In snowboarding, a little bit of friction is a good thing. The friction created as a snowboarder cuts through snow is what allows them to perform manoeuvres such as ‘carving’ (making turns using the board’s edge), and crucially, coming to a stop.
In omni-channel retail, by contrast, friction is the enemy of customer experience - which is why at Burton Snowboards, senior vice president of operations Josee Larocque is overseeing a bold digital transformation programme that has ‘frictionless commerce’ as its goal.
It’s hard to overstate the pivotal role that Burton Snowboards has played in snowboarding’s journey from niche hobby to popular recreational activity and world-class sport, through its development of groundbreaking products, its support for top snowboarders and its lobbying of ski resorts to accept and embrace snowboarding.
Along the way, the Burlington, Vermont company has diversified into new categories, including protective gear, sports apparel and luggage, which it sells both through its own network of over 30 physical stores, along with stores belonging to other retailers and resorts. Its online e-commerce website is thriving. But, at the same time, an overhaul of its back-end systems has been long overdue. Says Larocque:
As consumers, we meet the brands we love in multiple different places. We meet them online, we meet them in stores, we meet them through social media. And some of them provide a frictionless experience, one that adds value, regardless of where we meet them - and some of them don’t. And I would honestly say that right now, we are not yet providing that frictionless customer-facing experience, across retail and [post-sales] service. We’re not up to best-in-class yet - but we want to be. So one of the main things we want to get out of our digital transformation is one view of the customer, at any given touchpoint. It’s an experience we think we can improve on quite a bit.
Three pillars of digital transformation
When Larocque set out with her team to define how Burton could achieve its digital transformation goals, and the technology tools and systems it would need, three ‘pillars’ quickly emerged, she says:
First, we needed to tackle data modernization, because it’s not something we’ve ever really invested in. We’ve now made some investments there; we have data governance policies in place and we’re cleaning up our data, because we recognize the power of good, clean data in frictionless commerce. Second, we took a look at our direct-to-consumer business, our e-commerce business, digital business in general - because this is growing so quickly and it’s an amazing opportunity for us. And the third pillar was our SAP system: we had been on it since 2007 and it was going end-of-life in 2025. So we were also looking for an ERP replacement.
Initially, Infor’s CloudSuite Fashion wasn’t even considered by the company as a possible candidate for that replacement exercise - but it was Burton’s long-term use of supply chain tools from GT Nexus (acquired by Infor in 2015) that led to its inclusion on a shortlist that also featured SAP and Microsoft, Larocque explains:
Because the Infor Nexus team was constantly in here, servicing us and adding new tools to our supply chain suite, they said, ‘Hey, you know we also have an ERP? You should take a look at M3 [included in CloudSuite Fashion]’. And so that’s how CloudSuite Fashion came onto our radar.
Burton is now in the process of rolling out the Infor system as a foundation platform for redefining its end-to-end core management and providing connectivity to suppliers, 3PLs [third-party logistics providers], carriers and other parties. The aim is to standardize business processes and optimize inventory flow, from source to customer, across all channels - including direct-to-consumer and e-commerce;
One of the things we liked about Infor was the user interface, its user friendliness and its intuitive workflows, because as we all know, the next generation of people coming into the workforce expect those things and will baulk at using tools that don’t provide them. But just as important was the connection with the GT Nexus supply chain tools that we’ve been using for years, but also using more and more over recent years - because those have proven to be really effective. The work of an ERP system in a global company like ours, a lot of the time, is really involved with tying supply chain visibility with global financial capabilities, so that combination [of Infor CloudSuite Fashion and Infor Nexus] was really appealing to us.
More recently, Burton has also announced it is also rolling out retail technology from NewStore, which will enable it to run its bricks-and-mortar stores on iPhone apps.
NewStore basically provides in-store sales associates with mobile point of service (mPOS) technology, along with inventory and fulfillment capabilities. It connects into Salesforce Commerce Cloud, giving Burton a single, unified view of its e-commerce and store operations at both the retail and HQ level. According to Larocque:
With NewStore, we have completely transformed the way we run our stores. Our associates are able to give customers the best possible experience with customer, product and inventory data at their fingertips.
As Burton reopens stores in North America following the Covid-19 pandemic, they will all run on NewStore, she says. It’s yet another crucial step on the journey to frictionless commerce - and a smoother ride for Burton’s customers.