Business challenge

To better serve its students and more than 1,200 institutions, Follett Corporation needed an order management system that would enable its 1,200 e-commerce sites to operate as a unified online store.

Transformation

Follett used IBM® Sterling™ B2B Integrator, IBM Sterling Order Management and IBM MQ software to create 1,200 cooperating stores that share inventory, catalogs and order fulfillment.

Results

Increases revenue

by increasing inventory available at every online store

Offers customers an endless aisle

increasing inventory with support from drop-ship and distribution centers

Provides built-in history and audit data

that helps with system support, troubleshooting and reporting

Business challenge story

Missed sales opportunities

Follett is one of the largest retailers in the higher education space, operating on-campus and online stores across the US and Canada. In the past, Follett’s 1,200 online stores operated more or less independently. Most online stores relied on a single physical store to supply its inventory, so a user who visited an online store would only see the inventory available at the corresponding local campus store. “So if your local store happened to run out of a particular book or hat or t-shirt, it showed as out of stock online,” says Al Scherer, Director of E-commerce at Follett. “We were basically telling the customer to go buy it someplace else, even though we might have that book in a distribution center or down the road at a different university. We had 1,200 independent point-to-point websites, and each one of those orders only got filled by the physical store serving that website.” 

Follett needed an order management system that would help it eliminate these lost sales opportunities and enable its 1,200 e-commerce sites to operate as a unified online store.

The scalable architecture has enabled us to better leverage our store network and implement endless aisle through drop-ship and distribution centers.

Al Scherer, Director of E-commerce, Follett Corporation

Transformation story

Independent stores become cooperating stores

Follett used Sterling B2B Integrator, Sterling Order Management and MQ software to create 1,200 cooperating stores that share inventory, catalogs and order fulfillment. Because Follett had numerous existing systems in place when it implemented the order management system, it uses Sterling B2B Integrator software as a translation layer. All partner system data coming into or going out of Follett’s order management system moves through Sterling B2B Integrator, which translates data to the required format as needed.

Follett also uses MQ software to move information among its applications. Most of these MQ data exchanges are handled asynchronously. “This was an intentional architectural decision,” says Scherer. “It lets partner applications scale independently to run as quickly as they can and doesn’t slow the whole system down based on the slowest partner.”

The Sterling software offers numerous built-in features, including customized process flows, catalog management and a global catalog. The application also supports seasonal inventory. “Unlike regular retailers, who have one big busy holiday season, we have two rushes, a spring rush and a fall rush,” says Pete Bukantis, Manager of IT at Follett.

With the Sterling Order Management solution, Follett can also create business logic and rules for its inventory and orders. “If you want to buy a laptop, we'll ship it wherever you want. But if you're talking about pens, pencils and lower priced items, we really can't afford to send those around the country,” says Scherer. “We came up with this concept of the item type, which allowed us to establish different order fulfillment business rules at the item level based on, for example, unit margins. We also defined ‘infinite inventory’ items that always show as available online.”

Follett has also added drop-ship vendors to its business model. Drop-ship vendors are essentially business partners that sell products on the Follett websites. When Follett receives orders for products from a drop-ship vendor, the vendor can either ship directly to the customer or ship to the customer’s local store. “The great thing about our drop-ship vendor program is that it has really let us extend our assortment beyond what we can carry in our physical stores without increasing our inventory exposure risk,” says Scherer.

Results story

Greater choices, increased revenue

One of the top benefits of the order management system is increased revenue. “We're no longer just 1,200 individual online stores being served by 1,200 physical stores,” says Scherer. “The scalable architecture has enabled us to better leverage our store network and implement endless aisle through drop-ship and distribution centers. We just have a lot more products we can sell online.” Follet has also extended the order management system functionality beyond its higher education division to its K - 12 division, which includes 400 more stores.

As Follett implemented the order management system, it created automated support processes and troubleshooting guides to help keep the system running smoothly. “We created troubleshooting guides that let users just start at the top and work their way down, and answer yes or no questions and it gives a lot of answers to people's questions,” says Bukantis. The IBM solution also provides robust history and audit data, right out of the box. Follett can use this audit data for system support, troubleshooting and reporting, including weekly reports to C-level staff.

Overall, the IBM solution has enhanced Follett’s flexibility and reach. “We've got physical stores, catalog centers, distribution centers, drop-ship vendors,” says Scherer. “The solution has also helped provide an online presence to some of our smaller clients that might not have a physical store.”

Follett Corporation Logo

About Follett Corporation

Founded in 1873, Follett is a leading provider of education technology, services and physical and digital content. The privately held company works with 80,000 schools and operates more than 1,250 local campus stores and 1,600 virtual stores. Follett is headquartered in Westchester, Illinois.

Take the Next Step

To learn more about IBM order management and fulfillment solutions for supply chain, visit ibm.com/supply-chain