at individual stores, he says.
Boot Barn, No. 565 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 1000, has grown its online sales by double-digit percentages for five straight quarters, and online now accounts for 18% of the retail chain’s overall sales.
The retail chain’s omnichannel journey is still in its infancy. Boot Barn’s omnichannel offerings are limited to returning online orders to stores and the WHIP initiative, which allows shoppers to purchase a product online while they are in a store.
That is changing, however. Williams says the retailer is replatforming its order management system with Oracle by the end of May. Western-wear retailer Shepler’s, which Boot Barn acquired two years ago for $147 million, already uses Oracle on the back end.
“Once implemented, we can prescribe which locations fulfill an order, and in which priority,” he says. “If we wish, we can change this logic based on the type of product as well (i.e. boots vs. jeans vs. apparel, etc.).”
Williams provided an example of how this could work. For a given online order, Boot Barn could first tell its system to have the order fulfilled from a warehouse if the product is in stock. If the product isn’t in stock from a warehouse, the order would then be fulfilled by a store that has that product in stock. If the product isn’t available in a store or a warehouse, the system would then instruct the vendor to drop-ship the order to the customer.
The most noticeable consumer-facing change with the new order management system will be greater transparency into Boot Barn’s inventory, all the way down to the store level.
When a customer finds the product he wants online, he can see which stores have it in stock. The customer can then reserve the product, pick it up at the store of his choosing and pay for it, Williams says. The customer also could opt to have his boots sent directly to his house. “If I go to the website, when I click on my pair of boots, I can see what stores have it but I can’t filter by all the product that are available in the store. That part will come (under the Oracle change),” Williams says.
“If I can leverage all that inventory that’s in our distribution center and all of those fulfillment opportunities the supply chain provides me, our customers can walk out of that store with their needs fulfilled no matter what,” he says.
Creating a true omnichannel business model, Williams says, requires getting buy-in from staff at the store level so that sales associates don’t view online sales as competing with store sales. The WHIP program is generating that buy-in among Boot Barn employees and demonstrating that a more seamless online and offline experience is good for business, he says.