Walk into any of the 852 Pacific Sunwear stores throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, and you can almost feel a bit of the California sunshine. The retailer of casual apparel for teens and young adults focuses on youth culture as a key differentiator, but its employee portal was based on green-screen technology that was older than many of the store’s employees. To update its portal, which ran on the point-of-sale system, Pacific Sunwear chose Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and related technologies. As a result, the company has vastly enhanced the communication with its stores, receiving 3,400 pieces of employee and customer feedback a year. With less time spent on administration, employees have more time to dedicate to sales.Situation
Newport Beach, California, was dotted with little surf shops in 1980. But Pacific Sunwear was the only one to grow into an 852-store corporation active throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Its brand, too, has come a long way from Newport Beach. The company is now a specialty retailer selling a full range of casual apparel, accessories, and footwear to teens and young adults. Throughout its success and growth, Pacific Sunwear has remained rooted in the laid-back, relaxed world of sports, fashion, and music that is synonymous with California.
||It’s the same stores, the same employees, the same merchandise—the difference is that now we’re empowering our store employees with a tremendously powerful tool for selling.
Senior Director of IT Project Delivery, Pacific Sunwear
According to its website, Pacific Sunwear strives “to offer what’s next, now.” However, there was one area in which Pacific Sunwear wasn’t fulfilling this mission. Employees relied on an outdated online sales portal to send and receive information between the stores and corporate headquarters, including updated information on products and their availability.
That portal, accessed through the same in-store terminals that supported the point-of-sale (POS) system, was based on proprietary software that the company deployed before the rise of the Internet. The portal was file-based, and sent its information to the stores in three batches a day. As a result, information sent to the stores could be received as late as the next day.
Employees couldn’t readily obtain information on merchandise or availability; they certainly couldn’t order merchandise for customers through the portal. Pacific Sunwear executives knew that their portal technology was beginning to limit sales. In a weak economic climate, with retailers chasing fewer customers and fewer sales, the challenge simply had to be addressed.
Pacific Sunwear had another concern about the portal. It wasn’t only the company’s customers who were members of the so-called “millennials” youth market—so were its store employees. To them, computers were devices for connecting to the Internet and social media applications. In contrast, the Pacific Sunwear portal provided no Internet access. It presented employees with an old-fashioned, green-screen interface—technology that was created and popularized before they were born. The vast majority of employees didn’t know how to use a green screen. Executives were convinced that a portal system that did not align with the culture of their company, their employees, and their customers contributed to lost productivity and revenue, as well as employee turnover.
Pacific Sunwear considered its options. Full workforce management products were costly and included features that the company didn’t need. Executives previously considered putting the company website, pacsun.com, on the portal in an effort to bring corporate culture to the stores and to provide an ordering mechanism. But they were stymied by technical limitations, such as low bandwidth. Solution
Over the years, technology finally caught up with Pacific Sunwear’s vision to access the Internet through the portal. This led Pacific Sunwear to consider how best to provide that access, particularly while also meeting business requirements for:
Email. The company wanted to offer an email solution as a communications channel between corporate and the stores, but it didn’t want employees to have access to the corporate file system or the ability to send file attachments that could weigh down the network.
Security. POS terminals also transmit credit card information, so the system has to remain highly secure to meet Payment Card Industry (PCI) data security standards. Also, Pacific Sunwear didn’t want employees to have unfettered access to the web which would allow them to devote their attention where it matters, with the shopper.
Interoperability. Pacific Sunwear wanted a dynamic solution that would bring data from existing systems into the portal, send store data to those systems, and offer real-time reporting of information that stores received on a delayed basis, if at all.
“We looked at another option,” says Bill Bieluch, Senior Director of IT Project Delivery at Pacific Sunwear. “But it was statically oriented, primarily a web server. It didn’t offer the flexibility and interoperability we wanted.”
A Page from Recent History
Instead, Pacific Sunwear revisited the benefits of a recent technology decision. Just 18 months earlier, Pacific Sunwear migrated from the IBM Lotus Notes email system to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 email messaging and collaboration software. “We’re continually looking at our technology options,” says Bieluch. “And Exchange Server is the technically superior product. It was time to make the switch.”
||We looked at another option. But it was statically oriented, primarily a web server. It didn’t offer the flexibility and interoperability we wanted.
Senior Director of IT Project Delivery, Pacific Sunwear
Pacific Sunwear decided to turn again to Microsoft and found what it wanted in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. The collaboration and content management software provided the flexibility to meet all of the company’s requirements. “We chose SharePoint Server because it’s the best solution,” says Bieluch. “Once we saw SharePoint, we knew it was the right solution for us.”
After deciding to adopt Office SharePoint Server, Pacific Sunwear enlisted Microsoft Partner Neudesic to help implement the solution. “Neudesic knows SharePoint inside and out,” says Bieluch. “We could ask them to do things that people had never asked for before, such as accommodating our dynamic hierarchy of stores, which reassigned stores from one district to another. They could do it, and turn it around very quickly.”
“Quickly” was one of the operative words for Pacific Sunwear. The development team—consisting of both Pacific Sunwear and Neudesic personnel—began work on the project in July 2009. The team had a corporate-mandated deadline of “Black Friday,” the Friday following Thanksgiving day, which signifies the start of the holiday shopping season in the United States.
The new company portal, called PCH—for “Pacific Coast Highway”—was in production in time to meet that deadline. The developers credit the use of familiar Microsoft development tools such as Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Suite, of tools integrated into Office SharePoint Server (such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007), and the ability to configure out-of-the-box components rather than having to build massive amounts of new code (Figure 1). SharePoint Designer, for example, was used to do workflows and cosmetic changes. Enterprise search is one of the SharePoint technologies that Pacific Sunwear adopted with minimal effort.
Something of Pioneers
“Pacific Sunwear was certainly one of the first retailers to bring Office SharePoint Server into the POS environment,” says Marc Huynen, Solution Architect at Neudesic. “It represented an imaginative leap on the company’s part—but one we were able to accomplish for them.”
One of the keys to this accomplishment was using Windows Presentation Foundation, part of the Microsoft .NET Framework, to give PCH the touch-sensitive interface that millennials expect, without much need for custom coding. The result minimized the need for employees to use keyboards or mouse devices at those POS terminals. Ironically, the existing terminal hardware already supported touch-screen interaction, but the previous portal was not designed to take advantage of it.
|Figure 1. The Pacific Sunwear portal gives employees up-to-date |
information on store performance, links to brand and product knowledge,
a feedback mechanism, and more, all on the landing page.
Neudesic developers used several Microsoft technologies to meet the high-security requirements for the portal. For example, they configured Office SharePoint Server and Exchange Server to prevent store employees from accessing the network file system. They put the website on the POS terminals while denying file system access to users, which kept it PCI compliant. Pacific Sunwear implements role-based security by using the existing Active Directory Domain Services infrastructure, and it uses a firewall based on Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010 to limit the stores’ web browsers to pre-approved locations and applications.
“Neudesic used Microsoft technologies to meet our security requirements with gusto,” says Jose Viera, Senior Director, Infrastructure at Pacific Sunwear.
Pacific Sunwear also used Microsoft technologies to give store employees more than one way to communicate with corporate headquarters through the portal. In addition to email, employees can use a social-networking interface, similar to Twitter. It makes it possible for employees to send short comments and feedback to corporate without having to open and use a more formal email application.
The company wanted PCH to include real-time reporting capabilities, which required the integration of content from multiple systems. To achieve that integration, the developers used ASP .NET Web Parts to bring information from the business intelligence system into scorecards in Office SharePoint Server. The scorecards give management a window into store and district performance, and give store personnel insight into how well they are performing against other stores in their districts. Because the scorecards are built from Web Parts, users can custom-configure their content and appearance without the need for developer intervention.Benefits
Pacific Sunwear uses the PCH portal to promote its youth-market culture and to drive its business. The company takes advantage of continuous feedback from the stores to improve operations; it captures new sales with an online-shopping mechanism built into the portal; and employees spend less time on administrative tasks, giving them more time to devote to sales.
Captures 3,400 Feedback Messages a Year
Another key goal of the portal adoption was to promote the company’s youth-oriented culture to store employees. There are several functions built into the portal that have helped Pacific Sunwear achieve this goal, such as the web interface, access to the Pacific Sunwear website, and social media tools. “We had a portal that didn’t reflect who we are,” says Bieluch. “Now, we do.”
||Pacific Sunwear was certainly one of the first retailers to bring Office SharePoint Server into the POS environment. It represented an imaginative leap on the company’s part—but one we were able to accomplish for them.
Solution Architect, Neudesic
That difference has very practical consequences, according to Bieluch. “An 18-year-old sales person intuitively understands a web-based tool and how to use it,” he says. “That cuts down on training time, which is important given average turnover rates in retail. But it also helps to cut down on turnover, because it increases employee satisfaction. We don’t maintain figures on this, but feedback from employees on the tool has been a unanimous rave.”
Giving employees a familiar, Twitter-like communications channel also has its advantages. Pacific Sunwear hears from as much as 3 percent of its stores every day and has already received 3,400 messages from employees with feedback on everything from the company’s merchandise to the opinions of its customers.
“Instantaneous feedback from our stores is a tremendous benefit,” says Bieluch. “It’s information that we could never capture before, from the people who know how to run our stores the best—the people who actually do it.” Employees pass along best practices for sales, notes on quality problems with merchandise, and requests for new portal features—such as search, which was satisfied by implementing enterprise search. Some of the most helpful feedback refers to the improvement of company processes. For example, Pacific Sunwear now sees higher compliance with daily store operations requirements after consolidating those requirements, based on store feedback, into a single checklist that store managers can respond to throughout the day.
Redirects Time to Selling
Beyond providing an infrastructure that supports online sales through the stores, the portal supports increased revenues in other ways. For example, it documents upselling and cross-selling opportunities so that employees can maximize sales. The system provides reports that make it possible for store employees and managers to see how they are performing against other stores in their region, while regional managers can see how they’re performing against their counterparts in other regions.
The portal provides real-time information on changes to store promotions. And it gives employees more time to sell—for example, by enabling employees to order supplies through the portal, rather than having to take the time to order them over the phone.
“With the portal we’ve built with Microsoft technology, our employees have more time on the sales floor,” says Bieluch. “It’s more time with customers. It’s more time generating revenue.”
Enables Additional Sales
Store employees can now order merchandise for customers through the portal. The stores are capturing sales that previously would have been lost when customers couldn’t find the merchandise they wanted on the selling floor. With the previous portal, the intermittent connection to corporate headquarters, the lack of detailed product information and images, and the lack of a shopping bag function made such orders impossible.
“We used Microsoft technologies to turn our portal from a drag on sales to a contributor to sales,” says Bieluch. “It’s the same stores, the same employees, the same merchandise—the difference is that now we’re empowering our store employees with a tremendously powerful tool for selling.”
Microsoft Solutions for the Retail Industry
Large retailers, hoteliers, and restaurateurs are facing strong challenges in virtually all areas of their business, from ever-changing customers and increasing competition to shifting models and emerging technology. Through the Smarter Retailing Initiative, Microsoft and its partners are working together to meet these challenges and empower the retail and hospitality industry with a competitive edge. By providing powerful integrated solutions, we enable improved shopping for the customer, a more effective sales staff, and enhanced operations at store and corporate levels.
For more information about Microsoft solutions for the retail industry, go to: For More Information
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