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Success Story: How Browns Shoes Handled Sudden Covid-Driven E-Commerce Surge

Success Story is a Sourcing Journal feature highlighting innovative solutions across all areas of the supply chain.

Following the closure of its 68 stores across Canada at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside a significant workforce reduction in its Montreal distribution center, footwear chain Browns Shoes needed to give its leaner e-commerce operation the chance to efficiently manage a surge in online purchases.

While the footwear retailer originally selected SnapLogic’s Intelligent Integration Platform at the beginning of March to better understand the data it collects and manages via new business intelligence and data warehousing initiatives, it only took two weeks before the rapid spread of Covid-19 forced the retailer to quickly shift its IT focus. With e-commerce demand skyrocketing, and unexpectedly reaching close to Black Friday volume in just the second week of lockdowns, SnapLogic could serve an even greater purpose for Browns Shoes’ online operations.

As Brown Shoes aimed to meet the sudden rush of e-commerce orders, the SnapLogic platform enabled the retailer to streamline its manual, inefficient processes and introduce a host of new processes and applications to support its distribution center.

Using SnapLogic, the Browns Shoes IT team built a new custom application from the ground up, with the SnapLogic platform placed on the back end to manage the data and integrate with other disparate applications, such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud, a warehouse management system by Generix Group, order management software by Tecsys, BoxKnight, Amazon Web Services and Tableau.

In integrating all these platforms under one platform, Browns Shoes could collect data from different systems in real time and provide timely insights and answers to the distribution center.

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“We selected them to do the ETL (extract, transform, load) process and then later on to do some integration work for us, but when the pandemic happened, we ended up doing the integration work before even doing their first project of data integration,” said Alexandre Hubert, senior director, IT strategy and logistics at Browns Shoes. “What was a nice to have when we selected their solution ended up to be the first thing we used them for in our project.”

For the better part of three months, the Browns Shoes team didn’t have more than two days of notice for what to expect for customer demand, with sales sometimes doubling on a week-over-week basis. Scrambling not to get backlogged, Browns Shoes set the goal every Monday to ship out every order it collected that week, no matter the demand, according to Hubert.

“From a personal point of view, at that point, going back in March and April, every week felt like a new week, in that we never knew what was going to happen,” Hubert told Sourcing Journal. “We’d show up on a Monday morning in the DC with X number of staff and every week was different, including the behavior of the customers. We decided to do a sales promotion on one specific day without notice, and then sales would go up like crazy.”

As a result of changes brought on by Covid-19, Browns Shoes needed to overhaul customer returns. Traditionally, 90 percent of returns were completed in stores, but with stores shuttered the distribution team was suddenly facing pallets of returns in its warehouse with no process to manage them beyond a pencil and paper, alongside a major increase in requests for return shipping labels.

Using SnapLogic’s API management functionality, the IT team was able to rebuild the end-to-end labels process less than 24 hours after it was first requested, by modifying an existing packing tool and integrating it with the carriers’ own systems to allow for customers to print their own shipping labels.

Then, upon using SnapLogic to develop, test, refine and roll out a new application in less than one week, the distribution team was able to vastly improve the rate at which returns could be processed while minimizing the number of people required to process them.

In addition, Browns Shoes’ partners were affected by Covid-19 as well. Canada Post, the carrier typically used by Browns Shoes to ship parcels to customers, suffered a major bottleneck in deliveries, with delays of more than two weeks.

“At one point, they gave us a phone call and told us in 36 hours, we won’t pick up more than X number of SKUs every day, which was half of our volume every day,” Hubert said.

With purchase orders coming in at a record pace and customers expecting timely delivery, the Browns Shoes team had to pivot to a new carrier. To keep the process moving swiftly, the team used SnapLogic to integrate the new carrier into the existing workflow within 48 hours. In the months since, Browns Shoes has integrated three more carriers.

Now, with the holiday season in gear, Hubert felt the footwear chain got a preview of things to come in the months Covid had shut down the physical stores, in that he anticipated more of a shift to online shopping.

Like many other businesses during the pandemic, Hubert noted that a fair portion of Browns Shoes sales shifted online even after the stores reopened, making the website’s inventory positioning and availability a top priority going forward.

“We just need to make sure that our employees are ready to face that high peak in e-comm orders,” Hubert said. “Whatever we did that we needed to do on the spot when the pandemic hit us in the spring, the good thing is that this time we had a few weeks to set ourselves up. Everything that we did, we’re just creating Plan B and Plan C in case those things are happening. If those things are happening again, we are ready to cope with those changes.”