January 2019 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

Automated EDI Brings Benefits as Far as Eyebobs Can See

Tags: Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), E-commerce, Technology , Fulfillment

While major retailers including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Von Maur, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Dillard's sell eyebobs, the company has recently opened eyebobs-branded stores.

A direct, automated EDI connection between its ERP system and retail partners gives eyebobs 20/20 visibility to its omnichannel orders.

More to the Story:

Eyebobs, a Minneapolis-based purveyor of eyeglasses and related accessories, needed a more efficient and direct way to link its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to the many retail clients that sell its products.

The company had been using a technology solution that lacked an automatic connection. As a result, eyebobs had to complete multiple manual steps to process orders. These processes not only ate up time, but also increased the risk of errors, which could lead to chargebacks.

To improve this process, eyebobs partnered with True Commerce, a Pittsburgh-based company that offers a comprehensive commerce network and automates EDI connections between brands and their retail partners. The partnership streamlined eyebob's order processing and cut the risk of chargebacks due to mistakes.

Julie Allinson launched eyebobs in 2001 after discovering that a stylish pair of reading glasses could induce "the type of sticker shock usually associated with a luxury sports car purchase or hotel mini-bar tab," as the company's website states. The other option—drugstore cheaters—also held little appeal.

Allinson started eyebobs with a mission: to create "a line of distinctive, high-quality eyewear for people like her, the irreverent and slightly jaded," according to the website. Along with offering a selection of reading glasses online, eyebobs began offering prescription eyewear in 2017.

It has since added several retail stores, including two in Minneapolis and one at Orlando's Florida Mall, all staffed by "bobtenders." Eyebobs also sells through about one dozen major retailers, as well as boutiques.

When working with many of its retail partners, eyebobs transmits transaction documents such as purchase orders, invoices, and advance ship notices through EDI. Several years ago, eyebobs was using an EDI solution that didn't integrate with its NetSuite ERP solution, recalls Susannah Kyle, director of IT. As a result, eyebobs employees had to manually rekey the orders.

Partner to Partner

Through a NetSuite user group meeting, Kyle learned that the True Commerce solution would meet the varied EDI requirements of eyebobs' retail customers. "We needed a solution that would work with the same trading partners we worked with, including boutique retailers," she says.

Just as important, True Commerce could integrate with eyebobs' NetSuite ERP, minimizing the need for manual steps. True Commerce also met the other criteria Kyle had established: solid support and reliability.

By implementing TrueCommerce EDI and its integrated NetSuite capabilities, eyebobs has been able to automate the processing of inbound purchase orders, as well as outbound purchase order acknowledgements, invoices, and advance shipping notices. In addition to boosting both efficiency and accuracy, the solution positions eyebobs for growth, as the company can cost effectively scale its automated operations.

True Commerce's mantra is "do business in every direction," says President Ross Elliott. In today's market, brands must use multiple distribution channels—traditional retailers, online marketplaces, and their own stores and websites—to reach customers. Most also need to handle both traditional store replenishments and drop-ship parcels, usually of one or two items, to end consumers. "We help sellers make the connections," Elliott says, whether it's for a large replenishment order or a single drop-ship package.

Similarly, many brands connect with other firms in myriad ways. They may use EDI to connect with major retailers, API to connect with online marketplaces, and connect directly through their web storefronts to reach consumers. True Commerce enables companies to review all orders, no matter how they originated, from a centralized perspective. That way, they're best able to decide how to fulfill them.

True Connection

True Commerce connects with about 92,000 retailers around the world. Its user base skews to companies of up to about $250 million in revenue, but it can scale for much larger firms, Elliott says. For its cloud-based solutions, True Commerce charges a monthly subscription fee that varies with volume and the services used. Most users also pay a setup charge.

Among other capabilities, the TrueCommerce solution can analyze retailers' inventory rules to determine the items they stock and those they don't. From this, it identifies the orders that need to be routed to the manufacturer, who will ship the items to an end consumer. The manufacturer can use True Commerce's supplier portal to generate the necessary paperwork and ship the product to the consumer, while making the order appear as if it came from the retailer.

Once and Done

True Commerce can aggregate demand from various partners into a set of orders that's pushed to the company's ERP system for fulfillment. "They connect to us once and we connect everybody else on their behalf," Elliott says.

The alternative for many True Commerce users would be to establish individual connections to the various channels. For instance, some brands connect electronically to their biggest sellers, but then take a more manual approach with their smaller business partners, receiving and printing email purchase orders that they manually key into their IT systems. This takes time, increases the risk of errors, and can keep companies from effectively scaling their operations.

Because eyebobs was among the first of True Commerce's customers to work with a NetSuite ERP, onboarding the first dozen or so of its trading partners took about four to six months. Kyle and several other employees worked with each partner to obtain its EDI requirements and make sure True Commerce had the correct mapping from each store and distribution center through to the NetSuite ERP solution.

That way, when eyebobs pulled information from the trading partner into NetSuite, they were confident it would correctly create sales orders, while providing eyebobs' trading partners the information they needed to process each purchase order.

Next, eyebobs sent test transactions to its trading partners. Each partner could accept or reject the transactions, as well as provide comments. In some cases, eyebobs had to revise the transaction information—say, completing a label that hadn't been completely populated.

Eyebobs set a go-live date for each True Commerce trading partner. On that date, eyebobs stopped working with its previous platform and started working exclusively with True Commerce.

Today, eyebobs can get new customers up and running in just a few weeks, Kyle says. True Commerce implementation times typically range from about one to six weeks, Elliott notes.

The True Commerce solution meets the varied EDI requirements of eyebobs' major retail customers, and integrates with the NetSuite ERP solution. As a result, it has cut the time eyebobs had required to process orders. "It made it much faster," Kyle says. "Employees don't have to go to an outside system to enter information."

Seeing the Benefits

The benefits experienced by eyebobs include automated processing of inbound purchase orders, as well as outbound purchase order acknowledgements, invoices, and ASNs. The solution cuts order processing time, reduces chargebacks caused by error, and reduces the need to add to staff just to scale operations.

True Commerce typically saves customers between 15 and 40 percent of their time, and generates a return on investment within several months. Companies are able to redirect their employees to work that adds greater value to the organization. The visibility to incoming orders also enhances resource planning.

Eyebobs' previous order processing system "was just not efficient," Kyle says. The True Commerce solution expedites the process and provides "high touch service and support," she adds.