Rebooting retail – redesigning the Shop at Cooper-Hewitt

Jocelyn Crapo is the Cooper-Hewitt’s Director of Retail Operations. She and her team have been working to transfer the focus of the museum shop from its former physical presence in the galleries to an online experience whilst the redevelopment takes place.

To that end, a brand new ecommerce presence went live as public beta last week.

Here’s Jocelyn.

Tell us about the history of Cooper-Hewitt’s online shop.

The Shop’s first ecommerce site launched in June of 2006, using a custom content management system on the back end and was a close visual representation of the physical shop space. The first iteration used Paypal as the payment processor and the shop staff maintained inventory levels for both the physical shop and the Ecommerce site by running online sales through the Point of Sale in the Shop.

At the time we were using and constantly maintaining three different content management systems within the Retail team and as many accounting platforms within one department.

1. CAM Commerce’s Retail Star Point-of-Sale system to maintain inventory levels and Accounting reports,
2. Filemaker to maintain “blurb” information for display in the physical shop space and to maintain online blurb information
3. Custom CMS to maintain the Ecommerce website
4. Paypal to process Ecommerce sales

It was very inefficient and downright clunky. Not to mention a high risk of human error.

If there was a price change on one product, the price had to be changed in four different places, often requiring action from at least three different people. The price had to be updated in Retail Star, a new tag printed and affixed to the product, the price had to be updated in Filemaker and a new blurb had to be printed and displayed within the shop, and finally the Ecommerce CMS had to be updated for the web. All this for a small change of price in one product!

We began looking for a new inventory management system that could handle more of our needs. We wanted a system where the product attributes (price, blurb, inventory) could all be managed by one person in one place as much as possible. We finally identified a system and launched with the new system in October, 2010.

How did the old site perform?

During the first 5 years, our online sales ranged from 5-8% of our gross sales – which may not seem very significant, but given the small investment cost that went into the site in 2006, it paid for itself many times over.

As we were able to gather better and better data from Google Analytics we found that we had a conversion problem. We were getting visitors to the site, but in the end only 0.39% of the total visitors who came to the online shop actually purchased something.

Worse, only 10.81% of the visitors who put something in their cart actually completed the transaction.

While we were frustrated with the back-end functionality we knew that we had to streamline our front-end usability issues and bring up the conversion rates.

As we approached the beginning of a major renovation at the Cooper-Hewitt campus at the end of 2011, it was crucial to move forward as quickly as possible to get the new website on its feet. It quickly became the sole revenue source for the retail business venture and we needed a way to put more products online – quickly and easily. Moving from having both a physical shop and an online shop to having just an online shop has posed some new challenges.

We’ve had to re-evaluate order quantities and think differently about our space constraints. We don’t have the luxury of having two different selling platforms. We no longer have the face-to-face contact on the sales floor that inherently sparks a connection and relationship between the retailer and visitor. We are also challenged to interact visually and via narrative, rather than a tactile, person-to-person selling experience.

What were the features you looked for in a new site?

We needed a new system that offered;

– Real time inventory management for multiple sales channels: POS in physical shop space, Ecommerce site, potential pop-up shops, etc.

One immediate problem we experienced was maintaining inventory levels, especially when we had a product that was picked up for editorial coverage and we had a hard time keeping product in the shop, while fulfilling the website orders. It became obvious very quickly that we needed a much more robust system that could maintain real-time inventory, selling products through the physical shop, through an off-site kiosk or pop-up shop, and on the web with one central inventory.

– Seamless payment.

The old site used Paypal as the payment gateway and we knew from Google Analytics that many visitors to our site who had placed items in their shopping cart were not completing their purchases. By doing some tracking we discovered that nearly 9 out of every 10 were abandoning the purchase when they left us to checkout through Paypal.

– Modern, flexible navigation and search, not to mention SEO.
– Integrated members discounting
– Flexible product pages that would allow us to tell the stories of different products and why we had selected them for our shop.
– Real time Fedex pricing

Let’s look at some before and after screens

Home page before and after. The new site is less cryptic and allows us to show many more products immediately.

Product category view before and after

Product detail before and after. The new site gives the ability to have more detailed information on the products, large pop up views, as well as recommendations in the sidebar.

Checkout before and after. A much more streamlined checkout process without having to go offsite to PayPal.

How do you think the online shop will affect the future retail presence of Cooper-Hewitt?

Looking forward, I imagine we will have a very different perspective as we plan to open the next iteration of The Shop at Cooper-Hewitt when the museum re-opens.

What were once major factors in product selection will likely become less important, for example, our audience won’t necessarily be limited to people who can physically come to the Upper East Side, and we’ll undoubtedly have an off-site storage facility that will allow us to offer larger footprint products like furniture, lighting, textiles, even wallpapers.

We will also be able to use web analytics to inform merchandising strategies as we re-open a brick and mortar shop down the line, for instance, we can start to drill down into the purchasing habits of our customers, i.e. people who bought “x” also bought “y”. Armed with this knowledge we might merchandise two products together, that we wouldn’t have ever dreamed of displaying together before.

In fact, we will have the tools to do some online experiments which will provide quick and measurable results about what products sell best when merchandised together. These types of statistics were impossible to gather within our physical space since we had no way to track real time results of merchandising changes.

It will be very interesting, now that we have this new ecommerce system in place, whether the new identity of the physical shop will respond to the website or if the website will morph to a brand new graphic expression in response to the design of the new Shop to open with the new museum buildings.

When does the new site launch?

It is in public beta right now! And we’re doing a formal launch in May after we make some incremental improvements to it over the next two months.

Check it out!

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