“When the pandemic hit, we made the decision that we didn’t want to simply survive, we wanted to thrive.” That statement, from Party City CMO Julie Roehm, says it all.
In an exclusive interview with Retail TouchPoints, Roehm explained how the 850+-store party supply chain “jumpstarted plans that were already in the business roadmap,” but were not scheduled to kick off for 12 to 18 months. Today the chain is providing curbside pickup at 100% of its stores and same-day delivery at 90%.
But the implementation was not without bumps, bruises and changes. Because it started as a fully manual program, the initial rollout was slow. Now, a few months into the initial launch, Party City has partnered with Bringg, a delivery and fulfillment orchestration platform that automates last mile services, from ordering through delivery.
Party City’s Bringg implementation was in live test mode at press time, with plans to complete the test and go national in two weeks. Curbside’s national rollout is planned for mid-August, with same-day delivery scheduled for two weeks later.
Challenges Of Rolling Out Manually
Party City executives knew it was important to launch its last mile services as quickly as possible. However, as stores closed and consumers’ needs changed, Roehm knew there would be challenges to overcome and changes to implement moving forward. When curbside pickup and same-day delivery were first kicked off, Party City had varying store staffing scenarios across the country to deal with — some regions had employees in stores, ready to pick, pack and deliver, and others didn’t.
Armed with knowledge from her previous background in the auto industry, Roehm enlisted help from Hertz to supply drivers and cars for same-day delivery. “We knew Hertz was not doing well during the pandemic, and had cars and employees sitting around the country with no work, so it was an opportunity for a win-win,” she explained. “They went to their board to get approval and eight days later we were delivering our first party.” Roehm and her team also brought in Shipt to help with delivery, but it wasn’t seamless enough to be a long-term plan.
“Doing it manually was not sustainable,” Roehm stated. That’s when Party City selected Bringg. “They had a great platform that seemed to meet our needs, including allowing us to talk to customers via text and allowing customers to communicate directly with delivery drivers and store associates,” she said.
For real-time communication with drivers and store associates, customers opt in to have their deliveries and their own phone tracked. This way, the store knows when they are out front and the customer knows when the purchase is ready for pickup. If customers have privacy concerns, they can choose not to opt in and can communicate with the store via phone or email.
Bringg is able to orchestrate deliveries using machine learning that helps determine “best fit criteria,” including cost, time and size of order. “Now we won’t have a driver showing up in a Prius to deliver a large set of balloons for a party happening today,” said Roehm. Now, in addition to Hertz and Shipt, Party City has access to Bringg’s network of more than 2,500 integrated partners.
Bringg also allows customers to provide “instant feedback, which enables us to address issues and make sure customers can have their planned celebrations,” Roehm said. “That’s a big deal for us.”
With a platform that has been serving U.S. businesses since 2013, Bringg operates its full orchestration platform on five pillars: orders, inventory, warehouse and stores, fleets and customers. “The last mile is a data problem,” said Guy Bloch, CEO of Bringg. “We digitize and automate the entire process.”
Bringg also will allow Party City to expand its last mile offerings as needed and consider global growth opportunities, Roehm said.
A few of the other companies Bringg serves include AutoZone, Walmart, Panera and Coca-Cola.
Goals Are Continuously Moving Targets For Party City
Party City’s partnership with Bringg and its focus on last mile initiatives are just part of the company’s greater customer experience transformation. The brand also has been working simultaneously on a significant web site experience upgrade, including improvements in the checkout experience and access to inventory information.
New learnings come along with new initiatives. In one example, the Party City team learned that they needed more people available for phone calls once curbside pickup and same-day delivery launched. “When you are doing curbside the phone rings inside the store a lot more,” Roehm noted. “So we adjusted our phone system, routing calls and connecting our call center to drivers.”
All in all it’s a continuously moving target, but a positive ongoing experience for Party City, according to Roehm: “I’d love to say we have it all figured out, but the truth is we chose to go fast knowing it would be imperfect; we felt better going out fast versus waiting for perfection. We leaned in aggressively.”