How Fortnum and Mason got 20% more customers to check out with open-source site

The firm made an unusual choice deploying Spree Commerce as a platform for its new website

British luxury retailer Fortnum and Mason has seen 20 percent more customers check out online thanks to its brand new open source website.

The renowned store in London's Piccadilly has completely replaced its existing e-commerce platform, opting for the open-source, and lesser known Spree Commerce platform to avoid vendor lock-in.

The new site has already improved usability, contributing to a 15 percent customer conversion rate, a ten percent on-site search conversion rate and its former 20 percent basket abandon rate reduced to zero, the retailer revealed.

"It will pay back in less than two years' time - and you do not hear of many e-commerce projects doing that" Zia Zareem-Slade, head of customer experience at Fortnum and Mason told Techworld.com.

Spree Commerce is similar to more commonly used Magento, Hybris or Demandware, written in Ruby - a modern, flexible language. With over 500 contributors it is one of the largest open-source projects.

Deploying such a platform is quite daring for one of the oldest luxury shops in the world. Other British retailers like Selfridges, John Lewis or Marks and Spencer favour vendor platforms like Oracle ADG and IBM Websphere.

But Zareem-Slade said: "The fact that you have a community of people constantly improving and writing features is fantastic. It has been hard enough to be locked into one platform, let alone a partner that is the only one who knows how to make your platform work. I have seen businesses tied up in knots over [lock-in] before and I'd rather not go that route if I don't have to."

Existing website

When Zareem-Slade joined the firm two years' ago she was faced with an e-commerce platform was reaching the end of its life. It was "very challenging to do anything with it."

Fortnum and Mason has a complicated set of delivery services to provide the best in customer service across the world - delivering complex orders to more than 130 countries.

"Being able to compute that set of offers for customers will always be challenging, but the way you present that back to them shouldn't be", she said.

The legacy platform was "a big old matrix that looked like a spreadsheet", where click and collect feature could not be separated from others.

It needed to move away from what was becoming end-of-life technology, drastically improve user experience and speed of use and team with a partner and platform that could be continuously improved as digital channels evolve.

Related: How Kathmandu is future-proofing omni-channel ecommerce

Agile

Partnering with Red Badger, Fortnum and Mason worked closely with its developers using Agile methods to get the site to go live within eight months.

The new, responsive website has been built with tools for continuous deployment like Circle CI and Ansible integrated into Slack. This means any member of the project team, technical or non-technical, can turn on regular new features and updates. Flipper allowed Red Badger to switch features on and off at the flick of a button, meaning that tests could be run in a production environment without any increased risk to customers.

Integrated with Fortnum and Mason's Dynamics AX ERP, the platform has solved one major retail headache of putting orders in a single view for the customer online.

"If you have an order number that was made from in store at a service point or over the phone you can check it on the website too."

ROI

Aside from positive customer conversion rates, Zareem-Slade said Fortnum and Mason had seen a 20 percent drop in calls to its customer service line and more mobile users making purchases.

The innovative choice of platform and technology partner is a reversal from the retail norm, but Zareem-Slade is convinced this was the best long-term option for the firm.

"I've seen some pretty horrifying numbers in retail and we made a conscious decision to do things a bit differently and our spend is reflective of that."

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