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Ulta Beauty has a cloud makeover to get more personal with its customers

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels March 21, 2023
Summary:
The US retailer is using the in-memory database alongside a cloud-based micro-services architecture to provide caching support for new customer experiences.

ulta

Ulta Beauty is using Redis Enterprise on Google Cloud to create a new digital platform that supports rapid online growth and personalized customer experiences.

The retailer is using Redis Enterprise Cloud to provide high-performance services to online shoppers. Redis delivers application layer caching via an in-memory database that requires zero storage.

Omar Koncobo, IT director for E-Commerce and Digital Systems at Ulta Beauty, says this heightened level of performance is crucial to helping his team offer stable and effective services. E-commerce accounted for a significant chunk of Ulta’s $10 billion-plus 2022 total sales in its recently released results.

The company continues to look for fresh ways to use data to keep online customers happy and engaged, says Koncobo:

The key for us is to create a personalized experience that appeals to our customers. That means leveraging data across all layers of the customer journey to make sure that they're receiving enticing and tailored information.

The company has migrated from a legacy e-commerce stack on Oracle ATG to a micro-services-based approach on Google Cloud Platform. Koncobo has overseen this transformation project since assuming his current role in 2021. The migration to the cloud, which is due to be completed by August this year, provides a more modern platform for business change and customer service innovations:

It is about re-platforming the business to the cloud – that's the main thinking. But it’s also about providing efficiency, cost savings, and the best experience for customers.

Koncobo cites an example of how a combination of Redis and the cloud is boosting performance. Product availability checks used to require regular interactions with a third-party partner. Each call was charged – and if millions of customers checked multiple products, those costs added up quickly. Now, Redis Enterprise Cloud temporarily stores data in-memory, so repeated database requests are served faster.

A call is made, inventory checks are stored in Redis, and the third-party partner is only called as a final validation before an order is made, explains Koncobo: 

That makes a big, big difference. We’re able to actually cut costs and reduce how many times we call the inventory system by leveraging Redis. So, it’s not only helping us with our operational costs, but also helping us design a high-performing system.

Redis also powers Ulta’s BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up In Store)  service, called Beauty to Go, which was expanded during the coronavirus pandemic. The service was already being piloted in a handful of stores but had to expand rapidly to support social-distancing requirements due to COVID-19 across 1,400 stores that were taking hundreds of orders every day. Koncobo says: 

That was a big change for us. But we were able to expand the service with zero technical debt or performance issues or any issues at all. Redis just handled everything gracefully for us and we didn't have to make any alterations.

Looking for new opportunities 

Ulta is a long-time user of Redis and was running the technology in its legacy environment. Having been impressed with Redis in the past, Koncobo says it was a “no brainer” to continue using the system as Ulta transitioned from its legacy platform to the cloud:

There was no point going to look for another solution to solve something that you've already solved with an existing solution – you don't change a winning team.

One of his team’s key challenges moving forwards will be managing the huge amount of data that’s required on-site to support personalization. However, deploying Redis Enterprise in the cloud means the company avoids making API calls for every piece of data it requires and can instead cache key elements of information for personalized experiences:

It's a new system that we're building up and, once the platform is up and running, our next step is the personalization journey. The moment you start personalizing each person’s individual experience, performance is going to be one of your key problems. But if I can store the data somewhere very close, so I don't have to always run to the source, then I can manage the performance concerns. And this is where Redis will come in really helpful.

Koncobo is also thinking about how to use Redis technology in the longer term. One area of potential development is to use the platform to cache customer information, such as total loyalty points, to prevent constant API calls. This caching of data would help to boost the speed of the site and improve the overall customer experience:

There is a lot of opportunity. This is a new cloud-based platform that we’ve put in together. So as the platform comes up, we look at opportunities where can we improve, what can we change and how we can leverage Redis as a technology. We want to continue to look for ways it can help in some of those areas because performance is really important to us.

More generally, Koncobo says Ulta is eager for its IT partners to demonstrate innovation and to share what’s coming down the pipeline. His organization is always keen to listen to creative ideas. They’re also eager to work with Redis to identify fresh solutions to business concerns:

We’ll share our challenges, our ideas and the things we want to do, and what we hope and expect from Redis is that they’ll come up with solutions for those challenges. What I tell my team is I’d rather work with one great partner who can give me a single, solid solution rather than working with 20 different partners who gives me pieces of the puzzle.

The implementation [was] really simple and easy – and that's one other thing that we've benefited from. Instead of my team having to sit around and manage the system, you just set it up once, the Redis team makes sure everything’s running, and then you can move on to doing what you believe is best for the business.”

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