Kitchenware supplier Williams Sonoma, along with its Pottery Barn and West Elm subsidiaries, is one of the US’ largest e-commerce retailers. It currently runs ten websites, operates stores across the United States, Canada, Australia and the UK, and stocks around half a million products. Inevitably, the technology infrastructure that supports and enhances these multi-national, well-stocked sites is critical.
Williams Sonoma has been a NetSuite customer since 2013, when the firm went out looking for an ERP system to support its international expansion. At SuiteWorld this week, Williams Sonoma E-commerce Product Development Manager, Joey Davis, gave an update on the firm’s NetSuite project and shared useful insights into how the vendor’s new extensions framework is allowing the business to move away from time-consuming customizations.
This latest iteration of the NetSuite implementation came about back in 2015, when Williams Sonoma was looking to launch four new sites in Australia. The goal was to have a single, omni-channel solution for all brand information and to grow a customer base in this new territory.
Email promotion and trade customization
Davis explained that one of the most important features early on in the Australia project was email capture, which uses a cookie to understand if a web site visitor is a first-time visitor. If so, the visitor gets a prompt to hand over their email in return for a single-use promo code. Davis explained that being able to use an advanced promotion as an incentive for signing up means the promo code has been incredibly effective in building new customer relationships, responsible for 75% of customer email signups.
The company also built a customization for trade buyers, offering them a discount ranging from 10-20% off the standard price if they signed up for a trade account, in a bid to increase visibility across the Australian market.
Williams Sonoma created a few custom fields on its customer record to enable this implementation. When a trade customer signs up, their customer record is updated to include a trade membership number and level. From then on, when they come into the web store, the site displays the marked-down prices corresponding to the trade membership level on their account.
Purchases made by trade professionals are tracked within NetSuite, and when they hit a certain threshold, their membership goes up on their customer record and the web store gives them a higher discount.
Managing a technology refresh across ten websites
Following the successful launch into Australia, the organization was running ten websites, all with heavy customizations and on older versions of NetSuite SuiteCommerce. Davis explains:
It was time for a change. We have grown so much and customized so heavily that upgrades were becoming increasingly challenging. With ten web sites, our item counts had skyrocketed and we needed to find new efficient ways to handle content across brands and countries. Our files were built out individually for every website and file cabinet. Not being able to share them across the websites meant a lot of duplicated work.
The business decided to upgrade to the latest version of SuiteCommerce Advanced (SCA), replatforming to the Aconcagua release, which NetSuite introduced in mid-2018.
Replatforming to Aconcagua
Around six months ago, the firm launched Pottery Barn Kids in the UK on the new platform, and over the next six months it will be converting its nine other sites to the latest version. Davis says:
Instead of taking one of the old web sites and rebuilding it, we decided to take the opportunity to build a new website and work from our experience with that.
One of the largest reasons was access to the extension framework. The ability to separate our custom-built features from NetSuite source code meant that we're not going to have to spend so much time fixing everything twice a year. We looked at all the customizations that we had built over the last five years and made decisions on what this new product would be able to solve for us and what we'd be able to turn into extensions.
Williams Sonoma was also keen on the enhanced mobile support in SCA Aconcagua. Davis says:
Since our initial launch, there's been a giant shift in the mobile shopping world. The sites need to be mobile friendly and many elements of our old sites were not. We're able to gain new features that help to enable a friction-free shopping experience.
Promotions are also now automatically applied to shopping carts and the site now has the ability to estimate shipping costs before entering checkout.
The challenge of assortment management
One of the largest challenges for Williams Sonoma is assortment management. Williams Sonoma has 500,000 inventory items in NetSuite, and at any given time it has between 40,000 and 60,000 items live on a website. Many of these items are live across all countries at the same time with the same item record, hence the management of these items has been a major pain point for merchandisers and site teams.
Moving to the latest version of SCA moves Williams Sonoma off its complex item customizations that were built for its older web sites to manage this huge inventory, highlighting why the most important benefit is the extensibility layer, according to Davis:
We gain efficient managing of our features when they're built as extensions, and updates and fixes are quicker and easier to roll out.
Some examples I have that we're turning into extensions are monogramming and personalization. Right now we only have it on our Pottery Barn Kids Canada site, but as we're turning that into an extension, we're going to be able to expand that to the rest of our Canada sites. Themes that are built by brand will be replicated to new sites in different countries, so we aren't duplicating all the same work that we had to do before.
The monogramming and personalization extension makes it easier for customers to make their color, font and text choices, and for warehouse staff to access the information when a sales order comes through. Now this is built as an extension, the firm can add it to all the other sites as it upgrades them.
Another new extension that has been built is the drop-down spotlight, which lets the firm showcase its best-selling products or advertise promotions. That was previously handled via customizations, meaning site managers had to manage the changes in the back end, wait for the cache to clear and then verify it was all working on the web site. Now, site mangers can use the Commerce Category directly to add imagery and content.
It's not only easier for the site managers to make changes, but it cuts out on time if they're waiting around to verify.
We want to create efficiencies in as many places as we can for our business users and this was a great improvement.