How American Greetings Went Digital

Tony Kontzer, Freelance Journalist | 10/24/2013 | 23 comments

Tony Kontzer
For 100-year-old retailers like American Greetings Corp., making the transition to doing business over the Internet has presented significant challenges. Add in multiple brands and homegrown technology stacks developed in each building in an effort to become e-commerce friendly, and things can get complicated in a hurry.

American Greetings, a card maker with $1.9 billion of annual revenue, faced that challenge until a few years ago. The Cleveland company's e-commerce systems had grown into a collection of disconnected technology silos that required a lot of attention from the company's online division, AG Interactive. Representatives of AG Interactive were on hand at last month's Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco to share their company's efforts to improve the online experience for customers.

Carl Lubertozzi, director of content and merchandising systems for AG Interactive, told attendees that processes had become so weighed down with project managers, business analysts, and systems that it typically took six weeks and 12 people for a business unit to add a web page. "It was stressful on our business." No kidding.

Even worse, Lubertozzi estimated that customers were seeing only 20 percent of the American Greetings card catalogue. He called that "a big miss for our organization." No argument here.

A few years ago, the company decided to start fresh. New customer experience, BI, and knowledge management applications were deployed in 2008. "We wanted to get out of that 12-person experience and enable merchandisers to create new pages in a day."

What a difference that decision has made. The platform (built by Endeca, which Oracle later bought) allowed American Greetings to assemble pages dynamically in real-time by pulling data from enterprise systems based on user preferences. To power that capability, American Greetings implemented customer preference concepts into its taxonomy. This has dramatically improved the way information is organized on the company's various sites, giving visitors customized experiences rather than static, pre-built pages. What's more, the percentage of the card catalogue being seen by customers has grown to 95 percent.

Looking even deeper, the company found customers are 20 percent more likely to buy from a search view -- which displays cards as a list and includes information such as card text and cost -- than they are from a product page. The company is working to change product pages to present information the way the search engine does.

American Greetings has also made changing pages much easier by putting control of the process in the hands of business users; changes can be made in minutes, and entire pages can be created within a day.

Lubertozzi provided a great example of how this has impacted the business. Two weeks before Mother's Day, his team noticed that links on the company's Blue Mountain site weren't optimized for search engines. As a result, the site was buried on the second page of Google search results for Mother's Day cards. Within an hour, the merchandising team had made the needed changes, and by the end of the day, a new page was in production.

Three days later, the site had risen to the No. 3 spot in the Google search results. "That was a huge win. We would have had to live with it for two weeks in the old paradigm."

Also, under the old setup, each of the company's online brands (which include and was relying on AG Interactive to keep its website updated, ensure it had strong mobile applications, and implement effective targeting via social media. The problem was that each brand had developed separate catalogues for each channel.

"It was kind of a nightmare," said Lubertozzi's co-presenter, Bill Gates, AG Interactive's manager of web development (who joked that he could get audience members reservations at exclusive restaurants). "There were too many… indexes and taxonomies to manage."

The company consolidated the catalogues under each brand. This reduced complexity and made it easier to deliver customized content and "a more consistent experience" across channels, Gates said.

And just like that, a 100-year-old card company established itself as a 21st-century business.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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Sara Peters   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/31/2013 12:20:50 PM
@nasimson  "Survival of the adaptable is truer in IT than most other fields." Very interesting. I hadn't really thought of it that way before, but I suppose it's true. What other fields do you think require that adaptability?

singlemud   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/28/2013 12:58:39 PM
same feeling here.  I would like to get the old fashioned card, it is totally different user experience.
impactnow   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/28/2013 11:27:47 AM
The joy is you can get a hard copy card from thier site printed in your own home and personlaized!
freespiritny25   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/27/2013 10:52:16 PM
I love how American Greetings adapted to the new generation, but perhaps I haven't. I still prefer old fashioned cards as opposed to digital cards.
DBK   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/27/2013 11:40:00 AM
@Namison - Not to get off topic but yes it will be interesting to see how this generation and especially in this geography turns out.  I believe we will have a significant social issue here in the San Francisco bay area.  There is a huge divide between the haves and the have nots, one key issue.  There is a huge technology divide where the haves have it and the have nots do not and this will place them at a job placement disadvantage.  And another critical issue is that the haves are spoiling their children and making them the center of the universe.  What happens to a society when the majority of children grow up believing that they are the only thing that counts and know body else matters.  This self centered inwardly focused demographic will be our social demise, at least here in the bay area and other economically advanced locations.  There is hope because the other side of this story is that some of this generation have a huge social conscience and want to improve the world around them.  And they are more motivated then the inwardly focused segment of this society.  There are fewer of them but the drive will make a difference.  Time will tell but as Edmund Burke once said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing at all.  Self centeredness and apathy are our biggest enemies in our society today.
nasimson   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/27/2013 9:23:20 AM
Thanks DBK for sharing whats happening at San Francisco. It will be really interesting to see how things unfold for this generation.
DBK   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/27/2013 12:29:29 AM
namison - what I mean is in San francisco there is a very young group of techies driving busienss.  They have some ideas about technology that is drivien by their generation, and they don't acknwoledge or understand anything outside of the 20 something generation.  Very odd experience being in meetings with someone who can't make a decsion and stick to it.  They have zero focus and are all overr the map.  My sense is that this type of techn centric techies is getting funding from the VC's and some are very smart and will succed other have no sense what so ever, but they all get funding.  It will be intersting to see how this period of time is viewing in the next 5-10 years.
nasimson   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/27/2013 12:06:45 AM
@David: My hope would be that these people got the better paying IT jobs by upgrading their skills. Survival of the adaptable is true in IT than most other fields.
nasimson   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/26/2013 11:59:04 PM
> My guess would be that the demographics are driven by the 20-30
> somethings, and older too.  And the geographics are much more
> dense in the tech centric regions.

@ DBK:20+ dense in tech-centric regions. What makes you say that?
nasimson   How American Greetings Went Digital   10/26/2013 11:34:43 PM
> rollout this massive was basically an all-or-nothing affair beginning Oct. 1.
> Instead of a massive, one-time launch, a more incremental rollout would
> have been appropriate. Roll out the customer signup portion first. Once the
> data is collected and properly stored for thousands of users, present the data
> to insurance companies in a second rollout. Continue the process until the
> chain is complete.

So many IT projects are built on all-functionality-deployed-at-once. While this is acceptable for BPR projects, where business processes are re-engineered instead of incrementally improved. Built in pieces, release early, release often often gives more time & flexibility for change management & improving systems.
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