Stepping Into E-Commerce

Brown Shoe Limited has grown into a Canadian national retail chain with 50 stores and 600 employees. Despite the company's success, it decided to expand into a new channel: the Internet.

If you buy a shirt that doesn't fit perfectly, it's not a big deal. Try buying the wrong pair of shoes. They won't fit every time you take a step." So says Peter Gerhardt, senior vice president of Brown Shoe Limited Company, the Toronto-based retailer that has 50 stores and 600 employees throughout Canada.

Brown Shoe Limited began as a regional store with two different divisions: Brown Shoe, a high-grade mall operation, and The Shoe Company, a division described by Gerhardt as a "box" operation.

As Brown Shoe grew from a regional into a national chain, however, it wanted to enhance some of its technology. Specifically, Brown Shoe wanted to upgrade it POS stations across the enterprise and expand its product to another channel: the Web.

POS Data Powers Loyalty Programs
Brown Shoe turned to Triversity Inc. of Toronto, a solutions provider for transaction processing and CRM (customer relationship management) solutions for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

Brown Shoe was using a number of different POS stations – different platforms, different hardware, and different functionality. The mix wasn't working well with the company's plans for expansion. The company needed a uniform solution that would facilitate POS transactions and offer more meaningful data.

"We decided to run the POS stations on an NT platform," explains Gerhardt. "We weeded out the hardware that couldn't do that and replaced it with new stations. The rollout was completed in August 1999, and now all our stores are on the same platform."

Gerhardt credits the installation with providing a "stronger foundation" for the company's POS technology. Beyond strengthening its POS infrastructure, the new system also offers added functionality. "The new system allows us to better track and manage our inventory. We are even using it for customer loyalty programs. Although I don't yet have any quantifiable benefits, it's obvious that the new system is an improvement and will pay for itself."

Web Offers New Sales Channel
The company hopes to improve its position with its Web initiative, too. Gerhardt sees this as an expansionary project, rather than a problem-solving venture. Brown Shoe implemented Triversity's Virtual Store, a solution that allows retailers to add an online store to their existing channel offerings.

Gerhardt describes the installation to date. "Currently, we're up and running with Virtual Store," says Gerhardt. "We are selling under We were eager to begin selling through another channel, and we have the capability to do it right now on the Web. But, we have not officially launched the site. We're waiting until we have all our ducks in a row, technologically speaking. Once we feel comfortable with the infrastructure, we'll begin promoting the site heavily. We want everything to be right before we push this new channel."

Every product takes on a different life on the Web. Customers can neither handle nor try on the items they are buying. With shoes, as Gerhardt pointed out, that can make things particularly difficult.

"Because of size issues, footware is extremely difficult to sell on the Internet," says Gerhardt, "but we felt we had to be there. I believe around 6% of all footware sales are through catalogs. I think the Internet is going to supplant the catalog business, and that's why it seems logical to jump into that channel directly."

Doug Campbell