Unfortunately, in many cases, retailers and brands that are new to e-commerce face a steep learning and development curve that could cost them business if they fail to deliver the experience consumers expect or cost them significant resources to contract the help they need to create a platform that meets shoppers’ increasingly higher standards.
But according to the CEO of the open-source data- and user experience-management software platform Pimcore and the CIO of the California-based grocery chain Northgate Market, retailers don’t have to settle for either of these options.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-to-Nuts podcast, Pimcore CEO Shashin Shah and Northgate Market CIO Harrison Lewis discuss how they worked together to overhaul Northgate’s digital offerings to meet customer and vendor demands and how other legacy grocers can effectively evolve their online presence to meet today’s elevated e-commerce standards.
Mounting pressures to go digital
In many ways, the pressure Northgate Market experienced to update its digital offerings and the subsequent struggles it faced are shared by many retailers and direct-to-consumer brands nationwide.
For example, Lewis explained, consumers increasingly are looking to e-commerce to save time and add convenience to their increasingly chaotic lives. But at the same time, he noted, people are social beings and want experiences with each other – placing pressure on retailers like Northgate Market to balance these two values by offering both premium online and offline shopping experiences.
“This whole area of e-commerce is evolving” so that it is no longer online versus offline, but rather the two working together such as when consumers order groceries online but then pick them up in store, Lewis said.
Balancing consumer desire for the convenience of online shopping with the experience of instore shopping isn’t easy. And it becomes even more difficult when the retailer’s needs to coordinate across multiple channels, maximize sales and manage an influx of valuable consumer data are thrown into the mix.
But Lewis said that Northgate Market was able to blend the best of both approaches with Pimcore’s help.
“The thing that’s really special about Pimcore is … it allows us to provide something that is sustainable and it allows us to be able to extend … our brand” online and offline by managing the data across both channels, Lewis said.
Three challenges Pimcore helped Northgate overcome
Lewis said most of the challenges with which Northgate initially struggled and with which Pimcore helped started on the backend and bled over onto the frontend. For example, he said, the retailer needed help integrating the point-of-sale data on and offline to keep track of inventory and labor costs for each channel.
Properly managing digital assets to best display and promote products online was another challenge with which Lewis said Pimcore helped Northgate.
“When we’re talking about in store experience, there’s a limited set of information that we have to provide about the product because you’ve got the physical product there. Whereas online, we’ve got to think about it in terms of customer-friendly description and customer friendly category,” which means different ways of organizing products and displaying them through photography, he said.
Finally, he said, Pimcore also helped Northgate identify which promotions work online versus in store and how to run them in a way that complements rather than cannibalize business.
Building a tailored solution
If creating and managing an online sales platform simultaneously with a brick and mortar store sounds like a nightmare, Lewis said he would agree – but he also noted that Pimcore’s flexible portfolio made the process easier to manage so that he could sleep more peacefully at night.
Pimcore’s Shah also agreed that the process of building an online sales platform can feel like a nightmare, but even though the problem is complex the solution doesn’t have to be. He explained that when Pimcore works with a retailer or brand to create an e-commerce platform, the first thing his staff does is try to understand the company’s needs.
“It is extremely important to first understand what is that current situation. What is the scenario, what kind of systems are lined up?” Shah said, adding, “We follow that 80-20 rule. So we spend a majority amount of time on what we call blueprinting or you can call it a discovery phase.”
Once Pimcore has identified a company’s needs, it creates a flexible solution that is tailored to meet those needs – unlike other products which may only target specific common challenges, he added.
Another difference between Pimcore and the competition, according to Shah, is the price – in large part because Pimcore is an open source platform.
“It’s a fraction of the cost … mainly because … the platform itself is completely open source so there’s absolutely no licensing cost, no subscription cost. The only cost is the capital cost of the implementation,” he said.
Beyond just the platform, Shah says that another key differentiator are the people behind the scenes at Pimcore. He explained that the company’s employees come from diverse backgrounds and have experience working with many large enterprises which gives them a wealth of knowledge on which to draw whenever they work with a new client.