Mom and Pop Camping Shop Gets E-Commerce Boost

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2006-05-01
 
 
 

Mom and Pop Camping Shop Gets E-Commerce Boost


Nature enthusiasts no longer have to make a major hike to take advantage of the vast array of camping, fishing, rock-climbing and canoeing supplies housed within the walls of outdoor specialty equipment retailer Campmor.

Since discovering—and then tapping—the possibilities of a well-designed e-commerce site, the Paramus, N.J., retailer has expanded its possible market to the four corners of the Earth. But doing so was no walk in the park. Having struck out on its own, Campmor eventually realized it needed a guide or two who were familiar with the daunting wilderness that the Internet can be.

Although an early adopter of e-commerce, Campmor realized approximately 18 months ago that its Web site could be much more effective. The company turned to its long-time systems integrator Tachyon Solutions, in Sewickley, Pa., to use site analytics to redesign the site.

Tachyon tracked a variety of factors associated with the site, such as who visited, how long they stayed and which visitors were converted to customers. This research determined that visitors frequently abandoned their carts prior to making a purchase—a clear indicator they were having trouble finding their way on the site. What was needed, Tachyon determined, was enhanced search capabilities that could be closely tied in to the IBM solutions already in use.

"[Campmor] had invested a lot in their data catalog, but the embedded search in WebSphere didnt really fully take advantage of it," said Tony Frazier, program director, content discovery marketing at IBM, which was the vendor of choice for the site, which uses IBMs DB2, eServer iSeries and WebSphere Commerce products. "Information about size, color, etc. was there but not well seen."

After some consultation, Tachyon and Campmor decided that an enhanced search capability would help customers find things more quickly and reduce abandonment rates.

Click here to read about customers fighting back against some irksome aspects of e-commerce.

"We had Tachyon go out and evaluate a bunch of search companies," said Erich Eychler, chief technology officer at Campmor.

An exhaustive search brought Tachyon and Campmor to iPhrase Technologies and its iPhrase Onestep solution, which was renamed WebSphere Content Discovery Server when iPhrase was acquired by IBM in November 2005. The search technology was selected for its robustness and its ability to be readily linked to IBMs WebSphere, said Marian Lewis, CEO of Tachyon.

To optimize the search technology for the specific needs of an outdoor gear retailer, iPhrase and Tachyon worked together closely. "Tachyon understood Campmors business and understood the investment that they had made in the infrastructure," said Frazier, in Bedford, Mass. They were quick learners in the search space. We worked closely with them to build some extensions on top of the product that was suited to their industry."

Tachyon and iPhrase readily split the search-defining job to allow each to focus on its particular area of expertise.

"They managed a lot of the customer relationship and got us engaged when appropriate to talk through use case scenarios that they were working to realize," said Frazier, who also is a former iPhrase employee.

The new search-and-discovery tools let customers find products quickly, which led to a 35 percent increase in online sales in 2005, said Eychler. Today, the Web site generates 70 percent of the companys revenue, he said.

In addition, WebSphere Content Discovery Server lets Campmor cross-sell related items and customize the shopping experience. A customer searching for tents, for example, could be directed to information on products such as sleeping bags, lanterns or other related camping equipment.

The solution also includes apparel ontology with synonyms and acronyms for various terms a customer might enter, as well as likely misspellings that are automatically corrected. Because site visitors can conduct detailed searches in less than a second, sales have gone up. Campmor found that the number of orders placed from searches increased 10 percent and the average size of a search-based order increased 15 percent within a year, Eychler said.

"Now, 50 percent of our orders go directly from the Web to the warehouse without human interaction," said Eychler. "Only about 3 percent of orders get kicked out and have to be entered by hand."

The initial engagement between Tachyon and iPhrase has blossomed into a variety of new opportunities.

"We have since built on the partnership and worked on a number of projects with them," said Frazier. "They did such a great job integrating our product that weve done additional commerce engagements and also brought them into some other bread-and-butter projects."

Next Page: Partnering Up.

Partnering Up


The two companies have done some joint marketing and customer outreach. For Campmor, working with multiple partners has allowed the retailer to get the specific expertise it needs for its newest efforts, while maintaining a long-term relationship with its original systems integrator.

Tachyon gets exposure to new customers, and IBM/iPhrase has the opportunity to use real-world experience to aid its product development. Tachyon even has started a search practice as a result of the work that they did together on Campmors Web site.

"Tachyon was great because we had been certified to run on various elements of IBMs stack, but Tachyon had done countless DB2 and WebSphere implementations," said Frazier. "Nothing replaces field experience for creating successful partnerships and making products more robust over time."

Read here about IBMs DB2 giveaway.

Having tamed the wilds of Campmors e-commerce needs, Tachyon and IBM/iPhrase continue to blaze new trails, making the technology wilderness much more accessible to new and current customers.

Campmor has come a long way by allowing multiple partners to work together to tackle specific challenges. When the company launched its initial Web presence back in 1995, it viewed this initial effort as an extension of its customer service efforts rather than as a sales opportunity, said Eychler.

"By 1997, we realized that people would buy online and put [data into] a simple Perl script form that did stuff," Eychler said. "Then we realized that the Web had the potential to be a good marketing channel for us."

The company aligned itself with Tachyon nine years ago, after searching for a partner with strong experience in using and supporting the IBM products that it had decided to use to build and maintain its e-commerce efforts, said Eychler.

There was an instant connection.

"Campmor is a small family-run business," said Eychler. "Tachyon seemed to be a smaller business as well, and we thought we would get better personalized service from them rather than going with a large firm where we would just be another number."

Tachyon built the initial site using IBMs Net.Commerce. "It was a fairly robust site and accounted for about 6 percent of Campmors revenue," said Lewis.

Tachyons close ties to IBM—which give Tachyon employees quick answers and large-scale resources at the company—have been an important part of the long-term success of the TachyonCampmor alliance.

For example, Tachyon has leveraged one of IBMs Virtual Innovation Centers to receive the earliest available information about planned upgrades that might affect Campmors site and training to ensure that upgrades and other transitions go smoothly. IBM also made sure that Tachyon and Campmor had direct access to developers when necessary.

Lewis points to a major upgrade the company did 18 months ago, going from IBMs WebSphere 4.1 (which is coded in C++) to WebSphere 5.4 (which is in Java)—a job that required completely rewriting the Campmor Web sites highly customized code.

"We were concerned that we do it right and that the database migration go flawlessly," Lewis said. "When we went live, we were down for only about a half hour, which was incredible."

With the combined power of Tachyon and IBM, Campmor anticipates drawing in new markets and purchasers with a wide and well-marked trail that will bring more and more customers through their virtual doors.

Hailey Lynne McKeefry is a freelance writer based in Belmont, Calif. Contact her at hailey@cyberdeacon.com.

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