We first partnered in 2015 to create a world-class eCommerce system where our teams demonstrated innovation in true Headless Commerce implementation using their legacy Monolithic e-commerce platform with a custom front-end CMS and a communication layer that ties together the entire experience. Together, we have helped the client exceed customer expectations, breaking down the silos between channels so that the in-store experience connects seamlessly with the online experience, resulting in a truly customer-centric omnichannel offering.

The client operates 1600+ stores in 80 countries with close to 200 million customers visiting each year. In several markets, their stores operate exclusively through a franchisee model. They aim to digitally enable franchisees through eCommerce, a reflection of this dedication to these valued ambassadors of their global brand and organization.

The Business Problem and Strategy

The main eCommerce site only supports the corporate stores’ sales. However, in some countries’ markets, the client is only represented through their franchisee stores. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while brick-and mortar stores were closed in most regions, franchisees were unable to sell their products as they could not sell through the corporate eCommerce site. As part of its franchisee enablement, the client had been exploring options to allow for international microsites, and settled upon Shopify Plus, which while less robust than their Headless legacy Monolithic e-commerce platform and custom CMS implementation, would be easy to manage, quickly deployable, and cost effective. The pandemic expedited the need for this solution, and Pivotree and the client worked together to quickly develop a framework for replicating this for any interested franchisee, starting in Saudi Arabia, and expanding into the UK shortly thereafter.

To gain franchisee buy-in, creating a Franchisee Accelerator for Shopify Plus made the most sense. In the quickly-changing eCommerce world, franchisees do not have the time and resources to take on a full-scale digital transformation project. By building on the technology, design, and innovation that the client’s corporate team has invested in for several years, the Pivotree team’s goal was to create an Accelerator that would allow franchisees to launch a full eCommerce solution in 4 weeks or less.

The Project

All parties understood that starting with an MVP for this project would be the best course of actionto ensure the Saudi Arabian franchisee, as the first benefactor of the Franchisee Accelerator, would be digitally enabled quickly. However, the standards for an MVP would be high, as the client’s brand consistency starting from design to the actual UX were paramount for honouring customer expectations.

The project team scoped a list of functionality requirements for the first franchisee’s Phase 1 site, to launch the site, as well as a list for Phase 2. For future franchisees as well as the inaugural microsite owner, they will benefit from added-on phases that will continue to grow functionality and will be easily deployed through the Shopify Plus business user interface.

Shortly after the MVP for Saudi Arabia had successfully launched, a UK franchisee of the client’s also came on board.

Phase 1

The first phase included 19 components including a cart, checkout, navigation and search, and much more. The most important components were multi-language support, merchandising, and catalogue management. With franchisees in different markets, delivering a world-class customer experience includes reaching those audiences in their native languages. For franchisees, allowing their merchandising to mimic the content and design of the corporate site means they can save time while presenting a professional and on-brand appearance. By integrating the microsite template with the catalogue maintained in their legacy Monolithic e-commerce platform, we enabled access to catalogue data that has the precise information for each product with little effort on the franchisee’s part to import it to Shopify Plus.

Future Phases

The first microsite is now rolled out, and the next phase will include specialized multi-language support for Arabic. Although most European languages can be supported by the multilingual component of the first phase project, Arabic posed a challenge due to its right-to-left reading format. Other languages which don’t follow a left-to-right pattern will therefore be supported once the Arabic customization is complete.

Additional future features will include return to store (which allows for returns to any store, meaning a customer is not limited to the one they purchased at), store inventory lookup, live chat, and more. The goal is for franchisee microsites to be as capable as the corporate site in functionality so that the experience is truly omnichannel and consistently better than the competition.

The Challenges

Finding the Rights Apps – Shopify Plus’ app marketplace offers a plethora of services that can easily enable more functionality for the eCommerce sites it supports. However, trying and testing different apps was an important part of the development of the Accelerator in order to choose the best-in-breed option for each component.

Multi-Language Support – While Shopify Plus has several integrations in its app marketplace that provide multi-language support, it does not support every language, and created limitations that the team had to manage for the duration of the first phase of the project.

Personalization – The Pivotree team along with the client decided a customized solution would be necessary to meet the expectations of the client’s customers. This component has been pushed to a future phase in order to be able to serve targeted content to customers as they browse – something the corporate legacy Monolithic e-commerce platform site does quite well.

Working While Remote – This entire project was completed while under lockdown. The vast majority of the Pivotree family was working from home during this time, and continues to do so even while this case study is being written and published. Our forward-thinking work from home policies which existed before the COVID-19 pandemic helped us to be more prepared than others for this change in our daily business. However, it was not without its challenges, and the work our team accomplished under these circumstances was nothing less than remarkable.

Working Across Regions – With the first franchisee client located in Saudi Arabia, Pivotree’s development team located in North America and Spain, and the client also in North America, the team had to strategically manage working across several time zones to bring the project to fruition on schedule. The Pivotree team has exceptional experience in this area, which lent itself to a highly productive team dynamic.

The Support Model

As a long-term client of Pivotree’s, our team is utilized for ongoing development support, holiday readiness, and more.

With this solution, we bundled in ongoing business operation and development support for franchisees to ensure they had access to a world-class team of eCommerce experts. They do not have to maintain their sites on their own, though they are welcome to use the business tools available to make changes and updates as needed. This is delivered as a monthly support model, with a set number of hours and scope of work available to each franchisee, as well as Accelerator development phases to improve all the franchisee stores overall. These additional phases will be carried out in tandem with the client’s own corporate team.

The Technical Solution

The new solution relies on an integration to their legacy Monolithic e-commerce platform which supports the corporate site (under a Headless front-end CMS), feeding product catalogue and inventory data into the Shopify Plus storefront. The franchisees can easily edit their own storefront from the Shopify Plus UI, with access to marketing and merchandising assets that are refreshed on a consistent basis so that their store can entice customers with new messages and brand images on a regular basis.

When the main template is improved, those improvements can be cascaded down to the individual stores to ensure their customer experience is as modern and seamless as possible for each phase of development.

The following app integrations were part of the MVP release:

Multi-language

Mailchimp

Advanced Search

Payfort

Private Fulfillment

Store Locator

Order Export

Returns

The Impact

The goal for the Franchisee Accelerator for Shopify Plus was to create an on-brand, cost-effective, rapidly deployable, and easily manageable solution that franchisees would be able to launch in 4 weeks or less. What we built can accomplish that and more – as quickly as under 3 weeks in cases with fewer customization requirements or unique language features.

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, including what it means for longlasting changes in consumer behaviour, this solution will allow franchisees to serve their local customers, and start moving stock out of their brick-and-mortar stores. Already, the Saudi Arabian franchisee is seeing interest in customers using the eCommerce site. As they are also the owner of an Egyptian franchise from the same brand, they are considering replicating the template to more regions. The UK franchisee is also live on the platform and seeing a good rate of usage on the platform.

Our team has learned that the combination of Shopify Plus with other more robust platforms represents an opportunity for in-quarter ROI and growth for our clients and prospects. We will continue to build our partnership with Shopify Plus to be able to continue to innovate in this area, including working with MDM partners to expand outside of pure retail and into B2B and D2C models.