Last month, we attended the leading customer experience conference in Europe, CX1 World.
There was a lot to be learned and we even had the pleasure of hosting a masterclass. We talked all about the blurry world of buzzwords in the industry and why there’s just one recipe for success. And, we invited Oliver Breitfeld, Chief Customer Officer at Calumet Photography to talk about their secret ingredient.
In case you missed it, read this blog to learn more.
During the masterclass, we discussed five key topics relevant to Calumet’s success story.
But before we go into that, let’s talk about Calumet for a moment.
Who are Calumet Photography?
Calumet is Germany’s biggest photo and video retailer, part of the European Imaging Group, and has more than 200 employees in Germany. Today, there are 10 stores across the country.
Calumet is an omnichannel retailer that has some of the most experienced consultants, which has been of huge benefit in terms of customer relations. People are buying not only from online but also offline thanks to their relationships with the consultants within those stores.
“We’re not just selling one product. We’re building lasting relationships”, says Oliver.
There are many use cases for Calumet, whether you’re an amateur photographer or a professional. Calumet’s approach is not just about selling a product, but also relationships and providing services. You can rent equipment, get repairs, sell, exchange, which allows the brand to provide a 360 degree service offering for the customer.
Perhaps most powerful is the business’s arsenal of experienced consultants and advisors who can help customers find the exact product they’re after in a rather complex catalogue. This is helping them stay ahead of the curve.
Before they revitalised their online store, Calumet gathered deep insights into their users. They found that users truly valued the relationship with the in-store staff – not just the products they purchased. Customers really engaged with the newsletter for its information and not necessarily just its product pushing.
“Calumet’s philosophy is about empowering the world of image makers, and helping them make pictures perfect. This means helping them find the right equipment, helping them understand how to use the equipment, and helping them just to talk about their hobby – which is really much more than just a hobby.”
Calumet has been online for almost 10 years. However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
There used to be an old intershop monolithic shop system that was heavily customised that hadn’t been updated in 8-9 years. It involved a lot of coding and customisation, which meant a lot of knowledge pending on one person. This was very tough for them to manage.
“The online business is important because customers are researching online – whether it’s looking into specifications, lenses, etc. Having an online store allows the customer to be informed about the subject. Hence the decision to replatform.”, explains Oliver
During the 12-16 month replatforming, Calumet left their PIM System, the middleware, and shop system, replatforming to Shopware 6 with a headless approach.
It was important for Calumet to have a proper IT setup in place that a small team could manage.
The photography sector
People are passionate about the products they have and the results they produce with those products. It’s more than a hobby to them. They want to talk about how they did it, most of the known photographers host training sessions where you can book a tour and go on a weekend trip with them.
Everyone is really involved and passionate about what they’re doing. They’re willing to create a community and share information. This underpinned their entire replatforming strategy and content-driven approach.
What are the challenges they’ve faced in the last few years?
As with most retailers, the pandemic had a significant impact on the business. Availabilit and supply chain issues caused issues, but things are recovering for the holiday season. Oliver also explained that fraud is also an issue with some taking advantage of the payment system. Also it is more difficult to consult online than in person.
“Customer experience is something that we’re always working on to get information in place that customers need – especially those customers that purchase their first camera. This is where things like guided shopping come in and help the customer identify three things: Use case, budget, product.”
Both in store and online were impacted by the supply chain issues since the lockdown. Still around 70% of revenue comes from the offline stores. It was difficult when the lockdown temporarily closed the offline stores. Luckily, Calumet had a good and stable online shop in place, with the infrastructure to support click and collect, consulting via telephone and video.
Calumet fared better during the pandemic than most, thanks to its people and technology. Most of the stores had a backdoor where you could just hand out packages, which was helpful due to the reliance on the brick-and-mortar stores. Nevertheless, the online offering increased.
Of course online, there were issues such as increased paid traffic, finding new competitors, and new entrants to the market.
Regardless, Calumet came out of the pandemic strong, with a better understanding of the customer. This success was down largely due to the multichannel approach.
It was once the case that online was helping retail to survive. Now in a shock to the ecommerce industry, we see in some areas retail taking over or gaining some of the market shares they lost to online in the past year. In other words, retail is helping online to survive.
To be blunt, Calumet threw away a lot of their old technologies in favour of a new commerce platform, for good reason.
The replatforming itself and the ability to present content in a good way and to have personalisation on the side.
As mentioned, Calumet uses Shopware 6, but is also working with StoryBlock as a CMS. Because of the level of complex information, they require a powerful content engine, enhancing product data with content management elements. For instance, the brand brings their product listings to life with bespoke videos like these.
More recently, Calumet looked to enhancing their search capabilities with Findologic and Trbo to have the ranking of the product pages in place as well as personalisation.
Now the brand has a very solid foundation with the platform they have and are ready to execute on what Oliver calls “real ecommerce”, and put into place personalisations, conversion rate optimisation, content marketing, and more.
It’s early days, but Calumet is optimistic about the journey to come.
When you have one system, any problems that arise will be much easier to identify. When you’re working with a lot of interfaces, it can be a lot harder to resolve issues. Oliver gives several examples:
- A PIM sending data to the shop
- The shop sending data back to the ERP system
- Search – everything connected through APIs
- Hard to find where it went wrong
- Is your staging environment the same as your live environment
- Is there anything that was misconfigured when testing payment
Headless is a very good way to go, but you need the people and the capabilities to have more complex testing in place and in-depth knowledge of what you’re doing and where things are going and how promotions are handled, and more.
“The biggest challenge was for us to understand our own architecture and to help send all the feeds and everything to the right direction.”
Flexibility is also a boon – if you ever want to scale your architecture and exchange a system later and bring in for instance new emailing tools, or AI layer to your search results – flexibility is crucial.
In Calumet’s words: what are the biggest opportunities in ecommerce
When you are a small D2C brand, your challenges are a lot different. You’re focused on getting the first traffic in, you need to have a shop that’s working and telling your stories well.
If you’re a huge brand, your challenges are more different – price management, cost of traffic, keeping customers happy.
For Calumet, the most important challenge is keeping your customers. Managing your customer relationships is key to customer lifetime value. The cost of acquiring new customers is going up. Most customers are not loyal, because discounts are plenty and competitors are fighting for your shoppers.
“Our advice to retailers is you need a proper strategy for managing your customer relations and having them purchasing again and again. That might be once a year, or multiple times a year. You need a strategy to attract and keep customers.”
When it comes to technology, you don’t need to own everything in your IT department. You need an ecommerce shop system that suits your business. There might be some B2B companies that need the whole shebang – i.e. PIM systems, search, etc. that have capabilities you might not need as a small D2C. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
When facing technology challenges, you need to have clear lines of communication in your IT department and have a strategy. In case of emergencies, you need to have a method to resolve it. If customers have an issue, it will be hard to get them back.
Have a proper testing environment. There are many things that can go wrong when you go headless.
The most important things are done in the frontend. It’s easy to say keep the complexities away from the user, but generally ecommerce is still a far way away from achieving this.
Another one of Calumet’s learnings has been to focus on the interactions of the customer and make their end to end shopping experience as smooth as possible. That has been key to Calumet’s success.
I’d also like to share one useful tidbit from the masterclass.
We asked Calumet what they’d like to share with other ecommerce leaders.
“The most important thing is to network, visit conventions, attend talks, listen to what people are saying, connect with them. It’s very helpful to connect with other people doing something similar. A lot of insights came when we’d have issues during replatforming, and we spoke with other businesses facing similar struggles, and how they were dealing with them.
Before we chose the tools and platforms we were using, we chose to get in touch with customers of the product. We didn’t just rely on case studies, we dove into social proof, and talked with the people using the tools and how the project went. For anyone owning a big project, really look to the ground and get a granular understanding to truly understand how it will impact your business.”
The title of the masterclass was: Composable, Headless, Monolithic, Whatever- why buzzwords don’t matter for Calumet Photography
To quote Oliver, who came up with the headline, “buzzwords don’t make money”.
People frequently say you need to own your technology, but that requires people – especially on data – and this costs money. In the world of retail this presents a huge problem because margins are shrinking. Everything in the online world is expensive – from marketing to staff.
Buzzwords are nice to have and indicate the art of the possible, but as a retailer, you need to look at TCOs and perspective. You need to look at where you are and where you can realistically be. You need reliable partnerships and a sustainable business. That’s what you need to take care of as a retailer – not necessarily whether you have the newest technology in place.
Calumet is enjoying the best of both worlds.