by Tara Swords, November 2015
Elaine Turner, the person, has always loved fashion. So after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1992, she worked in design and merchandising for a New York, New York–based apparel company before experiencing an epiphany: She didn’t want to just work in fashion; she wanted to chart her own path in the industry.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I really wanted to start my own company in fashion,” Turner says. “I thought maybe I could start making accessories in New York but my husband and I could live in Texas, so I’d be surrounded by my family and have their support.”
After Elaine and Jim Turner relocated to Texas, Turner designed some sample handbags and quickly convinced Tootsie’s, a Houston-based specialty store, to carry her line. That early win set off a chain of successes: Soon her bags were being sold by Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Lord & Taylor. Before long, Elaine Turner—the woman and the brand—was an up-and-coming force in the fashion industry.
With Jim Turner in place as the new company’s CEO, the couple took the brand to the web. It was their first attempt to sell directly to customers rather than distributing via wholesale.
“When you sell via wholesale, your wholesale customers might cherry-pick the line and may not present it the same way that we would present it,” Jim Turner says. “We felt like we wanted to display our brand our way and build something bigger than just a handbag business. We wanted to build a lifestyle brand.”
They added shoe design and opened the brand’s first retail boutique in Houston. The company has since grown to include 10 retail locations—eight in Texas; one in Nashville, Tennessee; and one in Manhattan—and a thriving online store that accounts for a significant portion of the company’s revenue. Over the years, the Elaine Turner Designs line has expanded to include jewelry and clothing in addition to handbags and shoes.
Even as they were expanding the line and opening new boutiques, company leaders realized early on that the Elaine Turner website held a wealth of untapped potential.
“It became clear that digital would be a much more cost-effective way of growing the brand and increasing exposure to our message,” says Carrie Leader, director of e-commerce at Elaine Turner. “It’s extremely costly to open up a new store, but online you can devote a fraction of the financial resources and potentially have the exact same financial return.”
Expected percentage of Elaine Turner Designs’ total revenue that will come from the company’s new website
Leader and the rest of the team envisioned a website that would help customers feel personally connected to Elaine Turner and that dovetailed with their lifestyles, while giving them a rich selection of products and interesting content. Problem was, the website was built on a platform that made that vision difficult—if not impossible—to realize.
That’s when Leader turned to Oracle to help design a flexible website that would deliver on the company’s commercial goals while accentuating Elaine Turner’s unique qualities and brand value.
Becoming a lifestyle brand is about more than selling products in multiple categories. It’s about inspiring customers to feel and live a certain way. Elaine Turner wanted to show customers that fashion doesn’t have to mean out-of-reach haute couture for women who don’t look like them; fashion can be accessible and make women feel great about themselves.
Elaine Turner herself embodied that philosophy, so helping customers get to know the woman behind the brand was key. With a single boutique, that was easy. Elaine spent a lot of time in the store and worked with customers one on one. She trained her salespeople to attend to customers as individuals, not as potential sales. Her boutiques are bright, feminine, and elegant, centered on deep pink, welcoming sofas.
“I’ll never understand the stores that are dark inside and where everybody ignores customers until they hand over their credit card,” Elaine says. “We engage with customers immediately and authentically. My mantra is that no one remembers what you say, but they remember how you make them feel, so if you help a customer understand how she can wear a certain trend or empower her to feel beautiful, she’ll have an ‘aha’ moment that could change her life.”
As the company grew, Elaine worked hard to maintain the intimate, personal experience of shopping in an Elaine Turner boutique, and sales staff were trained to carry out that mission. But it got harder to keep customers connected directly to Elaine herself—after all, she couldn’t be in 10 stores at once.
We engage with customers immediately and authentically. My mantra is that no one remembers what you say, but they remember how you make them
So the marketing team decided to pepper the company’s site with content about Elaine. A YouTube series called “Elaine’s Big Life” chronicles her adventures as an entrepreneur, wife, and mother. The blog features Elaine’s tips on style, trends, health, and self-care. A section of the site explains the company’s philanthropy related to cancer research and treatment.
However, while the company clearly had the content to create an immersive customer experience, they couldn’t present it the way they wanted.
“Our original platform was very limited in what we could do,” says Jim Turner. “We couldn’t present video the way we wanted. We couldn’t design the site the way we envisioned because the templates were too restrictive. You couldn’t even preview your design changes before making them—you had to make the changes live before you could test how they looked or worked.”
The site’s design also wasn’t responsive to mobile devices. The shopping cart wasn’t persistent. And there was very little integration between the online store and the physical stores.
“When a shopper adds something to her cart on a phone, we want to make sure it’s on her tablet when she comes back later in the evening, so that she doesn’t have to start over,” Leader says. “She should also be able to see her recent browsing history from earlier in the day so she can pick up where she left off.”
Other features critical to a positive customer experience—the ability to filter by size and color, guided search that provides suggestions—were not available with the previous website platform.
“We have a unique and special in-store experience, and our goal is to figure out how best to translate this unparalleled customer experience online as well,” Leader says. “People will come to the store, whether for an event or just stopping by, but convenience is a big driver for online customers. So the digital space should be equally powerful.”
Leader saw all these limitations the moment she joined Elaine Turner Designs in July 2014, so she contacted multiple e-commerce providers to choose a new platform. She and her team were exploring options when Elaine Turner’s head of marketing got a tip from a friend at Oracle: Oracle was about to release a new product that might be exactly what the company needed, and the Oracle team was looking for an early adopter that it could help with implementation and other services.
That friend was talking about Oracle Commerce Cloud, a scalable software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform ideal for growing businesses. Each Oracle Commerce Cloud storefront comes preintegrated with every feature a customer needs to stay competitive. Because it’s a cloud service, customers don’t need to maintain their own IT infrastructure or team of developers. Even business users can install and personalize any of its out-of-the-box features with a few clicks. Among the new website features the Oracle account team is helping Elaine Turner ramp up is Bazaarvoice, for reviews and other user-generated content.
“Oracle Commerce Cloud isn’t just a platform—it’s a service,” says Bob Parisi, director of product management for Oracle Commerce Cloud. “We knew that Elaine Turner was exactly the kind of customer that would see enormous benefits from Oracle Commerce Cloud, and we’re committed to their success for the long haul as the service gets even stronger over time.”
Oracle Commerce Cloud features out-of-the-box themes and modular widgets that users can drag and drop into a layout that adapts to any size screen. It’s built around Oracle Customer Experience Cloud, so it integrates with additional functionality from Oracle partners and other third parties.
The team at Elaine Turner was sold. They began implementation in 2014 and rolled out the new site in 2015.
“Because it’s more user-friendly, the team is excited about working with the product,” Jim Turner says. “They can now live up to their potential instead of being dragged down by software that doesn’t work very well.”
While the Elaine Turner team plans to open more stores, they view a gorgeously designed website as an extension of that high-touch customer experience that customers get in person.
“We want to make sure that customers can easily watch Elaine’s videos, filter through them to find certain things, even one day shop from those videos,” Leader says. “With Oracle, we’ll be able to do that.”
Previously, online orders were often fulfilled by Elaine Turner stores rather than by the company’s warehouse, and the process was highly manual. Oracle Commerce Cloud will automate that process, so customers will be able to search store inventory based on zip code and find their items in the closest location.
“Our plan this year is to have all of our store-appointed sales systems feed into the same order management system that our website does, and Oracle is really making that possible for us,” Leader says. “For the first time in the history of the company, we will have real-time inventory, and the stores will be able to see customer data for all customers regardless of whether they shopped online or at a sister store, as well as customer orders and returns history.”
Customers will even be able to pick up their items in-store rather than have them shipped—which will let the people at Elaine Turner provide that personal customer experience they’re known for.
“We want our customers to have the instant satisfaction of purchasing something online and picking it up in-store, or reserving something online and meeting with a stylist in-store to try it on,” Leader says. “We even envision enabling a customer to purchase something online and have it delivered within a few hours.”
Elaine Turner is also known for its commitment to philanthropy. The company hosts more than 400 in-store events every year, and those events often originate in the community. For example, a customer can work with her local Elaine Turner boutique to host an event for a charity, and Elaine Turner will help plan it and donate a portion of sales to that organization. Elaine says she hopes customers will eventually be able to plan those events, start to finish, right on elaineturner.com.
“We’re deeply embedded in the community, and we tell customers that we are a platform for them to talk about what they want to talk about,” Elaine says. “Online, when there’s a screen between us, how do I step through that screen and still have that same connection that we do in the stores? That’s why we’re upgrading our technology, and Oracle is a huge partner in that.”
A next step for Elaine Turner’s marketers is to get to know the company’s customers better. They’ve always had a sense of who their customers are—30-to-45-year-old married women who make US$120,000-plus, have kids, and travel frequently—but their data was limited. With Oracle Commerce Cloud, they’re looking forward to knowing customers more deeply based on their shopping histories.
Number of philanthropic events hosted at Elaine Turner Designs’ boutiques each year
“A lot of our time and resources are spent acquiring new customers,” Leader says. “Once they visit the website, we want to make sure they have a really strong user experience and ultimately convert. That’s going to be much easier if we know them better and understand their shopping behavior.”
Elaine Turner’s marketing team previously did some abandoned-cart campaigns, pay-per-click advertising, and a good deal of e-mail marketing. All those efforts will be easier and more effective with Oracle Commerce Cloud. Built-in search engine optimization will improve targeted marketing. Built-in integration with the Oracle Responsys e-mail marketing platform will enable deeply personalized marketing based on buying and surfing history.
“If you’re a full-priced customer, you’ll receive full-priced e-mails. If you’re a sale customer, you’ll receive more sale e-mails,” Jim Turner says. “People who tend to buy handbags will get more e-mails about those instead of shoes. We anticipate this personalization and segmentation to lead to a 20 percent lift in e-mail conversions.”
Timing will also matter. “We believe that a lot of our customers like to shop around 9 or 9:30 at night after they get their kids to bed, but all the stores are closed so they go online,” Leader says. “We’ve done certain things to test that theory, such as sending out an e-mail blast on Thanksgiving night at 8 p.m. when the dinner is over and they’re ready for a break. But once we have a better idea of who that customer is and how she shops, we’ll be able to deliver marketing and advertising messaging to her at the right time, rather than just relying on a universal, comprehensive outreach strategy.”
And once the company knows who its VIPs are, it can give them a high-touch, luxury customer experience almost certain to lead to conversions.
“Part of the in-store shopping experience is having a glass of wine or champagne as a stylist accessorizes you from head to toe,” Leader says. “Eventually, for VIP customers who aren’t near a store, we’d like to deliver a bottle of wine to their house to be enjoyed while they shop during one of our monthly Sip, Shop, and Save events online.”
While the website was previously bringing in about 15 to 20 percent of revenue, Jim Turner says he expects the new Oracle-based platform to bring in closer to 50 percent.
“Our partnership with Oracle is going to change not only the way that we run our business,” Leader says, “but also the insight that we have into the business and our customers.”
Tara Swords is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
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