Online lighting retailer enhances the customer experience through education

This article was published in the August 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

Since the dawn of online shopping, e-retailers have grappled with the challenge of replicating the bricks-and-mortar customer experience in cyberspace.

Take a step back for a moment to contemplate everything involved — inventory levels must be adequate, merchandise must be easily searchable, pricing must be up to date, promotions must be current and conspicuous — and that’s all before a customer even logs on.

Once a customer places an order, a whole set of moving parts must operate in tandem, including inventory adjustment, shipping, payment processing and the requisite accounting.

And of course, an online shopping destination that seeks to virtually duplicate the in-store experience will need other bells and whistles — product reviews, blogs and information over and above the basic item descriptions. All the while, customers could be interacting with a retailer’s website from any of a number of devices, making universal compatibility a necessity.

In short, there’s much more than meets the eye — and a definite need for topnotch tools to get the job done.

‘One-stop-shop’

Pegasus Lighting, based in Beaver Falls, Pa., is an online company that sells lighting products as both a retailer and a wholesaler. The company was using a platform that CEO Chris Johnson describes as “too small-business focused. I would have to find other tools to curate reviews, perform complex shipping calculations and the like,” he says. “It cost me both time and money.”

Johnson was looking for a new platform that would “improve efficiency on the vendor side,” he says, “where I could find a ‘best-of-breed’ e-commerce solution that would help me from both a time and a cost perspective.” He decided to partner with Aptos, pointing to the software company’s philosophy of integration as the motivating factor.

Aptos brings a pedigree of solid experience to the table. The firm develops software solutions aimed at some of today’s most pressing business challenges across a wide array of categories, including products for analytics, point of sale, customer relationship management and clienteling, and merchandising, in addition to digital commerce.

“When we went to work on our digital platform, we wanted to set up a ‘one-stop shop’ for e-commerce — one that’s responsive to both the pure retail challenges, such as search capabilities, pricing and transaction management, but that also fulfills the associated functions —  by offering image zooming, product reviews, blogs and the like,” says Shane Desrochers, vice president of sales and operations for digital commerce with Aptos.

“We didn’t want our customers to have to install a bunch of plugins to make the platform complete.”

The Aptos Digital Commerce platform is web-based, which means that once it has been deployed, clients can modify a site’s operation by logging onto a sub URL (referred to as a “front end” or development site), making the necessary changes and simply moving them over to the production side of the site.

Although various versions of the software have common proprietary features developed by Aptos, each client is afforded a high degree of customization — made necessary by the digital platform’s multi-vertical adaptability, which extends to department store and general merchandise, grocery and drugs, hospitality and wholesale.

Informing customers

Aptos also designed Pegasus’s e-commerce site with a comprehensive customer experience in mind. By including a wealth of product information such as articles and videos, the customer can be better informed about the products purchased.

“By thinking proactively, Aptos was able to monetize the educational side of our site, which has proved very beneficial.”

Chris Johnson
Pegasus Lighting

This furthers the business aims of the company while also carrying out the personal vision of Tom Farin, Johnson’s father-in-law and the company’s owner. Farin holds a doctorate in education and has a passion for learning; according to Johnson, when customers visit the site, his father-in-law wants them to be immersed in an education about lighting. That content was previously separate from the site’s e-commerce side, but Aptos was able to integrate the two.

In addition to the site’s sub-domain for its blog, another tab labeled “Learn” was introduced where a customer can find more educational material integrated with a buying option: After reading a short article called “How to Install Recessed Lighting in Four Easy Steps,” the page continues with a series of purchase icons under the headline “Top Selling Products for Baffle Recessed Lighting Trims.”

“By thinking proactively, Aptos was able to monetize the educational side of our site, which has proved very beneficial,” Johnson says. Beyond creating a better-educated customer, the extra content increases the time visitors spend on the site, which has been linked to higher purchase volumes and greater upsells.

Like many e-commerce destinations today, Aptos designed and constructed Pegasus’s site to be accessible by a variety of devices — tablets, smartphones and PCs. Because of the varied screen sizes and operating systems, having this versatility is essential.

Extra content increases the time visitors spend on the website, which has been linked to higher purchase volumes and greater upsells.

While the power of the sophisticated software is impressive, Desrochers points out that a symbiotic partnership is necessary between the software developer and the client to assure success.

“To be successful, attention has to be given to the three ‘C’s’ — commerce, content and community,” he says. “Obviously every business wants to sell more product, but to do that, time and effort must be totally dedicated to engaging the community by keeping the material fresh and current. Pegasus understands this, and does it better than any of their competitors on the web. It’s a lot of work.”

Enhanced efficiency

While Aptos’s software is a great fit for many online retailers’ toolbox, it does leave a few bases uncovered. The company’s digital commerce platform covers every aspect of the customer experience, but it does not extend to back-of-the-house functions like inventory maintenance or accounting.

The system’s flexibility allows it to work effectively with other programs devoted to these areas, however. Desrochers says that at Pegasus, Digital Commerce syncs with other platforms by way of application program interfaces and batch file transfers, protocols that allow different programs to work together with no loss of efficiency.

 “The enhanced efficiency will make it possible to increase our SKU count over the next several months,” Johnson says, “which allows us to grow our sales.”