Al’s adopted VTEX as their e-commerce platform in August 2019 with the intention of increasing conversion rates, increasing revenue and reducing inventory update time. With VTEX, Al’s has achieved its goals and more, including:
How did Al’s accomplish all of this in such a short period? We talked recently with Riley Reeder, the IT Director at Al’s Sporting Goods, about his company’s e-commerce goals, why Al’s chose VTEX as its new e-commerce platform and how that decision improved its revenue, conversions and efficiency–especially during the 2019 holiday season.
A Family-Owned Retailer Competing in the Big Leagues
Al’s is a full-line sporting goods business based in Utah that’s been owned and run by the same family since 1921. Al’s operates two brick and mortar stores in northern Utah, with plans for a new store in Idaho. Al’s also operates a distribution center that supports its website and Amazon sales. “We’re unique in that we have the size and selection of a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a similar retailer, but all the brands and products that we carry are specialty brands,” Reeder said. Al’s offers more than 90,000 products and 300,000 SKUs in 400 categories.
That inventory size presented logistical challenges that Al’s needed to overcome to compete effectively. Al’s also wanted to increase conversion rates and generate more revenue through its website. However, the difficulty of updating its front-end content to support promotions and issues with friction in the checkout process were holding the company back.
Al’s started looking for a new e-commerce platform in January 2019. Reeder said Al’s considered multiple platforms but “when we received the full presentation of VTEX, we were very impressed by a lot of things. Namely, SmartCheckout blew our minds. And the personalized attention that we received from the VTEX team showed us that we were going to be an important customer to them.” Al’s signed on with VTEX in March 2019. Their VTEX IO storefront framework went live at the start of August—an implementation time of five months. No customization was required, and VTEX IO was fully integrated out of the box with Retail Pro and ShipStation.
The company’s goals were:
VTEX helped achieve all these goals, thanks to SmartCheckout, a unified view of inventory data and major improvements to the way Al’s staffers could update promotional content on the website. “We were excited to show the team at Al’s how VTEX could accelerate its unified commerce strategy,” said Alex Soncini, VTEX North America GM. “Our platform offered Al’s a way to easily implement ship-from-store, BOPIS, pickup-only items, drop-shipping and cross-docking as well as Amazon order fulfillment. These capabilities give Al’s customers more options, improve efficiency and enhance the company’s competitiveness in omnichannel retail.”
Al’s was especially interested in how VTEX’s patent pending, PCI-certified SmartCheckout technology could improve on its previous system’s conversion rate.
“We were utilizing an old three-step checkout process where customers were unable to really save anything other than basic address information,” Reeder said. “They were still required to step through all these different pages of the process.
“With the new SmartCheckout, any returning customer, whether they created an account or not, would have all their information, including payment information, saved and accessible just by entering their email address. It makes the checkout process so much quicker, easier, and even more secure.”
Reeder says SmartCheckout contributed to Al’s increased conversions during the 2019 holiday season. “We were seeing conversion rates nearing 10% on busy days. That was absolutely unheard of in our past.”
“The customer does not have to create an account to experience the benefits of their information being saved and stored and easily accessible. Everywhere else would require a user to create an account, make a password, all that kind of thing. Here, the user doesn’t have to take any additional steps to experience the benefit of SmartCheckout.”
Smarter, faster inventory updates for better visibility Another goal for Al’s adoption of VTEX was a clear real-time view of stock levels to enable accurate product availability information on their website. The company operates two large retail stores (with a third in the planning stage), three pickup-only locations and two warehouses—one for inventory and one for backordered items.
Reeder said VTEX delivers inventory updates four times faster than their previous system. “Before VTEX, we were updating via flat file, which required us to essentially update every single item every single hour. Now, with the VTEX API we can look at the items that have been modified and only update those items. Because we’re sending up much smaller chunks of data, we can do it much quicker. Right now, we’re updating every 15 minutes versus every hour with the old system.”
The ability to update homepage content quickly is the key to engaging customers with promotions and new items. It’s critical during peak sales seasons when competing to offer the best deals and products is most intense.
Al’s old content management system made real-time content updates virtually impossible. “It was archaic. Simple banner image changes, homepage landing page changes, everything had to be uploaded to a server, then pushed to a production server, then manually coded into the page,” Reeder said.
With VTEX’s cloud commerce architecture, Al’s got into the real-time site update game. “We’re able to do click-and-drag images, essentially,” Reeder said. “VTEX IO, their new serverless platform, has allowed us to make most modifications to the front-end in-house, without developers, whereas before pretty much any modification to the front-end required development work.” “The time savings is huge. What used to take us probably 15 to 20 minutes now takes less than a minute.” Reeder said the company is saving on developer costs, too, because it needs much less developer input to update the site.
VTEX’s front-end content scheduling tools have also freed Al’s team from the need to babysit time-sensitive content updates. “We can schedule content changes. So if we have a promotion that starts right at midnight, our banners automatically change. All the landing pages can be updated automatically and scheduled far in advance. Our team isn’t staying six hours late to post a banner that goes live in the middle of the night. That has been a huge benefit.”
With VTEX providing frictionless checkout, real-time inventory visibility and easy in-house site content update capabilities, Al’s Sporting Goods entered the 2019 holiday sales season more ready to compete than ever before.
For example, Al’s leveraged their new VTEX cloud commerce platform to run more effective promotions on peak sales days. “We’d run different banners, different promotions, all automated, that would go live throughout the day. These coincided with different email marketing campaigns. So VTEX allowed us to be more dynamic than in the past during the Cyber Five weekend.
“That allowed us to focus on solving other problems, because we didn’t have to worry about pushing content changes. And we had far and away our biggest Cyber Monday ever. Our website saw a 96.6% increase in revenue from last year to this year on Cyber Monday. Over the full Cyber Five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, our website revenue increase was 84% over 2018.”
Overall, Reeder said the challenges of switching to a new e-commerce platform were well worth the effort. “There are always challenges any time you transition a website, especially one with a product catalog of our size. But we have tons of support on the VTEX side. During the switch they were on-site for over a week, delivering every resource available to help us succeed. We knew that we had the full backing of the VTEX team, and it’s been a game changer for our business.”