SuiteWorld has produced some very interesting news this year – check out our story on NetSuite’s new partnership with Microsoft, for example. However, I find the best thing about this event is listening to some of the customer sessions to understand a bit better how NetSuite’s cloud platform can deliver some tangible results.
And so this afternoon I attended a presentation by the Girl Scouts of the USA, a brand that I’m sure needs no introduction, and was impressed to hear that the youth organisation has boosted its retail sales of general merchandise by over 300% in under four years. Not only this, but its mobile sales have also increased by 300% over the same period (mobile sales are now over $1 million).
The new e-commerce platform launched in 2012 when revenues from general merchandise were $3..6 million. In 2013 this increased to $6.6 million. In 2014 it leapt to $10.2 million. And in 2015 it is projected that sales will go over $12 million.
For a charity, these sort of outcomes will make a significant difference to the organisation. Not only this, but by consolidating onto a single platform, Girl Scouts now has the ability to really understand who its customers are and can now market at a national level – something that previously wasn’t possible.
However, it hasn’t come without its challenges. Because Girl Scouts has a national headquarters, but its 112 local councils are separate and out of the national organisation’s control, getting buy-in and persuading them to go all in on a single, HQ-controlled platform wasn’t particularly easy.
But the team in charge of the project has managed successfully to do this through some innovative business models that work for both the national body and the organisations at a local level. And this was important, given that general merchandise sales are a significant source of funding to support operations for the charity.
Tom Hassett, chief e-commerce and marketing executive for Girl Scouts of the USA, explained why NetSuite came into play and the challenges that he was facing before its e-commerce platform was implemented. He said:
We started the journey in 2011, looking at our opportunities and objectives in the digital world. We had engaged a lot of RFPs with a lot of different companies to address these for general merchandise. Approximately 60% of the 112 Girl Scouts councils operated their own e-commerce sites, plus we had the national e-commerce site. Then you had about 52 councils that had no e-commerce presence at all. Most councils also did not offer the full assortment of GSM merchandise – but because they are chartered, we couldn’t force them.
The brand messaging was also inconsistent, brand identity is very important in the omni-channel environment. Everybody is looking at your brand in many different ways, they see it in magazines, they see it on social media, they want to see the same branding identity on you e-commerce website as in your stores.
The multiple sites created a lot of confusion. Customers didn’t know who they were buying from. Were they buying from the national organisation? Or is it the local council?
Not only this, but because of the disaggregated and inconsistent approach to commerce, Girl Scouts was not being efficient with its resources. Because each individual council had its own systems, or no system at all, economies of scale couldn’t be used to drive down costs. One of the national organisation’s main objectives is to share services, so that resources could be better utilised and spent on the programme for its members, rather than wasted on inefficient technology.
Hassett and his team had the vision that if Girl Scouts could use better technology and consolidate all of these disparate systems into one core platform, this would not only mean more opportunities to make more sales, but to better understand the customer. He said:
Because the councils were all running their own e-commerce systems, we didn’t know who the customers. They were holding separate databases for the customers and they weren’t centralised. It’s all about knowing who your customers are in this omni-channel environment.
Prior to the solution we have today we were able to only email to the customers that were on the national e-commerce platform, which was about 200,000. But we have over 3 million members and over 55 million alumni that we can reach through the e-commerce platform.
Girl Scouts’ merchandise operations strategist, Dan Tanguy, was also speaking at the presentation, where he outlined a number of perceived challenges by the organisation before it embarked on the consolidation programme. He outlined these as the following:
- 112 councils, all running their own operations, with no real control over them. How do you get them to join? (See below for the answer)
- Needed a platform that allowed the local councils to still sell their own branded products, alongside those provided nationally by the organisation.
- Needed to be able to creating council specific sites, with their own ‘local feel’, within the national platform.
- Data migration – with each council using its own database, Girl Scouts needed to make sure it migrated all the data carefully into one new centralised source of information.
- Limited resources, both in terms of finance and staff.
According the guys from Girl Scouts, the NetSuite e-commerce platform solved a lot of these problems for
them. For example, during a demo given during the presentation, a user can search their postcode on the main homepage of the website and find their local Girl Scouts council, if they are searchijng for some brand specific products.
However, the main challenge was of course on-boarding all the councils and getting their buy-in. The platform helped with this too, along with some innovative thinking within the team about the business models. Tom Hassett explained that the main reason the councils relinquished control was because Girl Scouts HQ agreed to give each of them a share of the revenues, based upon purchases in their local area. He said:
The great thing that we also do is that we give revenue share back to the councils. So anything that is purchased on the national web store, that is in the billing postcode of that council, they get a revenue share back from national for all of those sales.
The carrot for them was this revenue share, we are giving them back basically the same amount they would make if they bought it from us at wholesale and sold it at retail.
The local councils now essentially can just sit there and make the same amount of money without doing anything, whilst making additional money from their own local sales.
Whilst people may think the Girl Scouts making all their money from knocking on doors and selling cookies, this is a great example of an organisation that is over 100 years old can update its structures and bring itself into the digital age.
Disclosure: NetSuite is a premier partner at time of writing.