Small businesses have to build out a unique offering if they want to stand out among their retail peers. While reaching out to consumers through all channels is certainly a step in the right direction, building an exclusive product line and creating a unique selling environment can have a greater impact in the long run.
Merz Apothecary is an example of a retailer that not only has implemented this concept effectively, but has adapted to the constant evolution of the retail industry. The health and body care products retailer, which has been open for business since 1875, operates two store locations, an e-Commerce site, a mobile-optimized site and a catalog. Additionally, the company has served as an Amazon retail merchant partner since 2004.
“The goal for us is to still maintain that level of authenticity and that level of unique experiences,” said Anthony Qaiyum, President of Merz Apothecary. “We want to continue being an excellent retailer through finding great products for our customers and having a lot of knowledge about those products.”
To create that sense of authenticity, the Merz team curates all the items, which include rarities in the fragrance, soap, candles, moisturizers and herbal tea categories. The experience further extends beyond the two stores to the company’s e-Commerce site, which is branded as Smallflower, a name that is easier for customers to remember than Merz Apothecary.
New Technology Moves Merz Business Forward
However, as Merz further expanded the site, product demand increased to the point where it became difficult to fulfill online orders. Since the retailer needed to keep up with its newly built omnichannel strategy, the Merz team decided to deploy inventory management and POS solutions from Celerant Technology.
With the help of Celerant’s order management capabilities, Merz has eliminated order processing mistakes by 90% since 2013.
“Assuming there are orders you can fulfill, you need to pick them in some way that makes the picking very efficient,” Qaiyum said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Celerant delivers us batch pick lists that are sorted by area so that people aren’t running around the store or warehouse picking everything; they’re going section by section picking exactly what they need.”
Unlike many retailers, Merz offers its entire curated collection on its site. With Celerant in place, the Merz team can now identify this store and warehouse inventory in real time, and have an accurate reading of when an online order will be available if the product is on back-order. The system produces timeline reports for Merz customer service reps, allowing them to let shoppers know how long their orders may take to ship. Qaiyum explained: “If you have a good inventory management system, a lot of it is about just setting expectations correctly and not promising things you can’t deliver.”
Celerant also provides data warehousing to Merz, enabling the retailer to see which brands and products are selling across specific channels, and how they are performing compared to prior sales periods. Altogether, the solution has sped up many of the processes that had previously been holding the retailer back through the e-Commerce channel.
“Prior to 2009 when we started with Celerant, we had a web platform that was separate from our POS system,” Qaiyum stated. “The POS system used a flat database so you couldn’t access and update it with the web site while you were running the program. When we eliminated all this time by integrating a POS system with a web platform, a separate payment system and separate shipping software, all of a sudden everything was so much more efficient. I could have people spend time focusing on selling more and finding better options rather than trying to make every process work.”
Qaiyum, who co-owns the company with his father, came to the business with an e-Commerce background, starting his career at web-hosting service Tripod.com, “before anyone knew what a web startup was.” In understanding how online databases worked, Qaiyum knew early on that capitalizing on e-Commerce was a decision the retailer had to make.
“I knew that we had this retail business, where if people discovered it, they’d say ‘I’ve never been to another store that’s like your store,’ or ‘You’re the only place I’ve ever found your product,” Qaiyum said. “If we’re doing as well as we are with a little store in the north side of Chicago that does very little advertising, imagine if we could get that out to people in Kansas or Hawaii, or anywhere in the world for that matter. The web seemed to be the ideal way to do that.”
Qaiyum notes that many small businesses and retailers have asked for advice regarding the retailer’s success through multiple channels. He advised that those companies to look into integrated systems, even if initial cost is worrisome: “It’s really hard to bite the bullet and justify investing in a system upfront when you’re not used to a cost of a more integrated system, but I feel like the Celerant solution was the best investment we had since starting the web site.”
Click here to access an exclusive one-on-one interview with Merz Apothecary’s Anthony Qaiyum as part of RTP’s Store Tours.