Borders UK overhauls e-commerce platform

The bookstore chain is banking on a new e-commerce website to improve sales and consolidate its customer base.

Borders UK is taking a "wait and see" approach to the launch of its first transactional website.

That's according to Geoff O'Neil, head of supply chain at Borders UK, who shared his experiences of readying the bookstore retailer for its leap into e-commerce with delegates at the London technology show, Retail Solutions.

"We're a latecomer to this channel when you compare us to the Waterstones, Amazons and WH Smiths of this world," O'Neil said. "But it should be quite easy to catch up, given that the technology we built the website on has already been proven elsewhere."

The Borders.co.uk beta website launched at the beginning of June, following the end of its contract with Amazon to provide its online retail presence in February.

"We describe the web store as Borders without the coffee,' so felt we should encourage the community aspects of the internet where we've used things like social networking to exploit the fact that we have one million book titles and over half a million CDs and DVDs, which is many more than we can offer in-store," he added.

Borders UK has added social networking aspects to the site by working with LibraryThing.com, a user-generated catalogue service and review centre for book enthusiasts around the world. This has allowed Borders.co.uk to add 20 million tags to its product data online, which O'Neil said supported strong product search and navigation features, like its so-called "Spookily Accurate Book Suggestor" function.

"We focused on making sure we could accommodate growth of the website in the supply chain, made sure our supply chain model suited the customer experience we were aiming to offer and planned with our retail colleagues for a more multichannel strategy beyond the initial launch," he said. "Key to this is data integration."

With a relatively small management team and only four people working in-house on the website launch, O'Neil added that outsourcing partners for design, hosting, fulfilment and contact centre played a key role in delivering the site for less than 100,000.

"We're only at the physical stage of integrating our new channel," he said. "Next we'll look at multichannel integration of areas like customer loyalty, so we can get a single view of the data, customer and their behaviour, regardless of whether they are in-store or online."

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