We’re in the midst of an exciting retail revolution.
Power has shifted from retailers to consumers, who now expect a smooth, multi-channel experience across different platforms, both online and offline.
To satisfy consumer demands, retail businesses are willing to spend around $211 billion on IT capabilities next year, according to Gartner.
But how do you ride the retail revolution if you’re not deep-pocketed like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba?
Revolutionize the way you solve business problems instead.
That’s what Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores did. This is the story of how they gained IT independence by building custom applications with Caspio’s low-code platform.
America’s Choice for Hardware and Home Appliances
Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores is an American retail company that sells home appliances, tools, hardware and lawn equipment. Previously a subsidiary of the bigger Sears Holdings Corporation, it was spun off into an independent company in 2012.
The company operates through two segments: Hometown, which sells home furnishings and appliances; and Outlet, which offers new, discontinued, used, obsolete or overstocked items across a wide variety of merchandise categories. It has both company-owned and franchisee-operated stores, and manages e-commerce channels for both segments.
With 800 stores, 14 regional distribution centers and over 3,000 employees nationwide, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores processes an immense amount of data. They had used enterprise IT systems to manage this data, but that changed a few years ago.
Breaking Free From Traditional IT Systems
Prior to being spun off, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores was dependent on Sears Holdings for IT infrastructure, including their point of sale system, logistics, and several other applications. The separation meant that the smaller company would no longer have access to these enterprise systems, and would have to establish its own.
“It was like the hourglass turned, and we knew at some point we would need to become fully independent from an IT perspective,” said Christopher Carlson, the company’s application administrator and developer.
In 2012, they started moving away from the IT platform of the bigger Sears. It was an unforgettable incident in 2014 though that sparked their independence.
Rising from the Ruins of a Crashed MS Access Database
Migrating from Access wasn’t something they really planned. Prior to transitioning to an IT role, Carlson was working as a field operations manager with the loss prevention team. His group regularly audited stores in 14 states using Excel spreadsheets and paper logs.
“This was a very mundane and monotonous process. Imagine… Every time we went in to audit a store, we wrote up a paper. I would spend my entire Saturday afternoons writing up my findings from traveling for the week.”
His manager then asked him to come up with a better way to conduct audits and track cases. As an initial solution, Carlson built an audit and case management platform using Microsoft Access.
And then it happened.
Carlson was at a coffee shop in Montana doing some maintenance work on the database when the backend crashed and failed to recover.
The system that so many people relied on was now unavailable — with the possibility of data loss since the last backup — and he had no clear ETA for when it was going to be fixed.
“I had to make a call to my manager. Not a good call. Thankfully, that was the last time I had to make that kind of call since we discovered Caspio,” he said.
Low-Code Sparks Revolution and Recognition
That incident jolted Carlson into action in search of a permanent solution. Before long, he found Caspio and opened a free trial.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores has used Caspio to build more than 40 custom applications accessed by 3,000 users.
These applications solve unique business problems in the areas of retail operations, accounting and audit, inventory management, e-commerce, logistics, service and repair, loss prevention and risk management and emergency management.
“Our company recognized Caspio as a proper IT department solution and it is widely used to run the business today,” Carlson said.
“We’re using the Caspio platform to fulfill and satisfy business requirements as they’re ever-changing in the world of retail. With Caspio, we can quickly adopt new operational processes and applications.”
Enterprise IT Capability, Small Business Simplicity
Caspio provided Carlson the security and scalability features that mattered most to IT, and Caspio’s ease of use made the platform accessible to business users like himself.
Over 3,000 users securely access the applications using their corporate login credentials through Caspio’s single sign-on (SSO) integration. With SSO, employees can access various applications without having to remember different usernames and passwords.
Leveraging single sign-on, Carlson implemented a centralized homescreen where employees can quickly see all the apps they’re permitted to access.
“This allows for a seamless user experience and constant connection to all of our key applications,” he explained.
Caspio’s robust enterprise-level capabilities also enabled Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores to build a complex inventory processing and approval application. Depending on the price point and other factors, corrections to financial entries pass through a set of multi-tier approval workflows before they’re finalized.
The company also tracks the repair and the redistribution of repaired items through a Caspio-powered service order system. This allows distribution centers to easily prepare merchandise for shipment.
Launching Apps With Company-Wide Impact
Carlson’s app development efforts for Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores didn’t stop just at operations and logistics.
Integrating SMS notifications with Caspio, Carlson built an emergency incident notification system that sends SMS messages to all members of the Corporate Loss Prevention Department whenever an employee reports an emergency incident, such as a burglary or fire. These SMS notifications ensure rapid response to the incidents and help limit losses.
SMS is also a key component for their bank deposit calculator. The company’s bank deposit app expects to receive a daily file update. If the update fails to complete, an SMS is sent to the system administrator so they can quickly address the issue.
Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores also uses Caspio to build applications that help not just employees, but also people in need.
Currently, they partner with Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Carlson says Caspio helps them grant wishes faster.
“The ability to approve, route and process these wishes has dramatically decreased the time to fulfill them,” he shared.
The company also encourages volunteerism by giving employees paid time off to volunteer in their community. They manage this process using an app they built with Caspio.
From Field Worker to IT Solution Provider
Indeed, much has changed for Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores and for Carlson. The company achieved IT independence as Carlson shifted to solving bigger challenges.
By introducing Caspio to various business units and implementing quick solutions through rapid application development, Carlson became widely known as the “solution provider”. He served as the primary point of contact and IT liaison for solving business problems across the company.
Carlson was so instrumental in the successful rollout of Caspio, he was promoted to a supervising administrator role within the IT department.
“Caspio has changed my career trajectory towards the field of IT,” he said, recalling his beginnings as a field operations and loss prevention manager.
Satisfying Unique Business Requirements With Low-Code
While many organizations struggle to keep pace with technology, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores acknowledged the universal need for custom business applications and recognized the power of low-code development to fulfill this need.
Today, they can address the unique business challenges in the dynamic world of retail.
In addition, the adoption of Caspio as an IT-endorsed platform helped the company uncover the hidden talent existing in their workforce.
“Caspio enables me to quickly solve different business problems through the development of applications. It propelled my career and my interest into the field of information technology,” Carlson said.
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