Paper Source maximizes investments for optimum customer experiences

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Paper Source CEO Winnie Park has admittedly had few truly heart-racing moments of fear.

But on a recent weekend, face-to-face with a customer ready to pay on a new store point-of-sale system, she felt it.

What do I do with this screen? Oh, my goodness, I need to go back.

Everything was suddenly real, she says. Then suddenly, surprisingly, it was “super easy.”

“I could see how it was so user friendly,” she says, “and you could spend less time ringing, less time behind the counter, and have the opportunity to spend more time in front of the customer, engaging with them.”

Naturally, there’s more to this story than just an updated POS — beyond even the question of why the CEO and virtually the entire senior leadership team of the more than 30-year-old company took turns behind the register during an early 2017 sample sale.

This is the tale of an organization that has taken a larger view, seeking to understand touchpoints in fresh ways and focusing on true omnichannel transformation rather than just updating technology.

‘Lifetime value’

Soon after she joined Paper Source in September 2015, Park and the leadership team drafted a vision for where they wanted to take the already highly profitable company next. Chicago-based Paper Source, founded in 1981, offers a curated collection of invitations, announcements, cards, paper crafts, unique gifts and more through more than 100 stores and online.

“One of our key insights was that our in-store experience is a little bit of our special sauce as a brand,” she says. “Our store associates have the ability to connect with customers, and to make comprehensive, unique experiences come to life. But where you could really see a gap was between that in-store experience and the experience online.”

In-store, there are workshops, parties, demonstrations and plenty of other opportunities to plan, to play and to receive expert planning and personalization advice.

Not only that: “We also knew that we had customers who were, number one, loyal, and number two, that those customers had a pretty high frequency,” Park says. The typical customer journey might start with a greeting card or custom print order, then progress through wedding planning, holiday photo cards, invitations for a child’s birthday party and fun crafting workshops as that child gets older.

As a result, Paper Source is able to evolve “lifetime value with the customer,” she says.

Which made the need for transformation all the more pressing. The company’s legacy systems weren’t able to keep up with its rapid growth — and the technology wasn’t current enough for today’s challenges, much less tomorrow’s. Paper Source has seen sales increase by more than 25 percent each year over the past eight years, both in-store and online.

“Customer expectations are going through the roof on a daily basis,” says Doug Weich, founder and CEO of Sophelle, the retail strategy and implementation consulting firm that worked with Paper Source to find the right technology partner. “The average customer is shopping so many places, and on such advanced technology, with companies that are each trying to find their own differentiation. And they compare every retailer to the best in every area.”

Sophelle helped Paper Source determine where investments should be made not only for differentiation, but also for maximizing its unique customer experience.

“The Aptos solution enables us to have unique identified customers at the register, to be able to pull up who they are and get a look at what their purchase history is.”
— Winnie Park, Paper Source

Which circles back to that POS. Paper Source engaged Aptos Inc. to provide a complete suite of retail solutions in a full-service software-as-a-service model, including digital commerce, enterprise order management, customer relationship management and clienteling, analytics, point of sale, audit and operations management, merchandising and planning.

The first phase — which took place on an aggressive five-month timeline between April and September last year — was to take care of the stores and replatform the merchandise planning and allocation. The second, currently underway, involves CRM and e-commerce.

“One of the things that the Aptos solution was able to do in Phase One — and it seems like such a simple thing — is to enable us to have unique identified customers at the register, to be able to pull up who they are and get a look at what their purchase history is,” Park says.

“The next piece of this is to be able to speak to them about their needs and to truly clientele our highest-value customers. We’re not there yet. We’re also not yet at the point that we can see what their omnichannel behavior looks like. Right now we have the data capture for e-commerce in a separate place than our POS, but in Phase Two, we’ll bring e-commerce onto the Aptos platform.”

Creating experience

Noel Goggin, Aptos CEO, says his company is always looking for partners who have vision — especially those with vision to drive organizational change and to make large strides forward rather than incremental steps.

Park is just such a visionary leader, he says, and her background in luxury retail (she worked for almost a decade with DFS Group, an operator of duty-free shops controlled by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA) gave her a different understanding of what kind of experience she could help create.

“A partnership like that is fabulous, because you’ve got somebody who is curious, inventive, creative and not afraid to try new things,” he says.

Case in point: In addition to the omnichannel transformation, Paper Source has moved its headquarters and warehouse/distribution/production center to accommodate the growth. The headquarters now sit on the 15th floor of an office building that also holds a fully operating Paper Source “lab store” for testing everything from new fixtures to new products — and all corporate employees, regardless of job or title, are required to work a shift there every month.

She also appointed a cross-functional Omnichannel Transformation Initiative team, pulling members out of their day jobs to more clearly focus.

As for the rapid timetable, Goggin says it was possible in part due to recent strategic Aptos acquisitions in analytics (QuantiSense) and e-commerce/enterprise order management (ShopVisible). Those internal integrations allow retailers to move from one view of the customer to one view of inventory to one view of the order, he says, and have resulted in more than 46 different omnichannel use cases or permutations and combinations that will work right out of the box. The only surprise in working with Paper Source on Phase One, he says, is “just how well the project went.”

Weich notes that Sophelle’s brand promise to its clients is that there will be no surprises. “This is built on three pillars: shared expectations, disciplined processes and complete transparency,” he says. “We like to say surprises are good for birthday parties, but bad for retail IT.”

It was clear at the conclusion of the objective selection process that Aptos and Paper Source would be the right fit, he says, both now and in the future.

It didn’t take long for Park to see it, either — just as it didn’t take her long to figure out that POS.

“We saw a lot of big technology firms, but what really stood out with Aptos — and Sophelle — is that we knew we’d get attention from the CEO down, and that it would be a personal project. It felt that they were committed to our success, and that we weren’t just another client, but that they were intellectually and emotionally engaged in what we were trying to do.”

And along the way, Paper Source’s end goal became clearer than ever.

“We helped Paper Source realize that it wasn’t just an omnichannel technology initiative they were trying to undertake,” Weich says. “It was really a business transformation.”

Fiona Soltes, a freelancer based near Nashville, Tenn., loves a good bargain almost as much as she loves a good story.

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