Endless Aisle, Short Wait

Providing in-store customers with enhanced online “endless aisle” access to products can boost sales and customer service. But if the wait for endless aisle connectivity takes too long, its effectiveness is impacted.

This is the situation specialty eyewear chains Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters, both owned by parent company Luxottica Group SpA, faced in the second quarter of last year. Tom Schuetz, senior VP and chief technology officer Americas/Asia-Pacific for Luxottica, explained how the retailers used advance caching technology to eliminate long waits for endless aisle content to load on iPad tablets that store associates were sharing with customers.

So Tired of Waiting 

“We were using iPads for site access for the endless aisle app,” Schuetz said. “We had a standard 1.5 MG business DSL into the stores and a 2.4 MG home page.”

Pages took up to 90 seconds to load. Luxottica, an Italian company with corporate headquarters in Milan and U.S. headquarters in Mason, Ohio, was familiar with content management solutions provider Stratacache and quickly engaged the company to pilot its Retail Cache solution that locally stores online content and applications.

“Response time dropped to between 1.5 and three seconds, with no improvement on the site itself,” said Schuetz. “We performed a site audit on the home page and further reduced response time by about 60% by being smarter in how we manage content and tagging.”

Catch the Cache

The solution works by deploying a small cache appliance in each Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters store, which is programmed to automatically store frequently used content. Luxottica populates and preconfigures content for each store on a pair of parent proxies at corporate headquarters. The parent proxies are networked to the store appliances (or retail proxies) to allow transmission of additional content that has not been locally stored. Schuetz explained how during the third quarter of 2012, Stratacache engineers enhanced the solution further.

“We noticed caching images to our Adobe Scene7 application was taking too long,” said Schuetz. “Stratacache worked with us to strip out the process so we only performed add/change/deletes nightly rather than full refreshes.”

This reduced a previously four-hour content update process to 30 minutes. Every third day, local caches are updated to balance corporate bandwidth load and improve processing. In addition, Stratacache set up the two major cache drives in the data center to pre-cache content and push it out to store-level retail proxies. Schuetz said this allows smaller files to be transmitted to stores, increasing caching effectiveness.

Building on Success 

Since moving to full rollout this year, Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters have extended the product assortment they cache for endless aisle. They also added internal corporate content, such as workforce management applications and internal operational communications and reduced paper in stores, consistent with the Luxottica Green initiative.

Luxottica has rolled out the caching solution to all 2,000 Sunglass Hut stores and will soon complete implementation at all 1,000 LensCrafters stores. Looking ahead, the company will test deployment of the new iOS7 operating system to 7,000 store-level iPads using caching, so employees will not have to download using network bandwidth. Schuetz left off with an impressive statistic from the Sunglass Hut pilot that illustrates why Luxottica is so bullish on the prospects for the Stratacache solution. 

“We met the annual goal of our endless aisle program within the first three months of the pilot,” he stated.