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ESPO

CUSTOMER SPOTLIGHT ESPO Magnitude Software helped a UK-based buyers’ organization to restructure its product content for an all-new Magento-driven ecommerce platform.

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Background

Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO) is a professional buying organization serving public sector and education in the UK. For 40 years ESPO relied on printed catalogs as its primary sales tool, with ecommerce accounting for 20% of total sales in recent years. ESPO used Magnitude’s Agility PIM software to produce its catalogs and to feed a rudimentary website.

In 2019 it became clear that the existing website could not meet modern eCommerce best practices for filtering and searching, so ESPO committed to an all-new website. Magento Enterprise 2.3.7 was selected as the new Ecommerce platform, to be fed from Agility 8.0. This move would require ESPO’s product information for 30,000 SKUs to be reimagined from print-centric to a format suitable for the requirements of Magento.

Dawn Zassick, Vice President of Customer Solutions for Magnitude Software, and Claire Edwards, Head of Marketing at ESPO, spearheaded the project. Claire’ ESPO team included two other full-time staffers and seven members of the sales team on an ad hoc basis.

ESPO Content: Fit for print, not for web

The team at ESPO quickly realized the massive scale of the project. ESPO’s data model — its product information taxonomy and content — was not structured to fit Magento. It had been written for print format – heavy on text and ordering tables – but lacking data in key searchable or filterable attributes.

As Claire recounted, “I’d been a huge advocate of moving to a newer way of working, so I knew what was at stake. But when I realized the scope of the job, I said, crikey, this is a huge task! We didn’t have categories for certain products, so we had to build a new taxonomy. And much of the data was in one common field that had to be parsed into whatever attributes were needed for a particular category.”

According to Dawn, “The breadth and complexity of the taxonomy took a lot of time to build out. ESPO had a wider range of offerings than most, with those 30,000 SKUs scattered across hundreds of different categories as opposed to just a handful of categories.”

Magento itself presented a hurdle of its own. Dawn added, “Magento is very powerful, but unforgiving …If you miss a required field, the web page fails to load. Problem is, Magento doesn’t tell you what went wrong. That’s where Agility tools become invaluable to identify gaps, errors and inconsistencies.”

Process

Initially, the ESPO team had to acknowledge the true value of their product information, and the contrast in behaviors of traditional catalog shoppers vs. eCommerce shoppers. Claire noted, “Our product data hadn’t been viewed as an asset … once we accepted that, it was easy to make the case that our data model had to change.”

Dawn added, “Product information is an important as the products themselves because the information creates the customer experience. Ecommerce shoppers do not browse like catalog shoppers. They visit a website to search and filter for what they want, and they expect that functionality.”

The gap between the existing content structure and the needs of Magento was immense. The print-centric data was text-heavy, with most of the specification buried in paragraphs or tables. This data had to be extracted and transferred into SKU-level attributes such as Color, Size, Dimensions, or Material.

Claire noted, “Parsing of the data took more time and resources than we could have imagined”. Two full-time ESPO staffers managed the bulk of the data migration into the new model. Seven members of the sales team lent their expertise to building out the category attributes for categories as different as stationery vs. gloves.

The new data model allowed products to be searchable and filterable based on logical features. ESPO was able to create choice lists of values (Color, Size, Gender) and other refinements to guide the customer journey.

Additionally, ESPO wanted to integrate its Frameworks into the same Magento platform, requiring the development of a second data model and corresponding Magento page template appropriate for these services products.

The Frameworks data only existed in Word documents and, like the product data, was inconsistently structured. Magnitude created customized Excel import/export sheets by category for both products and Frameworks to assist ESPO in the data transfer.

The process to revise the data model, migrate the data and launch the new website took about one year.

Results

ESPO realized an immediate lift from the new website. Ecommerce sales jumped 1% per week and crossed 30% threshold of total sales in ten weeks. Customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

ESPO plans to build off this early success on several fronts:

  • Sustain a commitment to having a dedicated content manager responsible for continuous maintenance activities
  • Initiate a second pass through the product data to further improve the quality of the information and to refine filter and search capabilities
  • Create microsites for targeted markets
  • Sustain a commitment to having a dedicated content manager responsible for continuous maintenance activities
  • Initiate a second pass through the product data to further improve the quality of the information and to refine filter and search capabilities
  • Create microsites for targeted markets

ESPO will remain a print catalog publisher. As Claire explained, “Catalogs will always be important to us and our customers, particularly teachers. Our research shows that they rely on the books. The improvements we made with our product content in Agility has allowed us to shorten the production cycle time. We expect to do more catalogs, not less.”

Lessons learned

Reflecting on this achievement, Claire made these thoughtful observations for companies facing a comparable situation:

  • Dedicate a person or persons to the task of maintaining the content
  • Manage expectations; upgrading an ecommerce site is a process with incremental milestone improvements
  • You don’t necessarily need to hire new staff, but your marketers and content staff need to think web-first because your ecommerce success will rise or fall on the quality of that data
  • Obtain as much budget and resources as you can to start, because the task will be bigger than you imagine

ESPO Information

Reflecting on this achievement, Claire made these thoughtful observations for companies facing a comparable situation:
Client Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO)
Location Leicester, UK
Industry Distribution
Task Adapt product content for website relaunch
Number of SKUs Approx. 30,000
Tools Magento 2.3.7 and Agility 8.0
Core team Three full time, seven part time
Timeframe One year

Catalogs will always be important to us and our customers, particularly teachers. Our research shows that they rely on the books. The improvements we made with our product content in Agility has allowed us to shorten the production cycle time. We expect to do more catalogs, not less.

Claire Edwards
Head Of Marketing

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