Managing an online storefront is a challenging task, especially for today’s merchandising teams that juggle an abundance of data and overstretched schedules. The teams have to determine which products to feature on the homepage or in promotions and in which colors. They also have to highlight top performers or boost underperformers, which requires insight and visual elements that many eCommerce solutions don’t provide.
And for the JanSport® eCommerce team, online merchandising required time that they didn’t have… until a chance meeting introduced them to a tool that has revolutionized the process.
Unzipping New Revenue Streams
Founded in 1967, JanSport started making packs and outdoor gear in Seattle. The company has long focused on innovation, embracing adventure on the corporate journey to become the leading pack brand on campuses across the world. Now headquartered just outside of San Francisco, JanSport is one of the most recognizable names under the VF Corporation umbrella.
While JanSport has been a leader in the pack and outdoor gear industry for more than four decades, it was admittedly slow to adopt online commerce. The company only launched its online web store in June 2013. Built on the IBM WebSphere Commerce platform, the eCommerce portion of the website enabled JanSport to sell directly to consumers and opened up an entirely new revenue stream for the company.
Challenges of Online Merchandising
JanSport experienced great success within their first year with the online storefront. However, the eCommerce team had its sights on iteration and optimizing the site during the second year, particularly with respects to merchandising.
Victoria Reuter, JanSport’s eCommerce director, quickly realized that there were some challenges to managing the online store. Chief among them was working with a small team whose members wear many hats. There just wasn’t enough time in the day for members to deal with extensive product catalogs that required time-consuming attribute and search facet management.
The team updated the main section of the JanSport home page at least once a month. This entailed selecting featured products and colors, which the eCommerce team needed to ensure are readily available for consumers.
On top of that, the team updated inventory and reordered sorts, color codes and other attributes on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. They were constantly trying to synthesize vast amounts of product data, which required managing multiple open programs and Excel spreadsheets for inventory insight and reports to track social media activity.
“Like many eCommerce departments, we have a very nimble team that has to squeeze every minute out of every hour,” said Reuter. “It’s a full-time job to synthesize this information and do it well within this small team. We don’t have the resources to dedicate a single person to that task.”
“What’s the Difference between Fluorescent and Tulip Pink?”
Adding to the urgency was a need to make decisions on product sequencing. Determining which product to show first and in which color, as well as the order of products to follow, was often overwhelming and time-consuming for the small team.
Furthermore, merchandising decisions were being made away from the site itself. The WebSphere Commerce tool didn’t add a visual aspect to the data, so as Reuter and her team sorted through 150 products in a range of 400 colors, there was no way for them to distinguish colors in the same family from one another, which could be critical for sales.
“The online merchandising process is difficult without visual cues,” Reuter explained. “We often found ourselves wondering what the difference was between ‘fluorescent pink’ and ‘pink pansy,’ and how those varied from ‘pink tulip.’ Without a visual aid, it’s difficult. And when you have more units of one pink over another, and people are rating one more highly – you need to take all of that into consideration when making merchandising decisions.”
A Chance Encounter with Smart Merchandiser
Luckily for Reuter, she was part of a team meeting that dramatically changed her approach to online merchandising. During an eCommerce training event with a sister company under the VF Corporation, Reuter heard about the Smart Merchandiser visual eCommerce merchandise management solution.
“As I heard about how Smart Merchandiser works, all I thought was ‘I WANT this; I NEED this tool,'” said Reuter.
The Smart Merchandiser visual components revolutionize how eCommerce merchandisers manage their online product catalogs. Based on WebSphere Commerce technology, the solution unobtrusively overlays real-time data from disparate systems onto thumbnail-sized images of the actual products. This deeper insight helps merchandisers make online layout decisions based on up-to-date sales reports, color and size inventory fluctuations, social activity, and promotions by combining real-time analytics with visual assets.
Reuter immediately contacted Smart Merchandiser to get the tool in place for the JanSport site. Now, the entire team has access to better product visualization across the entire online storefront for merchandising decisions. Smart Merchandiser imported depictions of JanSport’s entire product catalog, providing a visual component to the eCommerce merchandising process. Also included within the solution were product attributes, including size, color, material, and other variables across product categories.
The visual depiction of the online storefont within Smart Merchandiser is closely tied to the live website, so any changes Reuter’s team makes to the layout with the click of a mouse using drop-down menus or drag-and-drop interfaces mirror what the live site will look like with those changes in place. The team can even save a particular sequence to use again at a later date, a useful feature for recurring promotions.
Smart Merchandiser also integrated all of JanSport’s data sources and spreadsheets into a single tool, giving the eCommerce team visibility into all of the information and enabling better-informed website layout decisions. This has led to better customer online experiences and enables JanSport to more easily respond in real-time to any potential changes in the marketplace.
Streamlined Process, Improved Productivity
Having both data and analytics combined with graphical representations of the JanSport catalog and website have proven incredible time savers for the eCommerce team. Gone are the days of toggling back and forth between user interfaces and spreadsheets, trying to glean the most from the information at hand. Instead, the online merchandising process has been streamlined and standardized, freeing up Reuter and her team to concentrate on more strategic matters.
Reuter has gotten a few steps closer to her goal of optimizing merchandising with the adoption of Smart Merchandiser. With less time spent juggling multiple tools to gain better insight into product and website analytics, the JanSport eCommerce team can now focus more on strategy when creating web store pages.
“The best part is Smart Merchandiser has increased our efficiency from a merchandising perspective,” said Reuter. “We’ve seen a 30 percent increase in productivity, which has freed up the team to do in-depth personalization and testing on the site, something our manual processes didn’t allow for previously.”
JanSport’s corporate journey has taken the company down a path of continual innovation and growth that has placed it at the top of the pack and outdoor product market. With the help of Smart Merchandiser, its online storefront will lead the way as the brand continues to push boundaries.
At a Glance
JanSport® is a leading provider of packs and outdoor gear. Founded in 1967, the company launched its eCommerce site in June 2013.
JanSport faced growing complexity in managing merchandising for its online storefront. Maintaining multiple data and analytics sources, as well as incorporating visual product representation when planning web changes, was a daunting and time-consuming task
Victoria Reuter, JanSport’s eCommerce Director, discovered Smart Merchandiser at a training session for a sister company. Smart Merchandiser overlays data from disparate systems onto graphical depictions from actual product catalogs in a single interface.
Reuter’s team now has visibility into all of the metrics and graphical product depictions needed to make effective merchandising decisions. The team has experienced a 30% increase in productivity in regards to merchandising, which has enabled them to perform in-depth personalization and testing on the site.