Fortnum & Mason selects open source over commercial software

Fortnum & Mason has opted for the Spree open-source e-commerce platform, for the underpinnings of its new website

Fortnum & Mason has opted for the Spree open-source e-commerce platform to underpin its new website.

Headed up by customer experience director Zia Zareem-Slade, former head of digital at Selfridges, the 300-year-old retailer has revamped its digital presence with a multichannel site based on responsive design targeted at the mobile era.

“Our aim was to create the best digital representation of Fortnum & Mason, representing the brand in the best way possible and ensuring we have a range customers enjoy and buy into,” said Zareem-Slade.

With Fortnum & Mason’s existing e-commerce platform reaching end of life, the retailer went through a standard request for proposals (RFP) for the design of the new e-commerce site.

“Frankly, I was not inspired by the options available, so we parked the RFP,” said Zareem-Slade.

While retailer John Lewis has adopted Oracle’s ATG platform in its multimillion-pound e-commerce site refresh, Fortnum & Mason took a very different approach.

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The retailer selected web consulting firm Red Badger and an open-source tool, rather than opting for established e-commerce platforms such as ATG and Magento.

Zareem-Slade had previously worked with Red Badger on Fortnum & Mason’s 2013 Food Awards website, but the consulting firm did not feel it had the skills necessary to develop a full e-commerce site for the retailer.

Instead, Red Badger decided to try out the Spree e-commerce platform, which is built on Ruby on Rails, to trial the development of a prototype Fortnum & Mason site during a two-day hackathon.

“The concept of doing a product as part of the pitch is not a traditional consulting approach,” said Cain Ullah, CEO of Red Badger.

While consultants often rely on previous case studies, Ullah wanted to to get Fortnum & Mason involved. 

“We wanted to use a new piece of technology – Spree,” he said. 

To prove it could do the job, the team ran a 48-hour hackathon involving a fully functional multidisciplined, cross-functional project team and invited Fortnum & Mason to see the prototype being developed.

“When Red Badger showed us what it had done, we were open to its ideas. From a partner perspective, you want to work with people who have your best interests at heart,” said Zareem-Slade. 

Ullah said the full collaboration between Fortnum & Mason and its customers throughout the testing meant that a fully responsive site was created in eight months.

“The new site provides Fortnum & Mason with a robust and agile platform to support future business expansion and take advantage of the explosion of mobile and tablet use,” he said. 

Red Badger used Circle CI and Ansible integrated into Slack to provide a continuous deployment pipeline, enabling members of the project team, technical or non-technical, to regularly deploy new features and updates. Flipper was used to switch features on and off at the push of a button, which allowed tests to be run in a production environment without any increased risk to customers.

The new site is scalable, agile and can handle complex orders and deliveries across more than 130 countries worldwide.

Testing the site in March, Fortnum & Mason said customers were converting 15% more sales than on the previous site, compared with the same period in 2014. In the three weeks since launch, mobile visits to the site were up 77%, while the mobile conversion rate was up 57%. The retailer said there was also an 18% reduction in calls to the customer service team.

“Collectively, we’ve achieved something very special. As well as being beautifully designed, the new site is fast, slick, easy to navigate and is truly responsive, providing the same experience across multiple devices,” said Zareem-Slade.

“The site reinforces the brand experience our customers expect. Since the site went fully live we have seen incredible results in increased revenues and conversion rates, but most importantly, amazingly positive customer feedback.”

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