Zumiez: New-School Tech, Old-School Service

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Zumiez: New-School Tech, Old-School Service

By Timothy Denman - 05/24/2016

It is not uncommon for a retailer to make technology decisions based on its corporate culture — but it often plays second fiddle to more pressing business needs. Not at Zumiez. At Zumiez culture takes center stage.

The lifestyle retailer caters to young men and women who want to express their individuality and independence. That counterculture spirit is not only embraced by its customers, but by the retailer itself. Zumiez built a loyal shopper base by leveraging a differentiated brand experience rather than mass marketing. Its commitment to its core beliefs is the backbone of Zumiez’s success and is the guiding principle in everything it does — including its technology deployments.

The teen apparel accessories and hardgoods retailer is leading the omnichannel charge, working diligently to develop and deploy the necessary technology to ensure that its customers are able to interact with and shop the brand whenever and wherever they please. Although the retailer has welcomed technology as a necessary component of the new retail reality, it refuses to allow it to define the brand. In fact, Zumiez prefers to have its technological prowess remain behind the curtain, while authentic human-to-human engagement takes the spotlight.

Zumiez built its unique customer experience at the store level — every one of its 658 stores has a unique atmosphere and aims to feel more like an independent retailer, rather than a nationwide chain. A core tenant of Zumiez’s omnichannel transformation is to provide consumers and associates with the technology they need to further solidify a connection with the retailer, not build a technological wall between the brand and the consumer.  

“Technology is not the experience,” said Troy Brown, executive vice president, e-commerce and omnichannel, Zumiez. “We want to provide a human experience to our customers wherever they want to interact with us.” Finding innovative ways to infuse the organization with the technology it needs to provide a shop anywhere, anytime experience while staying true to its distinctive corporate philosophy is key to the brand’s success.

Seamless Brand Experience
Zumiez has been building its omnichannel capabilities for the better part of a decade. It started its journey with loosely integrated legacy systems that did the job but didn’t offer truly dynamic, scalable capabilities. The retailer had a sophisticated omnichannel strategy in place, what it needed was the tech firepower to nurture and grow it from concept to reality. It needed accurate visibility into its enterprise inventory, the capability to locate and sell merchandise from anywhere in the chain, flexible fulfillment, and a seamless loyalty experience — in short Zumiez needed to build a truly boundaryless shopping experience.

In order to make its vision of a seamless brand experience a reality Zumiez joined forces with a team of solution providers to develop an integrated software suite that allows the retailer to provide the unique experience shoppers have come to expect from the brand both in-store and out.

Like everything Zumiez does, culture was a primary concern when assembling the team of software providers that would collaborate to help the retailer grow its omnichannel initiative. Each member of the vendor team was required to have not only the technical chops to deliver the necessary software, but a business ethos that blended with Zumiez’s overarching vision.

“We place a premium on vendors that share our values,” said Rory Hudson, vice president, IT, Zumiez. “We rely on those values to ensure we succeed with each of our technology projects. We also look for vendors with strong relevant expertise, a passion for their craft, and a common understanding of our vision.”

After a thorough vetting process, Zumiez partnered with omnichannel commerce platform provider Starmount to establish the foundation for the retailer’s omnichannel efforts. Joining Starmount were Magento for e-commerce, SalesWarp for order management, and Enroute for transportation management.

The retailer’s deployment of the Starmount Customer Engagement Suite is the latest initiative to come out of its vendor alliance. The solution was deployed in a multi-store pilot prior to the 2015 holiday shopping season and will be rolled out across the chain over the next 12-18 months. The solution marries “our point-of-sale with our back-end systems,” Hudson said. “It creates an integrated experience that optimizes operations and provides our sales associates with the technology to further enhance the Zumiez brand and culture in an authentic way for our core customers.”

Shortening the Last Mile
One of the challenges Zumiez faced when building its omnichannel future was keeping its trademark localized experience intact, while extending it beyond the four walls of the store.

“Customers do not think in terms of channels,” Brown said. “They think in terms of branded experiences. They seek experiences that meet their expectations. A great omnichannel experience is one that delivers customers what they want, when they want it, how they want it. This means seamless, fast, unique, differentiated and local.”

In order to localize the shopping journey for its digital customers Zumiez took a bold step in December 2015, announcing the closure of its centralized online fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Kansas, transitioning all online fulfillment to the store level. By placing pick, pack and ship responsibilities solely in the hands of in-store staff, the retailer accomplished two key goals: drastically cutting delivery times and leveraging its knowledgeable sales staff to personalize the shopping journey.

By fulfilling online orders via its brick-and-mortar network, the retailer is able to get product in customers’ hands faster. Successfully fulfilling orders from the store level requires a careful orchestration between order management, e-commerce and store solutions to ensure orders are fulfilled accurately, quickly and cost effectively. Another key aspect of speedy store-based fulfillment is having the appropriate product in stock to meet localized demand. To ensure merchandise is in place locally to satisfy the needs of in-store and digital shoppers alike, Zumiez employs a mix of new- and old-school tactics to build its product array.

“Building micro-assorted stores is both art and science,” Brown said. “We have a talented buying and merchandising team that is focused on providing customers what they want, where they want it. This requires them to be aware of both macro and local trends in the market. The buyers leverage our systems, data and store associates to help inform their decisions. They are empowered to deliver the ideal assortments for each market.”

While the merchandising team is empowered to build unique assortments for each store to meet localized demand, sales associates are likewise empowered to deliver a unique experience for not only in-store shoppers but online shoppers as well. Store associates are true brand champions — having grown up shopping in Zumiez stores, they have an intimate knowledge of the retailer and its merchandise, which translates to a well-informed and engaged sales force. By having a rich knowledge of local preferences and trends, store-level associates are encouraged to add custom touches when fulfilling digital orders — a level of service not possible from a centralized fulfillment center.

A New Take on Loyalty
While gaining and maintaining shopper loyalty has become more difficult in the digital age due to the abundance of shopping options available to consumers — building meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with customers is still possible. It just takes a distinctive approach.

The average U.S. household belongs to nearly 30 different loyalty programs, which have degraded to nothing more than discount delivery vehicles that offer no authentic brand experience or engagement. When designing the Zumiez Stash loyalty program, the retailer set out to build something different. The program does not offer rebates or discounts for purchases, but rather rewards its members for their interaction with the brand.

Zumiez Stash members earn points for shopping and engaging with the brand in-store and online, and unlike traditional loyalty programs, points cannot be redeemed for discounts, but rather access to limited edition merchandise and one-of-a-kind experiences. For example, Stash members can use their points to enter contests and win unique prizes like a couch painted by a famous graffiti artist, an opportunity to hang out with a professional skateboarder at a local skate competition, a customized Ferrari, etc.

The loyalty program is a win-win for both shoppers and the retailer. It builds shopper engagement and helps the brand sharpen its cutting-edge persona by granting customers access to experiences and merchandise that otherwise would be unavailable to them. In addition, by providing clearly defined and worthwhile incentives the retailer is able to grow its Zumiez Stash user base and collect valuable customer data and track shopper behavior. And leverage those insights to provide the kind of personalized and on-trend experiences its customers have come to expect.

Staying True to the Brand
Zumiez has built its devoted customer base by staying true to its brand image and putting the customer experience above all else. As new touch points and shopping methods are introduced the retail landscape continues to get more crowded — only those retailers that consistently meet shoppers’ ever-changing expectations will be able to stand the test of time.

“Customers are more empowered today,” Brown said. “They expect a great brand experience, and have the power to seek it out.”

By keeping the customer experience paramount, while building a state-of-the-art infrastructure behind the scenes, Zumiez has been able to maintain its independent spirit while equipping itself for the omnichannel age.