How F.Hinds reinvented Click & Reserve to deliver their fulfil from anywhere solution

Tuesday, 05 June 2018

Having been a customer of Red Technology’s for over 10 years, F.Hinds knew exactly who to turn to when they encountered problems trying to deliver a new Click & Reserve service. After implementing a new EPoS system across their entire store estate, they wanted to introduce an omni-fulfilment solution for online orders, where items could be fulfilled from both warehouse and store stock for delivery and collection.

However, they encountered problems when their EPoS and backend systems were unable to meet their requirements. This meant the solution needed to be delivered via their ecommerce platform, tradeit, meaning an unprecedented and unique project requiring huge development and innovation.

The Problem

Due to the high value of many items and the fact that jewellery buying is often an emotive and tactile experience, it makes little business or economic sense to keep products hidden in a warehouse. But if they’re not all stored centrally, how can you fulfil your online orders, particularly those requiring collection from stores?

Whilst they were one of the first big retailers to offer Click & Reserve back in 1997, their previous system worked by fulfilling orders from their central warehouse which was easy to manage, but lacked the flexibility they now required and their customers now demanded.

  • If an item was not in stock at the warehouse, it could take 3-4 weeks to finally reach the store for the customer to collect
  • The system didn’t make use of stock spread across their entire store estate
  • Customers had difficulty accessing stock unless it was at their local store (no store checker or on-site message of availability of other sizes).
  • Store locator was poor and told customers too little
  • Buyers were not offered alternative sizes to view in-store or have resized.

“A change of EPoS system presented the opportunity to update the current site. Rather than do the mere basics required, we presented Red Technology with the challenge to pretty much start from scratch, reinventing what Click & Reserve can be and really embracing omni-channel retailing.”

Ecommerce Manager, F.Hinds

The Challenge

The project requirements laid out by F.Hinds posed huge challenges. Usually these types of ‘fulfil from anywhere’ solutions would be controlled from an ERP system, or specialist piece of stock management software, before being integrated into a website. Delivering it via an ecommerce platform, in almost real time, was completely unprecedented.

Not only that, as the project progressed, there were inevitably additional ideas and innovations required or suggested which increased the complexity and scope of the project. These needed to be catered for whilst still not affecting the user experience. For instance:

  • It’s unrealistic to stock every product, in every available size (rings), in every store, as well as having all items available for online fulfilment, so a more intelligent use of their current store stock and their central warehouse needed to be found online.
  • Customers often like to see and touch items before they purchase so availability was also key. This meant that all customers needed to be able to access all products at their local store, or a nearby store —meaning they can effectively try before they buy.
  • There is a cost, time and resources involved in moving items from a central warehouse, and particularly between stores, so an item value threshold needed to be implemented to make it economically viable and practical before transferring items between locations.
  • Experience needed to be the same across all device types.
  • Items needed to be automatically removed from the website if stock fell below a certain level, rather than risk alienating customers by being unable to fulfil orders.
  • In the case of rings, customers needed to be shown the location and availability of a store with an alternative size, or have it transferred to their local store, in case they just wanted to view the item or had an urgent need before resizing it at a later date.
  • The system needed to cater for the different fulfilment types (including direct from the supplier), availability and cost of each option, and the scheduled date of dispatch or collection from each individual store if user selected Click & Reserve — including allowing for the time it would take a goldsmith to resize a ring!
  • Their current ERP/EPoS system was unable to handle this complex stock movement and options, so a different solution needed to be found.

The Solution

Was there a way of keeping most stock in stores but moving it between them to fulfil online orders, including nationwide store collections, in almost real time?

The previous incarnation of their Click & Reserve service worked by fulfilling all orders from their central warehouse. The new system needed to:

  • Manage the intelligent movement and location of stock (exactly where every item is on a store by store basis) using the quickest and cheapest method to fulfil orders.
  • Calculate delivery times around stock availability, offering anything from immediate collection through to the transfer of stock from one location to another based on the number of days required to transfer it. This included factoring in store/warehouse opening times, internal transfer times, value of item and even time taken to adjust ring size by a goldsmith in order to fulfil orders.
  • Display that information to customers in a user-friendly way without affecting site speed or experience, across all device types.

“We’ve learnt, they’ve learnt and we’ve grown together — to be fair it’s been like that for over a decade now”

Ecommerce Manager, F.Hinds

This new system meant an entirely new workflow for the site based on real-time calculations, all undertaken by their ecommerce platform.

1. Product Availability

Before a user now visits the website, a daily report is run to determine stock levels across the business. If the stock of an item falls below a certain buffer level defined by F.Hinds, then the product is removed from the product listings page but still remains in search results for SEO and legacy users. The report calculations run in order to determine:

  • Whether the item available from warehouse with greater than x in stock? (x is determined by F.Hinds). If so then product page is fine to display.
  • If the item is not available at the warehouse, is it available in more than x stores (again, x is determined by F. Hinds)? If no, then product pages is removed.
  • If item is available at x stores, then a calculation is made to determine whether the value of the item exceeds £x (x is determined by F.Hinds). This is to deduce whether it is economically viable to transfer the item for delivery or collection from another store. If the value of the item exceeds that threshold then the product page will be displayed. If not, it won’t.

2. Delivery Availability

Following on from the daily report to establish whether the product page should actually display, the next set of calculations take place on those pages in almost real time. These calculations will determine whether the product is available for delivery and include:

  • Whether the item is available for delivery to the UK.
  • Whether the item available for delivery to the EU.
  • Expected dispatch date if ordered before next cut-off time (based on ordering one unit).

tradeit will always route orders for delivery via the cheapest and quickest method and that is what is displayed to the user, following the pre-defined sequence of how to try and fulfil the order

  • Fulfil from warehouse stock.
  • Fulfil from store stock (if value of the items exceeds £x—to justify moving it).
  • Can item be resized from another size (only applicable for rings) and fulfilled?

So the minute a user lands on a product page that isn’t a ring (those are treated slightly different and will be shown next), tradeit begins to make these calculations:

  • Is item available for delivery to the UK?
  • Is item available for delivery to the EU?
  • Is stock at warehouse greater than x?
  • Is item value greater than £x?
  • Is stock at stores greater than x?

2. Delivery Availability (Rings)

Product pages for rings are slightly different to other products in that they do not show availability straight away due to different size options and additional calculations made in tradeit. Once a size has been selected tradeit does the same calculations as any other product to determine its availability, however, further calculations are made if the requested item is not available*.

If the item is not in stock at the warehouse or in stores, tradeit is able to calculate whether the same item is available in a different size (at the warehouse first, then at any other store) and can thus be sent to a goldsmith for resizing, before being fulfilled.

Not only that, a message can also display alerting customers to the availability of the same ring in a different size at their selected store, in case they urgently want to view/touch the product before ordering the correct size. As the service is via Click & Reserve, payment is made in-store so the customer doesn’t have to order an incorrect size online, just to see it, and then exchange or return it.

* Due to the higher value, fact they are often a once in a lifetime purchase (engagement and wedding rings), and the large number of size options, rings are much less likely to be immediately available than other products. The cost and turnover of products means having every ring, in every size, at every store is impractical.

Following on from the calculations required for other products as before, rather than say that the order can’t be fulfilled having checked the warehouse and stores for stock, further calculations are made. If both come back with no availability, tradeit will determine whether any different sized version of the same product can be resized to fulfil the order.

The availability will then be determined based on the time it takes to move the stock (prioritising stock from the warehouse over store stock), the time the goldsmith will need to resize the item, and then the time to deliver the item or send it to the chosen store for collection. These dates and times will then be displayed to the user in real time via tradeit.

Alongside that, a further calculation is made to determine whether an alternative size product is available in the selected store in order to give customers the option to see/touch the product. If so, messaging is displayed alerting the user of this. If not, no message is displayed.

  • Is item available for delivery to the UK?
  • Is item available for delivery to the EU?
  • Is stock at warehouse greater than x?
  • Is item value greater than £x?
  • Is stock at stores greater than x?

3. Collection Availability

Further calculations will take place if a customer chooses collection rather than delivery. Unlike delivery, tradeit will try and fulfil the orders for collection from the existing store stock of the chosen location, as that will be the cheapest and quickest method in this instance. This means that the calculations are basically reversed with tradeit checking chosen store availability first, then the warehouse, before establishing the cost of the item to determine whether it is financially viable to transfer it from another store, all in real time.

tradeit will always present next availability at the chosen store, however, that may mean stock being routed from an alternative store, so the date could be quite a way off. As a result, tradeit will also calculate the availability of the item at the next 9 closest stores for the user, as they may be able to collect it sooner from one of those. This means it is actually calculating the availability at 10 stores - factoring in opening times, time taken to transfer stock internally, and even the resizing of products if a ring is chosen - all in real time!

  • User can input postcode, town or city of where they are or where they want to collect item from...
  • ...Or select current location which is based on longitude and latitude of browser
  • The next available date for collection is then displayed. Unlike delivery, this will be based on availability at the store first, then the warehouse and then other stores assuming the value of the item is over £x.
  • tradeit will always display the earliest fulfilment date from the chosen store but the item may be available sooner from other nearby stores so as part of the calculation, checks the availability at the next 9 closest stores (within 35 miles) too. If the user then checks those other stores, that information is presented to them in real time.

So, once the user selects collection and their required store as the preferred method of fulfilment, the following calculations take place to determine the exact time and date of availability at their chosen store. There is also the further calculation going on in the background to determine the availability at the next 9 closest stores (within 35 miles) in case the user wants to try and collect the item sooner if that is an option.

  • Is stock at selected store greater than x?
  • Is stock at warehouse greater than x?
  • Is item value greater than £x?
  • Is stock at other stores greater than x?*

Depending on the answers to those questions, tradeit will determine whether or not the item can or can't be collected.

*A buffer is put in place to ensure that there is stock in x stores, so it doesn’t sell out before it is reserved and re-routed for an online customer.

4. Basket

Once an item is added to the basket the user can confirm their fulfilment choice, but still has the option to change it, including collection from an alternative store.

The Benefits

The benefits of the new service are two fold with improvements to both the customer experience and F.Hinds’ own internal operations.

When the project first started the aim was to help deliver improvements to their Click & Reserve service by enabling them to fulfil orders from both their warehouse and entire store estate but has since expanded to include other improvements too:

  • Customers can reserve almost any product they want and have it sent to any store, meaning they can see and touch it before buying.
  • F.Hinds are able to keep more products on the shop floor, in front of customers, helping to increase footfall and sales both in-store and online.
  • Removal of customer ‘My Account’ speeds up checkout without affecting the user experience. Streamlined to not force customers to register.
  • Closed checkout helps to reduce basket abandonment and increase conversions.
  • A responsive design ensures same experience across all devices.
  • Expanded reach with introduction of international delivery.
  • Ability for store staff to up-sell or cross-sell when customers collect products — proven to increase average order values.

“At times this has been a challenging project yet Red Technology have remained positive throughout, willing to adapt the approach to the project and been core to finding solutions to external issues. We expected good things from the build but the results were way beyond our expectations."

Ecommerce Manager, F.Hinds