CONTRIBUTOR

Launched within the heyday of dot-com hype, Payless.com faced steep challenges in the years ahead, including the historic popping of the e-commerce bubble, followed by decades of fierce competition and contraction in all retail sales channels. In 2019, Payless, formally Payless Shoesource, filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time, and shut down its 2,500 stores in North America as well as its e-commerce operations.

Payless’s international stores weren’t affected, and it would be a year later that the company, believing an opportunity to sell affordable shoes remained profitable, formally dropped “Shoesource” from its name and launched a new e-commerce platform and announced its attention to open up to 500 physical stores throughout the next five years.

Success would require a full digital transformation of the company and carefully navigating a global pandemic that challenged physical retailers everywhere.

The transformation would soon find itself challenged, as stores around the world would have to close in 2020 due to the sweeping pandemic. At Payless, the stores started selling their shoes on WhatsApp. “We realized that just wasn’t going to be enough, and that we needed to get e-commerce rolling full swing,” says Payless CIO Babu Nagappan.

Payless’s Big Shift to Cloud

That’s exactly what Nagappan and the Payless technology team got to work doing. At the time, e-commerce was active within only two countries, and even there, Nagappan explains, their state of e-commerce wasn’t yet very mature. Nagappan and the business-technology team got busy shifting away from Payless’s legacy and on-premises data center to the cloud, and getting their regional web storefronts up and active as fast as possible.

The number of legacy technologies the team needed to retire as part of their shift to cloud was considerable, including applications running on their IBM System/360, custom .Net applications, their ERP systems, MicroStrategy and roughly 500 custom applications. Further, the Payless strategy was to ship its orders from their brick-and-mortar locations, which would slash delivery time. For its e-commerce platform, Payless selected VTEX.

While Payless consolidating into a single e-commerce platform would simplify their operations over the long-term, including using their stores as mini-distribution centers, it was essential that their inventory levels remained accurately synchronized. This required something Payless lacked — real-time sales inventory linked to their local point of sale systems.

To get their inventory system where it needed to be, the payless technology team would have to contend with the different inventory systems within each of their various market nations. And with nation having its own inventory management system, it would prove quite an integration feat.

Typically, integrating hundreds of applications spread across more than a dozen nations would require ad hoc development and manual integration work. Not only did that appear time consuming, explains Nagappan, but they didn’t have the programming skills necessary on staff. “And some of the skillsets were not readily available to hire. You can’t just quickly go find these skills,” he says.

Payless Automates Ecommerce Integrations

To help accelerate their systems integrations, Payless chose enterprise integration platform Digibee. Nagappan explains that the Digibee platform would enable a rapid integration among Payless’s various applications because it could automatically accept connections to any data source and destination, regardless of data type. “We were able to help them rapidly build about 26 separate integration flows within the first six countries they sought to unify their e-commerce system,” explains Tam Ayers, field CTO, North America at Digibee.

This enabled us to attain real-time inventory synchronization across our e-commerce and point of sale channels, effective order management and reliable invoicing,” says Nagappan. Which means they would be able to ship the right product from their stores whenever needed.

They successfully launched their U.S. e-commerce operations within the U.S. in 8 weeks. “We still have 11 countries left to open their e-commerce, but we opened in the U.S. market in a hard, record time,“ Nagappan explains. One of the reasons Payless chose Digibee for integration automation was their knowledge of VTEX and their automated integration connections, and it proved to be a choice that paid off. “To get that integration between VTEX and our point of sale solution that we needed, their knowledge and experience were key,” he adds.

Today, everything within Payless’s technology stack runs on cloud. “Our whole infrastructure, it’s all moved to cloud. Today, everything is running in the cloud.” The vast majority of Payless systems run on AWS, with smaller private clouds hosted by Rackspace in the US and Costa Rica.

Going forward, Nagappan says his team’s focus will be to continue improving the system, increasing automation and optimizing their customer experience. And the team is also going to continue to enable e-commerce in the countries where it’s not yet enabled. “Now that we’ve fully transitioned to cloud, we are going to continuously look for ways to improve our e-commerce business,” he says.