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 BlueMountain.com and Egreetings.com) 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.