Since beginning the roll-out process of its omni-channel Initiative last year, leading birding retail franchise Wild Birds Unlimited has already seen considerable success.
The initiative works by leveraging multiple platforms within the Wild Birds Unlimited system, including online and mobile ordering through the MyWBUStore. Each franchise location has its own online platform and controls which products from a list of approved inventory they put up for purchase on the online store. The online store is linked to the brick-and-mortar location’s POS system so that pricing is locally determined. This means that Wild Birds Unlimited now enjoys 100--and eventually over 300--brand-consistent sites that customers can use to connect directly to a given franchisee’s store. Under this model, WBU has just completed its seventh consecutive month of e-commerce growth.
Patrick Eckhardt, Wild Birds Unlimited’s e-commerce Specialist, said that the initiative was developed to prioritize franchisee success.
“It’s no secret that retail is rapidly changing, and we felt it necessary to invest in new, custom-built technology and new employees—me, for example—to equip our franchisees to thrive in both the now and the future of retail,” Eckhardt said. “Our franchisees do such an amazing job connecting with customers and providing an excellent in-store shopping experience. This platform allows them to make that same connection with current and new customers online, and allows those customers to have an exceptional shopping experience simply by picking up their phone or logging onto their computer.”
Lauren DeRosa is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Ft. Collins, Colorado, one of the brand’s highest-grossing stores and an early omni-channel initiative participant.
“Wild Birds Unlimited is unique in that we don’t have a central distribution center,” DeRosa explained. “When a customer goes to the brand’s main consumer website, they’re prompted to enter where they live and then they’re directed to the closest store with online capability. There are more than 300 stores in the system and about 95 of those have elected to use the online platform, so those are the stores filling digital orders. The first time a customer goes to the website they are diverted to the local store—and then the next time they shop, they can go straight to the local store’s MyWBU Store.”
In order to become a participant, DeRosa explained, her Ft. Collins location had to agree to use a third-party credit card processing company for secure transactions via the online portal. Additionally, DeRosa emphasized that store owners who participate in the omni-channel program need to be sure that their online inventory numbers accurately reflect their in-store inventory so that customers don’t mistakenly order an out-of-stock item. DeRosa said that her location is also in the process of upgrading their point-of-sale system to a cloud-based alternative that will streamline the ordering process.
“Right now, we have to wait until the end of the day for those orders taken online to sync with our in-store POS system,” DeRosa said. “But our upgrades will integrate customers’ in-store accounts with their online accounts and both the in-store and online sales systems.”
Asked how the implementation process went, DeRosa said that signing onto the omni-channel initiative was a smooth transition.
“It really went off without a hitch and it helps our customers, which is great for us,” said DeRosa.
Since implementing Wild Birds Unlimited’s omni-channel program, DeRosa reports that her store has enjoyed a steady flow of new customers coming into the system.
“We check and double check our orders, and I try to give the orders a sense of local flavor even when they come in online, because that’s what we’re known for,” DeRosa said. “Other websites don’t offer a local flavor but we do because we use local vendors.”
In DeRosa’s case, the omni-channel initiative has translated to customers from far and wide—including those from 150 miles away in North and South Dakota. This has meant that DeRosa and her team have had to nail down their shipping process, but DeRosa shared that the transition has been seamless.
“We’ve really honed the process over the last year since we introduced [the omni-channel program],” DeRosa said. “We have a dedicated computer that alerts us when orders come through, a process for packaging for FedEx to pick up at the end of the day, and a dedicated printer for mailing. Everyone is trained on how to handle the orders, so it’s business I welcome.”
DeRosa explained that, prior to the omni-channel initiative, much of the business that is now done online was instead done over the phone. Having an online platform that allows customers to see all available inventory makes the ordering process that much more efficient and eliminates the time an employee may have had to check the back room while an inquiring customer sits on hold.
“This way saves time and is ultimately more secure because we’re not taking credit card orders over the phone,” DeRosa said. “It’s translated to a lot of business that wouldn’t occur otherwise.”
With about a third of the Wild Birds Unlimited system engaged in implementing the initiative and another third slated to begin launch by the end of the year, 2019 promises to be full of continued growth and exceptional service for the brand.