Case Study: Developer Helps Floral Web Site Bloom

KaBloom, a Woburn, Mass., florist, wanted to enhance its 1998-era Web site as the centerpiece of a strategy to deliver flowers around the nation and the world. So what did it get by turning to Zengine, a Berkeley, Calif., e-commerce developer?
By Mike Espindle

With over 30 retail locations in the greater Boston area and one of the largest dedicated floral inventory and shipping facilities in the country, KaBloom of Woburn, Mass., was well positioned to take its fresh-cut flower and gift delivery nationwide. But first its first-generation online store, developed in 1998, needed significant enhancements.

"The genesis of the online store re-haul was to produce a top-flight e-commerce site that supported customer loyalty and also national, even global, promotion to take KaBloom into a new arena," said Justin Haslett, KaBloom's customer service administrator. "The original site served us well as an in-store adjunct to the brick-and-mortar operation. But to compete, we knew we needed a full-featured solution."

After rejecting the idea of developing a site in-house, the company contracted with Zengine, a Berkeley, Calif., developer of online stores and e-commerce services. KaBloom charged Zengine to not only streamline and expand online ordering, but to also do a top-down analysis of its online strategies to identify areas where technology could boost profits and efficiency.

First Order of Business: Discovery
The first order of business was to deploy a team to assess the requirements of the projects and uncover technical issues. "We had a team member on-site for two weeks to explore the existing structure and gather as much information as possible about KaBloom's operation," said Jake Kuramoto, launch manager for the Zengine project.

Darrell Perkins, Zengine's director of marketing, said, "We discovered that KaBloom was actually losing money on overnight FedEx deliveries, an offering that should be a bread-and-butter item for a floral delivery service. In addition, the first-generation site could not handle extremely high volumes of orders. The system was swamped on big order days, like Valentine's Day, leaving money on the table during the firm's busiest times."

In addition to adding ordering power, the Zengine team added new functions to KaBloom's operation. It tied together the entire Web site with the online ordering system, which used an e-commerce package based in PERL and RedHat software, served from Zengine's secure facilities with redundant dual-processor Linux P3s. The customer database, including online and offline ordering data, was centralized in an open-source MySQL environment. A software tool was developed to let representatives at KaBloom's distribution center better handle phone orders and go online to "shop as the shopper." And content management components were added to allow easy client-side site updating and alteration.

Design and Integration Hurdles
"Like most retailers, KaBloom was very concerned with the aesthetics of the site, and they retained a design firm that developed very specific requirements," said Zengine's Kuramoto. "There was a bit of back-and-forth with the designers, but one of the advantages of Zengine's engine is flexibility. We don't come 'shrink-wrapped.' We can respond to stringent design requirements without limiting our clients' vision."

Once the design challenges were addressed, the issue of back-end legacy integration came to the forefront. Zengine's solution specified a once-a-day dump of all XML order data to KaBloom's enterprise resource planning system, based in NT/Kewill software.

"Data integration is always a bit of challenge in online retail projects," said Zengine's Kuramoto. "Our object gateway technology employs multiple object protocols -- like XML, ODBC, EDI, and FTP -- to ensure back-end compatibility and integration."

Quality assurance strategies were extensive. The development team built a series of test cases to run through the system, and the new technology was securely mounted to allow client-side test cases as well. "Letting clients access the system is critical to testing," said Zengine's Perkins. "They know better than anybody where a system is likely to break."

Testing was a success, and the finished project, which involved 12 Zengine staff, was delivered within the vendor's typical 60- to 90-day timeline.

Added Benefits
The centralized data structure has allowed for additional marketing benefits, such as pointing customers to other products similar buyers have purchased, improving personalization, and suggesting the appropriate vase for the arrangement being purchased. Kabloom now has Web-accessible pricing, inventory management, and information control. The platform also generates dynamic site content based on product availability and user browsing habits.

Zengine's client development group continues to work with KaBloom to enhance promotions, help with data-mining, and respond to iterative design and development issues.

"Results have been very positive," concluded KaBloom's Haslett. "The ease of receiving information and its seamless integration into our order-processing system is a vast improvement for our operation. The added benefits of the customer service and content management components have streamlined what used to be a complex process. The new Web site will serve as a centerpiece to our national and global growth strategies."

Mike Espindle is a freelance writer.






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