The Entertainer uses cloud and tablets to boost toy sales

Toy retailer plans to roll out tablets across its stores to capitalise on success of cloud-based omni-channel system deployment

Independent toy store The Entertainer has set out plans to deploy tablets throughout its 100 UK stores, as part of its push to use digital tools to enhance the shopping experience for customers.

The project will see the firm roll out 500 Samsung tablets by the end of June 2015, and follows on from a successful pilot that saw either four or five devices introduced to a small selection of stores in 2014.

The tablets will be used to carry out a number of shop floor-based functions, such as printing out shelf-edge labels and helping staff keep tabs on their sales performance and targets.

The Entertainer head of IT services Ian Pulsford said the devices will also feature an e-shopper element, so customers can make use of online shopping tools while they're in-store.

“Members of staff will be able to walk up to a customer and use the tablet to show them items from the website or check if something they’re after is in stock, before transferring it to the e-shopper so they can place an order for it right from the shop floor,” he said.

“If they want to pay in cash, we can park the transaction and line it up so they can pay for it at the till instead.”

The Entertainer's shops also offer a click and collect service, whereby shoppers can reserve goods online and pick them up in-store, which the tablets will ensure can now take place without the use of paper-based forms.

“We can scan the email they’ve been sent to say their item is ready and the customer can then sign on the tablet to say they’ve received it, so the whole process can be completed in a paperless way," said Pulsford.

To make this possible, the devices will be connected via Wi-Fi to a Zebra label printer and come with WorldPay’s payment software installed, along with the e-shopper tool.

Online sales push

The tablet roll-out comes off the back of a number of other changes the retailer has made in recent years to increase its online presence and improve its responsiveness to customer demands.

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“Customers want more," said Pulsford. "They realise there is greater choice out there and they are becoming more savvy about where they buy from, and more demanding.

“They're also not necessarily willing to pay for those extra services, whether that be a courier service or click and collect, so retailers are going to have to work out what they can offer to customers and not just follow the crowd, as it may not be a good business decision."

To back this point, Pulsford said sales through click and collect grew by more than 80% during the 2014 Christmas period and accounted for 35% of the organisation’s online sales.

To achieve this, the firm worked with managed cloud provider Rackspace to deploy a private cloud-based, hybrid omni-channel offering across its website. 

This took place around two-and-a-half-years ago and heralded the arrival of the firm's aforementioned click and collect service. It was overseen by Rackspace’s channel partner Conexus, which specialises in helping retailers develop their omni-channel e-commerce strategies.

The Frozen effect

Its cloud-based setup has also ensured The Entertainer’s website has a responsive design, so customers can have a consistent user experience across its desktop and mobile versions.

Furthermore, it has also served to ensure the site is equipped to cope with peaks in demand for the site’s services, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

According to Pulsford, the shop’s Christmas push starts around 31 October and accounts for approximately 50% of the firm’s annual turnover, so ensuring its site remains up-and-running is critical.

We are all about peak, so it’s very important your infrastructure copes, particularly now Black Friday has landed in the UK

Ian Pulsford, The Entertainer

“We are all about peak, so it’s very important your infrastructure copes, particularly now Black Friday has landed in the UK,” he said. “It was our biggest ever day on the web by around a factor of two and our site stayed up.”

To prepare for the Christmas onslaught, Pulsford said the company spends a lot of time from April onwards each year with Rackspace and Conexus trying to work out what the the Christmas rush will look like and how to prepare accordingly.

Outside of the Christmas period, the company’s website also needs to be in a position to cope with unexpected traffic surges caused by new movie releases and playground crazes, some of which are over before they have even begun.

“Last year was a bit of a storm in terms of trends," said Pulsford. "The Lego Movie came out and pushed up sales both online and in-store, while the loom band craze took hold and, at one time, we accounted for around 90% of the market."

The on-going demand for products associated with Disney’s animated hit film Frozen also threw up its own up-time challenge, when a doll of one of the lead characters, Elsa, came back in stock one day.

“The only day when the website struggled is what we’ve termed ‘Elsa Day’. We had some Elsa dolls come in and once we announced this would happen, we had hundreds of people sitting on the Elsa page waiting for the new stock to arrive," Pulsford said.

“Within 60 seconds of the stock going in, we had 300-400 people in the checkout trying to buy them.”

What's next? 

The investment seems to have paid off for The Entertainer though, with Pulsford reporting a 5.5% rise in like-for-like sales during the five weeks to December 2014. The retailer's online sales were up by 60% on Christmas 2013.

But there is still some work to do, said Pulsford, as the company prepares to draw on more of Rackspace’s capabilities, which he cites as a major factor in the firm’s decision to adopt the technology in the first place.

"We’ve been working together now for around three years and it’s reached a stage where we’re preparing to expand the system, with additional resource in multiple datacentres so we have some disaster recovery functionality, running increased numbers of test systems," he said.

"I’m also hoping to add another test system this year so we can test implementations, so that when the test code is made we can then run it on a dummy system.”

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