by Tara Swords, May 2014
In 1974, Geoff Fox launched Moto-X Fox from a 1,500-square-foot office near San Jose, California. The business, distributing European motocross parts, grew quickly, and within two years founder Geoff Fox was making and selling his own components to a dedicated customer base. To serve those new customers, he also launched a catalog business—cutting and pasting photos and descriptions of his products into a makeshift booklet and photocopying the whole thing for motocross fans.
As the business continued to grow, Geoff Fox assembled a team of professional motocross riders and outfitted them in bright red, yellow, and orange handmade clothes. This combination of engineering, expertise, and style launched the company as a dominant player in the sport of motocross—over the ensuing decades, the Fox team has sponsored more than 40 national motocross and supercross champions.
The key to achieving Ramly’s goal would be to improve the customer experience.
Today Fox Head (Fox) is a global brand, boasting a division that still focuses on high-performance racing—which now includes products for mountain bikes and more. That focus includes the 20-something action sports consumer. Indeed action sports, where Fox competes, is a multi-billion-dollar segment, with customers who now require the same product information but in a 2014 digital format.
Fox already had a thriving e-commerce business, but the technology infrastructure wasn’t prepared to scale with plans for growth. To meet the needs of current and future customers, management at Fox decided to overhaul the company’s digital presence to deliver an unforgettable shopping experience—and keep customers coming back for more.
Company leaders decided to pursue best-of-breed software that they knew could grow with them. They needed everything to work in concert: the database that would serve up their thousands of products, the hosting that would ensure high availability even in peak times, and the search and merchandising technology that would instantly connect customers with exactly what they wanted. For those solutions, they turned to Oracle.
Today, Fox still makes catalogs, and the company’s gorgeously designed and photographed layouts are the legacy of the original photocopied versions. And while a retail website has some things in common with a traditional catalog, it has to be dramatically more sophisticated to satisfy today’s Fox customers. They want to search for items using natural language terms—“grey zip hoodie”—not a SKU or product number. They want to sort and filter items by price, color, size, and style. They want to discover other items they might be interested in based on their unique search history. They want to compare an item to other products, zoom in on the stitching, or spin a garment around and view it from all angles.
With the speed of product development at Fox—3,500 new styles every year, changing each season—the website can’t be the domain of technology; it can’t be “throwing product over the wall.” It needs an intuitive back end that merchandising professionals can easily use without IT’s help. From the timing and visual appearance of promotions to the color of an Add to Cart button, merchandisers need fine-grained control to inspire customers.
“We’ve had to really make sure that we have a back-end infrastructure that allows us to be as nimble as our product dictates, as our consumers dictate, and as the market dictates,” says Julie Ting, director of global e-commerce operations at Fox.
But without a major upgrade to its e-commerce technology, Fox couldn’t offer that nimble, personalized shopping experience that customers required. So management implemented Oracle ATG Web Commerce Search and Oracle ATG Web Commerce Merchandising to transform the front and back end of the website.
On the back end, new inventory feeds into Oracle ATG Web Commerce Merchandising automatically. Online merchandisers don’t have to deal with style numbers, size codes, or SKUs—they simply add the creative that will make the products sell. They snap photos, write compelling product descriptions, and add SEO-friendly keywords, making it easier for customers to navigate the site and discover what they want.
By putting a user-friendly face on a technical process, Oracle lets Fox’ online merchandisers do a great job of connecting customers to products. “We want them to focus on the consumer, because in the end—like any large retailer—we’re consumer-centric,” says Ting. “The Oracle system lets us focus on serving the customer, how we can get them the product they want in the time that they want.”
It’s hard for us to mess up with a bad set of code or PCI compliance rules or a million other things, because Oracle keeps the guardrails high. We can hurry up and move quickly without worrying something will go catastrophically wrong.
The solution even makes it easy for the merchandising team to manage promotions. By integrating third-party analytics with the Oracle platform, the Fox team can make on-the-fly decisions about what promotions to offer and when. “I can walk by our analytics war room at 8:30 in the morning, and I can guess within a small margin how much revenue we’re going to do that day,” says John Hazen, vice president of global e-commerce at Fox. “Then we can decide whether we want to stand our ground or send out a brand- and product-centric e-mail to boost sales.”
Of course, promotions are necessary only if customers need further enticements to buy—and Fox’ customers now need far fewer enticements. It’s easy for the online merchandising team to create compelling site content that tells the stories of products, athletes, and the sport of motocross, encouraging them to pull the trigger on a purchase. Fox is doing this so well that the company has been able to offer far fewer promotions and increase the average price per unit by 40 percent. All of this has led to a 50 percent increase in online sales in just three years.
In many organizations, it’s easier than ever for the business to procure its own technology and bypass IT. In fact, the easy availability of software-as-a-service solutions and increasing competitive pressures can make it hard for a risk-averse IT department to satisfy the organization.
Yet consumers want change to happen even faster.
“If you look at the biggest headaches any IT department has, they’re brought on by the need to move at the speed of the consumer,” Hazen says. “And then business users become so technologically savvy that they want to move at the speed of the consumer as well. Consumers don’t accept poor design and usability anymore; they’ve had the opportunity to experience good design over the past 10 years due to companies such as Apple.”
At Fox, Oracle solutions are helping to enable a culture of innovation that lets everybody speed up—the business and IT—to deliver what consumers want without being impeded by the burden of heavy-handed risk mitigation.
This gives Hazen and his team the flexibility to create innovative merchandising and marketing initiatives, without constantly worrying that they’ll break something.
|Number of products Oracle helps Fox merchandise annually|
|Percentage of Fox’ Cyber Monday uptime with Oracle Managed Cloud Services|
|Percentage increase in e-commerce sales since implementing Oracle solutions|
“We can be nimble and innovative, but we take a lot of risk out of that equation because Oracle has the necessary guardrails in place,” Hazen says. “It’s hard for us to mess up with a bad set of code or violate PCI [payment card industry] compliance rules or a million other things, because Oracle keeps the guardrails high. We can hurry up and move quickly without worrying something will go catastrophically wrong.”
The Fox Head website—including all of the product SKUs and transaction data—is built on a dedicated Oracle database and hosted by Oracle Managed Cloud Services. Trusting Oracle with site hosting has freed IT personnel from day-to-day operations management, letting them focus on strategic initiatives.
A big test of the Oracle hosting service came on Cyber Monday during the Christmas 2012 shopping season. Managers at Fox did everything they could to draw consumers to the online shopping event, hoping for a big day of sales and an infrastructure that wouldn’t let them down. That Cyber Monday turned out to be the single biggest day in the history of Fox e-commerce ever—and Oracle ensured that foxhead.com maintained 100 percent uptime. That success was repeated in 2013, with a day that was triple the transaction volume of 2012.
Oracle Managed Cloud Services helped deliver on the hard work Hazen’s team put into executing Cyber Monday and gave him the assurance that the site will be secure and available during the company’s most critical selling periods. “Using managed cloud services and a dedicated database, we have had more uptime than I’ve ever experienced in my career at any other company,” Hazen says. “It allows us to focus on creating compelling stories and running a business, not a website. We have the assurance of one of the best technology companies in the world.”
Despite working with a company the size of Oracle, Fox has received personal service from a team of dedicated support staff. Support is provided around the clock, so Oracle support reps answer calls at any time, day or night, and they’re already familiar with the specifics of the Fox environment.
“I am thrilled with the Oracle support that comes with managed cloud services,” Hazen says. “I would never in a million years switch to any hosting service other than managed cloud services now.”
Tara Swords is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
The Oracle commerce system provides the foundation for another critical element of Fox Head’s digital strategy: a seamless customer experience across all touchpoints.
Today, customers browse products online and then perhaps drive to a retail location to see or try on an item. Or they shop solely on their phones and—even on tiny screens—need to learn enough about a product that they can buy it confidently without ever having touched it. They expect an on-demand customer service rep to help them find a product via phone or live chat—even if the website shows the product is out of stock—and have it shipped to them overnight. That kind of experience is how retailers have to operate if they want to compete, says Ken Volpe, senior vice president at Oracle. “Before, you started the purchase journey in one channel, and you were going to finish in that channel,” Volpe says. “Now, the notion is that you start wherever you choose and you end wherever you choose.”
No matter how consumers interact with the company, they want the experience to be smart and seamless. That kind of experience—known as omnichannel in the retail world—requires sophisticated technology that most organizations haven’t yet implemented. But John Hazen, vice president of global e-commerce, says Fox is aggressively pursuing an omnichannel digital strategy because it doesn’t want to let customers down.
“If you have one unit of a product—of a style, color, or size—in your supply chain somewhere, and a consumer walks into your store with their smartphone and you can’t find that unit in your supply chain, then shame on you,” Hazen says. “You have failed in servicing that customer, because you have the inventory that they want, and you can’t figure out a way to sell it to them.”