AN ARMANI SITE FOR A FLEXIBLE EXCHANGE
Byline: Denise Power
NEW YORK — Easy-to-use, flexible and compatible technologies are driving the new A|X Armani Exchange e-commerce Web site.
Many companies contract with Internet experts to develop and manage their sites, or attempt to recruit and hire e-commerce talent, which is scarce. However, A|X, the Giorgio Armani licensee, opted for a turnkey solution that gave it maximum control to change content and add new features on the fly.
“We change seasons seven times a year, so changing the content and merchandising the site is a big challenge,” said Lee Byrd, vice president of business operations for Armani Exchange.
The site, Armaniexchange.com, was officially launched Tuesday, but went live in February for a “soft launch” to gauge traffic. The site records 5,000 “unique user” visits each day. Byrd said tracking unique users is a valid metric because it recognizes each visitor from specific computers and counts that user only once, even if the user logs on several times during the day.
A key component of the electronic commerce strategy is leveraging existing resources in terms of staff, inventory and technology, Byrd said. For example, by choosing easy-to-use, intuitive software applications, Armani Exchange’s own nontechnical staff maintains the site’s content. In addition, online order fulfillment is handled by the existing distribution center in Secaucus, N.J., and the company’s information technology infrastructure required no upgrades to accommodate selling over the Internet.
Instead, electronic commerce software applications from Internova, N.Y., were essentially “layered on top” of the existing back-office systems that already support store operations. Byrd said this technology played a significant role in the decision to launch an electronic commerce-enabled Web site. Armani Exchange has had a “storefront” presence on the Internet since 1995, but resisted the temptation to sell online because “we didn’t think the time was right for us to capitalize on it.
“We wanted time to work out the kinks, and we were waiting for technology to catch up to where we wanted it to be,” he said. “We are retailers, and we wanted to leverage our existing assets such as inventory, merchandising systems, the physical stores, distribution center and human resources.”
Armani Exchange’s new electronic commerce applications work in harmony with the existing business systems because they were written in the non-proprietary Java programming language from Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto, Calif., and managed within a technical architecture known as CORBA (common object request broker architecture). CORBA is a method of distributed computer processing that facilitates communications between data stored on different systems, such as Armani Exchange’s existing AS400 computer, and its enterprise resource planning systems.
Byrd said the company is confident the site will prove profitable. Already, online orders are outpacing store orders in terms of units per transaction and total value, he said.
“This year, we project the site to do better than our average store volume, which is $900 per square foot,” Byrd added. “The site could be as large as our highest-volume store, and eventually it could even be our highest-volume store.”
Other early performance indicators feeding optimism include a healthy online shopper-to-buyer conversion rate of 1.5 percent and very little, if any, cannibalization of sales. Byrd said 70 percent of Web site visitors are logging on from areas where Armani Exchange does not have stores, and many orders are coming late at night, when stores are closed.
“We really see this as a logical extension of image and brand — a store where we can reach customers in places where we don’t have physical locations,” he added.
Armani Exchange operates 32 stores in the U.S. and 50 stores in other countries. Although about 20 percent of site visitors are from overseas, international shipping is not available yet. Byrd said the company will add that feature, perhaps later this year.