If you have a son or daughter, or a niece or a nephew, or you’re a godparent, were once a kid yourself, or have ever randomly stopped children on the street and checked the labels inside their clothing, chances are, you’re familiar with Carter’s.
As the largest branded marketer in North America of apparel exclusively for babies and young children, with a history dating back to 1865, Carter’s has outfitted youngsters for generations. The $3.2-billion Atlanta, Ga.-based company owns the iconic Carter's and OshKosh B'gosh brands, which are sold in approximately 18,000 locations, including department stores, national chains, and specialty retailers domestically and internationally, as well as through its own retail stores and website. Its Carter’s brand (which includes Carter’s sub brands) holds the No. 1 position in the $20.7 billion baby and young children’s branded apparel market ages zero to seven in the United States, with a 14.9 percent market share.
Carter’s also maintains several exclusive-brand partnerships: Its Just One You, Precious Firsts, and Genuine Kids brands are available at Target, its Child of Mine brand is available at Walmart and its Simple Joys brand is available on Amazon.com. In addition, last year it acquired Skip Hop, a global lifestyle brand in durables for young children, as well as its licensee in Mexico.
Although its roots are in wholesale, recent years have seen its retail business grow significantly ― the sales growth of that side of the business exceeds that of its wholesale segment ― and its retail store base exceeds 1,000 locations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Omnichannel visibility for BOSS (buy online, ship to store), endless aisle, save-the-sale
Like many retailers, Carter’s has been on a journey to convert to an omnichannel enterprise to provide real-time visibility into all inventory, allowing it to flow where it is needed. About 18 months ago, the company embarked on a mission to bring omnichannel into the store. Called “Project Connect,” the initial scope of the project included implementation of buy online, ship to store (BOSS), save-the-sale and endless aisle, and providing inventory visibility to store associates.
To accomplish this move to omnichannel, Carter’s called on its long-time retail store platform provider, Aptos, for an updated solution that would allow its stores to step into the world of modern-day retailing. Today, its new solution is in place in all stores and has drastically improved the ability of sales associates to meet customer demands, says Ben Pivar, CIO at Carter’s. That, in turn, has led sales associates to feel more “empowered” because they have a greater opportunity to assist the consumer, he says.
If a store is out of stock in a particular size or style of an item, for example, the store associate can now view all inventory to find out if another is available, and can have it shipped to the store from the warehouse (or another store), or to the customer’s home, thus saving the sale. Via endless aisle, store associates can suggest items unavailable in-store that may nicely complement a product the customer has brought to the register to purchase.
Also, in 50 of its stores, the company is using tablets, which are providing mobility to these features, allowing sales associates to offer save-the-sale and endless aisle to customers throughout the store vs. only at POS.
The company continues to explore additional omnichannel capabilities. For example, this year, the company introduced tablet-enabled assisted selling capability in select stores.
The remarkable, really fast, remote roll-out
When it began its project, Carter’s started by piloting the Aptos solution in approximately 100 stores to understand the technology better and to see how it fit with its business. “We needed to work with Aptos to make it work just as we wanted to and we wanted to let it gestate to make sure it had our required functionality before we rolled it out to the entire fleet,” says Pivar.
Then, early in 2017, when it saw the solution was going to meet its needs and improve its performance, Carter’s was ready to roll it out enterprise-wide. Having moved gradually and cautiously, it was running out of time to implement in time for the key holiday period. “We went through a process where we really pushed hard on Aptos to hit our deadlines. We had to roll out in July to be up to speed for the holiday season, and it was already March,” says Pivar. To skip to the punchline: Carter’s rolled out the solution, smoothly and successfully, to 700 stores, in five weeks. Yes, you read that correctly. Five weeks!
How is that even possible? Doesn’t it take practically five weeks just to travel to a store location, when you figure in air travel delays these days?
Carter’s went around all of that. It avoided the time and cost of sending staff to store locations by implementing the software remotely, using VMWare’s Mirage, in partnership with Aptos. “Most of the time, when people deploy this, they send employees out into the field. For 800 to 1,000 stores, that is a very expensive proposition,” says Pivar. It’s also much slower. Carter’s remote rollout was so successful that Carter’s even received an award from Aptos for its innovative methods.
As it implemented the solution to stores (the POS register hardware remained the same), it made sure to sidestep peak shopping hours, rolling out mostly at night on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, says Pivar. To ensure a smooth transition, the old software was kept live for several weeks simultaneously with the new software, he adds. Carter’s also developed detailed training materials that were sent to stores, and leveraged a “train-the-trainer” methodology, training lead trainers remotely. “We also assigned mentor stores so that new stores could call these mentor stores for coaching and advice, and we have our own store support call center which provided additional support for the stores during rollout,” he says.
Another plus: greater knowledge of the network
In addition to the incredible savings in cost and time that it reaped in rolling out the omnichannel solution remotely, the project was also valuable in that it gave Carter’s greater insight into its network, including its internet service providers and their capabilities. It served as a crucial reminder of how important a strong network is to achieving timely roll-outs as well as to ongoing store performance, especially as the lines between physical and digital continue to blur, says Pivar. Carter’s, like other retailers, is looking to bring more digital capabilities into the store, which will place further requirements on store wi-fi. “We need to ensure that we have a robust and consistent network,” he says.
While getting up close and personal with those networks, Carter’s found that the speed of roll-out varied based on where the stores were located, whether or not there was fiber to the stores, in-store and network bandwidth, and so forth. To level the playing field across its store base, Carter’s has implemented alternate solutions where needed, including microwave, which Pivar sees as similar to 4G but requiring more line-of-sight connectivity.
In short, the implementation was a great success, says Pivar. Right now, the solution is used in just its U.S. stores, but, he says, it is considering deployment in some international locations.
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].