As one of just two officially licensed bakers of Girl Scout cookies – a market with annual revenues topping USD 800 million – Weston Foods knows that competitive differentiation is vital.
To outshine the competition, Weston Foods is serving up a sweet online ordering experience, with a sprinkling of support from IBM Services and Microsoft Azure Cloud Services.
8% growthin year-on-year cookie sales after IBM stabilized the old ordering system
Smoothingthe way for fast and accurate ordering, so Girl Scouts can focus on selling
Introducingnew and valuable functionality without raising operational costs
Business challenge story
Satisfying hungry appetites
When you open your front door to find Girl Scouts selling cookies on your doorstep, you can’t help but buy one or more of the flavors. Not only will you get to enjoy a delicious treat, you’ll also be taking part in the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world that stretches back over a hundred years.
Behind the girls’ bright eyes and colorful uniforms, the wheels of big business are turning. Girl Scouts sell USD 800 million of cookies every year, and Weston Foods has the privilege of being one of just two officially licensed Girl Scout cookie bakers. To outpace the competition, Weston Foods aimed to deliver a seamless online ordering experience.
Mary Alice Callaway, Vice President for Sales and Marketing for the Girl Scout business at Weston Foods, explains: “The Girl Scout cookie program is one-of-a-kind. It’s a multi-million-dollar industry, but the salesforce is comprised exclusively of young girls, their families and volunteers. They fit in their cookie sale commitments around their busy lives, so we need to make it quick and easy for them to order cookies and manage their sale. Our hope is that they have an easy but powerful online experience, sell well, and continue participating in this skill-building program.”
Demand had grown in recent years, and Weston Foods recognized that its existing online ordering system was struggling to keep pace with the rising numbers of users and orders. The problems became particularly evident on Sunday evenings. Right before the Girl Scout councils’ weekly cut-off time for placing orders, and when most of the troop leaders attempt to order cookies simultaneously, the system receives up to five orders per second.
Some Girl Scout councils set up booths from which girls can sell cookies in high-traffic locations – such as outside a Walmart or at a train station. Tremendous spikes in system usage also occur when councils release these booths for requests and allocation on a first-come-first serve basis.
In an effort to preserve the Girl Scouts’ orders while winning new business, Weston Foods needed to provide a seamless, responsive online ordering experience for the girls, volunteers and council staff during the highest peaks in demand. Since the cookie selling season is short, abandoned orders could translate into missed opportunities and lost revenues.
Finding the recipe for success
For help crafting a recipe for success, Weston Foods engaged IBM Services.
“We felt that IBM was a perfect fit for our business,” says Mary Alice Callaway. “For starters, both IBM and Weston Foods are leaders in their industries, and both have been in business for over a hundred years. Second, our companies share the same ethos – IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is a grown-up Girl Scout.
“What’s more, we wanted a partner who could support us in infrastructure and application development, and IBM offers expertise in both fields backed by a proven track record. Finally, we aimed to make improvements before the next cookie season, so our deadlines were tight and we wanted to avoid resource constraints. IBM was able to scale the development team when necessary to meet the schedule within a short lead time, and that simply would not have been possible with a smaller vendor.”
First, IBM Services stabilized and improved the performance of the existing order management system, enabling IBM and Weston Foods to focus on developing the new solution.
Michael Hesse, Vice President, IT for North America at Weston Foods, remarks: “The IBM team did a stellar job at stabilizing the previous order-management system. The site coped with the spikes in demand and we were able to grow year-on-year cookie sales by eight percent.”
Next, IBM and Weston Foods kickstarted their digital transformation by developing a new order management system built on Microsoft Azure. The solution was designed according to IBM Design Thinking methodology and workshops, which focus on achieving a superb user experience. The implementation followed Weston Agile methodology, which focuses on rapid time-to-value, with IBM best practices in project tracking and reporting using Microsoft Visual Studio Team Services.
Thanks to the cloud deployment, Weston Foods can configure the new system to auto-scale based on resource demand. For example, if CPU usage stays at 80 percent for five minutes, Microsoft Azure can seamlessly spin up another machine to share the workload.
Michael Hesse comments: “The Girl Scout cookie business is unique, so any e-commerce solution would need to be adapted to fit our requirements. We opted for a custom build based on Microsoft Azure Cloud Services because that option offered the greatest flexibility and excellent value for money. Furthermore, the decision fitted neatly within our existing roadmap.
“By opting for a cloud deployment, we gained immense elasticity, enabling us to cope with huge peaks in demand without investing in an infrastructure that would reach full capacity only a fraction of the time.”
Michael Hesse continues: “We engaged Girl Scout council staff and volunteers in the design of the new order management solution to make sure that it would meet their needs and be easy for them to use. Their input was hugely valuable, and they were excited to see the new platform up and running.”
The new solution features a responsive web ordering system with multiple form factors for optimal user experience, a native mobile application for girls using Android and iOS, a native mobile application for girls and cookie volunteers, a sales and marketing suite, plus an integrated content management system.
As part of the IBM Services Application Management Services offering, the IBM team is helping Weston Foods to monitor the new system’s performance, ensure that key processes are running smoothly, and address issues before they impact users. IBM also runs the helpdesk, supporting people ordering cookies if they encounter problems.
Serving up a top-notch user experience
It’s early days for the new platform, as councils are now ordering their first batches of cookies, but the initial feedback is promising, with users saying how much easier the ordering process has become. The new system is expected to support some 200,000 users during the peak season.
Mary Alice Callaway remarks: “Our new solution built on Microsoft Azure makes it quick and easy for Girl Scouts to order cookies from us. By providing a slick online experience, we hope to retain their business and win new business from more councils in future.”
Michael Hesse adds: “By opting for a Microsoft Azure cloud deployment, we have been able to add new functionality without increasing operational costs. Our costs are optimized because we scale the system up and down to mirror peaks and falls in demand. Because we have such scalability, we are confident that our systems can quickly respond when order volumes soar.”
The transformational initiative has won the Weston team recognition internally and beyond, bagging the IBM Innovation and Delivery Excellence Award for Digital Strategy and Roadmap in 2017. Weston sees the success as part of a broader transformation of its business, as Mary Alice Callaway explains: “We want to be the best in our field, which means delivering better value to Girl Scouts and volunteers. We are transforming our business to help them run their sale more effectively. The ordering system is just the beginning, and we have lots of exciting ideas in the pipeline. We’re on a quest for continuous improvement of our business.
“For example, we already help users decide how many cookies to order by showing them their sales volumes at each point during the previous three seasons. We want to go beyond that and harness powerful analytics from Microsoft Power BI to boost the accuracy of their sales forecasting. Everything from local events and the weather impacts cookie sales, so we want to help girls anticipate peaks in demand and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Mary Alice Callaway concludes: “With IBM Services and Microsoft we have cooked up something extra-special: a first-class online experience that makes life easier for Girl Scouts and councils. We are confident that the new Microsoft solution delivered by IBM puts us in a strong position to grow our business and deliver even more delicious cookies to eager consumers across the nation.”
Weston Foods is one of North America’s leading providers of fresh and frozen baked goods. Founded in 1882, the company operates in more than 50 locations across Canada and the U.S., and employs over 5,000 people.
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- IBM Global Business Services