Inside Burton’s Digital Transformation and Redefined Retail Experience

RIS sits down with Brian McAllister, Burton Snowboards' director of global operations, and Jeff Lord, VP of global direct and digital commerce, to get the inside story on the retailer's massive digital transformation.
Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
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Burton store
Burton has evolved over the years from almost exclusively wholesale to also having a growing DTC business, as well as 30 stores globally.

Burton Snowboards has a long history of innovating how people enjoy the outdoors, so when it was time to undergo a massive digital transformation, it’s no surprise the retailer didn’t shy away from a challenge.

The world’s largest snowboarding brand was founded by the late Jake Carpenter in Vermont in 1977 and today designs and manufactures a plethora of products for the outdoors, including apparel. The company has evolved over the years from almost exclusively wholesale to also having a growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) business, as well as 30 stores globally. Faced with growth but saddled with legacy systems, Burton set out to transform its operations and customer experience in 2019.

“Looking ahead to where we wanted to go with our DTC business, in terms of being a true omnichannel retailer, we were finding that our systems were holding us back in some ways,” Brian McAllister, Burton’s director of global operations, consumer direct, tells RIS.

Having real-time inventory had become a priority for Burton, while from a tech side, its operations weren’t scalable. Burton had servers in all of its stores and different routing networks, depending on which mall a store was in, explains Jeff Lord, VP of global direct and digital commerce for Burton. Having individual servers in the background of each individual store required more and more cost for the retailer each year.

“I think that was a big driver for change. Where technology was going and where we were,” says Lord.

In addition, legacy systems were holding back the customer experience. Burton couldn’t complete a return in stores for an item bought online. Everything was kind of a workaround and the customer experience really suffered because of it, Lord notes.

Needing a multi-faceted digital transformation, Burton kicked off its planning process in January 2020. The retailer chose to rip out its legacy store systems and replace them with a single, global omnichannel platform consisting of point of sale (POS), order management system (OMS), inventory, and clienteling.

NewStore was selected to help Burton provide its store guides (associates) with improved access to inventory, customer, and order data, while gaining a unified view of its business at the corporate level. It took around a year and a half to get the POS and OMS live around the globe, including operations in North America, Europe, and Japan. Burton worked region by region and each had different nuances and complexities that needed to be taken into account. In addition, Burton has a complex infrastructure working with two different enterprise resource planning platforms(ERPs).

“One thing Burton does better than most is ‘test, test, test, test,’ and they don't release anything until they're 100% sure,” explains Dave Hartenstein, senior director retail success, NewStore. “And that always adds time, but in a good way.”

Burton mobile inventory

Change Is Good

Implementing new technology anywhere in operations can be daunting to employees, but undergoing a complete digital transformation presents a much larger challenge.

“The biggest thing from my point of view,” notes Lord, “was we took on a lot as a company all at the same time.”

Burton planned its digital transformation in three buckets: data modernization; a streamline of all Burton's consumer-facing applications; and a new ERP. “We essentially signed up for all that work to begin in that January timeframe,” says Lord. “It's a lot of change.”

The store teams dealt with some of the biggest change, moving from primarily fixed desktop point of sale to having a more mobile iPhone in front of them, McAllister tells RIS (iPhones are owned by Burton and provided to store employees). 

“One of the kudos to NewStore is that we were able to roll out [the solutions] without ever really traveling to a store,” he says. “So that kind of really advocates for the simplicity behind NewStore and the ability for our store guides to really kind of adapt. It becomes very familiar for our guides when they're moving about on an iPhone; it was easy for them to pick up with very limited training.”

Of course, one of the challenges at the store level was transitioning to all new hardware. The iPhones, printers, and how it all connects via WiFi were a bit to overcome in the beginning.

It’s a totally new process, as store employees were used to just having a desktop computer that's plugged in, McAllister explains. Now there’s a mobile payment device, NewStore app on the iPhone, and printers that are connected by Bluetooth.

“Connectivity was definitely a learning curve,” notes McAllister.

Advantages of Universal Inventory Data

One of Burton’s goals across its digital transformation was to improve its data quality, including inventory information. With NewStore, Burton benefits from having an omnichannel solution with native store inventory management — a typically disparate system.

Before, Burton had servers that connected to its ERP and its POS was siloed in terms of inventory. In its original POS, one could only see store inventory or another store’s inventory. Now, Burton has a more holistic view of all stores’ inventory, as well as distribution center (DC) inventory.

“So now when things are coming down the line in terms of new technology, like endless aisle from our DC, we now have the ability to see that stock where before we didn't,” explains McAllister. Burton is enjoying better inventory utilization across different locations. The retailer now can use NewStore’s routing program to reroute inventory to a store. “So that's been big for us, to be able to fulfill a customer's order where normally we would've had to say, ‘sorry, we're out of stock on this item.’”

Another advantage this platform component was purpose-built to be mobile-first, meaning employee workflows across inventory functions feel familiar to other iOS apps, making them easy to use. For store guides, having all point of sale, as well as e-commerce orders, in one system makes it easy to find a customer’s order no matter how they’ve shopped, notes McAllister. Now store guides can find orders and take action within NOM (NewStore Omnichannel Manager), leading to a streamlined customer experience.

Burton clienteling on phone

Clienteling Redefines the Retail Experience

Burton remains steadfast in its fierce promotion of all things snowboarding and personalizing the customer experience was a logical next step to maintain its global snowboarding expert status.

Knowing exactly what inventory is available and who has purchased what is empowering Burton’s store guides to provide personalized service. In its first three months using NewStore clienteling, guides sent roughly 1,700 SMS messages to customers and 60% of these interactions resulted in a sale.

“We are using the clienteling functionality to communicate with some of our best customers and be more proactive with the needs of the customer,” says McAllister.

For example, when a hot new product comes in, Burton can identify a customer has come into the location before and was looking for something similar, and the store didn't have it at the time. They can then communicate with that shopper. Clienteling also really came in handy for Burton during the pandemic when it was faced with stores opening and closing.

“The clienteling app became kind of the lifeline for some stores where they weren't able to open, but we were actually able to still transact,” notes McAllister. A store manager continued to work from the store during those events, reaching out to customers or taking calls, and then using remote payment methods to take orders and have them shipped to customers or doing “impromptu curbside pickup.”

Over the Mountaintop

While Burton's digital transformation has been an uphill climb, now that the retailer has reached the other side store guides have trust in the data at their fingertips and can provide the best retail experience possible. At the end of the day, whether a customer is on the mountain or off, that data trust is paramount to guiding the customer experience. 

Looking ahead, Burton expects to move to its new ERP this spring, and begin performing endless aisle from the distribution center, opening up a lot more of its inventory for stores to purchase from. Further along, the retailer plans to implement buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS).

    Burton's Digital Transformation Takeaways

    “Just be very aware of what you're taking on, have IT and the people building it at the table well in advance to call out any potential red flags.”

    -Jeff Lord, VP of global direct and digital commerce, Burton

    “Documentation of your processes as early as possible can really expedite things. Take the time upfront to really understand your business. We always think we understand our business, but get in there, work with the experts, put it down on paper. And then just bringing all the teams along in the journey, from customer service all the way through finance just having all of those teams at the table from the start.”

    - Brian McAllister, director of global operations, consumer direct, Burton